The mini-park outside the Chicken House in the off season.

* * * * * * * * * *

I view the species Homo sapiens with a gimlet eye, as I think I have already made clear. This is in spite of the fact that I harbor an immense fondness for some few individual specimens of that species. It seems clear to me, based upon the information currently available, that the species Homo sapiens is the most voracious and rapacious species that has ever trod the face of this little planet. Homo sapiens not only display an intra-species viciousness, but also direct their viciousness at other species inhabiting the planet. There is good evidence that there have been other periods of great extinctions in the past. The great extinction of species currently underway, however, is for the first time directly attributable to the conduct of one of those same species--the supposedly self-aware one--Homo sapiens.

How is one to make sense of this? For my part whenever I encounter some further example of the cruelty of our species, particularly the thoughtless, untoward behavior of some of our species toward others of our own species, I have tended to invoke the nostrum that there are “too many rats in the cage.” The human population of the planet is after all hurtling toward 9 billion, an unimaginable number. While there remain vast stretches of inhospitable, formidable landscapes on the planet that are sparsely inhabited, specimens of our species tend to huddle thickly together in relatively small, friendlier areas.

After some years of casually tossing off that explanation “too many rats in the cage,” I determined to look further into the science underlying it. I am an Enlightenment kind of guy after all. That brought me around to the work of ethologist John B. Calhoun, the man who actually put the rats, and sometimes mice, in those cages and watched and reported. I fully recognize the pitfalls of extrapolating from the behavior of rats and mice to explanations of human behavior, but one can hardly help oneself. The manner in which Professor Calhoun wrote up his observations does not discourage that either. Perhaps he is to be criticized for that.


I found that Professor Calhoun conducted a whole series of such experiments, each of different design, some involving rats and some involving mice. For our purposes here, I shall give a brief description of two general types, the rat thing and the mouse thing, as well as the results as I understand them.  

His early experiments in the late 1950’s involved domesticated Norway rats. He constructed a large cage in a barn with three or four “rooms” between which the rats could travel freely. Unlimited food and water. No predators. No disease. A rat “utopia.” He initially stocked the cage with a number of rats for which there was ample space. First, he noticed that even though there was ample food and water in all of the “rooms,” the rats tended to crowd together in one of the rooms where they ate together leaving the other “rooms” largely unoccupied. (This might perhaps explain why all of our great restaurants are in urban areas and require reservations.) Thus, overpopulation developed in one room while the other rooms were mainly empty.

Then, as the population increased, as populations will, he noticed changes in the little rat society. The female rats began having difficulty carrying their pregnancies to term. There was increased maternal mortality among those who did. The mothers who survived giving birth paid little or no attention to their motherly duties. As for the males, they become hyperactive, extremely aggressive, cannibalistic, and pathologically withdrawn. They also displayed “sexually deviation,” in Professor Calhoun’s words, a subject that I shall leave untouched here for good reason, one rat's "sexual deviation" being another rat's delight, I say. There was a societal breakdown as a result of what the good professor called “behavioral sink,” which then led to the extinction of the rat population.

Briefly, the mice experiments in the 1960’s can be described this way. In this case Professor Calhoun introduced four pairs of mice into a nine foot square pen complete with nesting boxes, food, and water. The only limiting factor on their reproduction was that space, but a space with nesting boxes sufficient to accommodate 3,840 mice. Initially, the population increased apace reaching 620, but then the population increase started to slow. The mouse society began to break down with the mice displaying the same aberrant behavior to that of those Norway rats. A female mouse successfully gave birth on day 600, which was the last successful birth in the colony. The population at that point stood at 2,200 mice.  The society had totally broken down at that point what with the aberrant behavior, however, and the colony began its descent into extinction.

As I was contemplating the implication of all that, I encountered a newspaper column by a writer whom I admire, Leonard Pitts, Jr. It occurred to me that if it is fair to extrapolate from rodent behavior to human behavior, then it is equally fair to extrapolate from human behavior to rodent behavior. It is entirely possible that Professor Calhoun simply happened to put rats and mice in those cages that did not like each other.

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Comment by alsoknownas on March 14, 2017 at 9:18am

Brassawe,

 I am about to start a 3 hr. law class for re-licensing.

