The Serenity Prayer

Facebook reminded me that I wrote this back in 2014… Definitely worth saving, I think

I’ve been thinking about the Serenity Prayer, in relation to current events. A lot of people in my life are motivated to vote, and angry/disappointed with politicians (for lots of reasons). Gvmt level bullshit is something I do not believe I can change (at all – I radically accept that politicians are the worst people to be in control of a country, and yet, they are), but I did vote, mostly cos not to do so is basically a vote in favour of (right wing) conservatism, and I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction.
I do believe I can possibly change things in my smaller communities. I will act to defend people, and their rights and liberties, against the imposition of unjust rules, (formal or implied) traditions and policies we create in our social groups, and that’s where courage becomes an issue. There is commonly no process in place that one can follow to bring the issue to people’s attention and get it addressed in a formal, un-emotive manner. Trying to change something amongst the people you interact with on a regular basis is therefore fraught with difficulties. The people who made the situation (our leaders and bosses) feel threatened in their authority, compassion and intelligence. The people who do not suffer from the thing that needs to be changed commonly don’t see the issue, and fight to keep the status quo. The people who do suffer tend to keep their heads down, because, as the Russians say, it can always get worse, they are already disenfranchised, and they see the flak I get.
Wisdom. I have come to define this as an ability to correctly judge more of the consequences of actions. This comes from experience, if one chooses to learn from experience. I define ethical good as overall positive social consequences. I’m starting to wonder, given my more common failures and the resultant social isolation, if I really do have any ability to cause any policy change in a social group, and if I’m right to try. Should I, on seeing community injustice, just accept that this is what we do to each other, and that the disenfranchised had just better learn to look after themselves? It is definitely right to stand for better social policies IF you know you will succeed, but if you fail you do not achieve much positive social consequence (except maybe giving some validation to the afflicted) and commonly dissent has immediate negative social consequences. If it was law, like changing the laws regarding homosexuality, it will continue long enough to show positive change from building dissent, but these social groups are more ephemeral or, in the case of work, impersonal. Who does have the ability to turn the juggernauts of our leaders’ self-indulgent social privilege and entitlement around? How do they do it? How can we hope to make a better world for ourselves if all we can do is watch as the social groups we value create their own victims?
Gods. Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

via (95) Anna Cruse – I’ve been thinking about the Serenity Prayer, in…


Authentic Bullsh*t

There are some words that, when I hear them, instantly raise red flags around the communication. One of these is the word “authentic”. I hate this word with a passion. What is “authentic”? Google says “of undisputed origin and not a copy; genuine.” So how on earth do people get to describe anything as authentic EXCEPT the actual original incidence?

The reason I have this reaction is because I once did Medieval Re-enactment. I got into it in 1985, at least in part because I did fantasy role-playing and I wanted to know what it really felt like, to fight with a sword. I learnt that two-handed swords are NOT slow, and that a lot of the rules in RP games did not actually reflect the reality of the weapons, armour or combat. Not really surprising – I can’t imagine a lot of fantasy nerds getting up to wave steel around and risk the pain and sweat – but I was disappointed at the time. Re-enactment standards were low, in those days: I made myself a cheesecake warrior princess outfit.

Over time we got exposed to a higher standard of re-enactment, when we started associating with the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism). They dressed up in far more period looking clothes, did Medieval feasts with food that they actually researched to ensure it would be on a Medieval table, and did period dancing, singing and other activities. Their combat was different to ours – they wore heavy armour and did full contact hits, including to the helmet, with 3cm thick rattan canes dressed up as swords. We fought with steel, to the touch, unarmoured except for gloves, and strictly no head shots. We each thought the other group was crazy, but we were happy to share fun times.

