One of the more controversial columns I wrote, in my earliest days of writing for this newspaper, was entitled “Women and dogs.” It was about the phenomenon of childless women, adopting a dog and then raising it as if it were a baby. Also, speaking to it as if it were a baby—even when the dog had reached riper years.
While I did not stress the point, and perhaps should have, as it was necessary to my argument, there are important differences between dogs and babies, going beyond the cultural and gender issues. A dog is, in fact, a member of another species: a domesticated subspecies of the grey wolf, as I understand. He is so from conception, and remains so till death. Whereas, a baby is a member of another species—and, ditto.
There is a great deal of moral relativism today, and animal rights activists advance the argument that it is bigotry to prefer one animal to another. There is a great deal of madness afoot in our society, but I think there are strong prudential reasons for distinguishing one species from another.
Dogs, for instance, are “hard wired” to behave rather differently from humans. A dog trainer will be familiar with some of the differences, and embrace pedagogical techniques pitched specifically to the dog’s form of reasoning.
Example: dogs, like wolves, are pack animals, with an innate sense of hierarchy. They are made uncomfortable by being placed in a relationship of equality with a human master. I know this will sound reactionary, but a dog would actually prefer to receive comprehensible orders, than to be negotiated with in a language he cannot understand.
He is a sporting animal, too, and to the credit of dogs, they do their best to adapt to strange social situations, and to the apparent needs of the strangest masters (or mistresses, as the case may be).
But it is hard to blame a dog for what, from either the human or the canine view, is reprehensibly undisciplined behaviour, when he was raised as a baby, although he was a dog. The solution for masters and mistresses alike is: learn to distinguish your species!
I admit dogs and humans have some things in common. We are both animals, after all, well above the daisies in the feeding chain.
We are both capable of seeing, hearing, smelling—albeit to different levels of acuity. And we have another subtlety in common: the ability to distinguish something that is living from something that is dead.
This last ability is shared, I think, by all the higher animals, and according to their lights, by many of the lower ones, too; so it came as a surprise to me to be forwarded this week a media item about the latest trend in child substitutes. They are called, eerily, “Reborns,” and are dolls, carefully manufactured to resemble real babies not only in appearance, but in tactile and olfactory ways. They are nevertheless low-maintenance, because unlike living things, they do not whine, yell, eat, get sick, or perform other characteristic biological functions.
Upon searching the Internet I found that the product is not new, and that the phenomenon of adult women purchasing Reborns and keeping them as if they were real babies, has been endemic for at least a year. Pictures of the things gave me the willies.
I asked around about this.
Granted, I harbour non-relativistic notions about what is normal and abnormal in human behaviour.
I found, among my more normal friends, that the phenomenon also gave them the willies. Several noticed the resemblance of these dolls to actual dead babies (I know more than my share of nurses who have seen such things), and few could avoid being reminded of abortions: of the many million living babies who have been turned into dead babies on the Carthaginian altar of post-modernity.
On the other hand, a friend whom I consider rather abnormal thought Reborns were “very sweet.”
We have all heard about inflatable sex dolls, and recently there was a media flourish on Japanese “robot women,” and the market for them among lonely men.
Out of my own innate preference for living women, I do not hesitate to label woman-dolls as sick.
On the other hand, the little girls’ habit of playing with (much less realistic) dolls can be traced to ancient archaeological sites, and I class it as healthy. It is child’s play, and I would worry only about the little girl who has taken talking to her dolls to a disturbing extreme.
But grown women passionately attached to Reborns?
It will take a lot of additional cultural conditioning before the people I know get over their revulsion for such things.
In the meantime: What an extraordinary revelation, not merely of where our society is going, but where it has gone.