The advantage of being a cat or a dog: Simple happiness, aka the luxury of being stupid
by Lilian Bell
So much is being said on the subject of higher education, and so many clubs have been formed for the avowed purpose of self-culture, that many an immature thinker is fooled into the belief that the most highly cultivated sensibilities bestow the greatest amount of happiness upon their proud possessor.
But that is a popular fallacy. Ask the musician with the trained ear if cultivation has increased his enjoyment of music, and, if he is honest, he will declare that knowledge has simply increased his pain when the tenor flats or when the oboe is out of tune.
Ask the man who loves the drama why he never goes to the theater, and he will tell you it is because he loves the drama too much to see it abused. Ask the purist in language why he does not read current fiction; ask the purist in pronunciation why he never goes to lectures or to the theater; ask the ultra-refined why they take no interest in humanity; ask the philosopher why he has lost all the comforts of the religion of his youth; ask the brilliant talker why he does not go more into society — and they will one and all tell you that they know too much.
They have educated themselves out of all power to enjoy themselves in common things. They are over-cultivated, supersensitive, ultrarefined, and therefore the most of the time superlatively miserable; for the perfect seldom appears in concert, opera, theater, book, philosophy, or dinner party.
Did you ever long for a witty tongue? Ask the unfortunate possessor of it, especially if the unhappy wretch chances to be a woman, if she enjoys even her most brilliant sallies. She will tell you that even the kindest heart will be led astray by an opportunity too good to be missed, and one pointed shaft of wit may end the friendship of years. No matter how hard you may try to be good, a genius for
No matter how hard you may try to be good, a genius for wit may be your undoing; and no matter how your heart may ache afterward, the mischief has been done. So, if you knew how cordially most witty men and women are hated, you would be glad you are just as you are, whatever that may be.
Advantages of being a cat
“The mental responsibility which comes with education, even if it is only one’s awakened sense of responsibility as citizen, hostess, or friend, brings so much discomfort to the ease-loving that I personally have come to the conclusion that the career which holds out the greatest promise of comfort with the least responsibility would be that of a pet cat in a family of kind-hearted people. Sometimes when I have seen a Mexican asleep in the sun before his adobe hut, my allegiance to a pet-cat existence has wavered, but not for long.
Observe. A cat in a family of kind-hearted people presupposes, first of all, that she will be allowed the best of everything; for no animal which exists can excel a cat in preempting the softest bed, the sunniest window, the warmest corner, the daintiest food — in short, the best the house affords, be it palace or hovel. And if you have never given much thought to this phase of it before, while familiar with cats, it only goes to show the unobtrusive feminine tact of a cat. Did you ever notice the difference between the manners of a cat and dog both bent upon achieving the hearth around which the family were gathered?
The door opens, and in bounces the dog, with sharp barks of welcome and joy. He dashes across the floor, knocks against chairs, jumps, and licks your hanging hand, thumps his tail against your legs, wriggles his body in an ecstasy of enjoyment, then darts for the hearth-rug, panting, licking his chops, snapping his eyes, and bumping the floor with his tail. That is the masculine of it.
Enter the cat. Softly she steals across the floor, pausing to rub against each one in turn, arching her back for the expected caress, and purring her thanks. Having silently ingratiated herself with each one, having been greeted with, “Poor pussy” in commiserating tones by the most sympathetic of her admirers, she softly steals into the warmest corner, and, curling herself into a graceful coil, she yawns and extends her claws for a moment, then her head sinks into a little nest of fur, and, with a puny sigh, the cat is asleep. I have seen women get the best of everything with all the silent tact of a cat.
Dog versus cat
Now, a dog feels his responsibility. If you take him for a walk, he feels that he must do something for you. He works for your entertainment. Therefore, you think a dog clever. On the other hand, take a cat as your companion. She never works unless she wants her chin scratched. Therefore, you call a cat stupid. But who wouldn’t be willing to be as stupid as the unenlightened consider cats, to get as much out of life with as little exertion?
