THE FIERCE URGENCY OF MIAOW
Jor and the Feline Roots of Zoocracy
by Pieter N. Paard
372 pp. Marcellin de la Griffe Publishers Ftoo 20
Early in his life, George Livingstone Barnaby Cuthbert—known to us all as Jor—went for a short walk outside his home in the arms of the Human who’d adopted him. As they strolled toward a local parkette, they came upon an old woman who asked them to stop. She pointed to his four white paws, which she called gloves, and tapped him on the head with her index finger.
“Someday,” she said, “you’ll be a very big man in the park.”
Virtually all Park Animals have grown up on that story, so it seems surprising to find it told again in the first few pages of Pieter Paard’s new book, The Fierce Urgency of Miaow: Jor and the Feline Roots of Zoocracy.
But Paard’s retelling of the story is very much in keeping with his book’s title and its premise: that Jor’s felinity was central to his vision of Animal self-rule—and to his ability to have that vision.
“Feline culture, as it were, had developed beyond that of any other species in The Park, to the point where Jor was allowed access to ways of thinking that led him to consider the possibility of establishing Animal self-rule. His challenge was to convince those of other species that such a system of government was achievable; his own kind had been contemplating it for years,” Paard writes in the book’s opening pages.
In this way, Paard breathes new life into the “Doctrine of Feline Exceptionalism,” a set of beliefs about the superiority of Felines that is thought to have originated in the decades before zoocracy. At that time, the Felines of The Park—particularly the “Big Cats”—held sway. Hated by all but their own species, they nevertheless used their great intellectual prowess and sophisticated governing skills to bring about a transformation of The Park (then known simply as “the park”) that culminated years later in zoocracy.
The fact that these big Cats were not satisfied with ruling over the other species but sought to share power with them is what gives credence to the Doctrine.
“It is hard to imagine any other species that would have gone to such lengths to divest itself of its political power in order to allow those they considered lesser to achieve some form of equality,” says Paard, himself a proud Equine.
That it ultimately fell to a small Tabby—and a formerly domestic one at that—to fulfil the Big Cats’ dream is further proof for Paard that Felines are intellectually and morally exceptional beings.
“Jor’s leadership qualities and the rôle his sister Zoë played in his political achievements have been the subject of much study of late. But I believe it was his own instincts and his intuitive understanding of other Animals that helped him to establish zoocracy. Jor’s ability to speak to other Animals at an equal level and his mild manner were just two of the qualities that I believe helped him win over his political opponents. To those Animals in The Park who desperately wanted to believe in a government of shared power, Jor presented a trustworthy ally,” Paard writes.
Much has been written about Jor during this year of zoocracy’s thirty-fifth anniversary and many have questioned his motives. But even if, as Yoshita Tigru writes in her book, George Livingstone Barnaby Cuthbert: The Tabby King, he did contemplate establishing a monarchy and installing himself as king, respect for his fellow Animals ultimately won out.
“Jor’s legacy is and always will be that he established zoocracy in a Park that most others believed was ungovernable,” Paard writes.
If Paard commits any error in this book, it may be that he emphasizes Jor’s achievements and downplays his sacrifices. But we must never forget that Jor left a good life in a comfortable domestic situation to work toward making life better for all Animals. In that one act, he became a model of the highest moral stature and a hero to all.