What is the meaning of life? Is there a God? Are we alone in the universe? Were William Shakespeare's plays in fact written by feminist woman Emilia Bassano, thus explaining at last why the plays have no heroes but only heroines?
Yes, these are questions of some intrinsic importance but (save for the towering issue of Shakespeare authorship, resolved for me now by my certainty that Emilia Bassano was this "Shakespeare") they pale into pallid insignificance next to the Great Question of Our Time of whether or not our dogs love us.
A manic dog lover, I pricked up my ears and even did a little intellectual drooling as I read this eternal question intelligently discussed in a new essay, So, Do Our Dogs Love Us? just posted in my latest online Literary Hub.
Authors Adam Rutherford and Hannah Fry joust with one another on this big, shaggy, four-legged subject.
And when I call it the great question of our time I am not being entirely frivolous because dog ownership, already a huge phenomenon (of pet-owning Australians, which is 72 per cent of us, 48 per cent of us have a dog) has taken on extra significances during the pandemic. The parts dogs can play in adding lustre to our mental health, especially by combating the pandemic's enforced lonelinesses, are being much-researched now. You can read a fact-rich summary of all this in a World Economic Forum piece This Is How Pets Helped Our Mental Health During Lockdown.
In So Do Our Dogs Love Us? (do read it for yourselves) Hannah Fry argues, persuasively, that yes of course they do while Adam Rutherford argues, persuasively, that, probably, no they don't.
He argues that "Because love ... is necessarily a human concept and can only be expressed by humans, the answer has to be no, [my beloved dog] Jesse does not love me. Only humans are capable of love because it is a human condition. The feeling that Jesse has for me is a dog feeling, and therefore ineffable to me. Until he learns to speak, he can't describe to me how he feels."
But your dog-besotted columnist is moved to think that almost all feelings of love (whatever "love" is), including our species' yearning for it from all and any sources human and animal (I share this yearning and desperately want to believe my dog loves me while wondering why I care what a drooling brute thinks of me) are "ineffable" and mysterious. Are our love relationships with other humans any less ineffable than our love relationships with our dogs?
I'm 76 and yet even after such a good, long look at love from both sides now, from up and down and give and take and win and lose, still somehow it's love's illusions I recall and find I really don't know love at all.
And with love on the mind and with an election looming perhaps the people wonder (albeit subconsciously) if their prime minister loves them; if Albo does.
One persuasive explanation of then Labor leader Bill Shorten's eerie unpopularity with the people (polling showed he went into the last seemingly unlosable-for-Labor election as the most unpopular federal Labor leader in 30 years) was that he seemed so very needy. We the people felt he desperately needed us to love him when what we the people really want is a paternal PM fully capable of loving us.
Immediately after the election and for a Quarterly Essay the discerning Erik Jensen diagnosed that "The great truth of Bill Shorten is that he doesn't know himself. He hasn't settled his character ... he is like the country: ill at ease and incomplete ... there are parts of him he has never found. Had he been prime minister, he would have governed from insecurity for an insecure nation."
Yes, that's not the kind of hard-to-love father-figure/dad insecure children, insecure voters and insecure nations hanker for. How can he properly, unconditionally love us when, ill at ease, incomplete and troubled, (Shorten always reminded one of the tormented Prince of Denmark of Hamlet, arguably the greatest of Emilia Bassano's plays) he has not even learned to love himself?
Going into this next election the people have no such dilemma since Anthony Albanese is plainly (but modestly) quite fond of himself while Prime Minister Morrison's transparent self-love is famously one of the great passions of all time, on a par with the legendary love of a Roman general and the Queen of Egypt in Bassano's historical masterpiece Antony and Cleopatra.
- Ian Warden is a regular columnist.