The Dog Phenomenon

 

From time immemorial, the human race has obeyed the biological imperative. Societies traditionally channeled much of their energy into reproducing themselves. Until now. Parenthood is falling into obsolescence, to be replaced by such simulacra as dog parenthood, cat parenthood, and plant parenthood (not to be confused, of course, with Planned Parenthood). About one out of every two dating profiles features the words “dog mom,” “dog mama,” or some variant thereof. Millennials spend lavishly on dogs. They live for dogs, talk about dogs, think about dogs — everything short of worshipping them.

Why is this happening? The usual explanation takes the form of economic determinism. Raising children is costly. “Raising” a dog is less costly. Lacking money, the argument goes, Millennials “raise” dogs instead of children. This may be part of the explanation, but not the complete one. Something else is happening — something more insidious, and something likely to stand in the way of parenting even if all financial burdens were lifted by a benevolent state. No, Millennials fear a different kind of burden, I think. Here’s my theory:

Millennials prefer dogs to children because dogs, unlike children, require no moral formation. A dog never asks the question, “Why?” A dog obeys no code of ethics, and thus a dog cannot rebel. Yes, a dog’s owner might say, “You’re such a good boy!” out of a sense of anthropomorphizing affection, but what she means is, “My Pavlovian conditioning has worked wonders!” She is not praising the dog’s goodness, since a dog can have no goodness — only dogness, which may be pleasant or beneficial to humans in one way or another, but which occupies its own spot in the moral universe. Dogs do not experience angst or ennui. A dog will not wake up one morning, dye its fur blue, announce its intention to identify as “they,” and join the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. Instead, a dog concerns itself with more pressing matters, such as the chewiness of this or that rubber bone or the tastiness of this or that mailman.

A dog, in other words, offers a would-be parent the opportunity to dote without the existential burdens of parenting. It offers the ice cream without the salad. A dog is what it is, and an owner’s duties to it are clear and universally acknowledged. Take it on walks, feed it regularly, scoop up its droppings, toss some fake femurs into the near distance, and you shall be rewarded with the unconditional affection which is a dog’s nature.

Eons ago, far back in the mists of time, children were more like dogs. They had a nature, and society recognized certain duties concomitant with that nature. Much has changed. Man is now whatever man decides to be. Ours is the age of the existential hero. It is up to us, and to our children, to define our “own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life,” as Anthony Kennedy once said. And for an increasing number, that concept of meaning no longer includes parenthood. Society has fractured into ten-thousand subcultures, each with its own code of conduct and its own substantive conception of the human person, and all are knit together by the ethic of nonjudgmentalism. Rules, structures, guidance — these things are to be avoided, or even shamed, in the public square. As families grow ever smaller, fewer and fewer of us spend any real time around children, and fewer and fewer of us, therefore, have the innate knowledge of how to relate to children that our ancestors took for granted. It is easy to do something when everyone else is doing it, too. When everybody is marrying and everybody is having kids, marrying and having kids is easy enough. When nobody is marrying or having kids, marrying and having kids becomes a Herculean task.

If she does decide to raise children, the new parent is immediately confronted with the awesome responsibility involved. What kind of man do I want my son to be? What kind of woman do I want my daughter to be? What things are good and bad? What should I forbid and permit? What kind of culture should I expose my child to? How do I answer his pesky questions? All difficult. Too difficult. My head hurts! I think I’ll play fetch instead.

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  1. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    Outstanding post.

    • #1
  2. Ekosj Member
    Ekosj
    @Ekosj

    There is an interesting economic take on this phenomenon.   See this article in First Things by David P Goldman.    It’s a bit dated, having been written during the Great Recession, but I think the analysis is sound.

    Sometimes it helps to look at the world with a kind of simplicity. Think of it this way: Credit markets derive from the cycle of human life. Young people need to borrow capital to start families and businesses; old people need to earn income on the capital they have saved. We invest our retirement savings in the formation of new households. All the armamentarium of modern capital markets boils down to investing in a new generation so that they will provide for us when we are old.

    ……

    America’s housing market collapsed because conservatives lost the culture wars even back while they were prevailing in electoral politics. During the past half century America has changed from a nation in which most households had two parents with young children. We are now a malange of alternative arrangements in which the nuclear family is merely a niche phenomenon. By 2025, single-person households may outnumber families with children.….

    demographers have been predicting a housing crash for years due to the demographics of diminishing demand. Wall Street and Washington merely succeeded in prolonging the housing bubble for a few additional years. The adverse demographics arising from cultural decay, though, portend far graver consequences for the funding of health and retirement systems.

    The past decade’s rise in asset prices are a result of the government’s unprecedented spending and monetary policies.    But it can’t last.

    • #2
  3. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Outstanding and insightful!

    • #3
  4. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    Leave my dog Bob out of this.  I won’t warn you again.

    • #4
  5. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Kephalithos: A dog will not wake up one morning, dye its fur blue, announce its intention to identify as “they,” and join the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America.

    My kids wouldn’t do that either if they knew what was good for them.

    Actually, both of my kids are Gen X, and way past the time I can train them.

    The first millennial in our office has four kids.  I salute him.  His wife wanted another.

