Student leaders at Manchester University declared that Kipling “stands for the opposite of liberation, empowerment, and human rights”.
The poem, which had been painted on the wall of the students’ union building by an artist, was removed by students on Tuesday, in a bid to “reclaim” history on behalf of those who have been “oppressed” by “the likes of Kipling”.
In lieu of Kipling’s If, students used a black marker pen to write out the poem Still I Rise by Maya Angelou on the same stretch of wall.
There’s a word for this: vandalism.
I am not a good judge of poetry, and in general, I think most people are no longer interested in poetry one way or another, so I am not going to judge the poems on their relative merits. I think a reasonable person could like either one. (Note: I have have in the past compared Shakespeare and Audre Lorde.)
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise. …
Neither of these poems is a clear winner on merit, but they weren’t chosen on merit. Kipling’s poem was chosen to decorate the student center at a British university because Kipling is one of Britain’s most beloved and respected writers and this particular poem was voted one of Britain’s very favorites. Further, it contains practical life advice of the sort you normally aim at students.
Maya Angelou, by contrast, isn’t British. She’s an American.
According to Sara Khan, “Liberation & Access Officer” of the Manchester Student Union, majoring in English:
We, as an exec team, believe that Kipling stands for the opposite of liberation, empowerment, and human rights…
Well-known as author of the racist poem ‘The White Man’s Burden’, and a plethora of other work that sought to legitimate the British Empire’s presence in India and de-humanise people of colour, it is deeply inappropriate to promote the work of Kipling in our SU …
As a statement on the reclamation of history by those who have been oppressed by the likes of Kipling for so many centuries, and continue to be to this day, we replaced his words with those of the legendary Maya Angelou, a black female poet and civil rights activist.”
It takes some special variety of gall to major in English at a British university and then complain about reading one of Britain’s most famous poets–and a great deal of stupidity to put up with it.
Angelou’s words were written in a specifically American context, responding to the way she and other African Americans were treated here in the US. Her poem has nothing to do with Kipling or things Kipling or other Brits have done. It was selected in this perverted sense that all whites are equivalent and interchangeable, as are all non-whites. Any non-white poet will do for replacing white poets.
Maya Angelou’s poem was not selected to replace Kipling’s because the students think it is better on technical, poetic grounds, nor because it reflects an important part of British literature, but for its subject and the author’s identity: a black woman. The message is not, “Here’s a lovely poem; we think students will enjoy it.” The message is, “Fuck you to Kipling and everyone who loves him; we are wiping you off the walls, removing you from our spaces, and replacing you with our own poem about how we are rising up against you.”
Incidentally, for an “English major,” Sara is oddly ignorant of the fact that Kipling’s poem, “The White Man’s Burden,” was not written to justify British colonialism in India. (I guess she is not a very good English major.) It was actually written to encourage the US to colonize the Philippines.
Kipling also seems to have been ambivalent about the whole endeavor:
Take up the White Man’s burden —
And reap his old reward:
The blame of those ye better,
The hate of those ye guard —
The cry of hosts ye humour
(Ah, slowly!) toward the light: —
“Why brought he us from bondage,
Our loved Egyptian night?”
(The bread of slavery, they say, is far sweeter than the bread of freedom.)
Children were born, safe from wolves, hunger, or cold
and you grew used to man.
And it seemed you outnumbered the stars
Perhaps your sons disappeared
But was it worse than wolves?
You could almost forget you were once wild
Could you return to the mountains, even if you wanted to?
And as they lead you away
Did I ever have a choice?
To explain: The process of domestication is fascinating. Some animals, like wolves, began associating with humans because they could pick up our scraps. Others, like cats, began living in our cities because they liked eating the vermin we attracted. (You might say the mice, too, are domesticated.) These relationships are obviously mutually beneficial (aside from the mice.)
The animals we eat, though, have a different–more existential–story.
Humans increased the number of wild goats and sheep available for them to eat by eliminating competing predators, like wolves and lions. We brought them food in the winter, built them shelters to keep them warm in the winter, and led them to the best pastures. As a result, their numbers increased.
But, of course, we eat them.
