Neither mice nor Rats

Humans are not mice, or rats. I do understand the confusion from time to time, but none-the-less, there are quite substantial differences. Most humans are more complicated, at least socially and mentally. Calhoun’s mouse utopia experiments cannot directly be projected onto humans. The experiment also had some genetic flaws, as it started with a small genetic diversity, and worked with a species known for short lives and a tendency to developing genetic ‘errors’ – which in the wild, die.

For those unfamiliar with the experiment: four pairs of mice were given unlimited food, water, suitable ‘ideal’ shelter and left to their own devices. The only limit was space. If you’re a mouse, that means eating, drinking, breeding and making a nice nest. Not at all human. The rat experiments had, it seems, a bit more fighting. The mouse utopia experiment – initially the population grew rapidly, then slowed down, with atypical behavior happening, and the basic requirement of species survival: successful breeding and rearing of young going to hell in a hand-basket. They never reached the space limits of the provided environment, and eventually died out. The rat experiments somewhat differently structured, and with a better genetic diversity -and not running as many generations, also produced under conditions of plenty (aka a form of rat utopia) where as things got more crowded, produced behaviors which are not normally seen in rats in the wild – ranging from cannibalism to abnormal sexual behaviors. The curious thing – among the rats, was that many rats became used to being crowded, and actually sought out the crowd. While they bred and survived successfully in less-crowded but linked environments, some (not all) voluntarily moved to those crowded environments to interact with the crowd – and to start displaying all the range of behavior which resulted in de facto a failure to thrive in the species sense.

People are more complicated. More socially evolved. We have… instagram. Oh. Wait… That said: there are parallels in human society which are of interest to sf writers, and maybe even people not so afflicted.

Firstly, just in the genetic sense, we’re living in a highly protected environment, in the first world, anyway, and survival of the fittest no longer means what it used to. There are obviously very different selection mechanisms at play, from our quite recent past. Not long ago (biologically speaking) stupidity was punishable by death, in the genetic sense too. (It’s fairly well genetically established that the bottom in the middle ages didn’t make its way up the social ladder. It died. The middle ‘fell down’ and then picked up the standard of living and survival with it.)

Secondly – the densely populated mouse utopia – with lots of food and shelter, started having a slowing birth rate. So did the crowded rat environments. So have all the first world countries, now. We’ll never get to John Brunner’s STAND ON ZANZIBAR. Or a need for soylent green (we may get there, anyway – through the behavior coming out of our crowded cities).

Thirdly, well, whether you like it or not, evolution has spent a lot of generational time, getting this whole survival of the species (any species) thing right. The working norm for breeding and rearing offspring with the best success rate for every species exists, and is in the wild, exceptionally, overwhelmingly common. If it doesn’t, the species stops existing, sometimes fast and sometimes gradually, but always. I don’t give one of the experimental rat’s ass what you personally fancy, but it is a probability game: the further from that norm you deviate, the less likely your genes are to occur, let alone thrive and multiply, in future generations. It’s not impossible (especially with modern science, or even a donor and turkey-baster) but the odds start getting a lot worse. As with the rats and mice, those ‘variations’ in everything from sex to childcare, are a lot more probable in our densely populated cities. They’re not inevitable or confined to there, just more common. It is interesting… from the survival of the species point of view, to not support/discourage/attack the things that we know work, and to encourage those that we know reduce the probability of successful breeding.

Fourthly… well, let’s NOT be rats (but I see it all the time). The country districts and small towns tend to have fairly close to the historical norm of successful reproduction and nurture of offspring… and a lot of those move to where they are less successful. I think as a species we may finally be learning (or at least some of us) that crowding together doesn’t work out too well. We’re a social animal, but that may be possible to achieve in less dense concentrations.

Finally: the common feature of both the rat and mouse experiments were finite (crowded) space and an absence of external ‘threat’ – no “Mouse-police” (AKA cats) to make it ‘survival of the fittest’. If anything, this tells us we need space. Outer space is what is obviously waiting. And we’ll probably get ‘threats’ (Leaders of countries threatening to nuke their own populations – if external threats are hard to come by). Hard times may not be with us right now, but they will come.

Image by Here and now, unfortunately, ends my journey on Pixabay from Pixabay

21 comments

  1. I note that living, as I do, in rural Japan that the number of multichild families is large and seems to be increasingly common. I read all about how Japan’s population is declining (and indeed it is) but while there’s plenty of abandoned farms is the real back of beyond in the small towns and villages the population isn’t falling and may even be gradually increasing. As compared to the big cities where it certainly isn’t.

