Of Mice and Men

IMG_0512Dr. John B. Calhoun, a research psychologist of the National Institute of Mental Health, set out to prove his theory on the dangers of population overcrowding. His brand of discipline is also known as ethology because it deals with the behavior of animals. In the process Dr. Calhoun also invented the term “behavioral sink” to describe aberrant behaviors he had noticed among the rodents, a term that has now passed on to common use.

His studies on rats and mice began in rural Maryland in 1947 and were to last for 15 years. Dr. Calhoun had chosen rodent species that are aplenty in North America, and are true omnivores— would eat almost anything—, have acute hearing, are sensitive to ultrasound, and possess a highly developed olfactory sense. A 2007 study discovered too that these rodents possess meta-cognition, a mental ability previously found only in humans and some select primates.

In one very interesting experiment, Dr. Calhoun built a steel cage nine feet on each side designed to be populated by 160 rodents only. He wanted to create a colony of cultivated rodents – rats with “values” as high as any human values. The cage was always cleaned, was well-stocked with food and water and was free from predators— indeed, an ideal habitat, except for its overcrowded condition. The rodents were deprived of privacy, with no time or space to be alone. Since there was no escape, Dr Calhoun was especially interested in how these animals would handle themselves in their crowded environment. Though their numbers grew, the size of their cage did not. He allowed them to populate to 2600, about 16 times what would be considered normal density. Dr. Calhoun’s studies reveal the following:

When thrown together in such huge numbers, rodents rapidly develop a hierarchy. Those rodents closest to the food supply grow most rapidly. Because of their size, these rodents also assume higher social status.

I hate to say it but in any church, even today, those who are “closer to the food supply” grow most rapidly in status and become the top men in the church hierarchy. And because they are the top men, they call the shots. Not even a table or a pew is to be moved WITHOUT their permission. Need we learn a lesson from Diotrephes? (3 John 9-10).

I wish we go back to that day when humble men with simple dreams, spirits devoid of rank or human ambition and touched by God through His word, conscientiously worked for the meat that lasts forever.

Adult rodents develop optimal groups (or cliques) of about a dozen in each group. Rodents organize themselves into twelve or thirteen local colonies of a dozen rats each, the maximum number that can live harmoniously in a natural group. Beyond this number, stress and psychological effects take control and force-break the group. Calhoun says every species of organisms has an optimal group size, and when a group gets to be twice its optimal size it must split—or perish.

Clique with its partisan and discriminating spirit had clocked on and found an inherent weakness in an institution it could thrive on, threatening the very existence of the newly founded Jerusalem church. That problem was nipped in the bud when the apostles started listening to their complaints (Acts 6:1-6).

In Corinth, the brethren developed groups or cliques named after persons of prominence (1 Corinthians 1:10-13). Sectarianism is always a clique, and has originated with cliques.

Rodents bite one another and so create groups. Humans understand that the way to control the break-up and prevent cliques is by tender social interaction, where the cohesion of thoughts and spirits of diverse individuals can only occur. Christians are advised not to devour one another (Galatians 5:15) but to exhort one another (1 Peter 2:11). Tenderness toward all men and women must always characterize a disciple of Jesus.

Rodents perform particular functions to preserve and protect their clique. For example, instead of adopting new social roles necessary to survive in their densely populated universe, they on their own develop ways of manipulating the environment by blocking major passageways with paper in order to isolate themselves and reduce social interaction.

It is difficult to penetrate the cordon set up by a clique. You talk to one of them and he gives you the run-around, or evasive answers.

I have always advised brethren who opt to listen to my advice to talk and listen to each other to sort out the problems between them. Talk to express what you feel inside; listen to hear him say what he too feels inside. There has never been no occasion where I have not stood up to mediate between brethren in the mountains who keep talking but no one is listening! It is by listening to him that we will come to know what is wrong with us and what to do to achieve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. My enemies and my critics are also my mirrors; if I can’t see my own reflection, I must at least listen to what they say about me.