    • #5
  6. JoelB Member
    JoelB
    @JoelB

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    Leave my dog Bob out of this. I won’t warn you again.

    He’ll be your friend in Washington DC.

    • #6
  7. Idahoklahoman Member
    Idahoklahoman
    @Idahoklahoman

    I guess I did my part to ensure the continuation of the species. My oldest is three years out of grad school, has two kids, and just quit her job to stay at home and (probably) get more. My youngest is six months married and desperate to catch up to her big sister. Not a purple hair between them.

    Now, if my son could get a date…

    • #7
  8. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Plausible explanation. Thx.

    • #8
  9. Nohaaj Coolidge
    Nohaaj
    @Nohaaj

    I have no data, but it is my impression that the childless partners who adopt a dog and forego children are college educated, and primarily white.  It also seems they tend strongly left, rationalizing that their choice is noble, and sustainable for the planet.  I characterize them as being more self-obsessed.  They do not have the desire nor selflessness to dedicate their time and lives to rearing children.   Maybe that is a good thing that they have made that choice. 

     

    • #9
  10. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    My pets are not babies and we are not their parents. 

    This seems similar to the whole “daddy ” as a name for a boyfriend. Yuck

    • #10
  11. Charlotte Member
    Charlotte
    @Charlotte

    Kephalithos: About one out of every two dating profiles features the words “dog mom,” “dog mama,” or some variant thereof.

    I’ve even heard Gen-Xers and Boomers refer un-ironically to their “grand-dogs” (owned by their Millennial kids). It’s cringe-worthy and, I think, unhealthy for society generally.

    Kephalithos: What kind of man do I want my son to be? What kind of woman do I want my daughter to be?

    Or vice versa.

    Interesting, well-written post.

    • #11
  12. DrewInWisconsin, Oaf Member
    DrewInWisconsin, Oaf
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Everyone thought that a year of being locked inside would result in a baby boom. The opposite happened.

    I think the media constantly stoking apocalyptic fears about sustainability has certainly taken its toll. I know young couples who used environmental doomsday as their reason for not having children. But likely it was just plain selfishness.

    Possibly what we’ve seen with this emphasis on dogs over children is the same phenomenon by which people seem to get more upset about abuse or injury to dogs than they do about abuse of children.

    I suppose people have some innate need to care for or “parent” something . . . and they settle on a dog because they fear having children.

    Of course, we’re below replacement level, and we need more babies. It would be great if we could promote baby-having with the same intensity we promoted the useless mask-wearing.

    • #12
  13. Charlotte Member
    Charlotte
    @Charlotte

    Christian Lander noticed something was up 13 years ago.

    • #13
  14. DrewInWisconsin, Oaf Member
    DrewInWisconsin, Oaf
    @DrewInWisconsin

    ^ Oh yeah. This is not anything new . . .

    • #14
  15. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    Dogs or kids?

    Yes!

    • #15
  16. OmegaPaladin Moderator
    OmegaPaladin
    @OmegaPaladin

    @kephalithos – I don’t think it really goes to the level you talk about.  Dogs love their owners all but unconditionally and want to make them happy.  Children are just as fickle as adults are, if not more so.  Also, you don’t have to go through pregnancy to adopt a dog.

    Our culture makes parenting seem like a massive drag, a second job, a huge money pit, a two decade long shackle on your life.  You will be expected to helicopter parent and make the children the focus of every second of your life.  Conservatives make the argument that “You should suffer through this because it is your duty!  Suck it up, soldier!”  and seem surprised when it does not work.

    We need to move the culture toward a more laid-back view of parenting, with a supporting community.  A group of families can distribute sitting services to let parents have time to breathe.

    • #16
  17. colleenb Member
    colleenb
    @colleenb

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    Dogs or kids?

    Yes!

    This is a post about pets like dogs and cats Boss. Not about ponies.

    • #17
  18. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    Our society treats children like pets, and pets like children.  It’s all part of the decadence and decline.

     

    Hearing/seeing the term “furbaby” or “granddog/grandpuppy” makes me want to punch somebody in the throat.

     

    (Full disclosure:  After 40-years of multiple-cat ownership, we got our first dog over the winter.  But we also have two kids.)

     

    • #18
  19. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    Dogs or kids?

    Yes!

    I somehow knew that the Mongo would have a dog like this one. 

    • #19
  20. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    Paul Graham, the entrepreneur and venture capitalist, wrote a good piece about the decision to have kids:

    http://paulgraham.com/kids.html

     

     

    • #20
  21. Annefy Member
    Annefy
    @Annefy

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):

    @ kephalithos – I don’t think it really goes to the level you talk about. Dogs love their owners all but unconditionally and want to make them happy. Children are just as fickle as adults are, if not more so. Also, you don’t have to go through pregnancy to adopt a dog.

    Our culture makes parenting seem like a massive drag, a second job, a huge money pit, a two decade long shackle on your life. You will be expected to helicopter parent and make the children the focus of every second of your life. Conservatives make the argument that “You should suffer through this because it is your duty! Suck it up, soldier!” and seem surprised when it does not work.

