Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Wisdom of a Dog

I used to own a runt of a pug named Norman, although he thought he owned me. Sometimes I called him Woola, after the gigantic Martian pug in Edgar Rice Burroughs' The Warlord of Mars. Mostly, though, I called him Norman. He looked like a Norman.

Like pretty much all pugs, Norman wasn’t very bright. I reckon, intelligence-wise, he was somewhere in-between a rock and a cabbage. But like nearly all pugs, he was a good-natured clown. He did such things as fall off of my lap into the trashcan and sleep on his back with his front paws sticking straight up in the air. He hopped back and forth like a rabbit, and often spun around, as if he thought something was sneaking up behind him. He slept on the floor with his favorite chew-toy, one of my old socks, in his mouth.

I've read a dog's life described as eating, sleeping and playing, and when they're sleeping, they dream about eating and playing. That was Norman's life. He was living the life that makes a dog happy, because he was expressing his dog nature to its fullest: eat, sleep, play, gnaw on rawhide bones all day.

Occasionally I wondered what he felt. Was he happy? He seemed to be, very much so. Did he feel constant joy or even bliss? I am reminded of a poem by William Blake: "How do you know that every bird/That wings the airy way/Is in an enormous world of delight/Closed to your senses five?" Maybe that's true of a dog. Norman certainly seemed to be ecstatic attempting to untie my shoelaces by tugging at them with his teeth, or running in frenzied circles in the park.

Oliver Sacks once wrote of a physician friend of his, who somehow, had his sense of smell increased many fold, nearly, he suspected, to the extent of a dog's. He described it as astonishing, as being in an amazing world of smells that nearly overwhelmed him. He too used a poem to describe his experience: "The brave smell of a stone . . . the happy smell of water." He regretted it deeply when his sense of smell returned to that of a human's.

Was that Norman's life? I suspected it was.

It was from Norman, and other dogs I have owned ever since I was a kid, that I realized that humans, too, have to fulfill their natures to be happy. Dogs, less complex than humans, have a nature easily fulfilled.

Humans aren't nearly as simple as dogs, but they too have to use their talents to be happy. They even need some of the things dogs need -- love and friends and community.

I tried to teach Norman in accordance with his dog nature. I'm tried to teach him "sit," "stay," "down," and "come." Each one of these commands is based on the natural behaviors of a dog, which is why they work so well.

He spent a lot of his time with his front paws in his food bowl, happily crunching on kibble.

Such a life may sound awful to us, but it's what dogs want. Without it, they are unhappy; they're secure and happy when they know their place in the pack. It allowed him to express his dog talents, which mostly consisted of his clown-nature amusing me and others.

Human education is supposed to be the same way: a teacher's job is to find a student's talents, and draw them out. Some people are born to be teachers, musicians, writers, businessmen. Sometimes their talent is so overwhelming they know what they're going to be when they've five. Most of us aren't so lucky.

The teacher John Taylor Gatto said true education has three purposes:

To make good people.

To make good citizens.

And to make each student find some particular talents to develop to the maximum (as I’ve mentioned before, the ancient Greeks realized the eudemonia – well-being, flourishing – is achieved through arĂȘte – excellence. Being the best version of yourself that you can be).

In Norman's case, you could have said, "to make a good dog and find his particular talents and develop them to the maximum." That made him happy. It wasn’t hard. Such education helps make people happy, too. That's not hard, either.

I don't think human education in the government schools works very well anymore. It doesn't even work as well as dog education. That's what I've learned from raising dogs.

Human education didn't work very well when I was in school. I had twelve years of public schooling, excluding college, and I'm not exactly sure what I learned. Did schools find my, and the other students’ talents, and develop them? No, they didn't. I suppose I had some talents, but the attempt to draw them out, such that they were, actually bored me. Sit, march between classes, sit, march. That's not conducive to an interesting education.

I don't blame this situation on the teachers. They're doing their best, but stuck in a system that doesn't work very well. Even private schools may not be much of an improvement, to the extent they copy government schools.

It's not too far off of the mark to say that I, and many other students, were slightly driven nuts by middle school and high school. One of the curious things I noticed is that drug and alcohol use was fairly prevalent in my high school (as it is in most) but it dropped off substantially once we graduated.

