...Or, the Evolutionary Secret of Cats, Women and Homo Sapiens
About a week and a half ago, this little fleabitten kitten showed up in my front yard, so emaciated you could see his backbone protruding. As he trotted up to me, my immediate thought was to rescue him from an imminent fate of starvation.
He was given a temporary home on my front porch as my tenants and I provided him with food and shelter. Signs were posted around town and at my workplace -- and within days, a Good Samaritan took him away to a vet appointment and a new home.
Imagine a race of giant beings who will provide you with free food, shelter and backrubs simply for looking pretty and being friendly. ...For no practical or logical reason. Never underestimate the visual power (and subsequent behavior manipulation) of Cute.
Makes me think of humans in terms of symbiotic enablers. Would anyone have been as charitable towards a starving rat or opossum? All pets have to do is look and act cute, and we feed and shelter them. Because of certain qualities we find endearing, humans help perpetuate their kind -- enabling the survival of even the ones that may have lost skills their ancestors needed to survive in the wild. ...After all, how many packs of Pomeranians have you seen chasing after their prey in the woods?
The late Stephen Jay Gould wrote of the power of Cute in his essay, "A Biological Homage to Mickey Mouse" pointing to biologist Konrad Lorenz who "...argues that humans use the characteristic differences in form between babies and adults as important behavioral cues. He believes that features of juvenility trigger 'innate releasing mechanisms' for affection and nurturing in adult humans. When we see a living creature with babyish features, we feel an automatic surge of disarming tenderness. The adaptive value of this response can scarcely be questioned, for we must nurture our babies."
Cute is what helps enable cats and dogs to share homes with humans . It's also why babies and children can get away with being irrational and demanding; why women can get away with being irrational and demanding; why Brad Pitt can get away with being a jerk; why Disney became a multi-billion-dollar corporate and cultural empire and why Michelle Malkin and Ann Coulter think they can get away with what they say.
The attraction to Cute has such a hold on the human race it has perhaps even shaped our evolution. A current favorite theory is the trend towards neoteny;, possibly due to a masculine preference for more youthful features and compliant nature in females, gradually resulting in the entire species evolving into a state of arrested development -- and subsequent larger brain size and learning capacity.
There was an ongoing debate on a newsgroup I sometimes read regarding evolution and sex differences. One of the posters took issue with the idea that most women are less rational, more needy and not as competitive and hardworking (career-wise) as men are. It may not be politically correct to say this, but if superficial features are all that is needed to get one's DNA reproduced, certain other attributes may eventually fall by the wayside. In fact, it's possible to see parallels between modern human women and the domestication of animals. I'll be discussing this topic more in depth in a future essay.
Of course, having a good personality helps, too. If that kitten hadn't been so personable, chances are, he'd have been dismissed as just another feral cat.