Serfdom’s Up on Campus

I know Marlboro takes pride in its World Studies Program, but its not every day you can find a Hungarian puli, an Australian shepherd, a Yorkshire terrier and a Japanese chin all sniffing each other’s butts on campus. That could only be during “dog camp,” which rents the campus this week each summer; I tell you, Marlboro is filled with even more barking, wagging, panting, whining, jumping and generally joyful romping than oral exams week. Don’t get the wrong idea; this camp is not all fun and games, arts and crafts and archery and canoeing and stuff like that. These dogs play hard, herding sheep, running through tunnels, jumping over hurdles and generally learning how to sit, stay, heel and other hallmarks of upstanding behavior. But the socioeconomic rewards are enormous.

Of course the most obvious difference between dog camp and the academic year at Marlboro is that the “students” have four legs and do not discuss constructivist epistemology over lunch. But there is also a more subtle difference in the social order. I mean, gone are the town meetings and committees and ballots and other trappings of Marlboro’s famous democratic community. Dog camp is more of a benevolent oligarchy, where power rests firmly with the ruling elite (dogs) who demand the servitude and obedience of the serfs (people).

I know you might think it goes the other way around, but not with these dogs. They have their serfs so well trained that the people will actually feed them a savory smidge of hot dog every time they merely leap over a hurdle, say, or jump in the water, things that they enjoy doing anyway. Okay, so the serfs aren’t really building castles or harvesting acres of wheat as tribute, but they are working hard, waving their arms wildly and offering exclamations of encouragement to delight the ruling class. They purchase dog merchandise, bumper stickers, earrings, hats and flower essences, all in deference to dominant dog elite. You would not catch any egalitarian Marlboro students putting up with this kind of cultural hegemony. Maybe if the rewards were grilled cheese sandwiches and tasks were decided by majority vote, but never for savory smidges of hot dogs.