Saturday, April 28, 2007

Godwin and Children

Conversations about dog parks have an unfortunate tendency to move toward a comparison between children and dogs. This is almost never a good thing for people on either side of the debate so I'd like to propose a modification of Godwin's Law.

Descriptive law: The comparison of children and dogs or the introduction of children to any discussion of dogs (except where particularly relevant - safety, interactions, etc) always raises rhetorical temperatures and ends the productive exchange of ideas.

Prescriptive law: Never introduce children into a discussion about dog parks unless it is particularly relevant (what age to allow without parents, how to keep neighborhood kids from harassing the dogs, will the dogs bother nearby playing kids, etc). Doing so will result in the closing of all communicative channels and your point will be lost.

Dog owners feel very close to their dogs, they are truly members of the family. No matter how rational or valid your point may (or may not) be, any time you invoke a comparison between children and dogs non-dog people will only hear this: "I am a crazy person. I believe that my dogs are the heirs to my estate and will continue my family name. I also believe that your children are exactly the same as a feral schnauzer, raising them was not a big deal. I do not have human children because I am irresponsible and I will never be a real adult contributing to this society. Please disregard everything I have to say for the rest of the conversation."

Non-dog people also sometimes try to invoke a comparison of children and dogs to prove a point. At the Ward Park meeting Thursday someone asked how we could even consider providing a park for people with dogs when the children's services and schools need more money. The suggestion that children under a certain age might not be allowed in a dog park without parents was greeted with shock. During the discussion about children and adults, we were told that someone was "uncomfortable with this comparison between kids and dogs," but that he was disturbed that dogs would be allowed in the park but not unaccompanied kids. Of course the dogs would always be with adult humans too and the rules are for the kids' safety, but that's another post.

I understand that non-dog people sometimes make a comparison between dogs and kids because they hear a dog person make it and believe that all dog owners feel that way. But just the same, no matter how valid the point, if you invoke this comparison a dog person will only hear: "I am uptight and I believe that you are a crazy person. If you don't have children then you are not an adult and should not be treated as a full member of society. If you already have children then you should have more rather than spending any money on a dog. You should have no say over how your taxes are spent unless you have children. Adults without children are probably child molesters. Please be quiet while we adults figure out how to further marginalize you."

Both of those characterizations are unfair, but I really think it's what we on both sides of the argument hear. Since it's so far from what anybody actually wants to get across it invariably has the effect of ending the productive exchange of ideas. If everybody involved in the dog park issue would please refrain from comparing dogs to children, we will all be a lot happier.


JT said...

Excellent observations. It's not as if many parents of children do not also own dogs that might enjoy being off-leash. Also, many parents of children would not want their children to suffer an unfortunate incident with an unknown unleashed dog if they were to be alone in an off-leash park. A well-chosen off-leash park, or system of such parks, would be eminently useful for all citizens of Ann Arbor. If only non-dog people on the Parks and Recreation Board could see the utility of such a park for all Ann Arbor residents.

Ness said...

Dogs aren't children. Children aren't dogs. The world would probably be a better place if people would stop treating dogs like children and treating children like dogs.
However, the argument that no money should be spent on anything that doesn't benefit me directly is so ludicrous, it shouldn't even be considered an argument. Spending money on something that doesn't benefit me is part of living in a society. Or why are my tax dollars used for the Iraq war, and I continue to pay into a social security system I'm not eligible to benefit from?!

Bob Dively said...

Right on the nose. So much so that I don't have anything to add.