Shoot the Cat (Law Doesn’t Care)

At least every three months we (in Amsterdam, NL) find a missing cat notice stuck on our apartment door. Twice a year there is a missing cat alarm posted on my Facebook wall. The animal wellbeing organization American Humane calculated that 184 million dogs and cats in the US become lost, one out of three pets go missing at some point in their lifetime, and 80 percent of the lost pet animals are never found. In 2018 the Dutch missing animals contact point received 42,640 reports of missing cats, of which 31 percent were found and returned. The true number of cats gone missing + never found back is likely to be much higher, because not every pet owner reports their lost cat.

image shoot the cat; law doesn't care

The empty place in the windowsill is a sad experience for most owners. For the cat, leaving home is not necessarily bad. Sometimes it isn’t even lost. A friend’s cat walked to the nearest café. Although they didn’t feed him, he became an illustrous and proud pub cat. But we only have 11 thousand bars and pubs in the Netherlands; we have 3.5 up to 4 million domestic cats. In addition, a rough extrapolation of cat data indicates, we have 135,590 to 1,207,331 stray cats. Over one million: is this misery?

No. An animal hat has escaped from a domestic status and lives more or less as a wild animal, or one that is descended from such animals, is then feral. That sounds adverse, but even domesticated plants that went back to wild and naturalized in unattended sites, are called escaped or feral crops.

Feral cats stroll through lots of different habitats, a study found, from open grasslands to urban habitats or farmland in winter, looking for warm places that shelter them from bad weather. They roam over great distances. One male cat’s home range extended over 1,351 acres, compared to a domestic cat’s averange range of only 4.9 acres. Feral cats are more active. Their daily activity pattern fits with the behavior of their prey, sleep during the day and roam and hunt at night. Feral cats, like owned cats, kill wildlife. Finding their own food is not easy, they live shorter; but nothing proves, as sceptics say, that their lives are so harsh that death would be better.

“So what is wrong about feral species?” Google it and what comes up is “invasion”. Alarmism over escaped pet animals is trending alongside national populism. The Netherlands has 10,000 ring-necked parakeets. Amsterdam hosts 4,000 of them. In the gentle 70’s, so the myth goes, their ancestors escaped from a large attic next to the Vondelpark. Ecologists think the parakeet a nice and relatively—compared to the feral cat—harmless party crasher. But the founder of the influential Stop Invasive Exotics warns that parakeets will displace “our indigenous species,” such as the nuthatch, and “many people” hate their noise, and they “are often a noose” for fruit growers. The recent increase in nuthatches is no rebuttal, he says: we would have had even more nuthatches without the parakeet. He wants them gone.

The red swamp crayfish is a feral from fish ponds. They just crawled out. “As is often the case with imported animals, they end up in Dutch nature, whether or not by accident,” a pests workgroup complains. The spread of the invasive non-indigenous animal is considered one of the main causes of biodiversity loss. Exotic species bring with them al sorts of diseases, to which our indigenous species are not immune. “A strong nature is the best weapon against the invasive crayfish,” replies a biologist. “Crayfish thrive especially in a habitat that is out of balance by human hand.” But the cities of Delft and De Hague decided to take action against the crayfish: citizens are now allowed to catch & eat them.

How is this linked to the missing cats? The black-tailed godwit is an indigenous bird of the Netherlands—albeit due to its vast distribution over Europe, Africa and Asia. It is protected by birdlaw (only the feral pigeon is excepted and can be “controlled”). However, chicks are very vulnerable—to be mowed dead or preyed on—in intensive farming areas. This caused a rapid decrease of godwits, exactly in the province of Friesland, where the godwit is the national bird. Hence, Friesland shoots stray cats to protect their godwits. In 2017 345 cats were shot. Dead cats do not bring back the godwits. Shooting cats is still permitted by law. Deputy Johannes Kramer of the Frisian National Party says that shooting cats is “extremely unfortunate, but it is even more unfortunate that our meadow birds are eaten.”

‘If You Know What I Mean, Grr

My score on the Verbal Aggresiveness Scale didn’t come as a surprise. In nature, characteristics are clustered around a mean—that is: if we don’t ruin nature. In a non-postapocalyptic, stable culture, human behavior also follows the normal distribution. The vast majority of actions is of course binary, you offend or don’t offend, you threaten or don’t threaten, but behavior test results tend to form a bell shaped curve. Most people, including me, linger in the moderate range. We do not insult and humiliate because it is our way of getting the things we want in life. But neither will we back off if someone attacks us.

The deficiency of nonviolent communication, however laudable Rosenberg’s effort is, is that it leaves you with nothing, if the opponent just does not give up his violent language. High shool teachers know this. The student rants about math and how stupid it is, the teacher asks him to point out what he deems difficult, and the student calls him an egghead. Turns out math wasn’t really the problem; it was domination & the pecking-order in class—ah! Melania Trump also knows.

President Trump, on Twitter, questioned the capacity and credibility of four congreswomen with family roots in foreign countries. “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” Although Trump would shoot through the roof of the Aggressiveness Scale, he is not the first president to try the ad hominem assault. In the 1992 presidential campaign, President H.W. Bush verbally attacked the competence of candidates Bill Clinton and Al Gore. He said: “My dog Millie knows more about foreign policy than these two Bozos.”