From the goat’s perspective, is it worth it?
There’s a wonderful metaphor in the Bible, enacted every Passover: matzoh.
If you’ve never had it, matzoh tastes like saltines, only worse. It’s the bread of freedom, hastily thrown on the fire, hastily thrown on the fire and carried away.
The bread of slavery tastes delicious. The bread of freedom tastes awful.
1And they took their journey from Elim, and all the congregation of the children of Israel came unto the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departing out of the land of Egypt. 2And the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness: 3And the children of Israel said unto them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full… Exodus 16
Even if the goats didn’t want to be domesticated, hated it and fought against it, did they have any choice? If the domesticated goats have more surviving children than wild ones, then goats will become domesticated. It’s a simple matter of numbers:
In honor of the decision by students at the University of Pennsylvania to replace Shakespeare’s portrait (too stale, pale, and male for our newest crop of intellectuals,) with Audre Lorde’s, (“African American writer, civil rights activist and self-described, “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.'”) I decided to read a batch of Lorde’s poetry to see how it stacks up against the bard’s.
But to make this more fun, I’ve decided to pair each Lorde poem (chosen from those available on PoemHunter.com) with a poem on a similar theme from Shakespeare and let you vote for the ones you think are genuinely the best. (I wanted to make two columns so you can read the poems side-by-side, but I’m not sure how to code that, so I just photoshopped the poems together. Let me know if they aren’t readable.)
EvX: I decided to cut #4, because it was quite long. We still have 5/7 listed on PoemHunter.
(Lest you question my technique in choosing these poems, my methodology was relatively simple: first I headed to the local library, in search of this famous poet’s marvelous books. Alas, even though Lorde published a grand total of 17 books of poems and essays, [including a posthumous collection of writings not previously deemed worth publishing,] coming admirably close to Shakespeare’s 38 plays and 154 sonnets, the local library is mysteriously bereft of her work; I could find only one poem and a couple of essays in large anthologies.
So I turned to the internet, as mentioned. PoemHunter.com, which lists about 400 entries for Skakespeare, also lists 7 poems for Lorde. I assume these particular poems are on the site because Lorde’s fans believe them to be particularly excellent examples of her work, and so decided to use them for my comparison. After excluding one for obscenity and one for length, I was left with a reasonable 5, which I then tried to match against poems of similar theme from William Shakespeare.)
Now at this point, you may be asking yourself, “Who is this grand Shakespearess? Whence hailed this ebony poet of warrior’s virtue?”
According to Wikipedia:
Lorde was born in New York City to Caribbean immigrants from Barbados and Carriacou, Frederick Byron Lorde (called Byron) and Linda Gertrude Belmar Lorde, who settled in Harlem. Lorde’s mother was of mixed ancestry but could pass for white, … Lorde’s father was darker than the Belmar family liked, and they only allowed the couple to marry because of Byron Lorde’s charm, ambition, and persistence.… [Audre] learned to talk while she learned to read, at the age of four, and her mother taught her to write at around the same time. She wrote her first poem when she was in eighth grade.
In this study, 174 elementary school-age children whose parents reported that they started forming sentences ‘early’, ‘on-time’ or ‘late’ were evaluated with standardized measures of language, reading and spelling. All oral and written language measures revealed consistent patterns for ‘early’ talkers to have the highest level of performance and ‘late’ talkers to have the lowest level of performance…
In short, a kid who doesn’t start talking until the age of four is most likely severely retarded. The claim here that Audre Lorde began talking at the age of four, with no given explanation for why and no indication of mental impairment, is extremely suspect. (Though I note that people in Lorde’s day didn’t rush to get their kids autism diagnoses like we do today. Wikipedia’s claim that:
As a child, Lorde, who struggled with communication, came to appreciate the power of poetry as a form of expression. She memorized a great deal of poetry, and would use it to communicate, to the extent that, “If asked how she was feeling, Audre would reply by reciting a poem.”
is consistent with autism and other developmental disorders, so perhaps Lorde is indeed a high-IQ autist who simply began speaking late.)
