Dog domestication and human settlement occurred at the same time, some 15,000 years ago, raising the possibility that dogs may have had a complex impact on the structure of human society. Dogs could have been the sentries that let hunter gatherers settle without fear of surprise attack. They may also have been the first major item of inherited wealth, preceding cattle, and so could have laid the foundations for the gradations of wealth and social hierarchy that differentiated settled groups from the egalitarianism of their hunter-gatherer predecessors. Notions of inheritance and ownership, Dr. Driscoll said, may have been prompted by the first dogs to permeate human society, laying an unexpected track from wolf to wealth.
Is not the noble youth very like a well-bred dog in respect of guarding and watching?
Like the ideal Guardians of the City “well-bred dogs are perfectly gentle to their familiars and acquaintances, and the reverse to strangers.” And:
Why, a dog, whenever he sees a stranger, is angry; when an acquaintance, he welcomes him, although the one has never done him any harm, nor the other any good. Did this never strike you as curious? … And surely this instinct of the dog is very charming; your dog is a true philosopher. … Why, because he distinguishes the face of a friend and of an enemy only by the criterion of knowing and not knowing. And must not an animal be a lover of learning who determines what he likes and dislikes by the test of knowledge and ignorance? … And is not the love of learning the love of wisdom, which is philosophy?
This is an ironic play on substantives (a form of Socratic cheating frequent in the dialogues — which another way of saying what Socrates says elsewhere, that mythological hypostatizations are favored over logical validity): Ignorance is the enemy and Knowledge the friend, but what philosophers are ignorant of and do not possess is what they desire and seek without end (knowledge, wisdom (sophia)). And their enemies are the doxa (opinions) and doxosophia (conceit of wisdom) that arguably hold together societies, tribes, and families. Tribalism and patriotism are a matter of blind loyalty — to country and values. The rest is youth-corruption and making the lesser argument seem the better. So if we take the stranger as representing ignorance in general, the dog and the philosopher are the same; if we take it as representing something unknown, then reverse that. The dog-stranger conflict either represents a confrontation with one’s own (and so one’s City’s) dearly held beliefs (to be excised by dialectic), or a confrontation with everything foreign, unknown, and generally other. The conflict inherent in the City is that it requires both a tough cell membrane to ward off invaders, and tolerance for the kind of free-thinking that founds sophisticated institutions but in its skepticism might be interpreted as treasonous. Think of someone telling you, “you better be happy the troops are fighting for your right to say that.” The paradoxical implication — one highlighted in Machiavelli and Hobbes — is that pockets of civilized order (and such concepts as “rights”) are founded in violence and brute force of one kind or another. The philosophical dog, by the way, is a favorite of some Straussians, as a kind of mascot for realpolitik (and if some critics are right, neoconservatism): we must reward our friends and hurt our enemies, without regard for justice (in this case we read between the lines and don’t take the Socratic rejection of Thrasymachus’ might-makes-right at face value).
Incidentally, the tough-exterior/soft-interior paradox is a far-reaching theme: the tough route is the practical one (wage war against the world, join the rat race, get rich) and the soft route the idealistic one (starve in humanities grad school or while finger-painting in a Manhattan loft). It also goes to the general question of psychological boundaries and the economy of letting the outside in without falling apart as a result (like a cell that can’t maintain homeostasis); the City after all is for Socrates just a large scale model of the soul. And to take up a theme also addressed in the Gorgias and other dialogues, we must make decisions about the thickness of such membranes: the outward-directed violence (towards potential invaders of all kinds, ideas included) has inward costs. In the extreme case, to be a perpetrator of injustice is worse than being its victim because of the inner deformity it causes: it’s one thing to be invaded from without, it’s another to destroy oneself from within via too-rigid and consequently brittle defenses. Witness the question of whether the idea of “fighting terror” by morally repugnant (but outward-directed) means has consequences for a society’s institutional integrity (the softer and finer structures involving law, due process, and civil liberties). To move back again to the psychological — or psychoanalytic — view: psychological defenses (including repression and projection) are useful up to a point. After that point, they may become a debilitating sickness. Likewise, your autoimmune system may go postal on you. And so the ideal proposed in the Republic involves purely outward-facing guardians — anti-philosophical in one direction and philosophy-grounding in the other. If they fail to maintain their position, the city or the soul are in big trouble. It’s a precarious balance.
And so I like the idea that the dog may have quite literally played this role — that this Platonic metaphor, at a critical and foundational moment, was instantiated; with dogs implicated in an abiogenesis for civilization, spontaneously aligning themselves like the hydrophilic/phobic poles of the lipids that form cell membranes.
If this sounds like so much pretentious bullshit, I’ve saved the best part for last (the scraps, tossed from the very edge of the campground):
His team has also used the dog SNP chip to scan for genes that show signatures of selection. One such favored dog gene has a human counterpart that has been implicated in Williams syndrome, where it causes exceptional gregariousness. Another two selected genes are involved in memory. Dogs, unlike wolves, are adept at taking cues from human body language, and the two genes could have something to do with this faculty, Dr. Wayne said.
The cure for exceptional gregariousness: philosophy.