Sunday, June 21, 2009

Dogs in social space

For the last two days we’ve been driving across Pennsylvania and Ohio in our migration out west. Being without a home, and with two medium-large dogs, has amplified my sense that social space is organized to exclude animals. In the general sense this is obvious and nothing new, but in the particular case of dogs—a species which all my experience and knowledge leads me to believe has moral faculties on par with humanity—there are detailed interdictions that go beyond exteriorizing “the wild” or the “beast” for the sake of mentally breaking our solidarity.

For example, if Cesca and I want to eat a meal we have to 1) find a restaurant with a dog-friendly patio 2) leave the dogs in the car or hotel for a bit 3) get take out 4) buy groceries and assemble/eat our food in a dog-friendly zone.

One of the ironies of the increase of capital’s attention to pets—the ever growing industry of foods, manuals, treats, and services—is that pets, particularly dogs, acquire a more definite place in the legal armature of capital. So as more people spend (and make) money on dogs, the geography of the human-dog world becomes more definitely articulated. This seems to be not so much to effect real protections of persons and property (that dog pissed on my church! Now I have to replace the granite!) as to delimit zones that capital can appropriate as productive. By making dog spaces scarce, dog-space can be commodified not just as kennels but as pay-per-use dog parks or dog daycares, extra fees or deposits at hotels, and as a good or lack thereof that inflects pricing and competition between accommodation services.

The rhetorical choice “doggy daycare” typifies how this follows the pattern of social disruption that capital was working out in its formative years: breaking up the family as a laboring unit, inventing “child labor”—and in such a way that it should not be permitted, that it can become a legal category—and introducing interior design that makes spaces 1) unavailable to the excluded or 2) such that it is likely to elicit transgressive behavior to justify exclusion. To a large extent this is coterminous with the discourse of space efficiency. The adult is the person who can function in tight, convoluted spaces without infringing on the space of those pushed near. If you’re reading this you can probably go to a busy Starbucks without incident; if you’re five years old or mentally retarded or a dog, you might have problems with that. In a park or other less dense space any of these individuals can function happily and with social success.

Conversely, cattle and other animal-products to be are put in their own places, again endorsed by the name of efficiency. The alternative would be a co-mingling of human and nonhuman spaces as we find in older, less modern cultures. (I vividly remember visiting a ruin where humans and their cattle slept in the same bed because the ammonia in the cow piss protected them from bronchial infection.) This system also avoids all the deteriorations any monoculture inflicts on its sustainability (Pollan praises such a rotation system in the modern cattle raising practices of Argentina). Creating a psychic division between humans and animals seems to be at least as important as productive capacity for the spatial logic of modern architectures.