Cats are capable of sufficient cultivation to make them acceptable dinner guests, if they went into society, yet they will not go in for higher education. A cat, when she first enters a human family, catches mice from instinct; but in an incredibly short time, she ceases to eat them. She kills and leaves them, preferring bits of chicken-breast and cream. She eats steak only when there is no chicken, and milk when there is no cream.
After that point in her culture is reached she catches mice only for exercise and to keep her figure. And you human beings who harbor her encourage her in her daintiness and yield her the soft cushions and the warmest corners, because you think she is too stupid to know that other people want them.
Ah! Is she stupid? She is simply taking advantage of her reputation for stupidity, and getting the best of everything by the way. Think of it! To eat all you want of the best there is; to sleep all day and all night, and yet be always delightfully drowsy and contemplative; to jump into people’s silken laps at any moment you choose, secure in your welcome, assured of having your fur rubbed the right way; permitted to express gratitude by sleepy purrings; being able to get gloriously intoxicated on catnip and suffer no headache in the morning; never feeling an atom of responsibility about anything or anybody — good heavens!
Isn’t it simply maddening that we can’t all be cats? The stupid men and women in society are simply usurping the prerogatives of pet cats. And like unto cats, I do not believe that they are a third as stupid as they pretend to be. But being adorned with either gold or family or position of some sort compels society to accept them and invite them constantly, whether they work to be entertaining or not.
They find that the inertia of stupidity a form of luxury unknown in the lavish days of Lucullus et al, and so they curl their paws up under their heavy double chins and sleep peacefully, pillowed upon the responsibility of the poor but clever, who have to make good, or they know they will eat no more, save their own expense.
Straw in their hair
If lawmakers only realized how those who hold society together by mental responsibilities as hosts and guests actually suffer from backache from carrying the weight of the stupid and conscienceless, they would at least frame a law compelling the bores to wear some sort of badge or button by which their heaviness could be recognized and avoided except when absolutely necessary to encounter them.
If ever I get into the legislature, I shall introduce a bill compelling all born mentally handicapped by weight to wear straw in their hair. This will not only distinguish them from the hayseeds, but will indicate that you had better keep away from persons so adorned.
You may think I am frivolous; but I do think that it is such a shame to rope a thinking human being into a three-hour imprisonment during a fashionable dinner, beside an indolent fool who won’t even make an effort to lift your gloom, that I think the] might at least be bulletined, such as this: “I am a millionaire bachelor; bald-headed; fifty years old; selfish; and I hate to spend my money. I am stupid by inheritance, and will do no more work than an Indian Chief. If a pretty and attractive girl enough for the perquisites to serve out a life sentence with me at hard labor, the reward will be matrimony.”
After that, the responsibility is all the girl’s. I have no objection to a person’s deliberately encountering a stupid man or woman. What I hate is being trapped by them.
Feign stupidity for its rewards
But I have observed that those persons who are endowed with the requisites of money or position to which the world bows down, regardless of their color, nationality, or mental equipment, often take advantage of their position to feign a stupidity which they do not deserve.
They do this for three reasons. One is because they possess the arrogance of power. Another because they fondly imagine that this gives them the right to be indifferent to other people’s opinion of them. And the third because they realize the utter luxury which a reputation for stupidity affords. Nothing is asked, nothing expected, of the stupid. Their lack of wit is construed into a lack of understanding of society’s requirements. and the result is a debauch of laziness.
I used to know one girl so clever and so conscious of her social responsibilities that every hostess selfishly shifted the whole burden of entertaining a roomful to her willing young shoulders, which so wore upon her that toward the end of her first winter, her mother found the girl’s physical health actually suffering. The doctor was called in, and to him, the mother said: “She feels the responsibility of every gathering where she is a guest to be entirely hers. The weight of the stupid has broken her down, doctor.”
Heigh-ho! Who would not be a sleepy, purring cat, lying on the hearth rug, in everybody’s way, yet conscious that the whole family are too kind-hearted to kick her, because they feel such pity for her stupidity.