ANSWER: cats are not mean. People who ask this question, and quite a few people do, have preconceptions that are misguided. I am sorry to have to say that but it is true. Even the use of the language indicates misconceptions. To use the word, "mean" in relation to a cat's character is a definite sign of anthropomorphising a cat - making the cat human. This is because we have no idea if a cat can have the characteristic of meanness. I don't believe that cats can be mean. It is a human concept. People are often mean in many ways but cats? No they are far more instinctive on a more basic level. It is all about survival for a cat and basic emotions such as fear, feeling comfortable, anxiety, contentment etc. I would say that meanness is a higher emotion or form of behavior that is probably reserved for the human.
You could probably take a guess and say that the people who ask "why are cats mean?" are themselves possibly mean - can we all be mean sometimes. We have the capacity to be mean, anyway. People who are kindly towards cats and other people would probably not ask that question.
In addition people who are mean and maybe a bit nasty (there are people like that aren't there?) are more likely to provoke aggression in a cat, domestic or wild. In which case mean people will meet defensively aggressive cats, which reinforces their inaccurate preconceptions. Mean people are more likely to elicit defensive aggression in domestic cats because they will behave inappropriately towards the cat in such a way that makes the cat uncertain and defensive. Also, it is likely that the domestic cat can sense a hostile person as they have finely tuned senses. A person whose character is not predisposed to being kind towards cats will potentially seem hostile to a cat.
Another possible reason why people think cats are mean is the cat's expression when smelling something deeply. This has the appearance of a sneer, when in fact the expression is due to the mouth being slightly open as the cat inhales air to pass over an organ in the roof of his or her mouth. This organ has a super sensitive smelling capability.
Let's for a moment turn my argument on its head and agree that cats are mean. As mentioned I don't believe this but if it is true why are cats mean? If all humans were mean why would that be? It could only happen if the circumstances under which the person or cat lived were such that it made the person or cat mean. So if cats are mean it is because of the environment that we create for them. It would be our fault as we have complete charge of the environment and circumstances under which our cat lives.
There is at least one other reason why people erroneously think cats are mean. A cat's general facial expression can give a misleading impression as to the cat's emotional state. Be kind to a cat. Understand the cat. Love the domestic cat and it will never enter your head to ask, "why are cats mean?"
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