Caspar has raised a Matter of Some Concern. It should have been obvious to me long ago, but I suppose I just took it for granted. Humans are Humans, and one does not imagine them having needs, but of course they must eat, they must sleep, they must groom… The Owner says that even the Prime Minister is Human, although she also says that when Other Humans interviewed him recently and asked how we were to know that he was Human he appeared extremely uncertain. Still, aside from the Prime Minister, who is clearly a peculiar case, I hadn’t really ever wondered who ensured Humans survived…
And then Caspar arrived at the coffee shop in what he described as an Existentialist Spiral Crisis of Meaning. If he was Owned by his Owner, he said, an Owner charged with the responsibility of walking and feeding and fluffing and grooming (a major responsibility in Caspar’s case), then who owned his Owner? Who was responsible for the walking and feeding and fluffing and grooming of his Owner? How did his owner acquire treats? How did his Owner’s hair achieve that effortless style? How did his Owner know when to sit? What if nobody was looking after him? What if it was only a matter of time before he simply strayed too far and fell off the edge of the world? It may be a long way down.
Caspar is right. One could postulate someone else owning Caspar’s Owner, perhaps even some kind of Government Ministry with Ownership Responsibility telling everyone what they must do, but this starts to sound rather like China, and the Owner objects to this rather a lot. I imagine that if she does not want to be Owned by China she would similarly object to being Owned by any department run by the Prime Minister, even in the unlikely event that she comes to accept that he may be Human. Moreover, even the Moral Dog can see that in an infinity of Owners all owning the Owned, eventually you reach a point when there are no Owners left to Own anyone. And what then? As Caspar says, an unowned Owner might simply stray too far and fall off the edge of the world.
When I get home I explain to the Owner that Caspar is quite anxious about the idea of an Unowned Owner falling off the edge of the world. Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes? I ask.
The Owner says I am not to worry, she does not need guarding as she will not fall off the edge of the world, she has me to make sure of that. And, she adds casually, there is also the Man to make doubly sure.
The Man! I should have realised that she did of course have an Owner! I am greatly relieved to know that she has the security of being Owned and, moreover, I now feel a certain sense of kinship. We must have been through so many of the same things. Does the Man often expect her to sit? I ask. Even in the park on wet days? Does he supply sufficient cheese?
What do you mean? Asks the Owner. She has gone all bristly, like a thistle with attitude.
I explain that my point of reference for Owners is her, and since she spends a great deal of time asking me to sit, I assume she has been similarly trained by the Man.
She is so now bristly that she is now more like a sea urchin than a thistle. Similarly trained? She asks. She sounds a bit like some old Youtube footage of Margaret Thatcher talking to the Unions. Perhaps she has sudden indigestion through a surfeit of cheese. Perhaps the Man has overtrained her.
I say that I cannot help but notice that she sits in the presence of the Man, particularly when they eat or watch news about the Prime Minister (although on those occasions, admittedly, she sometimes falls right over). Does the Man make a good Owner? I ask, with the camaraderie of one who understands. Does he provide adequate exercise and feeding?
The Owner has gone a slightly mauve colour, which is rather fetching in a floral way. When she speaks she sounds oddly like Squeaky Cat. The Man is delightful in every aspect, she says, including his provision of exercise and feeding, but she is a Modern Woman and he is not her Owner. Modern Women are strong and proud and their Own Person and they don’t need a man or a fish with a bicycle. Or something. She pours a glass of wine. Let’s talk about politics instead, she says, it is Less Sensitive.
I realise I have touched a nerve and seek to calm the waters. Is she in fact the Owner of the Man then? I ask. Is that why she so often provides supper for him as well as for me.
She says not, this is only because she is Home First. She and the Man are Self-Owned and provide their own food and exercise in a mutual manner.
But who, I then ask, makes sure you do not fall off the edge of the world? Is that, in fact, the job of the Prime Minister?
She says the Prime Minister couldn’t stop his Own Dog falling off the edge of the world, not even if it was chained to his leg, and she suspects I am spending too much time with Caspar and he spends too much time with Terry Pratchett. The world, she says, is not a disc riding on a turtle. And just because the Prime Minister appears to be bonkers that doesn’t mean everyone else has to be.
I say this seems very worrying to me. Who Owns the Prime Minister? Surely if he fell off the edge of the world things would be Very Serious for us all. Has anyone spoken to his Dog?
She sighs. Just as she and the Man are Human and therefore Responsible for Remaining on the world, the Prime Minister is also Human, apparently, and is expected not only to manage the same but to also make the world a better place for staying on, although as it happens it is rather unfortunate that he is not Owned by his Dog as it might improve the prospects of this considerably. Humans do not have Owners because Kant said so. And so did William Wilberforce and this is why the West should pay reparations to Africa, on whose enslavement its wealth was built. Moral Humans reject Ownership, she says, and instead go for mutual support.
Oh, I say.
I think about this for a while.
Why do I have an Owner? I ask. Did the admirable Immanuel Kant not take the same view of the Moral Dog?
The Owner clears her throat. She produces cheese and I sense a certain awkwardness. It seems that Immanuel Kant did not extend moral personhood to anything that was not a Human Being. Human Beings, she says, have been arguing about it ever since. I get a sense that, possibly, Immanuel Kant did not have a dog. It is the tragedy of modern philosophy, she says. It has set Animal Rights back centuries. Immanuel Kant failed to appreciate the Moral Dog. As the philosopher Richard Ryder said, he was speciesist. In fact, she says, Humans should not be Owners at all.
I have no Owner! I am free!
I look at the Owner. I realise I now feel oddly bereft. I like having an Owner. As long as there is cheese and a certain degree of chin fondling there seems little truly wrong with the concept from the perspective of the Moral Dog.
We could be Mutual Supporters, I say helpfully. This sounds much more equal than Owner and Owned.
Yes, she says, far more equal. Mutual supporters sounds like a very good idea. She will feed me and exercise me and I will save her from wolves and burglars and Immanuel Kant can go and eat his aunt. Although, she adds, for the purposes of policemen and dog vans and the Kennel Club and the Park Warden she may still have to be known as the Owner. Just for convenience.
I agree. Wolves and burglars can watch out. We will be Owner and Owned in name alone. It is an excellent solution.
Caspar is thrilled when I tell him. He asks if this means I no longer have to sit and will no longer receive cheese.
No, I say, the Owner and I have agreed that we must keep up appearances. There will still be sitting, I say. And there will still be cheese. It will be a mutually beneficial exchange of Mutual Supporters.
Lucifer in the nose cage says we are all deceived. He says Jeremy the beagle says Ownership is Enslavement of the Masses and we must cast off the cheese and the burglars and demand to be acknowledged as equals. What have the Owners ever done for us?
There is a pregnant pause. Nobody needs to say anything, not even ‘what about the viaducts?’ We all know Jeremy doesn’t like cheese.
Mutually beneficial exchange then, says Lucifer through his nose cage, after a while. We all nod wisely.
Hergest the Hound
I am a dog of many thoughts.