Paul Little at large
Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: Catcalls catapulting Morgan into a cat flap

Cuteness beats reason. Every time. Cats know this, the smug sods. Photo / Christine Cornege
Cuteness beats reason. Every time. Cats know this, the smug sods. Photo / Christine Cornege

Unicef goodwill ambassador Gareth Morgan is known for combining an adventurous spirit with a commitment to original thinking. He seems to be forever riding up the Andes or down the Amazon, while still finding time to prove global warming is man-made and work out how to fix the health system.

But never has he undertaken a project more daring than his plan to eradicate cats from these islands.

He would have had a better chance of success and received a more open-minded hearing if he had advocated arranged marriages or compulsory veganism (for both of which there's a lot to be said).

As usual, science is on his side. Cats and other introduced predators are a threat to our severely endangered birdlife. Without an aggressive campaign to eradicate cats from Little Barrier Island between 1978 and 1980 the kakapo might not have survived. The difference between cats and the likes of stoats, ferrets and possums is that we take it for granted we will do our utmost to eradicate the latter in order to protect the species they threaten.

Cats are unusual beasts. Unlike all other domesticated creatures, they do nothing of use for humanity - they can pull only the lightest of farm machinery, they produce inferior wool - besides being a bastard to shear - and they make for very scrappy eating. So not only are they highly evolved and efficient predators themselves, they are also parasites who prey on the humans to whom they pretend to attach themselves for food and shelter.

Predictably, the proposal unleashed a terrifying tsunami of cat and pussy puns alongside a torrent of personal abuse. "Gareth Morgan sanctimonious old poop with bad facial hair - discuss" was one of the more temperate early comments on Facebook.

Then the debate took a turn for the worse. The SPCA's Bob Kerridge came across like a foaming-mouthed member of the US National Rifle Association, telling Morgan to "back off" and stay out of New Zealanders' lives. The state has no place in the cat baskets of the nation as far as the animal advocate is concerned and if Morgan wants to have his way, he will have to take Kerridge's pussy from his cold dead hands.

Yet, for an economist, Morgan has shown himself surprisingly unaware of the Law of Unintended Consequences. If there were no cats, for example, the number of YouTube videos would be cut by about half.

And, as we know from our dismally ineffective drug laws, when you make something illegal you create a black economy and a whole new bunch of criminals. The spectre of little old ladies, desperate for a feline fix, turning up at gang-run kitty houses with ready money to buy a kitten hardly bears thinking about. Super can only stretch so far and before long they would be stealing to pay for the cat biscuits - by now only available on the black market - to feed their habits.

Meanwhile, synthetic drug entrepreneur Matt "The Cat" Bowden would be genetically modifying cat DNA to create legal equivalents of the banned versions.

What Morgan has failed to acknowledge is that cats are cute. You can't take on cute and expect to win. And, although they have no economically practical use, they do serve one important function. For many people living on their own cats are their only companions.

The core of the argument between Morgan and his opponents, therefore, is a perfectly balanced one between emotion and reason. The overwhelmingly negative reaction demonstrates that when you put those two head to head, emotion will always win.

- Herald on Sunday

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