Lorde’s relationship with her parents was difficult from a young age. She was able to spend very little time with her father and mother, who were busy maintaining their real estate business…
So Audre Lorde is basically the half-white, half-black daughter of rich immigrants who lived in NYC. (Even when liberals are clearly trying their hardest, they still somehow can’t find a poet who is actually a member of America’s historical black community. Perhaps libs just aren’t good at distinguishing between different groups of non-whites, hence their habit of just lumping them all together in an undifferentiated mass of “POCs.”)
Hunter has been ranked as the top public high school in the United States by both The Wall Street Journal and Worth.The New York Times called Hunter “the prestigious Upper East Side school known for its Ivy League-bound students” and “the fast track to law, medicine and academia.” Publicly available data indicate that Hunter has the highest average SAT score, the highest average ACT score and the highest percentage of National Merit Finalists of any high school in the United States, public or private.
Evil Jim Crow laws and homophobia then so shut Lorde out of college and job opportunities that she was basically homeless and starving in the streets:
In 1954, she spent a pivotal year as a student at the National University of Mexico, a period she described as a time of affirmation and renewal, during which she confirmed her identity on personal and artistic levels as a lesbian and poet. On her return to New York, she attended Hunter College, graduating class of 1959. There, she worked as a librarian, continued writing and became an active participant in the gay culture of Greenwich Village. She furthered her education at Columbia University, earning a master’s degree in Library Science in 1961. She also worked during this time as a librarian at Mount Vernon Public Library and married attorney Edwin Rollins; they divorced in 1970 after having two children, Elizabeth and Jonathan. In 1966, Lorde became head librarian at Town School Library in New York City, where she remained until 1968.
In 1984 Audre Lorde started a visiting professorship in Berlin Germany at the Free University of Berlin. She was invited by Dagmar Schultz who met her at the UN “World Women’s Conference” in Copenhagen in 1980. While Lorde was in Germany she made a significant impact on the women there and was a big part of the start of the Afro-German movement. The term Afro-German was created by Lorde and some Black German women as a nod to African-American. During her many trips to Germany, she touched many women’s lives including May Ayim, Ika Hügel-Marshall, and Hegal Emde. All of these women decided to start writing after they met Audre Lorde. She encouraged the women of Germany to speak up and have a voice. … Her impact on Germany reached more than just Afro-German women. Many white women and men found Lorde’s work to be very beneficial to their own lives. They started to put their privilege and power into question and became more conscious.
See, pre-Lorde Germans were basically brute savages, ignorant of ideas like “write things down” or “talk about stuff.” It is very lucky for them that this miracle working Sequoyah deigned to teach them her Dahomey magic art of “consciousness;” I certainly can’t think of anything that occurred prior to 1984 that might have ever made a German person think spontaneously and independently about things like “power” or how the state might oppress an ethnic minority. But getting back to Wikipedia:
Because of her impact on the Afro-German movement, Dagmar Schultz put together a documentary to highlight the chapter of her life that was not known to many. Audre Lorde – The Berlin Years was accepted by the Berlinale in 2012 and from then was shown at many different film festivals around the world and received five awards. The film showed the lack of recognition that Lorde received for her contributions towards the theories of intersectionality.
Gee, why don’t people understand that the idle rich have a unique insight into the lives of oppressed people? It’s just terrible when wealthy people don’t get the credit they deserve.
Oh, would you like to hear some of Lorde’s non-fiction? Here’s an excerpt from an essay she wrote in 1985:
… stock in Black human life in the U.S.A., never high, is plunging rapidly in the sight of white american complacencies. But as African-Americans we cannot afford to play that market’ it is our live and the live of our children that are at stake.
The political and social flavor of the African American position in the 1980s eel in particular aspects to be analogous to occurrences in the Black South African communities of the 1950s, the period of the postwar construction of the apartheid, reaction, and suppression…
The fact that African-Americans can till move about relatively freely, do not yet have to cary passbooks or battle an officially named policy of apartheid, should not delude us for a minute about the disturbing similarities of the Black situation in each one of these profit-oriented economies.
