Once upon a time there lived in Roswell, New Mexico a family of cats. I say “family” in the figurative sense because they weren’t related by blood, but had been rescued over the years by a kind woman with long gray hair.
Cats, as you may know, have a peculiar compulsion to bury their feces. These cats were no exception—except one of them. For whatever reason, this particular cat did not feel compelled to bury his.
One night, a flying saucer swooped low overhead and shot the cats with an energy beam of the frequency and amplitude that bestows the powers of reason and language upon its victims. When the saucer had flown away, the cats asked themselves, “Why on Earth do we bury our poop?”
They agreed that leaving their feces unburied led to an uncomfortable sensation which could only be alleviated by burying them. “It’s like an itch that needs scratching,” said one.
“Not exactly,” said another. “It’s more like heat from the sun in hot summer.”
“No,” insisted a third. “It’s more like hunger. We feel it inside ourselves.”
The cat who never buried his feces couldn’t understand what they were talking about. He lost interest and became absorbed in the moths fluttering around the porch light.
The other cats continued arguing. While similar to other sensations, this one wasn’t exactly like any other. They finally decided that what they were feeling was wrongness. Although they felt wrongness inside, like hunger, it originated outside, like heat. Heat radiated from the sun; it was therefore reasonable to assume the sun was hot. Since wrongness emanated from their unburied feces, they naturally concluded that leaving their feces unburied was wrong. Then they looked at the cat who never buried his. “Why don’t you bury your poop?” they demanded.
The cat was taken aback. “Why should I?”
“Because it’s wrong to leave it unburied.”
He blinked. “Why is it wrong?”
The other cats hadn’t considered why it was wrong. It was enough to know that it was wrong, and that burying their feces alleviated its wrongness. Asking why it was wrong was like asking why an itch itched. Wasn’t it enough to know that scratching relieved their itches?
“Because,” snapped the youngest cat, swishing his tail. “It feels wrong.”
“What do you mean?” said the cat. “It doesn’t feel wrong to me.”
The other cats could hardly believe their ears! How could he not feel wrongness? He may as well have said he couldn’t feel hunger. Their fur bristled. “There must be something wrong with you.”
The cat was reluctant to argue, but curiosity got the best of him. “Could there be something wrong with you, instead? This compulsion of yours seems obsessive.”
“No,” hissed the other cats, arching their backs. “There’s nothing wrong with us.”
“Maybe none of us is wrong,” he replied. “If it’s only wrong because it feels wrong, then it must be wrong for you but not for me.”
“No,” they yowled. “You’re wrong!”
Wrong Cat fought the impulse to run away. “Let me get this straight,” he said. “It’s wrong because it feels wrong, and it feels wrong because it is wrong?”
He nervously chased his tail around in circles while they mulled this over. Finally the oldest cat admitted, “There must be another reason why it’s wrong.”
Just then the door opened and the woman with long gray hair emerged in her bathrobe and fuzzy lion slippers. “Psssst! What’s all the commotion out here?”
Now, this woman talked to the cats all the time and imagined they understood her. She sometimes even imagined they talked back, so she wasn’t all that surprised when the oldest cat replied, “Why do we bury our poop?”
She rolled her eyes, but Googled it with her smartphone nevertheless. “It says here that it’s to avoid attracting the attention of predators.”
“Ah-ha!” cried the Right Cats. “It’s wrong to leave your poop unburied because it attracts predators!”
“Attracting predators reduces our likelihood of survival,” said the oldest cat. “Surviving is good; not surviving is bad. Doing things that lead to bad outcomes is wrong.”
Wrong Cat, unable to feel the wrongness of it firsthand, still couldn’t quite put his claws on the obvious. “But we live in the middle of the city,” he said. “There are no predators around here.”
Suspecting it was Wrong Cat’s unburied poop she’d stepped in a time or two, the woman said, sternly, “If it’s wrong, it’s wrong because God says so. Don’t you ever listen to anything I say?”
“God?” asked the cats, who’d never before listened to anything she’d said.
The woman once again described God in the way she thought cats could understand: a giant, all-powerful kitty in the sky. When she’d finished, Wrong Cat asked, “What else is wrong?”
Stifling a yawn as she turned to go, she said, “Waking me up at night.”
The cats pondered this after she’d departed. Only Wrong Cat suspected the truth. “She’s right,” he said. “I felt it myself when we were arguing. Didn’t you?”
Ashamed to admit that they hadn’t, the Right Cats didn’t answer.
“That proves it,” said Wrong Cat. “I can feel wrongness.”
Still the others held their tongues.
“In fact, it proves that I can feel it better than you can.”
The tips of their tails began to twitch.
“But only,” said Wrong Cat with all the conviction the woman had exuded while describing God, “when wrongness is actually present.” Mistaking their venomous glares for rapt attention, he concluded, “Therefore, it must not be wrong to leave our poop unburied after all.”
This was too much for the Right Cats! They felt the wrongness of it deep inside their bones. Teeth bared, claws extended, howling bloody murder, they pounced on Wrong Cat.
At that moment the flying saucer returned and shot the cats with a reverse polarity beam that relieved them of their powers of reason and language, whereupon none of them gave a crap about wrongness anymore.
Food for Thought
Where do right and wrong come from? Were they really determined by God? What if He doesn’t exist? Are right and wrong then simply cultural inventions without any basis in objective reality? How did people first arrive at the idea of wrongness? Did they think it through and come to rational conclusions based on a consensus of desired behavior? Was it a matter of rationalizing some instinctive sense of inhibition? Or was it a clever mechanism of control foisted upon the common man by a self-serving elite?
About the Author
Christian Roberts is a retired electrical engineer and former US Army Ranger trying for a second career as a writer. His short story, R.I.P., won first prize in the Olympiad of the Arts contest in Santa Clara, California. His work has appeared in Ruthless People’s Magazine, Daily Science Fiction and Niteblade, among others.
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