Posted by: Harold Knight | 09/20/2009

It’s 5 AM. Are All You Hypergraphics “Up-and-at-‘Em?”



Joanie somehow knows the minute I’m awake. Chachi follows close behind.
For a couple of cats who are ALL cat and won’t cuddle for anything, they
certainly are interested in my getting up in the morning.  Do they wake me
up? Nope. They just know the minute I wake up. And the minute I wake up
it’s time for ear-rubbing and time to make sure the water and food bowls are
full and the litter boxes are empty.



Jean Jaques Rousseau loved cats. In fact, the social contract would not
have happened without cats. We learned (both cognitively and genetically)
our moral behavior from cats.

Not from dogs. Got that?

Why am I thinking about Rousseau at (now) 5:30 AM? Oh, I woke up
thinking about whether or not my students could possibly have understood 
the article I gave them to read: Shepard, John W., Jr. “The European background of American freedom.” Journal of Church and State 50.4 (Autumn 2008): 647(13). Shepard talks about Rousseau among many others, of course (the roots of the Declaration of Independence go all the way back to Martin Luther, don’t you know?). Shepard explains this about the contributions of  Rousseau:

“The French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau, on the other hand, argued for an absolutism of the opposite kind, the absolute rule of the ‘people.’
Rousseau agreed with Locke that man is good in the state of nature but that,
with the rise of property, human inequality began.  The social contract,
therefore, was not primarily for the protection of liberty and property,  but
for the maintenance of equality, and for the protection of the individuals
who entered into it.” Shepard cites: Rousseau, J.J.. A Discourse upon the
Origin and Foundation of Inequality Among Mankind. London: R. and J. Dodsley, 1761 (119).



So I remembered a couple of articles on Rousseau I found that I thought
might help my students. Right. Sure. They’d understand this as well as they
understand Shepard:

When my cat hears me imitate a mewing, I see it become immediately
attentive, alert, agitated. When it discovers that I am just counterfeiting
[contrefais] the voice of its species, it relaxes and resumes its rest. Since
there is nothing at all different in the stimulation of the sense organ, and the
cat had initially been deceived [trompé], what accounts for the difference?
Unless the influence of sensations upon us is due mainly to moral causes,
why are we so sensitive to impressions that mean nothing to the uncivilized
[des barbares]? (Rousseau, J.-J..  ‘Essay on the Origin of Languages’.
In On the Origin of Language. Translated by John Moran and Alexander
Gode. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966. 59);  in: Oliver, Kelly.
“Animal Pedagogy: The Origin of ‘Man’ in Rousseau and Herder.” Culture,
Theory & Critique
47.2 (Oct2006): p107-131.

So morality comes from cats, not from the Bible, or the social contract, or
Jefferson, or James Dobson, or Pat Robertson, or Benyamin Netanyahu, or
even Bishop Robinson.

Those guys better all be careful. Chachi is watching.  And so am I. Here’s the
deal. “…why are we so sensitive to impressions that mean nothing to the
uncivilized?” I’ve got these impressions. Since they’re not of my will, they
must be “due to moral causes” (and see, I even know how to use “due to”
correctly). They’re due to this constant misfiring of synapses in my head.
Impressions. That’s what my life is all about. The impression that you are
beside me. The impression that I exist. The impression that health care
matters. And when the impressions are most, that is, when that’s ALL I have
is an impression (the body floats away, sometimes even the consciousness)
that’s when the impressions “mean nothing to the uncivilized.” That’s YOU.
Whew! I said it.

I bet you can’t imagine what it’s like to spend 60 or so years grasping–
sometimes physically (I discovered awhile back that when the sensation is
most acute, I grab and rub my head, usually without even knowing it)—for
what you all call “reality.” And now I know, thanks to Rousseau: I am
“sensitive to impressions that mean nothing to the uncivilized [des barbares].” Groucho and Joanie and Chachi and I. Eat your heart out. Our stimulation is “due mainly to moral causes.”

And if you think you can keep up with a hypergraphic for illogic, you’re in worse shape than we are!

Ye watcher and ye holy one

Ye watcher and ye holy one


  1. Since April, I don’t feel so much like a motherless child although I am. When I thought that teaching would leave my life forever, I fought for the right to teach again. Although I am now there, I’m teaching again, I live under the specter of being yanked from class because all teachers teach in a petri dish.

    But I’m dreaming like I never dreamed before, too, or should I say that I’m remembering my dreams. Is that the difference with Ambien? We remember our dreams?

    But back to no longer being a motherless child. Esp. as I’ve gotten back to teaching, I feel so constantly surrounded by friendly faces. Thursday I came home with my whole body hurting because Big Ole Danny (an electronics prof) and Patrician Nasar hugged me so hard since they were glad to see me. I don’t care much anymore that I don’t have much hair. It IS growing back–all silvery, grey, and white with dapples of the black brown that used to suffuse it.

    Sleeping though is not overrated. I had to start taking Ambien or I’d be up all night. I still don’t feel that I’ve reached a level or sleep-memory that I can quit, so I’ll keep taking tiny rosy pills that offer big dreams and sleep and memory and comfort.

    I have to get ready for a biopsy this morning. The only comfort in that is Ativan, my drug of choice, and whether I take one now. I’ll email you later, hak-night.



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