Not only does Lorde appear to be unaware that 324,000 white Americans died to free the slaves, (perhaps this is not her fault–after all, Lorde’s ancestors weren’t in the country back then and she attended such an inadequate, taxpayer-funded school that she might have never heard of this little dust-up between the states,) she also believed in 1985 that the US was moving toward a system of full apartheid.
I can forgive a bad prediction–we all make them–but why was this essay included in a book published in 2000, well after we discovered that the US was not actually moving toward apartheid? Here, let’s have an essay about phlogistan while we’re at it.
Another book with one of Lorde’s essays, “The Impossible will Take a While,” published in 2014, states in its introduction (not written by Lorde):
We live in a contradictory world. Dispiriting events coincide with progress for human dignity. … Only a short while ago, if you were gay, you were probably invisible and closeted, except for a handful of courageous activists who affirmed who they were despite major risks and costs.
Liberals live in this strange time warp where basically the entire world prior to the Obama administration was Dark Ages. In 1984, a good thirty years before this book was published, enough gay men were courageous and active enough to have unprotected sex with hundreds or thousands of partners, resulting in an AIDS epidemic that had already claimed 7,600 American lives. By the early 90s, AIDS was killing over 40,000 people a year, but its rampage was finally checked by condom use and the massively expensive development of retroviral drugs, so that by 2002, a mere 500,000 Americans had died.
That’s a really big “handful.”
Are people simply incapable of figuring out whether strings of words make sense or bear any relationship to reality?
When Ph.D. candidate Gordon Pennycook stumbled on [the “New Age Bullshit Generator,”] he found it profoundly entertaining — at first. But then he got a little disturbed:
“I thought, ‘I wonder if people would actually rate such blatant bullshit as profound,’” …
His study, “On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit,” was published in the journal Judgment and Decision Making in November. Pennycook, along with a team of researchers from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, tested close to 800 participants on whether they could determine if a statement was bullshit. …
Defining “bullshit” … he cites the deceptively deep sentence “Hidden meaning transforms unparalleled abstract beauty.”
The study explains: “Although this statement may seem to convey some sort of potentially profound meaning, it is merely a collection of buzzwords put together randomly in a sentence that retains syntactic structure.”
“Bullshit, in contrast to mere nonsense, is something that implies but does not contain adequate meaning or truth,” it continues. …
The researchers used randomly generated sayings from New Age Bullshit Generator and another site called “Wisdom of Chopra” — the last a sarcastic nod to the new age teachings of best-selling alternative medicine author Deepak Chopra — for the study.
They found that people who are receptive to this kind of “pseudo-intellectual bullshit” are less intelligent than those who aren’t.
The governor shall biennially present the New York state Walt Whitman citation of merit to a distinguished New York poet upon the recommendation of the panel constituted in this section. The poet selected shall be considered the state poet and the citation shall carry an honorarium of ten thousand dollars. …
Nothing says “oppressed” like the state of New York voting to give you $10,000 a year to write poems about gay sex and black power. (I would take Lorde’s self-description as a “warrior” more seriously if she put her money where her mouth is and actually joined the army.)
In Ada Gay Griffin and Michelle Parkerson‘s documentary A Litany for Survival: The Life and Work of Audre Lorde, Lorde says, “Let me tell you first about what it was like being a Black woman poet in the ’60s, from jump. It meant being invisible. It meant being really invisible. It meant being doubly invisible as a Black feminist woman and it meant being triply invisible as a Black lesbian and feminist”.
Honey, you’re not invisible because you’re a black lesbian feminist; you’re invisible because you chose a profession that most people don’t care about and then managed to suck at it.
This post was inspired primarily by a liberal acquaintance–we’ll call her Juliet.
Since the election, Juliet has been suicidal. I don’t mean she’s actually tried to commit suicide; (suicidal women very rarely actually commit suicide, unlike suicidal men.) I just mean she’s posted a lot of angst-ridden things on the internet about how she wants to die because Trump is going to destroy everything in a giant fireball, and literally the only thing she has left to live for are her 3 dogs and 10 cats.