 So I don't know what your post is about.

 I am going to "like" it right now based on the comment you on page 1 of the thread. I'll read it all later. I too am appalled at the cowardice and think it can ruin a site where some wish to create and exchange.

I concur. Want to exchange insults? Try it out in some of the bars I used to play in. Candy ass lessons were free.

Comment by nanatehay on March 14, 2017 at 11:29am

Interesting post, Brass. Humans evolved as hunter gatherers, and I think we do best when living in social groups of a couple dozen or, at most, a hundred or so, just as we existed and thrived for 10s of 1000s of years until the agricultural revolution came along and fucked things up. Even in small groups we aren't that pleasant though, being that our species is a particularly nasty sort of highly aggressive, cannibalistic primate with inclinations toward lying, treachery and warfare built right into our DNA. Still, while there's not that much to admire about homo sapiens when viewed collectively, there are plenty of individual humans who I admire greatly and even love, and sometimes, when listening to something like the piece in this YouTube, it seems to me that some of the finest and most worthy of our expressions of what I view as the higher self are informed and given meaning by the  very chracteristics that make us about as admirable as tapeworms. My apologies for introducing a BAV into your comment thread by the way, but this one actually has a point, or I think it might anyway, and what does anyone, even the best among us, have to guide our actions but what we think?

Switching topics slightly now, for which, again, my apologies - like yourself, I grew up in the real world where if you said shitty things to someone you ran a pretty good chance of getting, as aka so picturesquely puts it, some free candy ass lessons, and sometimes when I look back at my misspent youth I am surprised that I was never beaten half to death or even once called out to the parking lot of someplace like Pam & Smiley's biker/titty bar just east of Lawrence, Kansas on US 24 for a good old-fashioned country asswhoopin to pay me back for some of the shit I said to people I barely knew or in some cases didn't know at all. I still very much live in that world today, so when, for instance, PL from the auld lang syne days on Open Salon, threatened to drive from Iowa to where I lived in Kansas City so he could shoot me through the head with his crossbow, I messaged him my address and asked if he could pick me up a 12 pack on the way down, and there was another fellow, a bit of a tinfoil hat wearing white wringer, who kept telling me his height (6'5") and weight (280) while saying if he ever saw me in person he would clean my clock (I am employing here a more polite version of what he actually said), so I sent him, too, my address, and my phone number as well in case he got lost on the way to my house and needed to phone me so I could guide him in the last few miles or blocks. I also laughed and told him "And in the meantime, buddy, go ahead and threaten and bluster and talk about breaking my face all you like, but hellooo,  in case you haven't noticed, this is the goldang INTerwebz here and the only means we have to resolve our differences or express our opinions or communicate to one another how vehemently we agree or disagree on something is with fucking words, so I guess for now you'll just have to grit your teeth and take it, big fella, that or go back to watching cars turn left on NASCAR to pass your time." Now, obviously, that sort of willingness on my part to be confrontational online (when I feel it is worth expending the energy to do so, which is by no means for every little disagreement that comes down the pike and in fact is never something I undertake lightly, ever) offended quite a few people there at Open, some of whom would from time to time write posts about how insulting people in a forum intended for intellectual, polite discussions was just wrongheaded and savage and, gosh, who let all these Philistine in the ever-lovin' door. It was weird though, because nearly every time that happened, I noticed that these folk, in the process of explicating how very ethical and above the fray and, basically, better they were than us lowbrow, brawling sorts of riff raff who were draggin' down the tone of the place and all, would get every bit as insulting and down in the dirt pugilistic as myself and whatever dust devil I happened to be beefing with at the time. I wondered, at first, if these people are as pacifistic and spiritually and morally advanced as they claim, why then are they employing the exact same tactics they so loudly decry? Then I remembered what I'd had to tell Joe, flipped it 180 degrees, and suddenly a light bulb appeared over my head as I realized, "Doh, this is the Interwebz, nana, so how these nice people gonna make an omelet unless they break a few eggs?"

But, anyway (and apologies again for this digression) I'd like to ask you, Brass - do you consider calling someone a coward the same thing as insulting that person?

