6:51 PM

Spirit of the Wind

In the Midst of Lions

My science is, at least for a laycat, pretty good.

My self-done analysis of my social behavior is most certainly not; I almost certainly view myself through rose-colored glasses. The source of my social behavior is myself. Given both the fact that I am not an impartial (or even close to it) outside observor and have half a dozen acronyms affecting my social behavior, one should probably mentally add a bit of cynicism.

Cheetahs are very unusual cats. Besides the obvious morphological differences (non-retractable claws, tail length, and similar adaptations) and the cursorial lifestyle of cheetahs1, the species also has a highly unusual social structure.

Group living among mammals is hardly uncommon. Indeed, I’m unaware of any order (excluding Xenarthra and Philodota) that doesn’t have at least one species with some form of group living when all parties are in adulthood. But most of these groups are mixed gender, and they’re frequently pairs. Only primates, carnivores, and cetaceans form all male groups. And among felines, cheetahs are unusual. Most felines are asocial, unless they’re females with cubs. Lions and domestic cats are the exceptions… and cheetahs fall in between the two. On the one hand, female cheetahs aren’t social. They’ll raise cubs, but they don’t form coalitions. This is, apparently, given strong enough weight to say that cheetahs are asocial. But male cheetahs live in groups.

Male cheetahs do not seem to particularly need to live in groups, either ecologically or psychologically. Lone cheetahs are not, to my knowledge, known for universally seeking out other male cheetahs to live with, and if male cheetahs were ecologically required to live in groups, I should think that females would be as well, since there isn’t a great degree of sexual dimorphism.Of course, the argument could be made that males being in groups force other males to be in groups due to intermale violence and competition. While this is quite plausible, if it was truly necessary one would expect to see far fewer solo cheetahs. Therefore, I hypothesize that living in a group is not an automatic process but a choice, not necessarily a conscious one, and maybe one that aids survival, but nonetheless a choice. Male cheetahs do not seem to be forced into it. Trios are fairly rare compared to duos and single males, which in turn are about equally common in the Serengeti (Caro and Collins 1986)This pattern doesn’t hold true completely everywhere. In East Africa, a significantly larger survey found barely over a fourth of the cheetahs to be solitary, and nearly forty percent to be in groups of three to twelve (Graham 1966).

Cheetahs undeniably benefit greatly from their coalitions. Cheetahs might be fairly docile towards humans, but they are far from kind to each other outside of coalitions. Coalitions can and very often will kill an intruder on their territory. The greater number of members in the coalition, the easier it is to kill or drive off an intruder, as the other members of the coalition immobalize the enemy, or as they dart in to deliver a slap, then dance out of range. The duties of watching for lions are spread out.

At the same time, cheetahs pay relatively little cost. There is increased competition for mates and for prime spots at kills, but there is relatively little else. And they are fairly egalitarian; cheetahs in coalitions do not monopolize the tasty gazelles or attractive female cheetahs.

For me, social structure differs depending on the medium; the way I socially behave on the Internet is radically different from the way I socially behave outside of it.

Outside of the Internet, the term ‘loner’ accurately encompasses my behavior. I attribute this to environmental and sociological causes rather than any innate quality to myself, because both of where I live and my past history. There are no therians here, no people of similar psychological bent, no people interested in the occult; at least not that I know of. I might not believe in paganism or non-psychological shamanism, but it is easier to get along with those sort of people than the religious groups of the area, who are usually fundamentalist right-wing Christians.

There is a GSA, and it is helpful. But I didn’t join enough to get close to most of the people there… and I have a hard time letting people close, anyway, at least in real life. I inevitably fear that they will spread any information I tell them or reject me because of what I tell them. To some extent, this is a legitimate fear, but it’s also, I think, the result of past trauma caused by people I opened myself to betraying that trust—ironically, that was mostly on the Internet, but a good part was in real life too. Arguably it wouldn’t have hit me as bad as it did if I wasn’t already alienated in real life.

I do not need to be accepted. I could probably survive for the rest of my life without a single person in real life who I can confide in. I might even be able to survive for the rest of my life without close friends on the Internet, if I could keep myself busy enough not to worry about other matters. I do, however, need not to be reviled. I shouldn’t care. I do, though, partly because I don’t like the idea of such a spotlight focused on me or the possible nonsocial consequences, but also because of things I can’t quite as easily pin down… perhaps because I’m uncomfortable with the fact that I even have them.

So I make it a point to live shrouded in mystery. I live on the sidelines, observing and sometimes taking a small part, but always being, if not forgettable, hard to pin down. Cryptic. Oh, the people I know in real life might not think I’m cryptic, but that’s precisely because I’m so good at hiding. When it comes to keeping my identity hidden, I am a master. The current shamanic interpretation of the thylacine is something I identify with to some extent, and one of my current projects is channeling the thylacine Archetype. When I’m around those I trust, though, I let my guard down to some extent. Part of it is kept up because when one spends that long in fear it is difficult to trust fully.

On the Internet, things are pleasantly different. I’m not a social butterfly, but my primary means of interfacing with other people is through shared interests—and it’s easy to find people with shared interests on the Internet. Therianthropy, speculative fiction, art, RPGs, that sort of stuff. Even some speculative evolution. These subjects provide me with an oblique method of socializing, where I can be part of a community with a specific focus and thereby integrate myself into the community, like I’ve done at the Werelist.

It’s my hope that this sort of thing can be applied to non-online relationships, especially once I get into college.

1. These differences have given rise to the opinion that cheetahs are dog-like. Indeed, Miracinonyx fossils and morphology cause the cheetah line to frequently be considered one of the oldest diverging lines, though a molecular phylogeny constructed by Collier and O’Brien casts doubt on this and places them in the same lineage as Panthera.

 -- Citrakayah

Written July, 2012