Juliet is one of those people who thinks that we are one heavy bootstep away from Holocaust 2.0 (despite such a thing never having happened in all of American history,) and that the US was an oppressive, horrible, quasi-genocidal place up until 4-8 years ago. (She’s the same age as me, so she has no youth excuse for not knowing what life was like 10 years ago.)
I think this is a side effect of really buying into the BLM narrative that the police have just been slaughtering black children in the streets and we are finally doing something about it, and the perception that gay people are a much larger % of the population than they actually are and assumption that forbidding gay marriage inconvenienced people far more than it actually did. (Buying the BLM narrative is understandable, I guess, if you aren’t familiar with crime stats.)
Now, I have lived through elections that didn’t go my way. My side has lost, and I have felt quite unhappy. But I have never rioted, set things on fire, or decided that my life is meaningless and begun envying the dead.
So I got thinking: What gives people meaning? Why do many people feel like their lives are meaningless?
Meaning can come from many sources, but (I suspect) we derive it from three main sources:
1. Worthwhile work
1. Worthwhile work is work that is valuable and inherently satisfying. Farmers, for example, do worthwhile work. Worthwhile work creates a direct relationship between a person’s efforts and the food on their table and their physical well-being, where working harder results in a better life for oneself and potentially one’s friends, family, and community.
Marx (who was not entirely wrong about everything) wrote about how modern industrial factories disassociate the worker from the product of his labor. No individual worker creates a single product, and the individual working harder than expected creates no appreciable effect on the end results. Workers have no control over factories, cannot (typically) implement creative ideas that would improve products or production methods, and basically live at the whims of the factory owners and broad economic trends rather than their own efforts.
(There’s a great irony that Marxism, as actually implemented, just scaled all of the problems of the factory up to the level of the whole society, making entire nations miserable.)
From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense that people desire to do things that result in eating and don’t really want to obey others in huge, impersonal systems where their actions don’t have any obvious impact on their personal well-being.
Due to technological changes, most of us have far nicer, healthier, well-fed lives than our ancestors, while simultaneously our jobs have become far less instinctually fulfilling, because we simply don’t need that many people producing food or hand-making clothes and furniture anymore. So few of us–my acquaintance included–are likely to have actually fulfilling work.
2. People live–literally–for their families. Throughout the entirety of human history, almost 100% of people who survived infancy and lived long enough to reproduce and continue the human line were people whose families cared about them and took care of them.
Yes, women post inordinately about their children and grandparents babble on about their “grandbabies,” but this is exactly as it should be; from an evolutionary perspective, your descendents are the most important thing in the world to you. All of our efforts are ultimately aimed at the well-being and survival of our children; indeed, many people would sacrifice their own lives to save their kids.
To give a personal example: having kids (well, one at a time, so kid) was probably the single most significant event in my life. Not just because of the predictable changes (less sleep, more diaper changes,) but also because of the not-subtle at all but somewhat difficult to describe complete and utter re-orienting of my entire “self.”
In real life, I am a very shy, retiring person. A few weeks into kiddo’s life, I became concerned that something was wrong, and at that moment, I knew that nothing and nobody would stop me from getting my child to the doctor. My normally shy, fearful personality was dust before the needs of my child.
People talk about “female empowerment.” This was empowerment.
(Luckily, everything turned out fine–colic is a very common problem and in many cases can be treated, btw.)
Perhaps not surprising, all of the people I know who are distressed because their lives lack meaning also do not have children. Indeed, the person I know who went the furthest down this road was a father whose wife left him and whose small child died, leaving him utterly alone. Without any purpose in his life, he stopped working, stopped interacting with the world, and became homeless: a kind of living death.
The devastation of loneliness is horrible.
And yet, despite living in the richest society in pretty much all of human history, we’ve decided en masse to cut the number of children we have. Gone are the days when children had 7 siblings and 40 cousins who all lived nearby and played together. Gone are the neighborhoods full of happy children who can just walk outside and find a playmate. We moderns are far more likely than our ancestors to have no children, no siblings, no spouse, and to live 3,000 miles away from our own parents.
Juliet, as you may have guessed, does not have any children. (Hence the cats.)
