December 14, 2013

Skaters are cat people

While out gift-shopping tonight I stopped by Zumiez, a clothing store for skateboarders and snowboarders. The sales girl was showing me t-shirts that she thought my snowboarding brother might like, when she paused and asked, "Do you have a cat? Or does your brother?" Either she had very good intuition, or she already knew that her customers are most likely cat people. She said she had a cat herself (and that she's a skater), and then showed me three or four "wacky cat" t-shirts. Funny, I didn't see any with dogs.

At the online store for Zumiez, they have 34 cat-themed clothing items for girls, vs. only 1 that's dog-themed. For guys, there are 19 that are cat-themed, and fewer than 10 that are dog-themed. They sell skate decks with animal designs, too: 1 with a dog, 4 with a cat. They may not be as one-sided as the Urban Outfitters crowd in preferring cats, but skaters clearly go against the mainstream when it comes to pets.

How does this group tie in to the broader traits that cat people tend to have, compared to dog people? Well, the anti-authoritarian leanings of cat people show up again with skaters. I'm not sure if they have a heightened sense of disgust / purity / taboo, but I have a hunch they do. Shaming someone for "selling out" appeals to moral norms about group loyalty and purity -- not only has the sell-out defected from their group, they're corrupting themselves in the process. And skaters are one of the few groups, along with blacks, who don't mind dissing faggots, using "gay" as an insult, and so on.

Shaming sell-outs also shows their revulsion toward status-striving, in stark contrast to dog people. There's supposed to be an atmosphere of camaraderie, and if someone starts acting too big for their breeches, the other skaters will ridicule their pretensions.

I don't think skaters have a strong sense of empathy, but they're more toward that direction than being fixated on things and systems. And probably more empathetic than the male average. They do concern themselves with how their skateboard is made, when and how to fix or replace parts, what type is best suited for what purpose, etc. But they're not like gear-heads who get really into cars. Skating is mostly a social hang-out activity.

Skaters also show the cat person's characteristic disdain for mindlessly marching forward toward whatever is new. A lot of their graphic design looks like it's straight out of the late '80s and early '90s -- off-beat color combinations, exotic references (Ancient Egypt), irreverence (sacred cats in wacky situations), neon laser futurism, etc. When I dropped by Zumiez over the summer, the guys were non-ironically blasting "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go." They aren't as deeply and self-consciously into vintage as the UO crowd, but they do value "fun and old" over "boring and new." Who wouldn't?

I've suggested before that skaters seem to be the only large, visible youth culture these days. Certainly the only one where there's initiation and acceptance, a code of behavior, distinctive group markers, regular participation in shared experiences and rituals in real life, and hence an overall sense of cohesion.

Studies that show dog owners to be more conscientious are misinterpreting those results when they then describe dog people as more "team-oriented." It's more like hive-minded -- the qualities that make you a good fit in a large, anonymous, hierarchical corporation. Their status-striving instinct adapts them to that kind of environment too -- always toiling toward that next micro-promotion. "Team" is too unspecific. Cat people are more band-minded or tribe-minded -- traditional, something smaller in scale, more typical of hunter-gatherer societies. Cat people are also more like hunter-gatherers in being self-effacing, and ridiculing those who act too big for their breeches. Dog people could only have emerged after civilization.


  1. Cat people are also more like hunter-gatherers in being self-effacing, and ridiculing those who act too big for their breeches. Dog people could only have emerged after civilization.

    Of course, dogs were domesticated by hunter-gatherers; cats, only after the rise of agriculture.

  2. Dogs aren't pets for hunter-gatherers anymore than an ox is for a farmer who uses it to drag a plow.

  3. Part of the story ties back into status striving. Here's the frequency of "dog" and "cat" in Google's digital library:

    The fact that "dog" lies above "cat" reflects something about the animals. But that species difference is fixed (on this time scale anyway). To learn about the people writing about animals, we should look at how the gap changes over time, showing a change in the relative interest.

    The dog-to-cat ratio reflects the trend in status striving and inequality -- rising from 1820 to around 1920, falling through the '70s, then increasing after that, especially since the '90s.

    That would also explain why dogs are more a part of the print world than the internet -- print is more prestigious, and geared toward status striving. Look at how many opinion columnists still get paid to send their airheaded wonderings out into oblivion. In the internet age, nobody cares what some columnist thinks.

  4. It also helps to look at within-medium differences.

    In literature, the dog-to-cat ratio is greatest in non-fiction, then novels, and about even in poetry. This reflects how easy it is to make a living and climb up in the publishing world.

    Writers who are more content with a spare material life will be fine with poetry, while those eager to make a big name for themselves, get on a best-seller list, and rake in even more on the speaking circuit will go to non-fiction.