Comment by greenheron on March 14, 2017 at 1:23pm

Too soon for Ratty's NYC Coffee Meet-up?

Thought maybe a little levity might be nice around now.

Comment by alsoknownas on March 14, 2017 at 2:59pm

Stephen Brassawe,

 I've read the post now and the discussion.

 I commend you on the Twainesque vibe as much as I commiserate in understanding that it doesn't always feel good to like people but know how they can act.

I found your inclusion of the old Open Salon explanation especially poetic today. We've seen a mushrooming of infighting on this site recently, to the chagrin of many I am certain.

Perhaps I have mis-read you today, but I see this as a plea, if not an outright call to action for all of us here to recognize our differences, and accept them to some degree.

Thank you.

Comment by Foolish Monkey on March 14, 2017 at 3:32pm

oh damn...this is a long time coming, if the nana blog is what this is about.  if not, it's in the ballpark, all us rats nipping away...blahblah

it's going to happen.  sometimes people get a bug up their asses and decide to people poke.  then, after poking for a while and the other guys ribs get sore, people poke back. then there's a flurry of poking.  it's power poking.  who's allowed to poke.  if this were real life, there would be some serious hell to pay but here, with words, there's a lot of pokeypokey.  it's all bullshit.  

it dies down.

but what doesn't die down is the bad feelings.  

unfortunately brass, those feelings were dragged here from OPEN.  frankly and I say this to friend and foe alike, I wish they'd put this stupid shit aside and move on...because this IS a site of mostly progressive types, who might argue about how to dot i's but that's about it.   yes israel and palestine.  and hillary and bernie.  and this and that.  

humans are evil.   look around.  THIS IS ESSENTIALLY A LIBERAL SITE.  you gotta laugh.  don't fuck with my conch bitch.  we be lord of the flies. 

Comment by koshersalaami on March 14, 2017 at 7:05pm

Industrialized nations now have shrinking populations for the most part. The problem is many poor ones have ballooning populations

We may see some tech answers. Fifty years ago the US had severe pollution problems which we thought would choke us. We got a handle on it. 

We have problems and people who won't acknowledge them but the game isn't over.

 

Comment by Theodora L'Engle Knight on March 14, 2017 at 11:41pm

fm and aka, i feel like you heard what stephen was saying. you can poke and poke and then you need to say you are sorry and move on. that is what seems to be missing. in rats and in people.taking responsibility for your part in whatever is going on. then moving on. if this did get carried over from OS, shit, i have no words.

i'm sure i sound like an asshole and i don't care. this is just my point of view. as an Altered Person, i do a whole hell of a lot of apologizing. making amends. i'm not in 12 step but i like the model. it's just part of the deal for someone like me. it's challenging and humbling and can be humiliating but whatever... we owe each other that much.

thanks for being such a good friend, stephen.

Comment by John Manchester on March 16, 2017 at 1:57pm

Lovely to know that you're still alive! And still writing. As for rats, I happen to have just this morning finished Angela Carter's fabulous take on Puss-In-Boots, in which rats play a key part. (As you can imagine, it doesn't end well for them.) 

Comment by Rita Shibr on March 16, 2017 at 7:01pm

I read the post Brass, and just wanted to let you know if there is a big room with a lot of food and other people shooting the shit and having a good ole time I will probably be in there.  Because if I wanted to be alone in a nice comfy home eating my food by myself with no chance of goofing off, well I wouldn't go onto Our Salon or Open Salon now would I?   I never had or will ever have a pet rat. 

Comment by Theodora L'Engle Knight on March 16, 2017 at 10:35pm

greenheron, i love what you said about making kids a priority. i just said that to someone yesterday. i volunteer with the boys and girls club, for their after school program. i am constantly amazed and surprised and delighted by how informed and kind and compassionate and smart they are. these are not kids who can afford smartphones so there are all kinds of games, including computer games but educational ones. and they seems to be just as challenging and fun as the military themed games. well, probably not as much...

i'm lucky to be pretty popular there because i bring my smart and sweet senior service dog cocoa -- she's cocoa colored -- with me. so i also get to educate about service dogs for invisible disabilities.

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