Well, of course, there’s the fact that we’re sedentary and warm, but I think the love affair between cats and writers goes much deeper.
For a long time, we’ve known where dogs came from. Ten to twelve thousand years ago, at the end of the last Ice Age, humans were hunting megafauna, and so were wolves. It’s almost a certainty that when humans would down a mammoth, wolves would gather. The aggressive ones who tried to charge in and take the kill got Clovis-point spears through their throats. In other words, they were deselected for survival. The wolves that feared humans and stayed away became modern wolves. But there was another group–wolves that did not fear humans but also did not challenge them. These guys were amazed by the flying fangs that humans hurled at the mammoths. They thought these humans were brilliant hunters. They liked how we petted them. They liked getting scraps of mammoth. They hung out around human encampments and eventually were welcomed in and slowly evolved into dogs.
Cats, on the other hand, have been a mystery. They’ve been with us for perhaps half the time–four to five thousand years. Even over that time, they’ve not learned to give a shit about what we want. And there’s no natural analog to the housecat. There are feral cats, yes, but they are housecats without a house. There’s nothing in the wild that is the same size and shape as our housecats.
So, what happened?
Well, ten to twelve thousand years ago, humans were hunter-gatherers, constantly on the move, constantly looking for game, bedding down in whatever grassy hillside they could find. Dogs loved this free-range human. What does a dog want more than to go for a walk? And if there is a squirrel or rabbit of goose along the way, well, let’s kill the thing! That’s why dogs joined our race, for all the wandering and hunting, the life in the wild.
When cats came along five thousand years later, we were a very different species. We weren’t wandering around, hunting. We were in city-states. People who have tried to imagine cat domestication have said they were first employed to guard the tombs of pharoahs. This idea is laughable. Anyone who has a cat knows they can’t guard anything. And anyone who has even a passing familiarity with Egyptology knows that every damned tomb was raided.
Probably because the cats ran off.
No, there’s a better explanation for the origin of cats. In city-states such as Alexandria, there was a whole new class of humans called priests. They spent all their time crouched over desks writing things. They filled the library of Alexandria with the things they were writing.
Now, I imagine there was this very lazy, very fluffy, very ill-adapted feline species hanging out in the wild. They likes to sleep. They liked to lick themselves. They liked to eat things and poop in sand. These are not the traits of a highly-adaptive species, and they were probably getting close to extinction.
But then a few of them wandered into Alexandria and the various other human city-states and found people who sat still all day and wrote and would occasionally give them bits of jerked meat, and they thought, “Why not?”
So, every cat who happened into a human city state ended up curled up beside a writer.
And every cat who did not do so died. You can’t sleep twenty hours a day and hope to make it in the wild.
So that’s why cats love writers. We’re the reason they ever joined the human experiment. Dogs are bad for writers. They don’t want us to sit still and work. They want us to get up and go for a walk, throw something, kill something. But a cat will lie on your thigh and say, “Where do you think you’re going? I think you’ve got another chapter in you.”
So, cats joined us as soon as we became writers. And as long as we remain sedentary and warm, they’ll stay.October 18th, 2009
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