The “Mouse Utopia” Experiment That Fooled Your Parents and Grandparents

Dr. John Calhoun, pictured inside the Universe 25 enclosure.

Even with good intentions, what’s stupid is still stupid. So it is when one attempts to thwart a perceived oncoming crisis, but ends up doing more harm than good.

Decades ago, researcher John Calhoun set out to conduct a set of experiments which involved confining rats to enclosures, and observing them as they are continually provided with ample food, safety from predators, and allowing their populations to grow without interference.

The most famous of these enclosures was called “Universe 25”, which was notable for its capacity for housing upwards of 5000 mice. As the experiment progressed, the mice descended into antisocial and violent behavior, and the colony ended up failing when the females failed to care for their young.

This research came to be of particular public interest, as it came at a time when Malthusianism, the idea that the earth was nearing its limit for its ability to support humanity’s growing population, was widely accepted. In light of this, it’s easy to see why Calhoun’s experiments were interpreted to mean that consequences similar to what befell Universe 25 might also befall humanity, if humanity’s numbers were to continue to grow unchecked.

But there was a problem. Calhoun’s experiments did not concern limited resources, nor did it concern overpopulation.

The purpose of the experiments was to observe behavioral sink in rats who were not able to escape one another’s company at any time. This becomes evident when considering the fact that the colony did not want for anything to eat or drink at any time during the experiment, as it was all provided by Calhoun. What’s more, the Universe 25 enclosure came nowhere close to capacity at the point when the colony failed.

Nonetheless, the consensus was that the experiments gave us a glimpse into the future of humanity if humanity’s numbers were to continue to grow without check, further feeding into the Malthusianism that was popular at the time. In a sense, the Universe 25 experiment came to be the “mouse utopia” experiment which fooled your parents and grandparents.

As a case study concerning the National Socialists of Germany may prove, when any misconception becomes popular enough, tragedy is a potential outcome. While Malthusianism may have already been popular in the decades preceding Calhoun’s experiments, a popular misconception regarding them may have played a huge role in the movement’s further popularity. And, wouldn’t you know it, it was the following decade that saw the production of the now popular Jaffe memo.

That’s not to say that there’s no value to be found in Calhoun’s experiments. But to find that value, one would have to look at them in terms of the data that they actually provided. And if there is carryover between the observed behavior of rats made to live in close proximity and human beings, there is a concern which is applicable to today, rather than in a hypothetical future time when human population is far greater. After all, large numbers of humans live in close proximity, today.

The fact is, there is noticeable behavioral sink in rats who are made to live in close proximity, unable to escape one another’s company. Among what’s concerning is that the males in the experiment tended to become hyper-aggressive, often fighting each other, even when there’s apparently nothing at stake. They also tended to become hyper-sexual, with homosexuality becoming rampant.

The behavior of the females also became concerning. The females tended to become more masculine in their behavior, also becoming more aggressive and hyper-sexual. As matters continued, most of them failed to care for their own young, many of them abandoning their young, leaving them to die. And yes, we’re still talking about rats.

Also of interest was the emergence of a special category of male. These were referred to as the “beautiful ones”, because they avoided other rats (and thus fighting), and they devoted their time to self-grooming. Any time they fed, they avoided other rats, often by waiting until many of them were sleeping. These rats were so psychologically damaged that they refused to mate, even after being removed from the enclosure and placed in the company of ideal females.

I’ve been avoiding direct comparisons until now, but I’d like to indulge by pointing out the obvious similarities between these so-called “beautiful ones” and humanity’s MGTOW and Herbivore Men movements. If you’ve never heard of them, they largely boil down to being groups of men who have foregone relationships with women, often over bad experiences.

As large numbers of humans live in close proximity, it’s easy to see a certain disregard for one’s fellow man. Those who manage large numbers of humans tend to see less value in them as individuals, instead viewing them as statistics, and numbers to be managed. There is an Asian saying: “A frog at the bottom of a well knows nothing of the ocean.” Indeed, a limited perspective can lead one into making wrong assumptions, even as far as to interpret disparate data as supporting their own preconceived notions. Get out of cities.

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