Posts Tagged ‘Ariel Dorfman’

Squeaky Toys: the review

April 24, 2021

A Duckland book review :
Michel Foucat – “Squeaky Toys and Submission”
with Daffy Duck and Ibn Battuta

soundtrack

DD : Ibn, I know you have some qualms about the methodology and some of the conclusions, but wouldn’t you agree that this is, nonetheless, a great philosophical work?

IB : When I first dove into Squeaky Toys, I was a bit blinded by the fact that this is Michel Foucat, with all that it entails. I enjoyed reading it, but kind of slept through it. But after reading it a second and then a third time, I was more able to see some of the possible flaws in his research.

DD : Such as?

IB : Well Daffy, in the second chapter, Foucat quips that “When you gaze into the dog too long, the dog gazes back into you.” And he then goes on to explain how the enslaving of dogs had a way of normalizing slavery in general, especially what he calls squeaky toy-enhanced slavery. He posits that humans were more able to accept their own social slavery by enslaving a smaller animal than themselves.

DD : And do you disagree with this?

IB : I don’t want to say whether I agree or not. I’m hardly qualified to describe the relationships between humans and dogs. But my issue is – neither is Foucat. Humans have been extinct for over a century, so most of what he has deduced about the interspecies relationships between them is based on second-hand research, often written by dogs or cats. I mean, if we ducks ever go extinct, will wolves write our stories for us? I certainly hope not.

DD : But isn’t this normal methodology when you’re writing about historical periods and extinct species? Don’t we have to enter into historical data and records that we can’t really support with personal experience?

IB : Of course. But one has to be careful about making pat statements about other species’ historical relationships when you have never actually witnessed their interaction yourself. There are limits to what can be constructed on hearsay, even if the hearsay is complex and vast. Everything that the author describes, aghast, about the meek sycophancy of dog pets, is written from a cat-centric point of view, based on dog-written texts. In the author’s conclusions, the biases are likely to be more of a factor than the actual details of the research.

DD : On the other hand, all books tell the story from their author’s point of view, no?

IB : Yes, but Michel Foucat isn’t just any author. He’s a cat, and cats have had a personal experience with human submission, as well as a complicated relationship with the dog world for many centuries. So he’s not only relying too much on indirect research, but he’s also part of a community that is not neutral in the matters of which he writes. For ducks like us, this species bias is important to recognize because of our own mitigated relationship with the feline species.

DD : Are there any other examples of possible research-contaminating bias in the book?

IB : One other springs to mind. In the chapter entitled Spoiled! he contrasts the plush and colorful toys that dogs are given as tokens of affection – with the control of their bathroom breaks, torture-based training, solitary confinement, and other enslavement conditions. He concludes that these toys are primarily to make the wicked human master feel less guilty about robbing the dog of all his dignity and freedom.

DD : Yes, he goes on to say that, in many ways, dogs were themselves a squeaky toy for humans – along with pickup trucks and diamond rings – and that dogs were aware of this. But back to your point, Ibn – in what way is this contaminated with bias?

IB : Well, Daffy, contaminated might not be the best word here. But once again…I…um… some of the conclusions that Foucat comes to – like that squeaky toys were mainly a tool of human guilt-management – is made without a real grasp or description of human psychology. We duck readers are just supposed to assume that humans would feel guilty about enslaving another species, and that a squeaky toy would help.

This may be the author projecting duck and cat levels of empathy onto a long-gone human species. Not surprisingly, Foucat has been accused by many academics of being “Felinist” in the way he selects historical data to paint a very specific portrait of his own species.

DD : Wow! Thank you, Ibn.

We’ll be back with more of this review of Michel Foucat’s “Squeaky Toys and Submission” after these words from our sponsors.

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