The association with the SCA rubbed off, so when we started doing public performances we had Medieval-esque garb, armour, and a repertoire of singing and dancing to add to the stage combat, which we learnt when we determined real combat is just over too quickly for audience appeal. I’m not sure when I started making chainmail, but I’m good at it. I’m also good at fighting with any non-flexible Medieval weapon, costuming, dancing, singing and playing instruments, and teaching all these things, cooking feasts, presenting weapons and armour to kids, and playing games with adults, and filking (a wicked game of taking a piece of Medieval music and changing the words to make a new and usually very off-colour song). I bought many people into the hobby. Knowing I could never be 100% “authentic” (it’s just not possible) I set my level to be no obvious inaccuracies at a casual glance – no zips, watches, obviously synthetic materials and so on. Some were strict about it, like hand-stitching their clothes or making their own links or researching a specific time and place: I knew people who met those standards were out there, and all the more glory to them, if they cared. There was once a time when the scene was happy to include people with a variety of interests, passions and talents…

And then came creeping onto the scene a type of hater, who determined that their own focus was the way that all re-enactment should be, and that anyone who didn’t meet their singular standards of “authenticity” was a lesser being. We called them Authenticity Nazis, and the division grew from there. I wrote a filk about them, and their appalling double standards. I honestly believed at the time that the Sargasso Sea was a place of legend (I had read about it in Sinbad, I think), and “De Silva” is a concatenation of Silver and De Grassi, which showed how much I cared about pedigree…

Sargasso Sea (sung to the tune of High Barbary)

You say you are authentic and that I am fantasy
Let’s raise the flag for recreating history
I say that you should get a life, authenticity nazi
Authentically a-sailing on the Sargasso Sea

I know the tunes to music from the fourteenth century
Let’s raise the flag for recreating history
But my boots don’t match your reference so you will not play with me
Authentically a-sailing on the Sargasso Sea

An authentic reference tells me what the men all wore to war
Let’s raise the flag for recreating history
It also graphically describes the dragons that they saw
Authentically a-sailing on the Sargasso Sea

You learn your sword play from a book, you should read between the lines
Let’s raise the flag for recreating history
If de Silva didn’t innovate he wouldn’t have survived
Authentically a-sailing on the Sargasso Sea

When you started you thought dressing-up was an inconvenience
Let’s raise the flag for recreating history
Now you dis the newbies who haven’t learnt dress-sense
Authentically a-sailing on the Sargasso Sea

You can’t fight for sh*t, can’t sing a song, and you watch the ladies dance
Let’s raise the flag for recreating history
But still at least your ugly garb will earn a second glance
Authentically a-sailing on the Sargasso Sea

You disapprove of female fighters and potatoes in the stew
Let’s raise the flag for recreating history
Thank god that modern hygiene is acceptable to you
Authentically a-sailing on the Sargasso Sea

So nice that you can finally say you have an expertise
Let’s raise the flag for recreating history
So get up off your high horse of inconsistent snobberies
Authentically a-sailing on the Sargasso Sea

As you can imagine, this went over like a lead balloon with the Authenticity Nazis ☺

But it really was the beginning of the end of my love of re-enactment. These haters impressed the more suggestible of us with their holier-than-thou attitudes, power of contempt and disdain over others who did not accept their standards, and vicious political attacks. They undermined the national organisation we had constructed to have a single set of rules we could all train to so we could fight together without too much risk. They convinced festival organisers to include heavy headblow combat competitions (with steel swords), on the grounds that it was more “authentic”. The injuries certainly were. The stupid thing is, in that case they were right: real Medieval tournies also didn’t care about the welfare of the participants, and brute force was easier to find than skill. They scared off newbies with more romantic and/or fantasy interests, and women (who, funnily enough, do not want the choice of cooking in cauldrons over fires or being thrown across the battlefield by a shield barge), and anyone who did not buy into their fanatical exclusive small-minded rhetoric. They were a part of why I left the scene in 2009. I think there was only one person still active who had been in the NZ scene longer.

So what is “authentic”? What is “authentic Indian food”? Is it food cooked by an Indian, in which case fish and chips cooked by an Indian is authentic and madras cooked by me is not? Is it food cooked with Indian ingredients? In which case there is not such food in NZ, since they use NZ lamb and veges. Is it a particular recipe, from a particular time and place in India? In which case all variation or reproduction is NOT authentic. Like the definition above says – not a copy.

