Domestication: A Good Idea Within Limits

I came across an interesting idea in David Grimm’s Citizen Canine.

I guess Grimm went for cute by titling his book like that [geddit? — Citizen Kane], even though the book’s about dogs and cats and the word is that Grimm is a cat-person. I think Bugs may feel a little put out about that.  I know I do.

domesticate-bugs 001-cropI’m pretty sure Bugs would rather appreciate Grimm’s point that the reason the ancient Greeks honored the feline over the canine was that the Greeks valued liberty and autonomy. The Romans went for dogs, preferring loyalty and obligation. We are great admirers of the Greeks on this blog. They had six words for love.

But back to the interesting idea. Grimm writes that it’s smart to keep stress levels down by getting along with one’s fellows. Animals that pay attention to social cues, and respond to them, develop advanced cognitive skills. Consider the difference between chimps and bonobos, both of whom are so close genetically that they’re practically indistinguishable. Chimps are competitive and can be nasty. Bonobos, on the other hand, cooperate with each other. They resolve conflicts by having sex, not making war.  Bonobos score much higher than chimps on theory-of-mind testing, designed to assess whether subjects possess attributes resembling empathy and understanding of others.

The idea that caught me was that relaxed cooperation, leading to increased cognitive skills, is a favorable evolutionary adaptation. Here’s a quote from Grimm, referring to our own species:

“[A]s we began to settle down in large numbers, we ostracized the most aggressive and antisocial members of our groups . . . . Eventually, we began to understand each other’s gestures [and] we developed a complex theory of mind . . . .” Grimm posits, then, that human intelligence is a direct result of our own self-domestication.

What we need to understand, though, is that dogs are not necessarily smarter than cats. They are just more tuned-in to humans. “Every species has evolved the skills it needs to survive.” Dogs need close connection to humans.

Cats? Not so much.

domesticate1 001-crop

It’s that love of liberty and autonomy. After all –

There’s no such thing as an “undercat.”


About nadbugs

Anita loves cats. This must be because she, too, has had nine lives. She’s been dancing since she could walk, she was a commercial artist and advertising producer, she earned a third-degree black belt in Aikido, she is a drummer with the Afrique Aya Dance Company, she is an attorney, and she’s a meditator and a devoted student of Nonviolent Communication. She also spent one lifetime sidelined with a devastating back injury in 1992. Since then – FELDENKRAIS METHOD® to the rescue. The FELDENKRAIS METHOD is all about dreaming concretely – thinking intelligently and independently by way of a gracious and kind physicality. The work affords all who study it a process by which to reach, with movement, into the mind and the heart, to make nine lives into one whole being.
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4 Responses to Domestication: A Good Idea Within Limits

  1. Sparkle says:

    I totally agree – people pleasing (like dogs do) is not equivalent to intelligence! Plus we cats are way more resourceful.

  2. Just as in people, intelligence has many facets! Cats, of course, possess them all.

  3. No wonder I love and admire you. I majored in Rhetoric and minored in Philosophy. Greece has been on my bucket list for a long time!!! Now I know why I am drawn to cats over dogs, “Greeks valued liberty and autonomy.”

  4. dezizworld says:

    Meez dusn’t agwee. Meez finks da hooman dictates da welationship da cat wequires of dem. Meez and me sisfuw boff need lots of luv and attention fwum ow mommy and wees wanna be wiff hers. Hers wus a fostew mommy fuw cats most of hers life, and all da cats hers fostewed also wanted tu be close and purrlease da hoomans in der life. And all were twained tu at least kknow and wespond tu der name and tu avoid cewtain inappwopwiate behaviors dat hoomans offen find displeasin’ in kittys. Wees of course awe highly twained as wees be Service Cats. Ow mommy luvs tu be wiff us and likes da attention wees purrvide hers. So again wees fink da amount of independance a cat shows to da hoomans is in wespinse tu what da hooman desiwes.

    Luv ya’


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