Should black cats go to heaven?

Published on 2024-03-21

Content warning: death and murder, mostly of animals

I knew a woman once \ Giving birth to kittens and mice \ And as you know with their eating habits \ Those poor mice had to die

So the kittens were born \ Full of their brothers and sisters \ And they were punished swiftly \ Though they did not know why

"Human Kittens" by AJJ

AJJ is a folk punk band that I like. They're kind of popular as far as folk punk bands go. One of their old albums, "only God can judge me and more," features the song quoted above.

It's not my favourite song by AJJ, but it is my favourite to think about.

It presents a kind of absurd moral problem: there is this person who's gestating both cats and mice, and it seems to be taken as a given that eating mice is intrinsic to being a cat. So, the cats eat the mice, and immediately after being born, they're punished for their misdeeds.

I suppose that in a sense, the cats are following the path of least resistance, which leads them to atrocity. All the while, they find themselves, having committed this atrocity, completely unaware. They are "innocent," in a sense.

Or, I suppose, that's the question: are they innocent?

The song concludes by describing how the kittens were murdered in a pretty gruesome and tragically common way: drowned in a burlap sack. It also concludes that, having died, the kittens go to Heaven. The thesis seems to be that despite their crimes, the kittens were indeed innocent, or at least, deserving of salvation.

Is eating mice intrinsic to being a cat? It's certainly not uncommon, but I wouldn't say it's intrinsic at all. Whether or not a cat eats mice depends a lot on the context of their life. The cats I live with, for example, are extremely sheltered. I'd be surprised if they've ever even been exposed to mice. Considering they're generously fed, it's hard to say what they'd do if they ever found one.

When I was younger, I lived with a little dog. He didn't do much hunting; he wasn't exactly an apex predator. He would, on occasion, snap his jaws at flies when they bothered him. Though, somewhat interestingly, he'd never eat them. On the rare occasion that he did actually catch one, he'd immediately spit it out. Flies were not for him. He didn't want to eat them, he just wanted to make them stop being a nuisance in what was apparently the only way he knew how: crushing them between his teeth, and then spitting them on the floor.

Important to "Human Kittens" is that the mice were "their brothers and sisters." They had a direct, familial relationship to them. They'd committed fratricide. As it's decidedly given that cats will kill mice given the chance, the only thing that makes this act an atrocity worth drowning them is the fact that there exists a socially constituted relationship between them (there is, of course, supposedly a biological relationship as well, but "fratricide" as a crime has a lot less to do with biology than it does the structure of the family). So, there is a sort of tension between instinct and the social institutions that exist to shape it.

In isolation, and I definitely don't think this part of the song should be taken in isolation, this feels like a pretty weird take. At least on the surface. I mean, hot take I know but I'm not all that big on the idea of fratricide. I've got some opinions on the nuclear family but like, killing is bad. Especially in the hypothetical scenario where your family is a group of people who support you.

I think the missing piece, then, is that this scenario doesn't make sense. It's absurd. It's like, if you were in the womb and your twin brother was a sixteen-piece yam roll. Should you be given the electric chair at two hours old for wanting a snack on your way out? It's a big ask to want a creature that hasn't had any socialization to abide by social laws

So that's Human Kittens.

I really like the image of the black cat. While I respect any spiritual associations people may have with black cats, to me, they are ostensibly normal creatures. They don't really seem to behave any differently from other cats. They look like other cats, except that they have black fur. You get the idea. They're just like, normal.

And despite this, black cats have this aura of evil imposed upon them. Surely nobody got together to propagate the myth of black cats and bad omens, but for whatever reason, people decided over time that black cats signal danger. And so, in a sense, black cats are indeed evil. Their evil has been manifested by us on their behalf, without their permission. Black cats will spend their entire lives ignorant to the evil they carry with them.

Black cats live in an absurd world. One where they don't get a say in whether or not they're evil. Nobody ever approached a black cat to ask if they can corroborate fears that they're associated with witchcraft. They couldn't defend themselves even if they wanted to.

And, perhaps most importantly, they don't seem to want to defend themselves. Whether or not they "know" they've come to be associated with bad omens, they seem content. Unaffected. Resigned to live in this strange world.

I'm like a black cat, in many ways. I think that's why it matters to me.

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