    I suspect that a big reason for this is that as you suggest we need some social interaction but,partucularly in these days of plenty, we need space as well. In big cities it’s hard to find the space for more than one child, in the small towns and countryside there’s plenty of space

  2. An issue for space stations, domed colonies, and generation ships, to be sure.

    Number One on K-MARS is an oldie but a goody. Straight from the 20th century, it’s “A Bullet With Butterfly Wings”.

  3. I’ve been known to joke that since we no longer get hunted by lions and leopards, Mother Nature uses motor vehicles to weed out the terminally unobservant or stupid. Which isn’t entirely true, or fair, and I’m tempted to include personal electronic devices to the list.

    I’m probably on the list of “too far from standard to pass on genes.” Plus, before modern medicine, the odds are very good that I’d have died of blood loss after the first child. If not then, after the second or third, assuming anemia didn’t get me. Or have died earlier, because accidents happen, and like many true redheads, I have low clotting factor. It is very, very easy to forget how common maternal mortality was until very, very recently. Still is, in a lot of the world.

  4. But of course, we’re neither mice nor rats.

    Some of us are monkeys, some of us are dragons, etc. 😀

  5. I see that pattern here in Texas also, a tendency towards larger Rural Families and smaller Urban Families….
    My Father came from a small town in North Texas, Chillicothe …. he had 8 brothers and sisters, I had about 40 first cousins on that side. It is interesting to see how the two generations spread out across the State and followed this pattern of large families vs small families and urban vs rural environments.

  6. Agree, agree, agree. If you need medical intervention to reproduce or even stay alive, you’ll struggle when hard times come.

    And they are coming.

  7. This marches with the noted more religious have bigger families, because for the most part more religious are more rural.

    Aside from a few enclaves, anyway, I understand there’s a Jewish one in NYC that’s pretty fecund.

    I’ve noticed that mass media entertainment has replaced many small town events, which leads to less community, making the cities seem more necessary, in general, especially for people with a talent and desire for performing arts.

  8. Regarding the “overpopulation” thing, I would agree that there are some places where things are infernally overpopulated. New York City, for example, pre-WuFlu, was ridiculous. I hated it.

    I am informed by Chinese and Indian people of my acquaintance that NYC is a vacant spring meadow compared to cities in India and China. Egypt also has some serious crowding issues, that from an Egyptian native.

    Something common to all these crowded places is ‘flexibility’ among government men. According to law, nothing can ever be accomplished. It’s illegal. BUT, with some grease being applied to official palms, a way can be found. The bigger the project, the more palms to grease.

    If you buy your grease by the drum, there is very little you can’t get away with. Sex slaves? Roof-top helicopters? Shiny new skyscrapers built on bulldozed slums? All things are possible if you know the right guy and you’ve got the right grease. Maybe he needs a holiday, or a new ‘girlfriend’, or a swimming pool, or a brand new shiny ounce of gold.

    This is how we get things like Jeffrey Epstein’s private island. Which isn’t in some Third World dump, it is in the U.S. Virgin Islands where American law is in force. Mr. Epstein was on ‘good terms’ with the airport officials and other local government types according to newspapers. They never asked him why he was constantly traveling with under-aged girls on an airplane everybody was calling the Lolita Express. Nobody in NYC or Miami etc. asked him either.

    According to human rights activists and a very high-level Chinese defector, Jeffrey Epstein was a Boy Scout compared to stuff going on in China in plain sight. This is not to make light of the depredations of the late, unlamented Mr. Epstein, but rather to emphasize the nature of what’s going on in China. We members of civilized nations can’t really imagine what they’re doing. It’s too horrible, and too -stupid- to imagine.

    Mr. Epstein’s demise is a reminder of something else as well. If you’ve got the right grease, you can get away with murdering a protected prisoner inside a high-security jail, right in front of the whole world. I imagine making some random low-level official or common citizen disappear would be easy.

    That’s what happens when the population density gets very high. Human life gets cheaper. Whether that’s a reflection of a larger principle in population dynamics or just the usual moral failures of individuals compounded by density, I’m admitting ignorance. Occam’s Razor indicates the second option, IMHO.

    1. For a shocking glimpse into the sex trafficking scene in Europe, read John Ringo’s ‘Choosers Of The Slain’.

      Much of the same goes on right here in the U.S. it’s just hidden more carefully. How many ‘runaways’ disappear without a trace every year? Where are all those thousands of children going after they cross the border and get loaded onto buses? How many get ‘lost’ along the way? Why is nobody keeping track? How many more ‘Epsteins’ are there that avoid publicity?

