C’mere boy, yes you’re a good boy aren’t you? Oh you’re going to lick my face? Oh, who’s a good boy? Who’s a good boy? Yes you’re a good boy.
I often find myself perplexed by the behavior of my fellow human beings. Be it in high octane social situations like parties or more low key events like dates, there always seems to be the inevitable awkwardness of connecting with another human being, who, by all accounts should be as nervous and insecure as myself, but has, somehow, in their years on planet earth, been able to develop their repertoire of body language to the degree that, at least on the surface, they are a supremely confident entity able to take on most, if not all, challenges simply by resorting to their library of go-to social patterns.
On the other hand, there are dogs. Man’s best friend. For thousands of years since the domestication of the wolf, dogs have been integrated into the human social structure as nothing more than the absolute ideal of a friend. I’ve read studies analyzing this dynamic that always seem to conclude with the idea that the human/dog relationship is a perfect mutually beneficial system. We provide food and shelter for these animals and in return they offer unconditional love.
Unconditional love seems to be the key. As humans we are born into it with our families, who will love us regardless of our defects or deformities, then when we leave the nest, we seek it out in foreign members of the human species who, if we’re lucky, will eventually provide the oxytocin producing and mutually beneficial compromise of love that seems so fleeting.
Dogs, it seems, are made to provide this relationship with no questions asked. They will love us unconditionally with such ferocity that it’s puzzling to even think about. Sure they benefit from us with food and shelter, but even if we didn’t or simply couldn’t provide that food and shelter they would still jump up on us and try desperately to lick our faces no matter the degree to which we resist.
That said, there are of course dogs who are assholes who will bark and growl and bite you no matter what kind of smile, smell or food you try to provide. These are the bad dogs and because they can’t conform to the human social structure, they are usually put down. Which just sucks no matter which way you spin it.
Did they learn that behavior though and are they able to be redeemed or is it an inherent trait and, eventually, a lost cause?
This is the essence of the nature versus nurture debate that’s been raging across psychological and sociological fields since the beginning of time.
Most dogs are pretty good though, they love us and we love them.
That said, why is this unconditional love not present in (previously unfounded) human-to-human relationships? Why is it that when we see a person we might like to get to know we don’t automatically run over to them panting and lick their face saying “OH MY GOD, I’M SO GLAD I SAW YOU!!!! I LOVE YOU!!!” Why don’t we pet their head and start scratching their belly and automatically, without question, break our hard shell of self-preservation and immediately smile and laugh because, it’s just so damn good to connect with another human being?
We don’t because that would be weird.
But then, one has to ask, what makes it weird? Why are we so hesitant to love unconditionally, especially someone that we’ve never met? At what point in human history did we decide that other humans, who understandably, should be our closest allies, spelled danger? At what point did we decide to start killing each other because of an insignificant difference like religion or race?
I’ve written about the Yale infant studies before, which essentially question whether infants have any level of innate morality or not. Without referencing the actual studies, I’ll suffice it to say that babies are, basically, born bigots. They have been shown to have a strong preference to members of the same social group and tend to inherently discriminate against people or things they deem different. Whether this is a consequence of evolution remains to be seen but one could posit that somewhere along the line humans realized that members of the same social group tended to provide the things we needed to survive.
Why then, is this even a component of evolution? Why did it develop? Who was a dick to someone else way back when we were monkeys that caused this preference? Could it be that there was some aspect of danger somehow or another from a member of the same species at some point in our early evolution?
I don’t know but I remember seeing an episode of Planet Earth where dueling bands of chimpanzee families murdered and cannibalized each other because one of the families invaded the other family’s territory.
Maybe our innate territorial instinct has something to do with it.
Along the way though, there have been numerous instances of different social groups co-mingling when a level of trust was established. This is probably even what led to the concept of marriage.
Still, why are dogs so free with their trust? That’s probably a result of evolution itself. Throughout the history of the wolf’s domestication they probably learned innately to trust humans for food. I’m sure at some point humans and wolves were just as separated and wary of each other as humans are of other members of their own kind today.
That idea should provide at least a little hope, maybe at some long far off point in the future of humanity we’ll learn to provide for one another and count on one another the way dogs count on us.
Maybe the growing interconnectedness of the internet and everything else will help us establish, at the very least, a base level of trust among our own kind.
One can only hope, and after all, it takes a village.
P.S. sorry for posturing and getting all guru-y, if nothing else, it’s at least interesting to think about right?