3. The power of religion to bring meaning to people’s lives almost needs no explanation. Religious people are happier, more fulfilled, and live longer, on average, than atheists, despite atheists’ strong concentration among society’s richest and smartest. I’ve even heard that priests/ministers have some of the highest work satisfaction levels–their work is meaningful and pleasant.
In times of suffering, religion provides comfort and soothes distress. It provides the promise that even horrible things are actually part of some grand plan that we don’t understand and that everything will be all right in the end. The idea that death is not permanent, your sins can be forgiven, or that you can influence divine powers to make the world a better place all make people happier.
Now, I am not saying this because I am a religious person who wants you to follow my religion. Like Juliet, I don’t believe in God (though I do believe, metaphorically, in GNON, which does let me attribute some “purpose” to the grand variety I see around me. Things do not always go my way, but unlike Juliet, I live in a world that at least makes sense.)
Work, scaled up, is the business of taming the land, building homes and cities and ultimately a country. Family, scaled up, is the tribe, the clan, and the nation. And religion itself is highly grounded in both land and family.
Juliet, being a very smart, sensible person, (who does not believe in sexist nonsense like evolutionary psychology,) looks at all of the things that give meaning to people’s lives and dismisses them as absurd. Religion is obviously delusional; having children is an inconvenience; and while she’d love a meaningful job if she could get one, these are hard to come by. Having rejected or been denied all of the things that normally give people meaning, she finds that life is meaningless.
We do have one source of meaning left: politics. As Moldbug famously noted, liberalism is neo-Puritanism is the religion of America, simply shorn of that Constitutionally inconvenient “God” business.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
With nothing else to provide meaning to their lives, not even the mild nationalism of thinking their own country/society a generally nice place, lonely atheists with empty jobs have turned to politics to fill the void. If they can save the whales, or the refugees, or the gay people, then they will have achieved meaning. In reality, this dedication is often quite shallow, a fly-by-night concern with the lives of strangers that lasts until the next pressing hashtag pops up.
It’s as though the desire to care for one’s family does not dissipate simply because one is barren, but instead gets transferred to strangers (or animals) who are unlikely to return the favor.
I mean, take another look at that poem, which I’ve seen about a dozen SJWs post. How many of these women are going to have even one child, much less an army of them (mixed race or not)? How many of these women are already married and are effectively declaring that they intend to betray their own husbands? How many of them could, after having babies with a dozen different men, afford to raise and care for them by themselves, without depending on the horrible, Trump-run white-supremecist state for help? (Suing men for child support is depending on the state.)
No. I’m pretty sure the vast majority of people posting the poem have no intention of acting on it. Someone else can do the actual work of making babies and raising the next generation of social warriors.
Juliet’s suicidality stems from the fact that she cannot achieve meaningful political change (or even just attach herself symbolically to it) because she lives in a democracy where the majority of people can just vote to do something else. Everything she has worked for, her entire identity as a “good person,” everything that provides meaning in her life has been destroyed just because some guys in Ohio are concerned about feeding their families.
This post is over, but I want to add a post script: Juliet is not even remotely Jewish. Her family is not Jewish; she has no Jewish ancestors; she has no connection to Israel. People blame a lot of stuff on Jews that I see Gentile women also doing, while plenty of religious Jews are perfectly sane people. The meaning deficit affects people of every religions/ethnic background.
“I went to one who had the reputation of wisdom … When I began to talk with him, I could not help thinking that he was not really wise, although he was thought wise by many, and wiser still by himself … So I left him, saying to myself, as I went away: Well, although I do not suppose that either of us knows anything really beautiful and good, I am better off than he is – for he knows nothing, and thinks that he knows. I neither know nor think that I know.”
Even a critic as skeptical as Edward Said, having succumbed to the temptation of university, academic employment, could not tear down the master’s house with the master’s tools: what hope have you?
At pater infelix, nec iam pater, “Icare,” dixit,
“Icare,” dixit “ubi es? qua te regione requiram?”
