From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Just Do It Over (9a)—Nine Lives

[a] Daring RF
Click here for the individual sections of "Nine Lives"
Nine 1                    Nine 2 
There is something about cats. They are lithe and agile. They exhibit a relative fearlessness with regard to conditions a less poised creature (say a dog or a human being) might well regard as dangerous. Their ability to shimmy in and out of close calls is so legendary that the little furballs have been said, in the West, to have nine lives. Now that's one hefty package of do-overs (eight, by my count), and it is our task today to dig a little deeper into the idea. Let's start with a piece of reportage from National Public Radio and National Geographic. Take a look-listen at this particular stretch of life that merges mythology with science.
[b] Agile RF

Mind you, I am such a lover of animals that even Sugar's happy-ending story is painful for me to read. Yup, I have nightmares about cats ending up in trouble, and some nights are one long litany of fire department ladder rescues for overly ambitious felines. We have double doors at home, and I am careful to make sure that refrigerator doors and cleaning supplies are never open to wet little inquisitive noses.

In other words, if you are even thinking of testing out the reflexes of poor ol' Tabby over there in the corner, don't even think about it. I will track you down and we will never speak again (and I will press charges, if appropriate). I'll be watching. Leave Tabby alone, and keep reading.

Now that we've gotten the ground rules under control, let's start exploring this little idea of "multiple lives" and cat do-overs. Where the heck did it come from? We certainly don't think of, say, chipmunks as having much luck in protecting even the measly little one life they have (they're dumb as a stump, as experienced cats "tell me"). And slow...comparatively speaking. So why does little Tigger risk death almost daily in an almost impossible tightrope act of exploration and foraging, while his little chipmunk frienemy stands an extra moment too long before making a frantic dash for the crack in the woodpile?

These images remind me of one of my favorite postcards. I saw it a few years ago, and I am kicking myself for not buying it back then. Through the wonders of the Internet, there are a few links to the general sentiment out there, and I am sure that you can find them if you try. It goes like this (with a few variations):

                         In ancient Egypt, cats were venerated as gods.
                         Cats have never forgotten this.
[c] Country cousin RF

I am pretty sure that cat owners out there have seen evidence of this feline certainty in divine origins. Our wee friends are a little like the Japanese royal family that way—bubbling with solar-powered divinity through 125 generations of history, through thick, thin, power, and destitution. They cannot be overthrown. The powerful can only hope to control them. That is how the island mythology works, at least.

Cats go even further, though. They can push the generations far beyond 660 BCE, and the quasi-mythical apical ancestor of the species would have been a feral carnivore (Cat Purrer Jimmu, perhaps) who got friendly with the neighborhood agriculturalist. Thousands of years after that first little chicken treat from Farmer Joe (Zhou), millions of self-satisfied, furry little emperors and empresses occupy sofas all over the world. They are unquestionably more dependent on humans than their independent ancestors and field-roaming country cousin contemporaries.

That makes them pets, right? Today's domestic cat is dependent, right? Dinner time is an event that depends on a bond between owner and pet, right? Well, sort of...but not exactly. Watch the video.
The commercial is a little bit too human-centered from the perspective of cats (as I interpret it after years of fieldwork). As we ponder the tugged heartstrings in the advertisement above, let us not forget another postcard-worthy sentiment I heard a while back:
                         Cats don't have owners.
                         They have staff.
***  ***
[d] Noticed RF

So this brings me to our "do-over," nine lives theme for the day. The awe-inspiring power of a little roly-poly ball of fur (or three) to regiment our lives is really something to ponder. Cats seem profoundly independent to outside observers. This shows the limits of seeming objectivity, as Immanuel Kant and T.S. Eliot have shown. I am not sure that anyone who doesn't share a home with one or more of them quite understands the powerful chains of dependency. If you do not have cats, you probably don't know where this is going. Something funny starts to happen, and it is right there in the quotation above—we start taking orders. This is the nature of the social contract with our furry companions:

Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.[1]

I suspect that Rousseau might have had a misprint here, but I can't prove it. I suspect that he meant to say that "Man is born free, and everywhere he is in cats [les chats]." Some typographer just mixed up cats and chains. This is my theory.

Be that as it may, there is a kind of feline authoritarian domestic order that shifts the grounds of household power in such incremental ways that it is hardly noticed until humans are the underlings and the cats wield the means of production. Mind you, they actually produce very little (they sleep a lot). It is simply that they control the controllers of the means of production, and taste the fruits of their management and labor. Then they clean themselves up and sleep again. It is terrific work that only, well, royal families have been able to find over the ages.
Click here for the individual sections of "Nine Lives"
Nine 1                    Nine 2
[h] L'état, c'est moi RF
[1] Jean Jacques Rousseau, Rousseau's Political Writings [Translated by Julia Conaway Bondanella] (New York: W.W. 
     Norton & Company, 1988), 85.

Rousseau, Jean Jacques. Rousseau's Political Writings [Translated by Julia Conaway Bondanella]. 
     New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1988.


  1. Okay, fine, Rob. You've successfully convinced me that not only should you come visit the kittens in the late afternoon on Sunday, but that you should be awarded a house key so that you can base further observations on how, exactly, the senior cats are coping with the kitten phenomenon. Superior to the Roman CATholic church--yes, sure, that too!

  2. Yee-hah! The fieldwork plan worked. Seriously, though, I can't believe how cute your little ragamuffins are. That video kept me entranced for longer than Clint Eastwood (they are much more entertaining). I'll be gone all day tomorrow, but I'll let them rest up and can't wait to meet them in a day or two! And, by the way, only the Roman CATholic church and a few other bodies have channeled vision with power. Very big stuff; I'm impressed.