March 28, 2004

A Cat Named Darwin:
Embracing the Bond Between Man and Pet

William Jordan

Love and Death -- My friend Jack Gould has observed that cats are a triumph of evolution. Look how cats (and dogs) have ingratiated themselves into the lives of humans -- not merely achieving a level of co-existence, but cultivating a place of true worship within our lives. Cats and dogs, one could easily argue, are the world's real empire builders, prevailing and not simply surviving. Regrettably, William Jordan (a Ph.D. in entomology from the University of California at Berkeley) doesn't really explore the Darwin behind his little Darwin; rather, he spends a year of his life (and 187 pages of our's) learning that, sigh, the human heart is stronger than the human mind. It's actually not until long after Jordan has needlessly prolonged little Darwin's tortured life and completely botched his at-home, do-it-yourself euthanasia of the poor cat that the biologist begins to understand how selfishly he's been acting. But this doesn't come until a few more helpings of canned Latin are spooned down our throats and an imagined "conversation" with his now-dead cat leaves us cringing. Still, there are a few gems hidden here and there. Jordan quotes an unamed biologist saying, "They look for the second coming. They expect Him to come back on a cross. They blew it. He already came and went again. He called himself Darwin." And Jordan offers a very keen analysis of fear and religion: "Yet that same mind holds the capacity to comprehend death. It knows that we will die someday. And suddenly we find ourselves staring into the existential dilemma -- that nuclear furnace of paradox -- where the deepest essence of life, the will to survive, comes face to face with the truth of reality, and the conflict is too intense to face ... The upshot? Why gods, of course, gods created in our image and projected back upon the world ... These self-serving projections comfort us as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death and hold us back as we peer over the edge into the abyss."


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