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The ethologist John B. Calhoun coined the term "behavioral sink" to describe the collapse in behavior which resulted from overcrowding. Over a number of years, Calhoun conducted over-population experiments on Norway rats (in 1958–1962) and mice (in 1968–1972). Calhoun coined the term "behavioral sink" in his February 1, 1962 report in an article titled Population Density and Social Pathology in the Scientific American weekly newspaper on the rat experiment. Calhoun's work became used as an animal model of societal collapse, and his study has become a touchstone of urban sociology and psychology in general.
After day 600, the male mice just stopped defending their territory, listless mice congregated in the centres of the Universe. These gangs would burst into pointless and sporadic violence. Females stopped reproducing and even started attacking their own young. Mortality rose phenomenally. Roaming mice either attacked or attempted to mount others, irrespective of relation or gender, cannibalism and other acts of depravity consumed them. These were the feral ones. Then there were the ‘beautiful ones.’
The ‘beautiful ones’ withdrew themselves ever so quietly, removing themselves from the sick society. Solitary pursuits began to define them; eating, drinking and grooming among others. No scars on their back or hairs out-of-place, these mice behaved like a separate race. They saw the world through their narrow scopes, as they tossed, turned and tried to cope.
In the end the population sank, even when it was back down to a tolerable level none of the mice changed back. The change was irreversible, the mice were different now. The secluded females could still bear offspring and the beautiful ones had the capacity to help produce them yet it never came. This tipping over into irreversible societal collapse came to be known as ‘The Behavioral Sink.’ John Calhoun called it the first death. Death of the mind and soul, leading eventually to the second death, of the physical form. What he meant was that after the first death, the mice were no longer mice and could never be so again.
Wow! Besides one of the coolest band names ever, the fact they were so damaged that they never turned back to 'mice' is just fascinating. Only moving about when the other were sleeping,
That says volumes about our current situation worldwide. Not very happy ones. Refugees in Europe, the Chinese sleeping in coffin apartments, anime, the wealthy buying secluded islands, etc. Just wow!
This purpose of the experiments was not to portend some imminent doom for humanity, in fact Calhoun was trying to be positive. He wanted to change cities, his remedy to the behavioural sink was creativity. By changing society and changing how we designed our cities we could avoid becoming mired, stagnant, and eventually, dead as a dormouse. Over 100 Universes were designed after he published the paper in 1973, these ones designed with the aim of promoting creativity and reducing stagnation.
Wee, sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie,
O, what a panic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi' bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee,
Wi' murd'ring pattle!
Robert Burns - To a Mouse
Universe 25 and the Behavioral Sink
- or -
Universe 25 and the Beautiful Ones
The consequences of the behavioral pathology we observed were most apparent among the females. Many were unable to carry pregnancy to full term or to survive delivery of their litters if they did. An even greater number, after successfully giving birth, fell short in their maternal functions. Among the males the behavior disturbances ranged from sexual deviation [i.e., homosexuality] to cannibalism and from frenetic overactivity to a pathological withdrawal from which individuals would emerge to eat, drink and move about only when other members of the community were asleep. The social organization of the animals showed equal disruption. Each of the experimental populations divided itself into several groups, in each of which the sex ratios were drastically modified. One group might consist of six or seven females and one male, whereas another would have 20 males and only 10 females.
Mortality, bodily death = the second death
Drastic reduction of mortality
= death of the second death
= death squared
(Death)^2 leads to dissolution of social organization
= death of the establishment
Death of the establishment leads to spiritual death
= loss of capacity to engage in behaviors essential to species survival
= the first death
(Death)^2 = the first death
This formula might apply to rats and mice—but could the same happen to humankind? For Calhoun, there was little question about it. No matter how sophisticated we considered ourselves to be, once the number of individuals capable of filling roles greatly exceeded the number of roles,
only violence and disruption of social organization can follow. ... Individuals born under these circumstances will be so out of touch with reality as to be incapable even of alienation. Their most complex behaviors will become fragmented. Acquisition, creation and utilization of ideas appropriate for life in a post-industrial cultural-conceptual-technological society will have been blocked.
In 1973, Calhoun published his Universe 25 research as “Death Squared: The Explosive Growth and Demise of a Mouse Population.” It is, to put it lightly, an intense academic reading experience. He quotes liberally from the Book of Revelation, italicizing certain words for emphasis (e.g. “to kill with the sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts”). He gave his claimed discoveries catchy names—the mice who forgot how to mate were “the beautiful ones”’ rats who crowded around water bottles were “social drinkers”; the overall societal breakdown was the “behavioral sink.” In other words, it was exactly the kind of diction you’d expect from someone who spent his entire life perfecting the art of the mouse dystopia.
Most frightening are the parallels he draws between rodent and human society. “I shall largely speak of mice,” he begins, “but my thoughts are on man.” Both species, he explains, are vulnerable to two types of death—that of the spirit and that of the body. Even though he had removed physical threats, doing so had forced the residents of Universe 25 into a spiritually unhealthy situation, full of crowding, overstimulation, and contact with various mouse strangers. To a society experiencing the rapid growth of cities—and reacting, in various ways, quite poorly—this story seemed familiar.