Plutarch relates a story at the beginning of his Life of Pericles. He tells us that the emperor Augustus, on one of his frequent forays into Rome to mingle with the people, once caught sight of some foreigners making merry with some small monkeys and puppies. They were carrying the animals here and there on their backs and shoulders for the amusement of the crowd, and were showering them with affection.
Augustus disapproved of such displays, believing them unfit pursuits for mature and well-adjusted men.
“We are told,” Plutarch says,
…that he [Augustus] then asked whether the women in those countries did not bear children, thus rebuking in truly imperial fashion those who squander upon animals that capacity for love and affection which in the natural order of things should be reserved for our fellow men.
In the same way, since nature has endowed us with a lively curiosity and love of knowledge, we ought equally to blame the people who abuse these gifts and divert them to objects which are unworthy of attention, while they neglect those which have the best claim to it.
We should wonder what Augustus would have made of the modern female celebrity, who carries about her pet as an ornament, always ready to use it as an attention-seeking accoutrement. It may seem that such an activity is harmless. But it is not. Certainly, love of animals is a good thing, and can show a certain tenderness and humanity. But when this love extends too far, and becomes an affectation, then it has ceased to be virtuous. It then becomes a distraction from the proper cares of the mature man, and essentially a vice.
The frivolous person who cares more about his pet than his life’s responsibilities has indulged in the vice of vanity. In Latin, we call this vice vanitas.
He who devotes undue affection on his pets cares not about his dog or cat, but about himself. The pet is a buffer, a shield, and a weapon. The pet is used as a means of avoiding sincere interaction with others. It is a manipulative and vain person who devotes too much time to his pets.
The modern woman’s fixation on her pets is a profoundly antisocial act, which deserves stern condemnation. It is unwholesome vanity and frivolity, masquerading as benevolent affection. It is dishonest emotive expenditure.
By lavishing attention on her pets, the modern woman (or man, who is often equally guilty) seeks to dodge his duties to his fellow man. The pet becomes a substitute for life, requiring no reciprocal obligations.
Your pet is not an extension of you. Your pet should not be used as a means of dodging your responsibilities to yourself and to others. Their enjoyment should be confined within the boundaries of a momentary diversion.
As humanists, we place the study of man above all else: we aim for the perfectibility of man, for the polishing of his soul, and for his accession to the world of Intellect. Humanism values human concerns over those of frivolous sentimentality. We respect our fellow creatures of the earth, but know that they are not our fellow travelers. There is this perceptible barrier, this unbridgeable gulf, that separates us.
This gulf will always separate us.
The natural world is an abundant source of pleasures. We respect the beauty and variety of the natural world, but are conscious of the fact that of all creatures on land and in sea, only Man has the capacity for reason. Only Man has the ability to approach the divine principles, as those principles have been understood for many centuries.
Look to yourself, and abide your own perfectibility; it will not be found in unhealthy fixations on the baser creatures of the earth.
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