On One Important Difference Between Pets and Children and What It Tells Us About U.S. Foreign Policy

24Oct07

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that we have two couples, roughly similar in every indicator of socioeconomic status, and that money is not a determinative factor in this hypothetical. Let’s also assume that both are offered the opportunity 1) to have (or adopt) a child, or 2) to adopt a pet. A further condition is that the choice of one will preclude the other, which is to say that this is a one-shot deal, i.e., never again will our hypothetical couples be given the chance to add to their families, and there will be no “test-run” with a dog or cat in advance of having a child (although we heartily endorse the idea in principle, so long as the pet is not tossed onto the street or made to suffer any greater indignity than a demotion to second-class citizen).

Now, let’s say that “Couple A” choose the child, and “Couple B” choose a dog. What does this tell us about our respective couples? Couple A can be thought of as optimistic, whereas Couple B can be viewed as pessimistic.

This conclusion is rooted in the understanding that in almost every case, the decision to have a child is accompanied by the expectation — or at least the hope — that barring unforeseen sickness or accident, the child will outlive the parents, whereas the decision to adopt almost any pet — except for certain species of birds, which however much we admire them (i.e., birds) we will leave aside for the moment — must, unless the prospective owners are very old (and in this case we will tell you that they are not), be accompanied by a certainty that — again, barring unforeseen sickness or accident — the pet will die before its caretakers, i.e., no matter how much a pet is loved (and we can attest that many of them are loved very much) and cared for and pampered with gourmet foods and deliciously fishy treats, the day will come when we must close their eyes to the world and consider the stark landscape of our own lives without them.

We note in this regard that lifelong “bachelor” Arthur Schopenhauer, patron saint of all pessimists and — let’s be honest — one of the most formidably bitchy queens of all-time, was extremely devoted to a succession of poodles he owned, and that he bequeathed his estate to disabled Prussian soldiers and the families of those killed in the service of a government fueled by optimism instead of grief.

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