      Corruption thrives in the dark, and most of our media studiously avoid shining lights into inconvenient places.
      ———————————
      As long as sex and money exist, they will be exchanged.

      1. In Southern Idaho about 6-7 years ago there were a whole bunch of “runaway” mexican girls who were the same age, similar build, similar looks, from towns all across the area.

        Officially, there was “nothing to see here”, and we were crazy to draw any inference.

        But the string did come to a screeching halt about the time Mexican gang graffiti showed up in the wall outside the mosque that was being constructed.
        Rumors about male muslims disappearing in turn were largely unsubstantiated. (I can report that that community became MUCH nicer to the surrounding infidels, almost overnight, and there were suddenly many fewer cars in the parking lot.)

      2. I am more than reasonably certain that the U.S. foster care system–and even, to a large extent, the adoption system–is being used to traffic children. And with the full and willing cooperation of a great many of the social workers/child protection services officials out there. That’s not to say that there aren’t good foster parents out there, but they are rare and often fighting the system themselves.

    2. a) I can believe it about China. That is basically my impression from reading xianxia, which is a very angry genre that came out of Chinese webnovels.
      b) I’m not certain I want to trust information out of that defector. Situation is very weird. Okay, probably no situation with highly placed defectors is normal. Circumstances now a really crazy. I figure that there is a ‘what is going on now?’ spectrum, and the defector thing is probably on the ‘if you sit down at a poker game, and don’t know who the chump is, you are the chump’ end of the spectrum.

      1. “I’m not certain I want to trust information out of that defector.”

        Trust? No. Listen to him say shit we already know from other sources? Definitely.
        Other sources: http://www.smalldeadanimals.com/2021/06/15/we-are-so-blind/
        Yeonmi Park has some “interesting” experiences with China, shall we say. (Important safety tip, you cannot un-see shit, and you won’t be able to un-see this video.)

        Jordan Peterson has some interesting observations regarding the Chicom One Child Policy and unintended consequences, like the “popularity” of North Korean female escapees in rural China.

        So yeah. When Mr. Defector started talking about Uyghurs, forced labor and forced other things, that was probably the real deal or close enough for government work. Personally I just go by whatever the Liberal Party of Canada and the DemocRat Party of the USA are saying, and assume the reverse is probably true. Here in Canada our government has been treated to the spectacle of a Liberal senator parroting Chinese propaganda talking points on the floor of the Senate, so whatever they say just turn it 180 degrees and you won’t be far wrong.

        1. It may simply be that I am crazy paranoid right not.

          I’m inexplicably anxious, which probably has some medical cause of some sort. That may be why I’m not together enough to analyze my paranoid theories, and do a basic triage of which ones make no sense whatsoever.

          1. Not unreasonable to think that a Chicom apparatchik is probably lying. But if he’s telling us that the DemocRats/Liberals are lying bastards working hand in hand with the forces of darkness, we have plenty of external confirmation. >:D

            He could still be lying about other things of course. He’s a commie. They lie.

            1. Issue is that there are obviously foreign glowies trying to get the boog to misfire.

              If what he has to say is so damaging to Biden, why doesn’t he fear being silenced here, and why hasn’t he been killed yet? Wouldn’t he have something that could lead to the arrest of Hillary Clinton? Okay, we already have a weak inference that the federal government is not 100% lockstep behind the regime, but if there is a faction that can outright keep the guy alive, well, that is a weird situation and I don’t understand what is going on.

      1. When I lived there, people from NYC would tell me that anyone from north of Westchester County was most likely a dangerous hillbilly with a shotgun in the back window of their pickup truck.

        I had the opportunity to test that theory once, I had to drive around Manhattan in my crappy pickup truck with the riveted sheet-metal on the rear wheel wells. The kamikaze NYC cabbies that everybody says are so badass wouldn’t come near me. Normally they tailgate, blow their horns, cut you off and bump your fenders, but with the truck it was like a magic spell had been cast. No horn blowing, no crowding, no cutting off, no tailgating, nothing. They acted like I was a dangerous hillbilly with a shotgun.

        Some day I want to drive my F-250 in Manhattan. That would be beautiful. >:D

  9. One wonders if we’re going to see a return to the day when cities only grew because of migration from the countryside, but instead of the reason being that people die earlier, as it was back then, it’s because the people who stay there don’t make babies.

  10. I wonder if this is also the perfect becoming the enemy of the good too?

    In cities, people, theoretically, have an infinite number of potential partners to pick from, and end up taking an infinite amount of time trying to pick one. I wonder how many have spent so much time looking they’ve missed their window?

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