Friday, July 5, 2013

Feline Customary Law

Long Tail and Short Tail, Legal Experts
By Robert H.

Over the last year, my two cats have developed a complex, ever changing regime of customary law.  It fascinates me, mainly because many of the laws they've developed clearly aren't instinctual (though instinct plays a huge role, obviously).  For example, there is no instinctual rule determining who gets dominion over toys, instead the cats seem to work out a toy-specific rule within about an hour of a toy being introduced into the apartment, that rule being some function of who is the better fighter, who is the dominant cat, who wants the toy more, and the dumb luck of who first discovers it and/or plays with it more.  In the main, the law governs:

1. Property rights with respect to toys, food, the litter box, and lounging spots.  Most of these things are held in common with the law mediating when both cats want to use something at the same time, but some pieces of property, such as the smaller cat's comfort toy, pretty clearly belong to one cat and one alone.

2. What touchings are permissible, covering when it is permissible to initiate contact (everything from cuddling to starting to a fight) to what kind of contact is permitted (IE, when can can cuddling escalate to wrestling).  So, for examples, it is pretty clearly forbidden to attack a cat when he is drinking water; if a cat is sleeping then you have to lick and nip him awake before you can start a fight; there is some unknown rule by which they determine what fights are play-fights and what fights are more serious; etc.

3.  Some national security law seems to govern how the body politic interacts with outside forces, such as myself, my girlfriend, and strangers.  There actually isn't much joint action when it comes to defending the apartment, the bigger question is what to do when the legal regime is disrupted by those who aren't beholden to it.  This is an especially difficult question when it comes to myself and my girlfriend, since A. It is very important to obey us so that we will keep feeding them and don't punish them, but B. we often force situations where obedience means a transgression of the law.  So, for example, Bucephalus gets precedence when eating the wet food.  What happens if I push him away from the bowl and don't let him access it while repeatedly placing Jean-Luc right beside it? Bucephalus has sole ownership of his comfort toy, what happens if I keep trying to get Jean-Luc to play with it while Bucephalus is stuck in the other room?  The rule here seems to be that you should try to resist the human and obey the law, but after a concerted effort on the human's part you can give in and break the law without the other cat trying to stop you or holding a grudge.


Anyways, it's all interesting stuff (to me), and a useful remedy when you start thinking that the law should be simple, unchanging, and intuitive.  In order to function together, two animals with the IQs of a pocket calculator have been forced to develop a law that is none of those things.  I don't imagine a system of laws designed to regulate millions of humans is ever going to do much better.

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