There are three types of cat people, but I’ll get back to that in a moment …
Instead, I want to center the theme of this post around the idea of philosophers and cats. Philosophers, mind you, not so much philosophy. I talk about the latter quite a bit as it is, and a considerable amount of philosophy will be evident (if only implicit) in what I really want to talk about: philosophers and cats. A number of scientifically vacuous and philosophically dubious surveys are reported in the anecdotal penumbra engulfing what passes for scholarly philosophy which suggests that philosophers overwhelmingly prefer cats to dogs. Certainly this is true for me, and for those scholars I am acquainted with. (See above, under “anecdotal penumbra.”) Mind, I do not dislike dogs in the least, and am profoundly upset when I encounter a dog that does not instantly like me. (It happens occasionally, usually with rescue dogs that have been subjected to abuse of some severe, and invariably undeserved, quality.) But I have never owned a dog, and would never adopt one except under the most extreme circumstances.
For one thing, dogs are so needy. And not in the good way, where they walk up and demand your immediate and unqualified attention. No they’ve got to get all passive-aggressive, sad and doe-eyed, “pwease wuv me,” about things, and guilt you into being the pack leader. (Everyone knows that dogs are pack animals, including and especially the dogs themselves. Hence their mastery of political manipulation from the Beta position.) Cats are not like that. Cat comes up and says, “You may adore me now,” or, often enough, “You may adore me NOW! (Damnit!)” Just as often, the cat will make it clear that it will cost you blood to interrupt its current mood or project. So why would philosophers (as a statistical aggregate, mind you, not a univocally defined class) not only tolerate, but seek out such assholery?
Let me repeat (because people especially love to ignore what you are saying when you are being especially careful about what you say) that I am addressing myself to a statistical aggregate. I’ve known a number of very smart, well-read, intensely scholarly philosophers who were dog people. These folks are not weird, they are certainly not “wrong,” but they do tend to be off the “main beam” of philosophers when it comes to pet preferences.
So why do philosophers, as a generic collection, seek out the company of creatures best recognized for being singular assholes?
Well, the snarky answer (which is not the less true for being snarky), is that like-seeks-like; one gravitates to one’s own kind. But a little reflection suggests that such a quick and easy dismissal is unfair, as much or more to cats as to philosophers. You see, stories to the contrary not withstandingi, cats are not assholes, they are simply focused. They have their projects which they intend to pursue, even if (as they often do) those projects change in mid-stride to some other matter of interest. Humans – some humans, humans who are not very good cat people – interpret this as being an asshole, because the cat does not elevate the human’s project over the cats own (the way a dog would.) This attitude – of not elevating another’s interests over your own – is what philosophers (and other academics) refer to as an “Area Of Specialization” or “AOS.”
Dogs barely rise to the level of what academics call an “AOC”: Area Of Concern. An AOC is something you can teach to upper level undergraduates and not look grotesquely stupid should someone who actually knows what she is talking about walks in and monitors your class. This is about the best that dogs can manage: “Aw, geez, did anyone read the label on the box of biscuits? Okay, well, I’ll eat them anyway, and thank you. Pet me now?” Yeah, you think I’m joking. But you’ve never taught a 100 level Intro class at a Community College.
Which is not to say that academics – most especially, and all but universally, MALE academics – are not simply dogs. In just the last two years, just as many high profile philosophers (Oh, grandma, look! They’re strangely both male academics) have had their employment (and, possibly careers?) terminated because they insisted on allowing the “Little Head” do all the thinking that was supposed to reside in the big one. I name no names because I cannot afford a SLAPP suit. And then there is THIS little note, from the sciences (glad to know that infantilism is so evenly distributed. I was beginning to feel lonely.)
This is all dog behavior. You will never find a cat – a real cat (here, again, I appeal not only to a statistical aggregate, but an absolutely overwhelming one) – humping your leg. Male philosophers often behave like dogs, but they still admire cats. I suppose it is well that one’s reach should exceed one’s grasp. Humor – or whatever I presume passes as such here – aside, there is something singularly disgusting about fat old men imagining that brilliant young women ought to be interested in the fact that, at least in their imaginations, said (sad) fat old men can still get a boner. (Just this past year, at the meeting of the Eastern division of the American Philosophical Association, a woman I am tangentially connected to reported having her ass grabbed as she was examining book titles in the display room. Yeah, that’s real classy … )
Cats wouldn’t do that. And, for the record, neither would the majority of philosophers; only those philosophers who are not themselves cats, but are, in fact, dogs. So why do so many philosophers prefer cats over dogs? Well, for one thing, we all aspire to ideals that we realize (whether consciously or not) that we cannot achieve. Dog people aspire to an ideal of Loyalty that is certainly worthy of everyone’s highest aspirations. But academic philosophers also aspire to an ideal of independence of thought, unwavering integrity, and total commitment to the truth – even if it is only the truth of THIS moment – that dogs never entertain. George Santayana once remarked (deep inside his monumental Life of Reason) that, “the true philosopher, who is not one principally by profession, must in the end be prepared to tread the winepress alone.” (Quoted from memory; give me a break.)
Cats tread the winepress alone, and that is why we philosophers love them: they remind us of what we ought to be. Being focused is not the same as being an asshole, and cats are focused. Also, just because cats are not pack animals does not mean they are anti-social: cats colonize, they do not run in packs. Cats are social out of deliberation; dogs are social out of desperation. Such is the same for philosophers, regardless of whether they are cats or dogs (deliberation or desperation?)
Which brings me back, finally, to my first statement: there are three kinds of cat people:
- Those who like cats
- Those whom cats like
- Those who are cat-like
These are not mutually exclusive cat-egories (sorry; never let it be said I resisted a low-brow pun.)
Many people profess to like cats, yet are disdained by the wily critters for reasons unexpressed. Many people claim to dislike cats, and then mobbed in loving attention as one of their own by the little fuzzy-butts. Then there are those who are cat-like in their moods and responses – quick to anger, instant to forgive, moody, intense, uncompromising – who relate as cats to the world around them. The people who know me well (or, at least, well enough) will generally agree that I am one of those people who is all three kinds of cat-people.
iAnd who can resist the opportunity to use that phrase whenever it presents itself?