I love cats. I always have. I feel like I relate to them more than any other animal, for whatever reason. Growing up I had two cats, Oliver and Yang. They’ve long since passed, but now I have a new kitten. His name is Jasper. He is all black, has blue eyes, and a kink in his tail. He’s adorable, playful, and sweet, though taking care of an animal means a lot more than it did as a kid.
For starters, Oliver and Yang were outside cats. They ate and did their business out there. They could expel their energy freely, thus making them overall less bothersome. Jasper is confined to our apartment. His bathroom is in our bathroom.
It’s up to me to pay for his well-being, and clean up his messes. At least he provides me with entertainment, cuteness, and the sound of purrs to lull me to sleep. However, newfound information has me wondering if the traits I consider to be love are really manipulation.
Cats were never domesticated by humans. They domesticated themselves. Just like how wolves developed a symbiotic relationship with nomadic hunters, cats capitalized off of the agrarian Natufians in Mesopotamia. Cats served beneficial to the crops by ridding them of pests. Since then, cats have accompanied every major society by serving the same purpose.
They are highly adaptable creatures, capable of remarkable independence. But, if given the opportunity, they can be gluttons. I think the cat philosophy would be something like: ‘why work hard if you don’t have to?’
The truth is that cats have learned to manipulate humans. They were able to do so by their cognitive intelligence, and their mental similarity to us.
The feline brain is 90% similar to the human brain. Both brain regions are connected in the same way to the cerebral cortex – the part of the brain responsible for processing sensory data. This implies that cats have similar emotions to us, and therefore enables them to read human facial expressions. They can also solve complex cognitive problems, and have short term and long term memories that can recall up to 16 hours.
Basically, this means that cats understand what we feel, and why we feel that way by documenting and analyzing our actions leading up to said feeling. They have all the tools they need for manipulation.
A perfect example is the meow. Cats don’t meow to other cats. They communicate by body language and by marking territories. They only meow for humans because they realized that when a baby cries, the parents pick it up, and give it food. Jasper squeaks and chirps like a little bird. I always thought it sounded adorable. Now it sounds like he’s playing on my primal maternal instincts.
Cats are generally liked because of playfulness, cuddliness, and bonding. But have you ever noticed how a cat’s favorite game is anything that stimulates hunting and killing? Their practicing their skills. They might be cuddling you, not because they love you, but because they can’t effectively regulate their own body heat. And by rubbing up against you, they’re marking you as their territory, because they own you, and not the other way around.
As I said, cats are gluttons if given the opportunity. But so are people. My question is, did cat’s learn manipulation from us? Are the observations that Mesopotamian cats made and passed down in their DNA a direct reflection of human nature?
Manipulation is not about making someone do what you want them to do, but making them want to do what you want them to do. It’s the art of convincing someone that your idea is theirs. By learning their deepest desires, you reverse engineer it against them. The trick is to lead them to the understanding that by doing something, they will be rewarded with something they desire.
Take two people and one piece of cake. The first person wants to lose weight and look better, but also wants cake. The second person wants the cake all to themselves. So they point out how nice the first person’s skin looks since they cut back on sweets. This person will feel pleased even if it’s not true, and become more inclined to decline. The second person is then left to enjoy the cake all by themselves, which is what they wanted all along.
Maybe the cats have gotten to me, since manipulation is generally considered a psychotic and evil trait. Though I’d argue it’s a natural part of survival, at least to an extent. Sometimes you have to be smarter than the other person – or the cat. The cats have demonstrated this by thriving to the point of becoming a registered invasive species. But hey, aren’t humans kind of invasive too? Like, a lot?
There’s things to learn from cats, and things to unlearn. In the meantime, I just want a yard. I don’t want to deal with Jasper’s excrements ever again, or subject my african violets to his terrorizing. But mostly, I just want to be able to throw him outside when he decides to start purring in my ear and sitting on my head at four in the morning, because he knows I’m weak enough to feed him just so he’ll shut the hell up and leave me alone. I’m onto you, kitten.