You may focus on the parts of antiquity that weren’t white men–
And I shall read Homer, Virgil, Ovid, Plato, Herodotus, Sophocles, Plutarch and Horace because they are spectacular
Because you think it despicable to inspire “the foundation of Western civilization and culture”–
It’s hard being a cat person in a dog-person world. 70% of Americans describe themselves as “dog people,” versus only 20% who claim to be “cat people.” Even among people who only own cats, a full 26% of them are “dog people.” (By contrast, only 3% of people who only have pet dogs are “cat people.”) [source]
The dog gets to be man’s best friend, while the poor beleaguered cat is associated with crazy cat ladies.
(I decided to give you a picture of cats instead of cat ladies.)
Dogs were the first domesticated animals, accompanying hunter gatherers on their exploits some 40,000 years ago. We’re not sure exactly how the first dogs began, but pretty soon people began actively selecting for certain traits in their dogs to make them more useful to humans.
Cats appeared much later–less than 10,000 years ago–and appear to have become tame via a very different route.
There is a special class of animals that have become semi-domesticated without humans actually wanting them, which includes mice, rats, and pigeons. These are not tame animals, but neither do they live in the wild , having become adapted to life in and among humans.
Long after humans domesticated dogs, they domesticated grain, and with grain came cities, granaries, and trash; and with those, rats, mice, and pigeons. The animals that could stand to be in close proximity with humans (but out of reach) thrived in the new niche–don’t underestimate just how many mice a bountiful harvest can feed:
First to the mouse plague which has invaded three states and damaged hundreds of thousands of hectares of crops. The rodents may be a familiar pest for farmers but the volume of vermin visible across parts of WA, Victoria and SA hasn’t been seen in more than 15 years. …
CHERYL WILLIAMS, BAYVIEW STREAKY BAY SA: I reckon the other morning I would have got two bucketfuls and there would have been near enough to 2,000 in it because it was piled high. … I had them in the house earlier on and they were climbing the walls and on the furniture. Just everywhere. On the beds, gives me the willies. I’ve had enough of it. I can hardly stand it. …
ALLAN WILLIAMS, BAYVIEW STREAKY BAY SA: … We’ve been taking out 20 to 40 litres every day for the last 100 days which that’s 2,000-odd litres of mice which is – I’ve never seen that amount of mice in me life. …
LEON WILLIAMS: You come out here at night time and it’s just literally a moving mass of mice. By the millions.
Mice and rats are interesting in and of themselves, but I will have to discuss them later. For now, let’s just say they were soon followed by an opportunistic predator:
Early cats probably moved into human settlements to hunt for rodents, and after a while, humans decided this was a useful behavior. Even today, many “pet” cats are expected to earn their keep, catching the mice in and around their homes–unlike the average dog.
(Reports of Medieval Europeans massacring cats are probably overstated–the famous “Cat Massacre” was actually an anti-aristocrat French mob murdering noble pets.)
While dogs have diverged significantly from wolves, the average house cat still looks quite similar to its wild relatives:
Distinct breeds of cats–including most if not all of the more unusual looking ones–are extremely recent, perhaps less than 200 years old, but domestic cats do differ from wild ones in several important ways. They are smaller, lighter, and they meow.
Interestingly, adult wolves do not bark and adult wildcats do not meow. Kittens meow at their mothers, and cats meow at their people, not each other. These are neotenous traits–baby behavior. Dogs will always be wolf pups, never adults, and a cat is always part kitten.
I shall leave you with a bit of light verse, from 9th century Ireland:
The scholar and his cat, Pangur Bán
I and Pangur Ban my cat,
‘Tis a like task we are at:
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.
Better far than praise of men
‘Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill-will,
He too plies his simple skill.
‘Tis a merry task to see
At our tasks how glad are we,
When at home we sit and find
Entertainment to our mind.
Oftentimes a mouse will stray
In the hero Pangur’s way;
Oftentimes my keen thought set
Takes a meaning in its net.
‘Gainst the wall he sets his eye
Full and fierce and sharp and sly;
‘Gainst the wall of knowledge I
All my little wisdom try.
When a mouse darts from its den,
O how glad is Pangur then!
O what gladness do I prove
When I solve the doubts I love!
So in peace our task we ply,
Pangur Ban, my cat, and I;
In our arts we find our bliss,
I have mine and he has his.
Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light.