I find people use the term “authentic” to say that their version of a thing has higher quality (without defining the quality), is exclusive and infused with an intrinsic value that makes it immune to sanction and judgement, so that it cannot be reasonably disputed, questioned or denied, like a form of cultural relativism. It is all authentic bullshit: where something is a copy / reproduction / recreation / re-enactment / version / simulation or any other kind of imitation it is either NOT authentic, and is in no way sacred, or it is ALL authentic, in all its variation, and therefore no more special than any other version.

Ethics: The First Principle

Back in 2000 I went back to University to write a dissertation about Ethics. I had some ideas bumping around in my head from a couple of papers (Certificates of Proficiency) I had done in the Philosophy of Religion and Applied Ethics, and I thought I had the answer to the Consequentialist argument of what makes an action “good”. Analogous to people who do Psychology to work out what’s going on in their own heads, I wanted to do Ethics because I needed to know what made an action right or wrong. Dogma, religion, culture and appeals to being “nice” did not suffice for me: I’m too sceptical. How did I even know I was being “nice”, if I couldn’t judge my action by some objective criteria and account for all the affected parties, including myself? It’s easy for an intelligent person to justify their actions if they don’t have principles. I also don’t believe in a God that judges my actions and will hold me accountable after my demise. Anyway, that’s a lousy reason to behave well to others, the idea that one is only acting “good” to avoid punishment. Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development has that motivation on the bottom of the stack, and I agree with him (in that matter). I managed to convince the Department of Philosophy to take me on doing a Graduate Diploma of Arts, even though my first degree was a Bachelor of Science, based on my performance in the CoPs, and I got to work.

To cut a long story short, my initial argument had the right focus but the wrong target. This was pointed out to me by my supervisor about 2 months into the 8-9 months that I had, and after fighting it a bit I realised she was right. That’s when I hit on the argument that could withstand scrutiny, and made everything make sense. I got an A for that dissertation, and my supervisor said the only reason I didn’t get an A+ is because she wasn’t qualified to judge some of the supporting arguments, since I had pulled in content from Psychology, Political Science, Sociology, and anywhere else I could find a connection.

I determined that I had to turn the dissertation into a book, one that everybody could understand, so that everyone could know (if they cared) what the objective basis was for our intuited moral beliefs and judgements, so they could judge or at least argue the correctness of those beliefs and judgements. My working title is “The First Principle”, and past coming up with that, this has proven to be harder than it sounds.

  1. I had to concentrate a huge amount of my initial writing down into very dense philosophical language to keep within my word limit, even with significant appendices, and re-translating that back into readable, engaging and commonly understandable English is a mission
  2. I’m not convinced my initial dissertation structure is right for a book
  3. I have thought of more things I want to add, and I wonder if some things are just distractions. Specifically, do I research more and throw in citations for everything (it’s easy to see where I wrote something as an essay for a university paper), or is there a point where my own thoughts have stand-alone value, even if they are similar to someone else’s?
  4. Real life gets in the way: I don’t have a lot of time to redesign, translate and write when I have a full time job

So I have determined that I will take bits out of the book-to-be and publish them as blog articles because…

  1. I think a lot of my readers will find this stuff interesting, and enjoy the opportunity to discuss and debate the ideas
  2. Reformatting it for the blog will likely give me some insights into how I can make the rest of the translation easier for myself
  3. It gets at least some of it out there, in case I get hit by a bus
  4. Now I’m working again it give me easy content to keep the blog going
  5. Maybe someone will decide it’s worth helping me become an author

I’ll put such posts under the Ethics tag. I know there already are other (non-book) blogs tagged that way, too, but that’s OK – I’m sure I can count such posts as potential new material. I hope y’all find this motivating ☺

The Mack the Knife Incident

You may not have heard about the Mack the Knife incident… The Ruski works hard to be the most masculine, most daring, most dangerous burlesque performer that ever took the stage, and what better way to do this than to make an act where he cut his clothes off himself with a razor sharp Georgian bone carving knife? I told one of my workmates this was happening that night and she facepalmed, and said she’d check the obituaries in the morning. He HAD practised, leaving bits of shredded clothes all over the lounge, but we both knew that (true at the time) when he got on stage his enthusiasm doubled and his accuracy halved. Stage fighting with him was exciting.