    Has Malcolm Gladwell written an essay yet about how the right choice of dog as office pet will counter-intuitively boost the company's profits?

    And it reflects the profane and fashionable vs. sacred and enduring split -- How To Beat Menopause and Enhance Your Earning Potential By Bringing Your Dog To Yoga vs. Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats.

  5. On a hunch, I looked into nursery rhymes:

    None is specifically about a dog, at least judging from the title and scanning my memory. Dogs appear in the broader menagerie in ones like "Old MacDonald Had a Farm," but not on their own.

    Puppies were not seen as adorable, but lumped in with "slugs and snails" as some of the yucky things that little boys are made of.

    There are two traditional rhymes about cats as pets: "The Cat Sat Asleep by the Side of the Fire" and "I Love Little Pussy." There's a humorous / non-sense rhyme about a family of cats, "Three Little Kittens." Another addressing a cat: "Pussy Cat Pussy Cat." And their place in the riddle: "Kits, cats, sacks, and wives / How many were there going to St. Ives?"

    Nursery rhymes are traditional, anonymous, orally transmitted, and designed to be remembered (meter and rhyme).

    So, this would seem to match up with cat people shunning the quest for status, and preserving what's good from the past rather than throw away or desecrate it.

    Lots of other non-pet animals show up in nursery rhymes -- weasels, spiders, cock robins -- but they're not treated affectionately. Except for sheep and lambs, but then those are more pet-like in pastoralist society.

  6. Skateboarding is similar to surfing. Surfing was originally developed by hunter-gatherers living in Hawaii, and was adopted by Europeans. It functioned as a form of sexual competition.

    Surfing culture is similar to skating culture. Laidback, tolerant of eccentrics, drug-oriented, and social.

    Those traits are present in hunter-gatherer societies. Hunter-gatherers don't work a lot, only when they get hungry. Most of their free time is spent dancing, singing, and gossiping. Drugs play a role in some hunter-gatherer cultures.


  7. Interestingly, hunter-gatherers share many traits with pastoralists. In their free time, pastoralists also engage in singing and dancing as forms of sexual competition, from what I've read. At least the ones in West Africa do.

    Pastoralists, though, are more warlike, more controlling of women(with arranged marriages), and more hero-worshipping(which, as you've pointed out, is discouraged by hunter-gatherers).

    Another major dfference is fashion. Hunter-gatherers aren't into fashion. neither are scruffy beachbums and skateboarders. But in pastoralist culture, fashion is used to demark status.

  8. Working only when they need to, napping otherwise, and livening things up with recreational drug use -- sounds like cats to me.

  9. Pastoralists are the closest to hunter-gatherers, compared to horticulturalists and intensive agriculturalists. Their population densities are spread out a lot more, and they move around a lot (either along fixed circuits, or wandering wherever looks promising at the moment).

    And as it turns out, pastoralists are more cat people than dog people. Dogs are ritually unclean in Islam, Mohammed loved his pet cat, and feral cat colonies are supported across the Culture of Honor belt by crazy cat people.

    Pastoralists also worship wolves, but those are not domestic pets -- not very doggie. I mentioned before that the dog breeds that cat people favor tend to be the more wolf-like ones -- the ones that aren't infantile, clingy, dependent, and smelly.

  10. The ancient Hawaiians were not hunter-gatherers. The settlers of Hawaii brought with them taro, bananas, coconut, breadfruit, pigs, chicken and (ironically enough) dogs.

    Some references to dogs in nursery rhymes here. B-I-N-G-O was not listed. At first I thought maybe that was because it was too recent, but it's referenced as far back as 1780.

  11. Not very much about dogs themselves in that list. "Bingo" looks like it started out not being about just the dog, although by the late 1800s it probably was. It's not listed on Wikipedia's category of nursery rhymes, but is on for children's songs:

    Also in that list: "The Cat Came Back" (the very next day, he just couldn't stay awaaaay), and "Senor Don Gato" (which I don't recall).

    Some speculation that "Do Your Ears Hang Low?" is about a hound dog, but we always thought it was about a floppy-eared rabbit.

  12. "The ancient Hawaiians were not hunter-gatherers. The settlers of Hawaii brought with them taro, bananas, coconut, breadfruit, pigs, chicken and (ironically enough) dogs."

    Some of them were fishermen, though, and these were the ones who engaged in surfing. Like medieval European societies that had different castes practicing either farming and pastoralism, the ancient Hawaiians had some people who were fishermen(a foraging lifestyle), and others who practiced horticulture.

    Something I've been wondering: how do peripatetic traders fit in? What are their personalities like?


  13. well I was a little wrong about that. it seems that all the Hawaiians were surfers, but mostly the upper-class, so it is a product of horticulture as TGGP says.