I’m sure many people laughed, or at least thought nothing wrong about the insult. That is why Skinner, the behavior experimenter with the pigeons, in the 1950’s concluded that we learn verbal aggression. We make fun of someone > it gets rewarded by laughter or “well said!” > we do it again. As a result, many victims of verbal aggression will need psychological support all their life. Therefore: contrary to our view of verbal aggression as inappropriate behavior, verbal aggression in the average, common range means to candidly tell someone who ridicules you, to beat it: “Do you read me? (You do not want this to happen again!)”

But what kind of language is that? Good aggression? Soft threat? Violence lite?

image verbal aggression

Hmm. We know what hostile language is for ages—Euripides’ Medea is from 431 BC—to wit, abusive speech, like epithets and “your mom” phrases, which is outside the span of commonly accepted expressions of disagreement and disapproval in social and personal settings that respect free expression. But settings vary greatly from place and time; Facebook doesn’t mind aggressive posts. Aside from this, when I was a child, verbal aggression was not even considered aggression. Our parents told us not to react if someone was only calling us names. We even had a nonviolent song to confront namecallers: Skelle skelle docht gjin sear (Scolding scolding does not hurt).

At a certain point scientists decided to recognize verbal aggression as real violence. But they did not have a definition. They could not identify what exactly makes language aggressive. Was it its funtion? Its “shit” and “fucking”? Or its result?

It looks like they have settled for the resulting harm of verbal aggression. Verbal aggressiveness is always destructive, Wikipedia warns; don’t confuse assertiveness with aggression. In other words, if your threat, “Don’t do something you’ll be sorry for,” is not followed by destruction, but by the aggressor getting off your back and peace in bed and silence in the neighborhood, you weren’t even aggressive… We call that hindsight bias. And/but it also applies to:

“I told you so” (controlling), “Great cake! Too bad you never put whipped cream on top” (passive-aggressive manipulative), “Your body, however deemed to be divine, after death serves the worms and turns into stool and ashes” (fancy threat), “That’s a nice car/wife/kid you’ve got; it would be a shame if something happened to it/her/him” (regular mafia speak), and my longtime favorite, Flea’s Pea: “And I’m a pacifist/… Fuck you asshole/ You homophobic redneck dick.”

The Relevant Part of Procrastination

I know, I should have mended a friend’s jeans, repair the bike spots (this is Amsterdam). I promised. I said it takes only five minutes and even mentioned something like “creative”. But I didn’t do it. I’d better look for a clever excuse, I thought at a certain point, and then I postponed that too.

Intentionally, “needlessly” & “despite negative consequences” not doing a task that needs to be done, is bad. The internet emphatically explains us our luring procrastination zones, its procrastination typology underneath, including the Gloomy Chicken, and of course the procrastination effects. When asked about procrastinating and their health, 18 percent of a surveyed group admitted that procrastination had an “extreme negative” impact. There you go: your own fault.

image procrastination

Especially academic procrastination, or shelving homework until tomorrow, has been called a common disorder among students. Recent research found that up to 95 percent of college students procrastinate, 87 percent of high school and college students are self-proclaimed procrastinators, and between 14 percent and 44 percent of medical students procrastinated most of the times or always.

Procrastinators at school are, in sum, the overwhelming majority. Doing your task well before its deadline seems to be the anomaly here. Therefore, our wild guess is that procrastination is normal human behavior, right?

Well, research on procrastination is mainly conducted in academic settings, regularly with regard to individual differences in putting off behavior. Procrastination science was always biased in that it had an unscrutinized presupposition: that society is in dire need of a diagnostic procedure, in order to lay the groundwork for treatment. Furthermore, this doctrine not only holds that performing tasks without hesitation—or, without questioning their use—is healthy behavior. It also says that delaying behavior is a pretty static personal trait, or a biological flaw or even a genetically transmitted glitch. Hence, hardly anyone looks at how cultural and ecological—survival—factors affect procrastination in school settings or elsewhere.

These factors definitely have an impact. Our modern school setting is at extreme odds with the school population. In their teens and early twens the students’ energy level peaks. They are in the prime of life, well fitted for hunting & gathering, cutting forests while whistling and winning dance dance revolution, and chasing potential mating partners 24/7; but maladjusted for being immobile in school benches and doing useless think-stuff that often won’t be rewarded until weeks later. In the end they’ll do their math, but they rightfully decide to dam some rivers first.

Procrastination is on the rise. In 1978, only 5 percent of the population reckoned themselves to the chronic procrastinators. Today, 20 to 26 percent of us procrastinate in various domains like academic, social relationships, professional, and finance management, as opposed to students’ more situational academic postponing. In the work domain, jobs became less structured or at least self-structured, so—since jobs themselves are always fine in neoliberalism—procrastination can increase because of the worker’s lack of control, his inability to set his own priorities and to self-reward for completed tasks. But what causes our overall chronic delay lifestyle?

The ecological rule of thumb is, we seek whatever behavior has the highest utility. ‘Utility’ = happiness or pleasure, so that’s the easy part, because: how can we know what is ‘highest’? In the midst of ever dynamic options, and with always more things to do than we can possibly do, we simply don’t know what will give maximum happiness, until, hopefully, the very last moment. Only then we decide. This is why we delay.

Don’t be surprised that all your teachers strategically delayed and taught you how to procrastinate well. In fact, only those 5 percenters who unschooled themselves can’t think of something more valuable to do, and sew patches on jeans the moment they get them.