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As our world descends into a chaotic shadow of its former moral self, I have been thinking about finding a way out of this maze of cancel culture, identity politics, sexual dysphoria and narcissistic  self gratification. Our governments are herding us into lockdown, exile and social isolation whilst assuring us that it is for our own. good. So many people are happy to receive an unemployment payment, sit home and take selfies - as long as there is food and drink and a roof over their heads. 

Yet the sage words of John Steinbeck and John Calhoun are increasingly in my thoughts these days. Will we ever find our way out of this maze?

“A guy needs somebody―to be near him. A guy goes nuts if he ain't got nobody. Don't make no difference who the guy is, long's he's with you. I tell ya, I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an' he gets sick.”

So said John Steinbeck in his incredible novel " Of Mice and Men " back in 1937.

He also said 

 “Maybe ever’body in the whole damn world is scared of each other.”

What prophetic words. 18 months of social distancing, lockdowns and fear have made us sick. Sicker than if we had had the virus. It seems to me that the real virus is fear, apathy, social isolation and the shift in societal values. 

Let us get back to the basics. The joy of a good book; a piece of music, a bird captured only in a photograph and a meal well cooked.  Let us learn from what is wrong and make it right. Let us rejoice in a life well lived and embrace that which we hold dear and know to be dear. Above all, let us get back to LIFE as we have known it. 

 

Yet I cannot help but wonder if our governments have other thoughts for us. Some sort of experiment to see how far we can be pushed as mankind until we are turned into mice.  

I recently pondered this after reading about the other John, an American ethologist and behavioral researcher from the 50's and on.... a man who looked to mice in order to understand men. And by men I mean mankind in its accepted sense, not the one that so many now deride and treat as an insult.

Which brings me to my latest ponderings about mice. men, society and the whole mess that we currently call our world. 

And to old mate Robbie Burns who said:

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought..

  
 
In modern " Monty " speak, it doesn't matter how carefully you plan, things can go bugger up.
And man oh man, have things gone bugger up and we need to set things straight.
 
 
America had a man in the Whitehouse. They now have a mouse ... or maybe a rat. 
 
" Mice and Men " is a tale of foreboding and just as relevant today as it was back 90 odd years ago when it was penned.

And The " Paradise of Mice " from 70 about years ago is just as ominous.

So come down the maze with me and learn about  Mice and Men, warnings and portents for the future.

“Universe 25” was a study carried out from 1954 to 1972 by John B. Calhoun,who believed that  overpopulation of rodents was a look into the future of the human race. In the experiment, the scientist used an artificially created mice colony to perform an experiment to help further understand the dynamics of human society.

John Calhoun built a colony of mice for the experiment and it was built as a paradise, containing surplus food and water with all the good housing conditions that you would wish for. He called it “Paradise of Mice”. In this ideal world of surplus and comfort, security and protection, the mice could get on with having a rather nice time and enjoy themselves forever.

Calhoun spent years perfecting his methods and repeated his experiment 25 times — hence “Universe 25" — in different scales and noted ominously identical results every time.

Regardless of the scale of the experiments, the same thing would happen every time. 

At first, Calhoun placed four sets of mice into his newly built mice paradise. They reproduced quickly and the population quickly increased in their mouse paradise. But, after 315 days, he noticed that the mice were no longer reproducing, causing their number to decrease. When the total number of rodents inside the mice paradise got to 600, the rodents noticeably formed hierarchies inside the paradise. He noticed that “wretches” of the mice society surfaced.

 Once the wretch group was formed, other assumed privileged mice groups decided to start attacking them, killing them and creating a weakened morale and psychological breakdown among the males from this “wretched” group of mice. The breakdown was mostly a result of their inability to protect their group. As a result, the female rodents in this group started losing it and transferred their aggression to their children. They become more aggressive in general.

The continued aggressive behaviour towards the young mice resulted in high mortality rate among them, while also making the female rodents not reproductively available for reproduction anymore. The male ones isolated themselves from the group.

As this was happening, a new breed of male mice emerged. They were tagged the “beautiful males”. This set of mice that emerged only cared about eating food, drinking water and enjoying themselves. They didn’t care about reproduction or fighting for space like the previous rodents did before them.

This eventually led to zero birth rate in the mice paradise. According to Calhoun, homosexuality and cannibalism increased in this period. The last mice in the paradise was born 2yrs later and by 1973, it killed the last mouse still in the experiment. This became startling to the scientist because the colony was self-sufficient and had more than enough food for all rodents at any given time during the experiment.

 

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According to Calhoun, the death phase consisted of two stages: the “first death” — characterized by the loss of purpose in life beyond mere existence (including the loss of desire to mate, raise young, or establish a role within society) — and “second death” marked by the literal end of life and the extinction of Universe 25.

When all needs are accounted for, and no conflict exists, the act of living is stripped to its barest physiological essentials of food and sleep. In Calhoun's view:

  • Herein is the paradox of a life without work or conflict.
  • When all sense of necessity is stripped from the life of an individual, life ceases to have purpose.
  • The individual dies in spirit.

It must be said that there could be an element of inbreeding at work here as well. I have been unable to find any work on whether or not this factor was considered. 

vp-us-lc-articles-utopia-1.jpg

However, it is fair to wonder if this experiment could be applied to the human species on a sociological level.

The behavior sink is, perhaps, a natural psychological reaction to overpopulation. The more social interactions you have, the less you care about each one, and the more deviant your behavior will become? We perhaps see this in our society today, and it is a contributing factor to why our cities are hotbeds of crime and amoral behavior? While we have been isolated through lockdowns and social distancing, we still have the artificial world of social media.

Social media may artificially inflate social interactions, so that you can experience a behavioral sink without actually living in a crowded area. Most animals, including humans, did not evolve in an ultra-crowded environment, so the human mind is poorly adapted for urban life. Humanity as it evolved, or as it was meant to be, is very rural, and family-centered. I wonder.

 

These "participation trophies" so frequently handed out to all and sundry can be related to the "beautiful ones" in the rat experiment. Consider grooming in the rats as an extreme kind of self-care, non-stop selfish ego-boosting, akin to the outright refusal of reality so common for our overly sensitive Millennial generation. When all meaningful social considerations are destroyed, the mind seeks only to please itself at the most basic and carnal level. Purpose and consequence are irrelevant to behavior, all that matters is that the "grooming" feels good.

I cannot help but think of this as a poignant warning to us all.

It seems to me, as one person said, the only winning move is not to play.

 

 

 further reading:

https://www.victorpest.com/articles/what-humans-can-learn-from-calhouns-rodent-utopia

https://crasgaitis.medium.com/the-universe-25-experiment-115230c91515 

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/how-mouse-utopias-1960s-led-grim-predictions-humans-180954423/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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