John Gray on Abigail Tucker’s cat book

by on February 8, 2017 at 12:37 am in Books, Uncategorized | Permalink

One of the most attractive features of cats is that contentment is their default state. Unlike human beings – particularly of the modern variety – they do not spend their days in laborious pursuit of a fantasy of happiness. They are comfortable with themselves and their lives, and remain in that condition for as long as they are not threatened. When they are not eating or sleeping, they pass the time exploring and playing, never asking for reasons to live. Life itself is enough for them.

If there are people who can’t stand cats – and it seems there are many – one reason may be envy.

Gray, a renowned cultural and historical pessimist, also offers a critique of those thinkers who promote mass feline genocide, so at this point you may be wondering why he titled his book Straw Dogs.  Here is the review.  Here is Abigail Tucker’s very good cat book, The Lion in the Living Room: How House Cats Tamed Us and Took Over the World.

Among its other improbabilities, 2016-2017 offers John Gray writing a positive review of Ross Douthat’s wife’s cat book.  What will be next?

1 Thanatos Savehn February 8, 2017 at 1:34 am

Well, that settles it. TC has Toxoplasma gondii. The fungi have been playing the arbitrage game against us for as long as we’ve been around. TC becomes the first post-human to proclaim “I for one am happy to welcome and spread-by-twerk the spores of our alien Overlords!”

2 carlospln February 8, 2017 at 1:35 am

Their ‘contentment’ is their immune compromised owners’ nightmare:

& did I mention the dander?

3 Picador February 8, 2017 at 10:18 am

This review is a weird departure from Gray’s usual lack of sentimentality. He’s infected, for sure.

It’s still worth reading, though. What I learned from Gray’s article: there are multiple techniques available to kill the cat that keeps shitting in my herb garden and trying to infect my family with its brain parasites! Now if I can just get my hands on a Tasmanian Devil…

4 So Much For Subtlety February 8, 2017 at 4:04 am

One of the most attractive features of cats is that contentment is their default state.

Isn’t this the grossest and most naive anthropomorphism? How do we know what cats think? If they spend their time exploring – that is, hunting and killing smaller animals – isn’t that a sign they are driven by some passion?

Cats don’t look content to me. They look like they are plotting to slowly torture us all to death.

5 JWatts February 8, 2017 at 9:02 am

“Cats don’t look content to me. They look like they are plotting to slowly torture us all to death.”

Well sure, but that’s contentment for a cat.

6 prior_test2 February 8, 2017 at 4:09 am

‘When they are not eating or sleeping, they pass the time exploring and playing’

This glosses over what a number of cats do – hunt and kill whatever they can. Not all cats, by any means, as there is a lot of variety in domesticated feline behavior, however, an author unaware of this aspect is probably not very observant when it comes to cats.

7 prior_test2 February 8, 2017 at 4:13 am

Ah, here is one research project’s summary – ‘Results indicate that a minority of roaming cats in Athens (44%) hunt wildlife and that reptiles, mammals and invertebrates constitute the majority of suburban prey. Hunting cats captured an average of 2 items during seven days of roaming. Carolina anoles (small lizards) were the most common prey species followed by Woodland Voles (small mammals). Only one of the vertebrates captured was a non-native species (a House Mouse). Eighty-five percent of wildlife captures were witnessed during the warm season (March-November in the southern US). Cats roaming during warmer seasons were more likely to exhibit hunting behavior and the number of captures per hunting cat is expected to decrease with increasing cat age. Cat age, sex, and time spent outside did not significantly influence hunting behavior.’

8 skeptic February 8, 2017 at 5:25 am

Tucker book is jejune and journalistic–I’ve read it unlike you.

Tyler, your sucking up to Yglesias, Klein, Douthat, etc. is really gross. Please stop. You used to be smarter than that.

9 dearieme February 8, 2017 at 5:51 am

” jejune and journalistic”: I enjoyed the alliteration but object to the redundancy.

10 rayward February 8, 2017 at 6:21 am
11 Michael February 8, 2017 at 6:47 am
12 So Much For Subtlety February 8, 2017 at 7:13 am

So are cat lovers just the middle class version of those women who write love letters to people on death row?

13 Thiago Ribeiro February 8, 2017 at 11:41 am

Yes. Cats are untrustworth, cats are unsung loyal friends.

14 Robert smith February 8, 2017 at 7:12 am

“I’d love to be a cat. Cats appeal to me because they do very little, except make little funny noises and f*** and eat and sleep” Robert Smith

15 Edward Burke February 8, 2017 at 8:39 am

Do tell: who are these thinkers “who promote mass feline genocide”?

I’ve been aware of Cambyses II’s tactics at Pelusium in 525 BC since reading Ripley’s thumbnail account years ago, but Gray must have someone else in mind. I’m also dimly aware of Schroedinger’s pernicious attitudes, but I discount the latter, also.

16 JWatts February 8, 2017 at 9:07 am

“Do tell: who are these thinkers “who promote mass feline genocide”?”


17 Edward Burke February 8, 2017 at 9:25 am

Well illustrated in Bulgakov’s rollicking satire Heart of a Dog.

As to Dr. Schroedinger’s nefarious practices:

18 Gabriel's Trumpet February 8, 2017 at 8:37 pm
19 Thiago Ribeiro February 8, 2017 at 11:40 am

If cats are so full of contentment, why my parents’ eye me as if I were a monster every time I come visiting?

20 MPS February 9, 2017 at 10:51 am

I think evolution would tend to destroy easy contentment because lack of contentment is really the instinctive drive to do better and so random variants who feel more such drive should better compete and win over the others during hardship.

Domesticated cats are not evolved per se, which is a good reason why they might be among the most “content” creatures. It begs the question what about dogs and other pets and domesticated farm animals.

I suspect we rule out dogs and some farm animals because they are more social. The social instinct is inherently about creating dependencies, which is inherently anxiety inducing as one worries about maintaining the status of those dependencies. I don’t have time to think more but my point is we should be able to reason our way to a set of “most likely to be most content” creatures based on their prior evolution and survival needs.

21 dave February 10, 2017 at 2:53 am

you think childrenPlaygroup Singapore know how to care an animals although no one teached them? 😀

22 MPL February 15, 2017 at 8:06 am

Thanks for the share, the histories of domesticated animals are always fascinating. Sometimes they’re a horror show too.

We’ll definitely check this book out and give it a review here:

23 MPL February 19, 2017 at 7:43 pm

Great passage from the book…

“But the house cat’s story is also about the wonder of life, and nature’s continuing capacity to surprise us. It offers a chance for us to set our self-centeredness aside and take a clearer look at the creature that we tend to baby and patronize, but whose horizons stretch far beyond our living rooms and litter boxes. A house cat is not really a fur baby, but it is something rather more remarkable: a tiny conquistador with the whole planet at its feet. House cats would not exist without humans, but we didn’t really create them, nor do we control them now. Our relationship is less about ownership than aiding and abetting.”

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