Opinion June 2018

On mad cats …

... and Japanese People

This person is so good to me. This person must be God.” This is the way a dog thinks. “This person is so good to me. I must be God.” This is the way a cat thinks. So I have been told. Is this right? I am no judge since I have never lived with either a cat or a dog. But a colleague of mine at Doshisha University has just published a book (alas, only in Japanese for the moment) which does not quite say the above two things but comes very close. Since he has had a lifetime of experience co-habiting with both cats and dogs, there must be some validity to the above statements.

In his book, my friend and colleague tells us that the coming of the cat people age is nigh in Japan. Japan used to be a nation of dog people. Dog-like devotion has been the norm in all manner of organisations. Taking orders and following them to the letter is the way to go in Japanese society. Yours not to think but to obey. Blessed are they who can obey with dogged determination.

Having just written the foregoing few sentences I am starting to feel rather frightened. It all sounds so precisely like what seems to have been going on in the American football team at Nihon Uni­versity. A student belonging to that team tackled his opponent long after the opponent had released the ball in a match with Kwansei Gakuin University. The player who was taken down suffered serious injuries. The player who carried out the rough tackle confessed to the press that he was following orders from his head coach. The head coach has since resigned and has also been expelled from the Kantoh Collegiate Football Association.

A dog’s life sounds a lot nicer than university sport life in Japan. But perhaps not all university sport life. According to my colleague’s book, the department of athletics at Aoyama Gakuin University is apparently managed on cat people principles. No dog-like devotion required. No need to obey without asking questions. Ask away. Suggest away. Enjoy away. Aoyama’s head coach is now actually very much in media demand because he does things so differently from the alleged Nihon University way.

My colleague’s book states that the essence of a cat is playfulness. I play therefore I am a cat. This immediately reminds me of the well-known book Homo Ludens by the 19th century Dutch historian Johan Huizinga. It discusses the importance of the element of play in culture and society. Indeed the book’s subtitle is A Study of the
Play-Element in Culture.

People are people because they play. Human culture cannot be culture without the play element. If that is the case, then by definition we are all cat people. Maybe this is why we get on so well with dogs. A dog is the ultimate help mate. Faithful, reliable, attentive, supportive. Playful cats need watchful dogs to help them keep it together.

Identity crisis
I am beginning to see things very clearly. My understanding of the cat/dog complex is approaching completion. However, there is one complication. All my life so far I have been totally convinced that I am a dog person. This total devotion. This unquestioning loyalty. This relentless amiability. This caring. In fact I own a dog T-shirt. It sets out all the elements that make a dog a dog, and includes tick boxes. “I don’t like to stay alone”, “I cannot hide joy”, “I will never abandon my pet”, “I wanna be with you”, and so on. I can tick all the boxes.

Yet having been exposed to my colleague’s book and the Nihon University vs Aoyama Gakuin comparison, I am starting to have doubts. This may be the onset of an identity crisis. Too much in my colleague’s book concerning the essence of cat people rings too many bells. I can see so clearly why the Aoyama approach would work where the Nihon way would not. So what am I actually? Have I been undergoing a metamorphosis without realising it? Or could it be that I have really been a cat in dog’s clothing all this time. This needs sorting out.

Meanwhile, I have another problem. I have fallen into the habit of constantly dividing people into cats and dogs. Sumo wrestlers, baseball players, fellow economists, my own students in class. This is distracting. It is disturbing. It is too much fun. However, there is one thing that I know I simply must not do. That is to sort politicians into cats and dogs. It would be an insult to both cats and dogs. Especially with regard to some of those in power in Japan at the moment. They are neither cat people nor dog people. They are just bad people.