It is the nature of Evolution and the human mind to repurpose what exists into what could be: to innovate, experiment, and sometimes to improve. The fate of such change is almost always failure–99.9 % of all species to ever have lived are extinct and 95% of new businesses fail within 5 years–but occasionally unplanned, unimagined, and even unwanted uses and abilities surpass the ability, potential, or popularity of the original.
This isn’t a simple re-purposing, such as using an apple or corncob to create a pipe; such uses don’t surpass the original nor are they particularly exemplary in their new form. Though I couldn’t resist bringing surrealist painter René Magritte into this thought stream by combining two of his images which both ask about the fundamental nature of reality, representation, symbolism and existential identity.
In branding, especially in branding dogs, I think the community is way too hung up on the past–and often an artificial past–in how we define and value our dogs. We turn them into symbols and representations and we place the story over the existential truth.
Conformation shows are very much about the painting of the pipe versus the pipe itself. The goal of a painting is to exhibit the skill of the artist, not to make a superior pipe. The painting just has to LOOK like a wonderful pipe. Then, as artists are want to do, trends and abuses turn into movements and in some epochs the art is realist, even romantic, other times it’s impressionistic and then downright absurd.
Conformation is all about the change, never about performance.
The trialists are also absorbed in the past, but in a different way; they are fundamentally against the evolution and repurposing of dogs. They find value in the antique nature of the breed and revel in stasis and reenactment. While a performance standard does speak to an existential truth (and this is why we don’t see the grotesque distortions we find from conformation artists), it doesn’t prevent the performance task from becoming obsolete or surpassed in popularity.
Trials are all about performance, never about change.
So what happens when we don’t constrain either of those variables and take a measure of what is produced in an existential, realist, and measured manner?
The Internet was funded by the Department of Defense for use by the military. National defense and elite scholarship were the original use and designing factors governing its design. Now, the military and elite institutions are taking more and more of their networks offline and spend fortunes putting up barriers to those that are still connected to the Internet.
In reality, the Internet is primarily for social networking and pornography, not national defense or scholarship. An impartial observer who was not indoctrinated in what the Internet is supposed to be or what it was in the past would hardly notice the national defense and scholarship aspects and would declare it to be a massive undertaking which people use to convince others that they are having lots of sex followed closely by actually viewing images and videos of strangers pretending to have lots of sex.
Last year, social networking surpassed pornography as the most popular use of the internet and more social networking activity takes place over the Internet than any other outlet. Likewise, pornography is the second most common use of the Internet and more people get their pornography over the Internet than any other source.
These are unintended and arguably unwanted developments in the use of the Internet, but the reflexive superiority of the task and the platform are undeniable. It’s not for education or defense, it’s for social wish fulfillment and fantasy.
While we’re on the subject of unexpected innovation for purposes of initiating or aiding sexual activity, here are three examples of other tools (all pharmaceuticals in this case) which have surpassed their initial use in pursuit of that goal. Viagra was developed specifically to treat hypertension and angina, with zero thought or design given to a secondary use as an erection inducer. It wasn’t until the drug made it to human trials that it was found to be useless for angina but effective for increasing blood flow to the penis. That is now its primary use and it is the primary drug prescribed for that condition.
Methylenedioxymethamphetamine was first synthesized a century ago as an intermediary product in part of a Merck plot to plagiarize a successful Bayer drug used to treat hemorrhages. Its psychotropic effects wouldn’t be appreciated for another six decades after it had been investigated as an appetite suppressant and decongestant like Ephedrine, and later as an analog to Mescaline in a study done by the US Army. MDMA found its way to the streets by the 1970s and soon into the basket of drugs offered to patients by psychotherapists. Ecstasy was classified as a Schedule I controlled substance by the mid 1980s, but that didn’t prevent its rise to prominence as a recreational drug second only to Marijuana in popularity, passing Cocaine and Heroin as drug-of-choice for first illicit drug experience.
Bimatoprost (“Lumigan”) was a rather unremarkable member of a family of drugs (prostaglandins) used to treat glaucoma until it was discovered that a side effect of the drug was the darkening and thickening of the eyelashes. Rebranded as “Latisse” the drug is now FDA approved for cosmetic use and is being sold as a beauty product. Its value as a cosmetic has already far surpassed its use as a medicinal drug. It is the only drug approved for cosmetic eyelash enhancement, so it currently dominates a much larger market than its previous incarnation as one of many treatments for hypertension in the eye.
Perhaps the most obvious approachable and active nursery for useage drift is the cell phone. It’s hardly a phone any more, as by any measure what used to be subordinate bonus features are now vastly more popular than the once sole raison d’être of the phone: to make voice calls. Teens send 6 times as many text messages as phone calls and even the least likely to text adults still use that feature more than dialing calls. The most popular use of the device is actually to tell the time though, and the ubiquity of cell phones has made the wrist watch an increasingly obsolete tool. Applications and Games have recently surpassed Internet browsing and e-mail as the largest share of data bandwidth and now people spend more time listening to music on their phone than making phone calls.
We might call it a phone, but that’s hardly its main use anymore. While there are still single purpose phones in the world, their use is dropping like a stone and the number of cellphone only households has surpassed the number of landline only households and the recession has caused many dual-phone households to ditch their landline to save money. The landline will likely live on, but only at a fraction of its previous popularity and in instances where the downside of cell phones (reliability, battery driven) make them impractical.
All of these tools were manipulated by man into filling a niche use. So too is the dog a man-adapted tool that has been continually manipulated to fill existing and new human niches.
So what IS a Border Collie then? By far its most popular use is as a pet. Not only does this use easily make up more than 90% of Border Collies, they are quite successful and good pets–easily a Top 10 breed and perhaps as high as Top 5. This has probably been the case for over a century going right back to the very founding days of the breed as a trial dog. It’s an undeniable truth that despite having the goal of creating winning trial dogs, the majority of puppies in a litter never stepped on a trial field. This is true for all competitive endeavors, it’s just that all the hype and branding comes from the minority use.
Among the fraction of Border Collies that are trained and compete, there are many times more Border Collies who play Frisbee, Flyball, Agility, and Obedience than have ever entered a sheep or cattle trial; and their ability in all these venues is exemplary. There isn’t another breed that can hold a candle to the Border Collie at dog sports, they are so dominant that they have been given a Border Collies Only division to compete in. Participation and growth in dog sports is robust and although some performance events started as a side show to conformation shows, they are now independently sustainable and there are numerous organizations that organize dog sport events that have no connection to and compete directly with the AKC.
This isn’t a “paradigm shift” in the formal sense, as the sport dog in no way precludes the use of the “working” dog despite surpassing it in popularity. I’ve been accused of putting dog sport Border Collies forth as “the new paradigm” but I make no such claim. Not only is ‘paradigm’ so over-used as to be meaningless, the original definition required a true revolution in understanding such that the use or way of thinking before the shift was eclipsed and supplanted (think “the earth is flat” to “the earth is round;” when you accept the latter, the former is meaningless).
Sport dogs and working dogs can co-exist and the value of the breed stock is not mutually exclusive. Creating pet and sport Border Collies is not a revolution, it’s a concurrent evolution. The reality is such though, that the market and demands of the sport world are larger and more intricate than the working breeders can provide. Thus, breeders can and will continue to breed to a sport and pet standard despite the moral cries from the sheeple that they should not do so.
This is not speculative advocacy on my part, projecting what I wish the reality were, it is a simple observation of the extant truth.
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