It was no secret that Thorstein Veblen had a general disdain for dogs, which wherever this antipathy for the canine sprung from, he did postulate the axiom, and pretty solid case, that dogs have almost no economic utility. While discounting the unconditional love and the emotional life a dog brought, Veblen focused on things he could have foreseen like treatment for dog “separation anxiety” , organically grown dog food, dog loss bereavement groups, and in general the $46 billion Americans spend on dogs each year.
The basic theory of Veblen places dogs within the context of industrial purposes as being wasteful and useless, having no spiritual aptitude, and an attraction to ownership based on, in the absence of serviceability , a dependence that gratifies the owner’s sense of aggression and dominance:
So, for instance, in our time there is the knowledge of the dead languages and the occult sciences; of correct spelling; of syntax and prosody; of the various forms of domestic music and other household art; of the latest properties of dress, furniture, and equipage; of games, sports, and fancy-bred animals, such as dogs and race-horses. In all these branches of knowledge the initial motive from which their acquisition proceeded at the outset, and through which they first came into vogue, may have been something quite different from the wish to show that one’s time had not been spent in industrial employment; but unless these accomplishments had approved themselves as serviceable evidence of an unproductive expenditure of time, they would not have survived and held their place as conventional accomplishments of the leisure class. These accomplishments may, in some sense, be classed as branches of learning.Read More:http://www.gutenberg.org/files/833/833-h/833-h.htm
But, the attraction of the dog must also exist on a deeper level, something beyond Veblen’s conspicuous consumption, honorific in nature where the distinction between beauty and ugly is determined by the issue of money. But, it can be granted to Veblen, that in most cases, the dog is valuable for what it is, its symbolic power, and not what it actually does. To Veblen, the dog was part of a consumerism where people buy things they can’t use in order to affirm their status, and the greater the monstrosity they own, the higher the prestige.But in this sense, Veblen may have approved Michael Vick and dog fights as being of equal value to a Westminster Kennel Dog show. Perhaps, give his cold rationality.
Veblen: The dog has advantages in the way of uselessness as well as in special gifts of temperament. He is often spoken of, in an eminent sense, as the friend of man, and his intelligence and fidelity are praised. The meaning of this is that the dog is man’s servant and that he has the gift of an unquestioning subservience and a slave’s quickness in guessing his master’s mood. Coupled with these traits, which fit him well for the relation of status—and which must for the present purpose be set down as serviceable traits—the dog has some characteristics which are of a more equivocal aesthetic value. He is the filthiest of the domestic animals in his person and the nastiest in his habits. For this he makes up is a servile, fawning attitude towards his master, and a readiness to inflict damage and discomfort on all else. The dog, then, commends himself to our favor by affording play to our propensity for mastery, and as he is also an item of expense, and commonly serves no industrial purpose, he holds a well-assured place in men’s regard as a thing of good repute. The dog is at the same time associated in our imagination with the chase—a meritorious employment and an expression of the honorable predatory impulse. Standing on this vantage ground, whatever beauty of form and motion and whatever commendable mental traits he may possess are conventionally acknowledged and magnified….
…And even those varieties of the dog which have been bred into grotesque deformity by the dog-fancier are in good faith accounted beautiful by many. These varieties of dogs—and the like is true of other fancy-bred animals—are rated and graded in aesthetic value somewhat in proportion to the degree of grotesqueness and instability of the particular fashion which the deformity takes in the given case. For the purpose in hand, this differential utility on the ground of grotesqueness and instability of structure is reducible to terms of a greater scarcity and consequent expense. The commercial value of canine monstrosities, such as the prevailing styles of pet dogs both for men’s and women’s use, rests on their high cost of production, and their value to their owners lies chiefly in their utility as items of conspicuous consumption. In directly, through reflection Upon their honorific expensiveness, a social worth is imputed to them; and so, by an easy substitution of words and ideas, they come to be admired and reputed beautiful. Since any attention bestowed upon these animals is in no sense gainful or useful, it is also reputable; and since the habit of giving them attention is consequently not deprecated, it may grow into an habitual attachment of great tenacity and of a most benevolent character. Read More:http://www.gutenberg.org/files/833/833-h/833-h.htm
In conclusion, dog ownership, especially of the pure-bred variety symbolically attaches the owner to the older tradition of being part of an elite, a select group of people fortunate enough, even a manifest destiny, to be exempt from all useful work; complicit in this search to find new, unspoiled, and rarer breeds of dogs to keep the status scale shifting and in flux.
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