Watching him on stage that night I realised something had gone wrong when I saw his hand shaking as he was trying to cut off his underwear. I was afraid he was going to circumcise himself. As it was he flashed half the audience when his hat drifted, and in a gay bar that went down well. One was overheard saying “Well… there’s my $5 worth right there”. What happened was, the trousers he used for the show were lined, and therefore much more difficult to cut, and when he got to the bottom of leg one he flexed his foot into the knife sweep and sliced the top of it, and he didn’t even notice. He apparently didn’t start bleeding until he was off-stage (adrenaline works like that) and I tracked him to the manager’s office where they had a meagre first aid kit. Locking ourselves into the men’s room, I cleaned up the many scratches over his other limbs and declared he’d need stitches for his foot, but he wasn’t going to A&E until after the show, so we bandaged him as best we could.

At A&E (Accident and Emergency clinic at the hospital) the triage nurse asked him what had happened, so he said “I was cutting my clothes off myself for a burlesque act, and I slipped”. She looked at him with a completely straight face, and said “All in the name of art, right?” I cracked up. He did say I didn’t have to stay with him, but I know how much I hate A&E, and company makes it better. Because his injury was very low priority it was about 5am in the morning before they were stitching him up (three stitches in all), and commenting favourably about his toenail polish. I got about one hour snooze before I had to get up for work. Before my workmate asked, I said “So… I spent last night in A&E…” She was extremely sympathetic, and volunteered to prod me during the day if I fell asleep at my desk.


3 and a Bit Months Without Official Job and Income

I knew that my company was struggling to meet financial targets, and actually asked my manager if redundancies could happen. He didn’t believe it at the time, and acknowledged my perception when we got the word that it would happen, after all. When we were told I got the strangest feeling. Having just started 9 months before, and having failed to gain the approval of the clique of older women (long term employees) who told people how things were to be in the business, I felt there was a good chance I would not survive the cull in early August. Where the other testers whose jobs were at risk were metaphorically kneeling on the cliff edge pleading or stoically waiting for the push, I found myself looking over the edge, wondering where to jump to.

I really did not want to go back to my original job, that I had left for much better pay and opportunities. I thought I’d try my hand at contracting. I really liked the idea of doing my job, which I enjoy, in a variety of environments where I wouldn’t stay long enough to suffer the effects of office politics, and getting paid really well so I could have the time after each job to enjoy my life and explore new interests, like training to be a clown, and writing. I discussed this plan with the people who I have regularly financially supported in the past – none of them legal dependants. I needed to know that if I took the option of a non-guaranteed income that they could survive without my help. The Ruski bravely declared he could handle it. The Girlie already owed me a lot of rent, from when I had a job, and was on her last warning, but it seemed she had her act together. The one overseas brushed it off, and my daughter went pale but assented. I believed I had all their understanding and support, so I signed up to a few agencies looking exclusively for contract work. They warned me the market was flat, but I am not risk adverse, and I can survive like a cockroach, so I buckled down for a wait.

First thing we did for damage control was add another flatmate, making four, including me, and we divided up the household expenses evenly (I had been paying for most of them). Moving him in involved clearing out the spare room, which I had also been paying for, of all my stored junk. We do not have a lot of storage space in our flat, so I have given away / thrown away / sold a whole lot of stuff I really no longer need, but have been keeping “just in case”. I learnt this trait from my parents, who scrimped and saved themselves up from blue collar to comfortable middle class. They like stuff, and give gifts of stuff, and protect their stuff, and put it on display. To me, a lot of my stuff is just junk, and useless, and collects dust. It’s funny how such stuff accumulates in our lives. Like emotional baggage we just keep carrying it around and not dealing with it. It’s not as though we even care for it, and it weighs us down, making an anchor we can’t walk away from, and we have to live in a house just to put a roof over it. I considered the possibility of living in a van, like some of my circus friends. It has appeal. I am low maintenance, and happy in small accommodations, and by myself. If I didn’t get a contract, perhaps I would do that, and roam around NZ teaching acrobatics and other stuff, and bringing circus to places that had limited options.

