Mouse Apocalypse


I have way too many items in my files to discuss, so I'd better get cracking and ease the backlog. Up tonight--Mouse Apocalypse.

In the early 1970s, John B. Calhoun of the National Institute of Mental Health, undertook an experiment. He created a nice enclosed universe to populate with mice, and he gave them a utopia--plenteous food and drink, lots of space, no predators, no parasites. The population exploded at first, of course, but then starting at day 560, population began to decrease from a high of 2200 individuals down to 27 at the end of the experiment.

So what happened? The smallish subset of dominant males kept doing their thing, of course. Calhoun describes the first development:

"As the unusually large number of young gained adulthood they had to remain, and they did contest for roles in the filled social system. Males who failed withdrew physically and psychologically; they became very inactive and aggregated in large pools near the centre of the floor of the universe. From this point on they no longer initiated interaction with their established associates, nor did their behaviour elicit attack by territorial males. Even so, they became characterized by many wounds and much scar tissue as a result of attacks by other withdrawn males."

This development catalyzed other developments:

"territorial males to reject maturing associates, their ability to continue territorial defence declined. Gradually the frequency of this involvement in territorial defence declined as did the area defended. This left nursing females more exposed to invasion of their nest sites. Normally nursing females in the presence of territorial males exhibit little aggression. However, in response to invasion of nest sites and bases of ramps leading to them, the nursing females did become aggressive, essentially taking over the role ofthe territorial males. This aggression generalized to their own young who were attacked, wounded, and forced to leave home several days before normal weaning. During Phase C the incidence of conception declined, and resorption of feetuses increased. Maternal behaviour also became disrupted. Young were often wounded in the delivery process. Females transported their young to several sites, during which process some were abandoned. Many litters of a young age on one survey disappeared before the next survey. Such abandoning of young following survey disturbance is a particularly sensitive index of dissolution of maternal behaviour. The combined effect of these several factors affecting reduced conception, increased feetal mortality and increased preweaning mortality largely accounts for the abrupt decline in rate of population growth characterizing Phase C. For all practical purposes there had been a death of societal organization by the end of Phase C.

"By midway in Phase C essentially all young were prematurely rejected by their mothers. They started independent life without having developed adequate affective bonds. Then as they moved out into an already dense population many attempts to engage in social interaction were mechanically disrupted by passage of other mice. Lastly, I have shown (Calhoun 1963) that in proportion to the extent that the group size exceeds the optimum, maximizing gratification from such interactions necessitates a decrease in the intensity and duration of such behaviours. This fragments otherwise more complex behaviours. As a result of these three processes (failure to develop early social bonding, mechanical interference with developing social behaviours and fragmentation of behaviours) maturation of the more complex social behaviours such as those involved in courtship, maternality and aggression failed. For females a clear example may be taken from a 2 cell universe studied in parallel with the 16 cell one detailed here. The members of this population were killed 300 days after the inflection point of the shift from Phase C to Phase D. Among these were 148 females born within the last 50 days before the end of Phase C. At autopsy at a median age of 334 days only 18% had ever conceived (i.e. no placental scars in the uteri of 82% of the females) and only 2% were pregnant (each of these 3 females had only one embryo as contrasted to the more normal 5 or more). By this age most females in a normal population would have had five or more litters, most of them successfully reared.

"Male counterparts to these non-reproducing females we soon dubbed the 'beautiful ones'. They never engaged in sexual approaches toward females, and they never engaged in fighting, and so they had no wound or scar tissue. Thus their pelage remained in excellent condition. Their behavioural repertoire became largely confined to eating, drinking, sleeping and grooming, none of which carried any social implications beyond that represented by contiguity of bodies. Most of the last half of the population born in the 16 cell universe were fully or largely like these non-reproducing females and these 'beautiful ones' (males). As their formerly more competent predecessors gradually became senescent, their already disrupted capa"city for reproduction terminated. At this time only the 'beautiful one' category of males, and their counterpart females, remained at an age normally compatible with reproduction, but they had long since failed to develop this capacity."

So what if these mice were taken out of this universe and placed in a different location?

"My colleague, Dr Halsey Marsden (1972), conducted several studies during the mid-third of Phase D in which he placed small groups of mice out of these crowded populations into new universes at very low densities. All groups exhibited nearly total loss of capacity for developing a structured society or for engaging in the full repertoire of reproductive behaviours. Even placing them with adequate sex partners of the opposite sex, that had matured in uncrowded conditions, also gave very little indication of retention of any adequate reproductive behaviour.

"Young born during such social dissolution are rejected by their mothers and other adult associates. This early failure of social bonding becomes compounded by interruption of action cycles due to the mechanical interference resulting from the high contact rate among individuals living in a high density population. High contact rate further fragments behaviour as a result of the stochastics of social interactions which demand that, in order to maximize gratification from social interaction, intensity and duration of social interaction must be reduced in proportion to the degree that the group size exceeds the optimum. Autistic-like creatures, capable only of the most simple behaviours compatible with physiological survival, emerge out of this process. Their spirit has died ('the first death'). They are no longer capable of executing the more complex behaviours compatible with species survival. The species in such settings die."

Wow, I don't know about you, but I got the willies reading this. It seems so eerily like what we are seeing in some societies today, such as in Japan. You can have a society that is wealthy and well-off and secure, such as we see in this mouse universe, and the collective dies anyway through self-destruction.

And it is a particular form of self-destruction. Males withdraw, but this leads to damaged mothering, which in turn leads to damaged children who do not know how to form healthy social bonds and thus cannot continue the society--or even reproduce it.

Certainly in our wealthiest countries we have seen a collapse of reproduction, and we have seen deeply damaged children who cannot form healthy social bonds. We are losing both the desire to reproduce as well as the capacity to parent in an adequate fashion when we do.

Of course, for mice the catalyst may be male failure to fulfill micely roles. But in humans I'd argue that the catalyst was male insistence on the complete dissociation of sex from love. Marinated in porn, contemporary males crave unloving, uncommitted, unreproductive, even abusive sex. But since there cannot be reproduction without sex, and since there cannot be even minimally adequate parenting without love, the die is cast. What contemporary man wants is utterly incompatible with the survival of his group. What he wants damages women, damages their ability to parent, and irrevocably damages any children thus produced. In a sense, the damaged children are the revenge owed to their fathers by their mothers.

Can you even imagine a world in which men did not consume porn, would never visit prostitutes or strip clubs, would seek loving, faithful marriages with women, and would refuse sex before marriage? Think really, really hard--can you imagine such a world? If you can, then you are imagining a society that will not only survive, but thrive.

And if you can't, you probably live in the world of 2021--Mouse Apocalypse World.