  14. It appears my sometimes co-blogger wrote about the political leanings of cat vs dog owners: Republicans Are Dog Lovers, Democrats Are Cat People. Probably related to the urban vs rural divide. I wasn't sure how confident we could be in that since it was at the level of states rather than individuals, but this backed it up correlated individual ownership with ideology.

    I don't want to add another link since three tends to be the threshold for tripping spam-filters. But I'll quote a paragraph from a much broader discussion at Neuropolitics: "In our Winter 2006 survey, we found that Conservatives were more likely to own dogs and Liberals were more likely to own cats. We also found that the Very Conservative males had the highest preference for dogs over cats, and the Very Liberal females had the highest preference for cats over dogs."

  15. That's more partisan affiliation than ideology or worldview. Let alone where they score on those 5 moral "taste receptors" that Haidt discusses.

    This must be one of the few remaining dimensions that has not aligned on party affiliation. Cat people have conservative minds yet tend to vote Democrat, while dog people show liberal morality -- authoritarian liberal to be more specific -- and vote Republican.

  16. BTW, don't worry about the spam filter, I check that whenever I see comments in the queue.

  17. Funny, since "The Authoritarian Personality" is about those awful authoritarian right-wingers. I do see a kind of "conservative" angle to dog people: dogs are known for being loyal & territorial (others might charge them with hostility toward outsiders, perhaps even on the basis of belonging to a different race/ethnicity). Being of a utilitarian peasant bent (and not often encountering people with rat/mice infestations) I have asked people what the positive side of cats is and the most common answer is: they're cute. Cuteness is associated with neoteny, and the young tend to be more liberal. Bryan Caplan has even suggested that the "authoritarian" personality is really just "old-fashioned", and I see the loyal territorial dog as exhibiting more traits old-fashioned people esteem.

    I found an interesting paper here on pet choice (cats vs dogs) and five-factor personality traits, happiness, gender and "androgyny" (which it surprisingly claims is correlated with mental health). It also cites a number of other related papers to check out. The Neuropolitics page I referenced is here.

  18. That book is from over 60 years ago. Liberals and Leftists also used to be anti-corporate, ridiculing of status strivers, and so on. A whole lot's changed in the past 20 years.

    In one of the other comment sections, I said that dog owners would show up as conservative only because of the authority dimension, but not much else. Particularly not on disgust / purity / taboo, which is the one that most strikingly distinguishes libs from cons.

    Dog people are authoritarian liberals, cat people are anti-authoritarian conservatives.

    As far as cuteness and neoteny, obviously that's what dogs are for. Hardly anyone uses dogs for work anymore, or breeds them for it. Dogs look and act far more kiddie than cats. For example by opening their eyes really wide like a surprised child.

    Cats aren't so much cute as tugging at the heart-strings.

  19. I'm surprised you haven't brought up Hitler yet.

  20. What about chastity? And issues like pornography use?

  21. I emailed Haidt about the issue and he said he had data on it and would get back to me. It might be a few months though.

  22. The other day at Target I saw a station wagon with one of those Human Rights Campaign stickers as well as one that said "Cat Mom".

  23. Two articles that could be interesting for the discussion about cat people/dog people and "liberalism"/conservatism.

    "Results suggest that dog people are higher on Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness, but lower on Neuroticism and Openness than are cat people. These differences remain significant even when controlling for sex differences in pet-ownership rates. "

    According to these second study, social conservatism is positively associated with Conscientiousness and negatively with Openness; economic conservatism is positively associated with Extroversion, Conscientiousness and Stability and negatively associated with Agreeableness and Openness.

    Crossing the two studys, it is expectable "dog people" being social conservatives (via high Conscientiousness and lower Oppeness) and "cat people" social liberals.

    In the economic dimension, could be more complicated - their higher Extraversion, Conscientiousness and Stability and lower Oppeness could make "dog people" more economically conservatives than "cat people", but their higher Agreablenness could make them "liberal" (mutatis mutandis for "cat people")

    Then, I imagine that "cat people" will be somewhere between the "liberal" and the libertarian, and "dog people" somewhere between the US-style conservatism and the European-style christian-democracy/one-nation-conservatism.

    About the purity/taboo thing - I suspect that (high) Oppeness, (low) Agreablenness and (high) Neuroticism will have different effects in "cat people" - high oppeness will make "cat people" accept a more broad range of thing, but the low agreablenness and high neuroticism will mean that, if they finally find a situation outside their "acceptance zone", their repulsion will be more higher. In contrast, probably "dog people" will have a narrow "acceptance zone" but, simultaneously, will have more easiness with situations outside their "acceptance zone".


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