We had a long term couchsurfer at the time, who was actually a pain in the arse, but had offered to pay a bit towards his costs and space, so bought himself some grace. Then three weeks later a previous flatmate came back to NZ and shacked up with the Girlie, the girl he left behind, making five and a half flat occupants. We discussed it – he had some time to sort himself out, and would contribute to the expenses when the surfer left, after a month, at the end of September.

I actually had very little time at first: not knowing when I would be employed again, I had a heap of costumes to make for shows and games, stuff to sort out, job applications to write and casual “until I get a contract” job options to consider. I loved doing jobs for my friends – it was good to be able to give them the time I had not had before, and they really helped me in return. I signed up for all sorts of things, and got odd jobs around the place to supplement my rapidly depleting funds, but never enough to cover my weekly expenses. One of the biggest expenses was my insurance: I had only just got it sorted while I was working, and after all that paperwork I would be damned before I gave up on it. I couldn’t expect it with contracts, either, so if I wanted it, I had to keep it going. It’s a big question, though. Do I really want it? “I bet that I will die, or my kids or I will suffer a debilitating injury or illness within my working lifetime”. Given my lifestyle I think it’s a pretty safe bet, actually.

I think it was about the end of September when I bit the bullet and got an accommodation supplement from the government. I did not get the unemployment benefit – I did not want them on my case, telling me to take any job they pushed at me. I had started thinking I should just get a nice part-time admin job, where I got enough cash to survive and time to do my own thing. I was really enjoying the time to myself, and I really don’t care about having lots of money. I applied for quite a few, I didn’t get one reply. I can’t help but wonder what people look for in an office temp.

September past quickly, but October was horrible. Our returned flatmate was causing trouble with us and his girlfriend, and when I asked for the agreed expense supplement he got very difficult. He had apparently not used the free month to get himself any form of income. Then he started keeping a record of all the things he ate to show he didn’t consume as much as he was paying for, then it started coming out how much he actually despised me. This was someone who would write to me while he was overseas “hey, old buddy, old pal…” and ask me to lend him money, which I did. Apparently he was just acting as my friend from the point he got the girlfriend – he had been vilifying me to her the whole time – so I would keep supporting him, and when the money dried up so did his act. I was heart-broken. He is gone from my life now. He says he will pay me back, but in the end a bit over $1K is a small price to pay to learn I have a false friend.

The Girlie was also somewhat concerned about whether I was honest with the cash. While I said I had very little income and was running out of funds I would still buy wine for the household and go for curry after my circus class. People who are broke don’t do such things, she said. I don’t think she realised that I also paid for the studio where she learnt to dance with me, and paid for my martial arts lessons. I told her that, as an adult with no dependants, I would spend my money as I pleased, and take the risk that it runs out before I got a job, and live with small moments of non-essential pleasure while I still could. If I didn’t get a job there would be plenty of time for me to be poor, scraping for every cent, maybe worried and miserable, but more likely dumpster diving and busking. I have lived below the breadline before, and I can do it again.

My long-term unemployed daughter applied for a job. This was a wonderful thing for me – I liked to see that she was beginning to take some responsibility for her life. But the Ruski was suffering. Working 50+ hours per week to pay all his regular bills, wondering what to do about the irregular ones, and with another 20 odd hours training and/or performing was taking its toll. He gets sick easily, and has no time to try to change things for himself. I saw a thing on Facebook, about a family of friends and I thought that this is what the Ruski and I could do: I could bring in the cash, because I can, and then he could live and grow as an artist. When he’s rich and famous I’m going to be his chauffeur and bodyguard. Until then I’m supporting the performing arts of NZ.