    We need to move the culture toward a more laid-back view of parenting, with a supporting community. A group of families can distribute sitting services to let parents have time to breathe.

    My best friend and I have within the past five years become grandmothers. She has one daughter and two daughters in law whom have stepped up to the plate, I’ve got one daughter with three daughters, and a daughter in law with one on the way. I also regularly meet with a bunch of new grandmothers.

    One thing I’ve noticed, and most of the new grandmothers agree, is that pregnancy is now a miserable experience fraught with danger and the feeling that anything can go wrong at any moment. Labor is now to be planned (my daughter still laughs sardonically at that one). Things don’t get any better once the baby is born; half the babies I know of have some sort of something that they’re being tested for regularly, all the while being told that it’s probably nothing.

    I’ve noticed that being a new mother is not nearly as joyful as it used to be. My best friend is convinced that all the doctors involved are making an effort to make sure you’re as miserable as possible. As in: why in the hell would you want to go through this again???

    I know what my mother would say: most people resent happiness and joy and will do everything in their power to suck it out of you.

    “We need to move the culture toward a more laid-back view of parenting, with a supporting community. A group of families can distribute sitting services to let parents have time to breathe.”

    With my brood (no relatives in the area, but lots of neighbors and friends), I adopted the Jane Goodall style: observe, but don’t interact.

    • #21
  22. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge
    Fake John/Jane Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    Parenting / children seems to me to be a giant money suck with no ROI.  I have seen too many of my friends treat their parents wrong or others who children are complete drug addicted terrors destroying all around them.  Lot of risk in the parenting venture.

    Not sure about the whole dog mom / cat dad thing.  Sounds creepy.  

    I do have a pet.  A parrot.  I had to put it down in April.  It is saddening.  I got another one and now I have to start training all over again.  A bit frustrating.

    It seems to me that a lot of people (usually women) try to turn their kids into their best friends.  Seems to cause issues for both.  

    • #22
  23. Annefy Member
    Annefy
    @Annefy

    Can I do a little mini rant here? We’ve had many dogs – in fact, I thought having a dog was a necessary part of raising children. Exposes the kids to all sorts of nasty germs, which build up their immune system. It’s also likely the first death they’ll go through, preparing them for more earth-shaking losses in the future.

    But but but. I have a senior couple whom I am trying to help through a reverse mortgage. They’re a lovely couple (estranged from their only child) and I’m happy to help. They have some delinquent debt that might well prohibit them from getting the funds they desperately need. And that debt is $25K spent on three then-old dogs who ended up dying anyway.

    I don’t know who to blame. Obviously, they needed an intimate in their life saying: what in the hell are you thinking?? I don’t have much experience with vets, but I have the feeling there’s some blame to throw in that direction.

    Also, I’m sick of people taking their dogs into stores with them. JY is sick of golfers on the course accompanied with their dogs for “emotional support” (surely, a game as stupid as golf needs more than a dog??) and I’m sick of people proclaiming they like dogs better than people, as their dog has “never let them down”.

    • #23
  24. Fritz Coolidge
    Fritz
    @Fritz

    I have heard it said that: “Adults do not make children; children make adults.”

    Perhaps Millenials as a cohort prefer to remain children themselves.

    • #24
  25. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell
    @JimMcConnell

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    Leave my dog Bob out of this. I won’t warn you again.

    Bob does his best to look intimidating there, doesn’t he? Thanks for the photo, Kent.

    • #25
  26. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    When women entered the work force in great numbers in the 1960s, they now had an alternative to parenthood to give them happiness. The Left has been using this against women for decades, insisting that paid work should be every woman’s goal. Work first, kids later or not at all. 

    • #26
  27. Kephalithos Member
    Kephalithos
    @Kephalithos

    For anyone who doubts the authenticity of my claims, here’re some screenshots from a real dating app, taken five minutes ago:

    • #27
  28. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    Annefy (View Comment):
    golfers on the course accompanied with their dogs for “emotional support”

    Good point.  Parents are to be emotional support for their kids, and dogs emotional support for their owners.  That is a big difference.

    • #28
  29. DrewInWisconsin, Oaf Member
    DrewInWisconsin, Oaf
    @DrewInWisconsin

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):
    Also, you don’t have to go through pregnancy to adopt a dog.

    Remember the olden days when people would just have “Puppies to give away free!” on a cardboard box?

    These days you have places thoroughly vetting your home to see if you are suitable to “adopt” a dog for several hundred dollars.

    Dog people can be absolutely crazy. I fell in with the dog people several years ago when a friend of mine was into dog agility with her border collie mix, and I would go to events to support her. The people at these events were so . . . otherworldly.

    • #29
  30. Kephalithos Member
    Kephalithos
    @Kephalithos

    DrewInWisconsin, Oaf (View Comment): Dog people can be absolutely crazy. I fell in with the dog people several years ago when a friend of mine was into dog agility with her border collie mix, and I would go to events to support her. The people at these events were so . . . otherworldly.

    I’m reminded of this:

    Michael Hitchcock and Parker Posey nail the elite/woke/managerial-class persona. The only thing missing is a BLM sign in the yard. Or some masks.

    • #30
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