The males in the group who normally protect their territory withdraw from leadership and turn uncharacteristically passive. Notable conditions in the behavioral sink also include hyper-aggression, with the females in the group becoming unusually aggressive and forcing out the young. In a crowded environment such as this, there is notably a deterioration of attitude, spirit, and health of the organisms. Within five years all of them died.

Organisms need space to comfort selves, to seek refuge and privacy, and find connection. Dr. John Calhoun’s rat studies became the basis for the theories of proxemics promoted by the anthropologist Edward T. Hall. In his book, The Hidden Dimension, Edward Hall “describes the subjective dimensions that surround each of us and the physical distances one tries to keep from other people, according to subtle cultural rules.” (See this Wikipedia reference). Hall introduced the term proxemics to define measurable distances between people when they interact, its effect summarized in the following loose rule: “Like gravity, the influence of two bodies on each other is inversely proportional not only to the square of their distance but possibly even the cube of the distance between them.”

And proxemics too defines our distance or space: Public distance needed for our interaction with people at large without the use of public address system is from 7 to 25 feet; social distance, the space needed to interact in social groups, is from 5 to 12 feet; personal distance, space needed for interacting close friends and family members, is from 1.5 to 4 feet; intimate distance, space needed by interacting lovers and couples, is from 6 inches to 18 inches. People farther than 25 feet are those who have no business with us.

Subsequent studies made on humans have shown however that it is not just mere lack of space that causes the behavioral sink, but rather the necessity for community members to interact with one another. It is believed that when forced interactions exceed some threshold, social norms break down. Males who never draw up their inspiration from the group naturally separate from the group, and leave the leadership to those who need not be leaders.

Human experience proves the contention that in the absence of moral leadership among men, the group turns to women. Ever wonder why we have produced a Cory Aquino, a Benazir Bhutto, a Margaret Thatcher? Paul however has advised that sisters in Christ not teach men or usurp the authority of men, in other words, not exercise leadership over the men in the church groups. When sisters ask me why is this so, I tell them I can’t presume to say anything other than what Paul says. There are bright and intelligent women in the churches; that we must admit. They should be handled with diplomacy and tenderness.

The young find themselves outcasts in the society of rodents and grow to be increasingly more self-indulgent—eating, drinking, sleeping, and grooming themselves, but showing no normal assertiveness. Dr. Calhoun thus demonstrated that as population density increased, social behavior degenerated.

Some of us might not have realized that a lack of time to be alone with our Maker initiates disintegration of the spirit and makes us more self-indulgent. Shall we then learn a lesson from the mice? If we keep up the overcrowded schedule of our lives, our young and our youth will fail to reproduce character qualities worth living for ─ and fail to integrate in their being godly values worth dying for.

We need that peace and quiet to meditate on the Word of life, where you will hear God’s voice calling you to be renewed from sin. Prioritize this as the time to be alone with your Creator. Consider sleeplessness as a call for you to bend your knees and pray. Wake up 25 minutes ahead of schedule to meditate on His Word and utter a prayer. Set the TV timer at 10 pm and use that time to read and think and pray.

Other notable conditions in the behavioral sink also include failure to breed and nurture young normally, infant cannibalism, increased mortality rate at all ages. Dr. Calhoun saw universal autism among rodents. This is a phenomenon in which all members of the last generation of rodents in a super-crowded environment become incapable of social interaction that would allow them to produce the next generation.

The Lord’s plan for the church is to reproduce itself, and I don’t mean you do it like Jessop and the FLDS! We reproduce by evangelizing and teaching; we nurture our young through Bible classes and give them space to grow on. We stand by as they hang on to the dreams they want to reach. Believe in the youth; one time you were like them also.

The whole rodent society ultimately became disrupted, and after five years all of them died. Dr. Calhoun was convinced that his mice and rat populations were an accurate model for humans. He didn’t regard it as hypothesis any more, he regarded it as factual.


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