About mid-October, with no funds left, I contacted someone I trusted at my old job and started looking for full time work again. I didn’t want to do these things, but I had run out of options. It makes no sense to me that I can’t work part time and make less money if I want. What is wrong with this world, that we have to do 9-5 five days a week, and make money we don’t need or care about? I’d rather have my life. Then the Girlie’s rent was stolen. After discussion we decided that her best option was to return to her mother’s home where she didn’t need to be financially reliable. At least her by now completely obnoxious boyfriend, who had also not been paying what we had negotiated, left with her. That left us down to three flatmates, however – short about the same amount as the weekly food bill. A couple of my friends knew how hard things were getting, and offered to lend me cash, if I needed it. I thanked them, and said I would ask if it came to that. About that time I also applied to be a bouncer at a brothel. I thought a female door staff would be a good thing for such a sensitive industry, but I got no replies from that job, either. I was rejected by jobs I applied to, rejected by potential flatmates, rejected even by a stage show I auditioned for. They would all say “you were great but we went with someone else”. I got tired of hearing that: just say I wasn’t successful. There was a time when there was no wine and we all looked into the abyss…

…and then I got a part time temporary contract at my old company, at contract rates, which works out at more per week than at the upgrade job. Then we got a new flatmate. Then I got offered a full time job and a contract job at the same time. I have decided to take the full time job, since while I love the idea of my liberty, I would rather have the dependable income to help my friend get his life back on track.

Never once did I bounce a payment for any of my financial responsibilities. I worked hard to survive and with the support of my friends I pulled through. Bad things happened, and I had to make hard choices, but I didn’t stop teaching circus and dance, couchsurfing, sharing what I could, supporting my family and friends in return, and I didn’t let anyone down. Life has been good for me, in that way. I discussed this with the Ruski – am I just lucky? He says we make our luck, at least in part from our attitude, and this is what I built for myself. It’s a humbling thought.

You Should Not Read This…

So – you ignored my patronising advice. Good for you 🙂

There are some words that, when I hear them, instantly raise red flags around the communication. One of these is the word “should”. Every time I hear someone say this I know they are talking about an idealised, romantic view of the world and commonly not about reality. Here are some examples…

As a tester, I hear the word “should” a lot. “The content from this field should populate the corresponding field on the admin page”. “The import should take no longer than 5 min”. “The user should be aware that they can’t add a link to this content”. Testers are professional sceptics. When we hear the word “should” we say “Reeeally? I’m going to have a look at that…” It’s surprising how often statements like these are wrong, completely or partially. One of the things that catch developers out is the belief that their “should” will apply in all circumstances. Yes, a name entered into the Name field is saved to the database… except when that name contains an apostrophe (common in Polynesian names), a hyphen or a space, or some strange German letter… And even if a user “should” know better, what happens is they accidentally add a link (in a cut and paste, for instance)? Does the app up and die? It probably shouldn’t do that.

As someone who studies ethics, however, one is aware of far less amusing failures of the word “should”. “People should protect the environment, if they are rational”. “There should be no discrimination in the workforce”. “People can believe what they want, but they should not act to harm other people or communities”. What people are really saying, when they say “should” is the opposite: people DON’T protect the environment, there IS discrimination, and people DO act according to their beliefs, even when it harms others. After making these pronouncements ethicists then allow themselves to feel disappointed at the way people actually behave. We need to accept the reality of what we are talking about. Ethics are too often about dreams and utopian ideals, and not about reality, and it’s far too easy for a privileged, educated Westerner to accept the constraints of their own ethical pronouncements and just assume that if they can and will, anyone can and will. Until ethicists make statements that are both possible and compelling to the general population, or at least law-makers, ethics fails to be a practical study and is instead just a means to designate various things that would be valued, if we were rational. We need to find the statements that make the following true:

  • People CAN AND WILL protect the environment when…
  • There WILL be no discrimination when…
  • People WILL NOT hurt each other when…