One of my explanations, and it's the main one, is that we self-medicated against the sit-march-sit-march that all of us had to do for so many years. It's better to be drunk or stoned than bored.

One of my defenses was retreating into my imagination. I spent most of my middle school and high school years daydreaming. I have been, since I first noticed it when I was four, a bit more sensitive, intelligent, and imaginative than many people. I have found that such people, even though they are at times very extroverted, still need much time to themselves. That time is hard to find when you spend five days a week in school, then have homework.

Which I didn't do, by the way.

My imagination was so vivid when younger I even had what are called hypnagognic hallucinations, which generally happen as you fall asleep (it starts with paralysis). Because I've had them, I know that alien abductions, and old tales about succubus and incubus, are just these hallucinations excessively intense. And I will tell you this: when they are pleasant, they are so far ahead of drug use it's not even close. It reminds me of that old saying, "We seek without the wonders that are within."

I suppose that imagination was (and is) one of my inborn talents. I never had any idea in school what to do with them. The schools didn't either. Indeed, they tried to eradicate the imagination -- along with everyone else's -- because I wasn't paying attention in class, and it showed in my grades. I graduated high school with a D+++ average. I wasn't even supposed to graduate, but had already been accepted to college.

One of the reasons I am for the free market and liberty (and I think this is rarely noticed) is that it is an antidote to boredom. It allows you to express your talents to the maximum, which is a component of happiness.

And if you're happy, you're not bored. I'm sure one of the main complaints of people in socialist countries was boredom. Hard to believe, since socialism was supposed to allow people to maximize their talents, indeed make them into earthly gods.

Curiously, a lot of people would have "security," thinking you can have both it and freedom. They think the government can give them both, not realizing they're going to end up as regimented as bees in a hive.

We have to have liberty; it is good for us, indeed necessary for us, because it allows us to be the most, and the best, we can.

I do not believe it is necessary to go to school 12 years to be a high school graduate, another four to get a college degree, and another three or four to get a Ph.D. That's almost 20 years of schooling, and in some cases, more. That is just plain ridiculous, and hardly liberating. One of my friends, who is a podiatrist, admitted it would only take six months to teach everything he knew. I suspect it only takes six months to learn most everything. The rest is just a filter to remove students who can't put up with excruciating boredom. School today, from the beginning to the end, is obviously not the free market.

People like Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and Benjamin Franklin barely had any formal schooling at all, and in some cases, none. Yet look how they turned out. Where are the people like them these days? Gone, wiped out by government schools. Liberty produced such people. But not anymore.

It's a sad day when it takes raising puppies to realize what true education is. But then, that's real life as compared to academia. And as much as I liked Norman, I never want his simple, hierarchical, herd life. I don't think most people do, either.


Anonymous said...

"I don't blame this situation on the teachers. They're doing their best, but stuck in a system that doesn't work very well."

The best teacher I ever had in high school gave lessons that were interesting, engaging, funny, and memorable. He was a tough grader, too, but he made the material so interesting that we never had much trouble with the tests.

Scarcely a month went by when he wasn't in trouble with the school administration. He was banned from pratically all non-classroom activities, was constantly being forced to tender apologies for totally inoccuous remarks, and he must have had a personnel file bursting with formal reprimands. I think the administrators just resented the fact that he wasn't boring and tedious and bland like everyone else.

Unknown said...

Many people say education is bad, and I hated Public School myself, but blaming the teachers is like blaming gun makers for crime. The fact is our kids actually OVERPERFORM similar populations in other countries. The statistics hide the Truth, that the poor test score averages are dragged down by blacks and Hispanics. Neither race has much interest in booklearning. We've all heard how books are like a cross to a Vampire when it comes to blacks. I can tell you that's 100% true. Even at college black students were famous for not reading, and some would even drop out of courses after the first day if there was a book involved.
When you have kids with IQs lower than 70-80, they're not going to learn anything. They're morons. Half of a black population is lower than this. No amount of funding or how great and dedicated the teachers are will ever teach them anything. Demographics will tell you everything. Race is Everything. Anyone that tells you different is LYING.

Anonymous said...

"Demographics will tell you everything. Race is Everything. Anyone that tells you different is LYING."

Yup. Read "March of the Titans" by Arthur Kemp.