Earthly Utopias

What happens when you create a utopia on Earth?  We can’t do this for humans, but we have the power to do this for a small subset of animals.  What will happens when we do?

Dr. Calhoun (see video below), and American ethologist in the 1950s, built a perfect utopia for mice.  It was a huge cage filled with food dishes, water containers, and lots of nesting spaces.  These food containers were always refilled, as was the water.  A hundred of so perfectly healthy mice were placed in the utopia.  They had tons of space and more food and water than they’d ever need.  Sounds like an interesting experiment.  What happened?

I’ll give you a very short synopsis.  In the beginning males competed for space and established harems of females.  There was an initial drop in the population due to this infighting but afterwards there was a population explosion, all the way up to the cage’s maximum capacity, which was roughly 3000 mice.  Things got more and more crowded until in order to get anything in society, there was a huge fight involved.  Each mouse had to compete for water, they had to fight and compete for food, they had to fight and compete for a mate, and so on.

At first this competition just bred violence but it eventually lead the mice to insanity.  They were getting chewed up just to get food and water and males had to go extreme lengths to get a female mate.  More and more of the mice began to “opt out” of society altogether.  They would no longer socialize at all.  They would sneak to the food and water dishes, eat, drink, and groom themselves, but that’s it.  They stopped having sex, and the males and females quit breeding altogether.  Dr. Calhoun called these mice “the beautiful ones” because they were the only ones not all chewed up from battle.  More and more mice began to opt out, and after a generation or two of these “opt out” mice, their entire population died out.  The mouse population quickly dropped off until there were none left at all.

Toward the end, the mice had no social structure at all.  The males no longer knew how to interact with the females, and vice versa.  Others became pansexuals and the mother rats lost interest in raising their children.  Everything quickly became too complicated and laden with conflict.  They were all terrified of one another, so much so that they just stayed isolated, in their own little area of the cage until they all died off.

This experiment obviously has profound implications for human society.  The more our planet becomes overpopulated, where we all have to fight for jobs and resources and our social structure continues to make relationships more difficult and conflict-ridden, filled with mind games, the more humans will “opt out” of society, interacting with it as little as possible, trying to avoid getting psychologically “chewed up”.  I’m sure the same thing could easily happen to humans.  It seems to already be happening to Japan.

In Japan, over 60% of men in their 20s and 42% of those 23 to 34 are uninterested in women altogether.  Read that statistic again.  Six out of every ten men are uninterested in relationships of any kind.  That is not natural.  That is not normal.  You can’t explain it away as if they’ve all had some mass “realization” that they’re all asexuals; it’s a complete and utter breakdown of their society.  These people are opting out.  They’re scared, terrified, and quitting.  They’re uninterested in money or competition.  They want to live simple lives.  They see everyone around them getting chewed up and have quit.  They go for walks and take photographs of Buddhist temples.  They play video games and get their emotional fulfillment from dating simulations on the computer.  These men are called herbivores or “grass eating men”.

“Yoto Hosho, a 22-year-old college dropout who considers himself and most of his friends herbivores, believes the term describes a diverse group of men who have no desire to live up to traditional social expectations in their relationships with women, their jobs, or anything else. “We don’t care at all what people think about how we live,” he says.

Many of Hosho’s friends spend so much time playing computer games that they prefer the company of cyber women to the real thing. And the Internet, he says, has helped make alternative lifestyles more acceptable. Hosho believes that the lines between men and women in his generation have blurred. He points to the popularity of “boys love,” a genre of manga and novels written for women about romantic relationships between men that has spawned its own line of videos, computer games, magazines, and cafes where women dress as men.”

This is what happens when there’s no opportunity for people.  The social roles between men and women breakdown.  There is so much competition for mates, the rituals and demands to attract one another become more and more complicated and extreme.  The competition is so fierce, everyone’s expectations get higher and higher.  To meet those expectations becomes more and more of a challenge, and people drop out under the pressure.

It seems that when this happens in human beings, relationships get so screwed up that people lose sight of their genders and have no idea who they even are.  Nobody knows what they’re supposed to do or how to interact anymore.  Everyone’s forced to work so much to get anything, they start to go crazy.  People give up.  It’s not worth the effort.  It’s all so difficult and crazy, people don’t want anymore of it.  Like the rats in the cage who spent their lives in isolation, grooming themselves, humans are starting to do the same.

5 thoughts on “Earthly Utopias”

  1. Well then, this type of utopia isn’t utopia, is it? Because utopia is supposed to be perfect/ideal. But the above obviously isn’t. I’m afraid utopia is only possible if God (or an omnipotent being) actually makes it him/herself.

  2. Interesting post Jason. Do you think the utopia would have continued forever in the explosion phase or possibly would have evolved differently if there was no limit to the size of the cages etc.?

    1. Matt,

      That would be my guess. I think the limited size of the cage caused the problems. Even still, I never would have guessed that the population would have died off. It was really bizarre.

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