Anyway, who listens when other people tell you what you “should” do? You’re reading this, right? Unsolicited advice, or just basic patronising authorities (warranted or not) are generally ignored unless someone really has an interest in the topic and no clue what to do. In my experience, they only time pronouncing “should” has any effect is when people turn it on themselves: “I should go on a diet”. “I should not pay so much attention to negative people”. “This should not happen to me”. This has an effect because, rather than achieving these high aspirations, we fail to achieve them (or even properly start them) and then have an excuse to beat ourselves up. It’s a self-imposed goad with no plan to get the carrot. One of my couchsurfers put it very well when she related being told to “Stop shoulding all over yourself”. Once again, when we say should, we are being unrealistic, and talking about dreams instead of realising them. We need to accept that we are NOT going to go on a diet, unless something changes, and then we might. We only change when we actually do something, and keep at it, however that comes about, and then there is no more “should”.

Of Cats and Dogs

One thing me and the Ruski really don’t see much eye to eye on is the relative merits of cats and dogs. He loves cats, and is happy to be the staff of our little cat, Chilli, who will wake him to feed her and then come back to my bed to snooze with me (without eating anything). He has also been known to chase off the two little dogs from our neighbours who occasionally get loose and like to bark at Chilli. She was perfectly safe, sitting on top of the fence pretending to ignore them whilst driving them crazy, but the Ruski had to ruin her fun. He has mellowed somewhat in the last few years, but for the longest time he did not like dogs. This was in large part to the childhood memory of being chased and treed by a pack of wild dogs in Siberia.

I, on the other hand, have some reservations about our love affair with cats. I get that they are lovely or hilarious to watch (I have been known to spend time watching cat videos on YouTube), and can form relationships with humans and be warm, affectionate company, and cats other than ours can kill pests (or entire species, let’s not forget). Chilli is the worst hunter ever. But those qualities we commonly find endearing in cats, their self-contained and commanding nature, distain, fastidiousness, savagery… we would not like these qualities in a person of our acquaintance. Also, consider these points:

Now I have heard the protests of the cat-lovers: “not my cat – my cat is smart / faithful / friendly / caring…” and I have to admit to seeing a lot of variation in cat attributes myself. This can be attributed to the fact that we don’t spend a lot of time killing off cats that exhibit strange or anti-social tendencies, like we do with dogs, and so more behavioural variation can be expected. Commonly we find the mad cat endearing, even when it scratches us for no reason or steals the neighbours’ panties off the washing line eg We excuse their bad behaviour in the same way as overindulgent parents, with maybe a slight embarrassment, but private delight.

To highlight this, the other day Chilli came over for a pat when I was in the middle of something. I gave her a quick pat and moved to walk away and she scratched me on the leg. I told the Ruski about this, and he said “What a bitch! [Pause] You should know better than to walk away when she wants attention!” I think he deserves everything he gets with the joys of cat ownership, including the catbox duties and the barfed furballs.

On the other hand, the things we culturally find pathetic or undignified in dogs – their unconditional love, desire to please, steadfast loyalty, and boisterous nature – these are things that commonly make a person our best friend, though maybe we would be a bit nervous of this, thinking we don’t deserve it. Why do we choose to laud the antisocial behaviour of cats over the social behaviour of dogs? Or, if I am to get serious for a bit, why do we imagine that people who treat us rudely or with distain show quality and are desirable, and those that accept us and treat us well can be taken for granted and used? I do believe these traits of humans are interconnected, and bear thinking about.

Why do we have these double standards in the value of these qualities? This is why I have reservations. It’s not because I don’t love cats, it’s because I do love humans, and I wonder if we hurt ourselves and sabotage our relationship happiness by confusing our values between humans and our furry friends. What’s the chance we see the dog or cat qualities listed above in a person and accidentally apply the reversed interpretation we give these qualities in our familiar non-human friends? For example, I suspect the Ruski admires cat qualities in girls, which I believe accounts somewhat for his miserable romantic life. If I say someone has a cat-like personality, I am not saying a nice thing about them, but am likely thinking of a sociopathic or neurotic narcissist. I admit to being a sucker for narcissists, which is probably why I actually do like cats. And this is OK: they are not humans, and they teach us humility. Dogs teach us how to be friends.