Cats Are Just as Loving as Dogs. Maybe More So
The upright tail is probably the clearest way cats show their affection for us.
This article originally appeared in the Newton blog on RealClearScience. You can read the original here.
ON THE MORNING of May 21, 2010, Cherry Woods was taking a walk around her suburban Houston neighborhood, when she witnessed an ominous sight. Two, large dogs were barreling towards her from down the block. Woods began sprinting towards her home, but the canines quickly overtook her, knocking her down and ferociously ripping at her legs.
Hearing the commotion from inside the house, Woods' husband Harold tore outside and fought to free his wife from the frenzied animals. Unsuccessful at first, he didn't give up. Cherry's life possibly hung in the balance. It was at that moment, when all was looking grim, that an unlikely rescuer joined the fray.
Lima, the couple's cat, leapt out of the nearby bushes and scratched one of the dogs. The attacking pair promptly released Cherry and turned their attention to the crouched, hissing feline. Thanks to the momentary distraction, Harold was able to drag his bleeding wife to safety.
"I’m very glad that we had [Lima] and that she was here, because when it came down to my wife getting hurt, she jumped right in. It’s amazing," Harold Woods told KHOU.
THERE IS a common stereotype that cats are far less affectionate than dogs. Dogs actually want you around; cats just want you to scoop the food. But while many stereotypes are true, this one is a misconception. Cats are just as fond of their owners; their feelings are just a tad more nuanced, and their adoration less demonstrative.
To begin to understand why, we can look back in time to before dogs and cats were domesticated. Thousands of years surviving in distinct ecological niches have molded the two species' behavior into starkly contrasting models. Dogs, by their nature, are pack animals, living in a ranked community and subservient to a leader. Together, they hunt and kill larger prey. Cats, on the other hand, are mostly solitary, but occasionally form communities of related individuals. As capable hunters in their own right, they have no pressing need to group together.
Thousands of years of living with humans have shaped dogs and cats in similar ways, but the vestiges of ancient evolutionary instincts still linger. At home, your pooch is effectively subservient to you; you are the pack leader. Contrastingly, your cat views you as an individual sharing their space. Your dog is faithful to you by nature, but your cat's affection must be earned.
When it is, cats are just as loving as dogs; you just have to know what to look for. In his new book, Cat Sense, anthrozoologist John Bradshaw clues us in.
"The upright tail is probably the clearest way cats show their affection for us." Bradshaw says.
Rubbing their owners' legs or nearby objects also indicates fondness, as do petting invitations. When a cat jumps on your lap, rolls on their back, or subtly maneuvers to make a body part more accessible, they want to be touched.
"By accepting stroking, cats are engaging in a social ritual that is reinforcing the bond with their owner."
According to Bradshaw, purring also shows contentment, however, it is not necessarily a dead giveaway.
"A purring cat also may just be hungry, or mildly anxious. Some continue to purr even when their body language indicates they are angry."
IN MANY WAYS, the human-cat relationship is much like that of lovers in the early stages of dating: the affection is there, it's just difficult to read. Cats seem aloof and unexpressive because they aren't totally accustomed to sociality. A study conducted earlier this year found that cats -- when hearing the voice of their owner -- orient their heads and ears towards the sound. Moreover, their pupils dilate, which the researchers say is a sign of excitement. A different study, in which animal behaviorists recorded hours and hours of interactions between owners and their cats, found that cats seem to remember kindness and lovingly return it at later instances. Additionally, they noted that food is just as much a token of affection as it is a source of nourishment.
Both dogs and cats must be habituated to humans at a young age. Puppies should be handled between 7 and 14 weeks. For kittens, this sensitive period is narrower -- 4 to 8 weeks -- and more crucial. Felines who don't meet humans until ten weeks or later may fear them for the rest of their lives.
If properly cared for and respected, cats are just as doting as dogs. They won't joyously slobber all over you, but they will like you, in their own, peculiar way.
(Image: Cat via Shutterstock)
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Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:
"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."
Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.
Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.
The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?
Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression
In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.
It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.
Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.
Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.
The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.
It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.
In their findings the authors state:
"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.
Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."
With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.
Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner
As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:
- Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
- Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
- Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
- Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
- Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
- Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
- Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.
It's interesting to note the authors found that:
"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."
You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.
Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:
- 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
- 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
- 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
- 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
- 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
- 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.
Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement
Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:
- Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
- Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
- Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
- Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
- We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
- If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.
Civic discourse in the divisive age
Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.
There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:
"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.
Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."
We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.
This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.
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