Space Cadets and Rat Utopias (2014)


photo of thermos

The true-existence rats of NIMH.
Online page Cadet Thermos, 1954, National Museum of American Historic past, 2003.3070.18.02.

In 1956, researchers Leonard J. Duhl and John B. Calhoun organized a assembly to talk about dwelling. No longer outer dwelling, because the year can also counsel, but earth dwelling. Duhl and Calhoun, each posted on the National Institute of Psychological Health, wished to grasp whether or not the affiliation of objects in the physical atmosphere affected human correctly-being. Their sequence of assembly title was once not subtle; they called it “The Convention on Social and Bodily Environmental Variables as Determinants of Psychological Health.” Nonetheless the seventeen invited participants—psychologists, sociologists, ecologists, and one “social physicist”—most neatly-liked to name themselves “The Online page Cadets.”

At the NIMH, Duhl surely expert in mental health programming. He was once a “runt, tweedy, gentle-spoken” man who had volunteered for the Public Health Provider all the blueprint in which by the Korean Warfare sooner than ending his psychiatric coaching on the Menninger Sanatorium, in Topeka, Kansas. Calhoun, in the intervening time, educated as a zoologist, was once discovering out the social behavior of rats. He started this work in 1947, when a neighbor in Towson, Maryland, agreed to let him fabricate a rodent enclosure gradual his dwelling. Calhoun designed experiments to seem how inhabitants density affected social behavior. The experimental rats loved a world free of predators, illness, and starvation. Their fully restriction was once dwelling. He called the quarter-acre rat enclosure a “rat city.” He called the room-sized enclosure he would later kind on the NIMH a “rodent universe,” a “mouse paradise,” a “rat utopia.”

Nonetheless the trajectory of rat utopia soon sobered Calhoun. The alive to rodents did not seem superior of regulating their inhabitants dimension in the long-time duration. As they reproduced and the pens overflowed, Calhoun eminent that male rates grew to vary into aggressive, racy in gangs and attacking females and young. Some grew to vary into completely homosexual. Feminine rats, in the intervening time, abandoned their infants. The crowded mice had lost the flexibility to coexist. One amongst Calhoun’s assistants renamed the “rat utopia” “rodent hell.”


A settle from Calhoun’s 1962 paper, illustrating the behavior of “common” and “irregular” mother mice.
Checklist from John B. Calhoun, “Inhabitants Density and Social Pathology,” Scientific American 306 (1962): 139-148.

Calhoun seen in his rats the decline of future society, evidence that inside of city crowding resulted in rioting, crime, malaise, and political radicalism: the obsessions of postwar American lecturers. He wrote up his finally ends up in a Scientific American article that he titled “Inhabitants Density and Social Pathology.” The article grew to vary into one of basically the most in overall-cited papers in psychology. Admire Pavlov’s dogs and Skinner’s pigeons, Calhoun’s rats grew to vary into exemplars for human behavior. His experiments suggested a density past which rat society disintegrated, and—to Calhoun and his colleagues, on the least—the parallels with human society had been certain.

Time can also salvage obscured the memoir of Calhoun’s rats, if not for e-newsletter of the 1971 children’s guide, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. The guide tells the memoir of a widowed field mouse, Mrs. Frisby, who asks a team of used laboratory rats to again her rescue her dwelling from the farmer’s plow. (It also valuable capabilities the history of the rats’ trot from the laboratory and constructing of a technological society.)

I first encountered the stenotype transcripts of “The Online page Cadets” while on the University of Georgia’s Hargrett Uncommon Book & Manuscript Library. I was once there researching ecologist Eugene Odum, one of many popularizers of ecosystem view, whose archives salvage yet to be fully processed. I had already sifted by troves of unfamiliar objects: ashed birds, skulls, Kodachromes, coral from the Pacific Proving Grounds, Odum’s pants (the seemingly radioactivity of the coral from Bikini Atoll enthusiastic me till I realized, twelve containers later, a fabricate declaring that the samples had been deemed earn to address in 2007).

Overwhelmed, I made up my mind to spend a day the Ecological Society of The US’s archives, which can also very correctly be also housed at Hargrett Library. It was once in this sequence that I stumbled upon a letter from Edward Deevey, a used ESA president, to, correctly, to me. It read:

The file I’m sending to the archives has been sitting in a storeroom for the 14 years I’ve been at Florida. It contains moderately a few dross, because of Duhl ship us xeroxes of every thing he read, but I narrate the file of stenotypic transcripts is complete, and by some means, any individual has to concentrate to the position of social science in forming the be taught program of human ecology. Of route this panel was once fully one of many extra visible of many “invisible colleges” that contributed to the field, but if it’s fully worth a footnote in a history of 20th-century ecology, it’s on the least a charming footnote.

For the future historian of ecology, these actions cloak slightly great the advise of the science in the 60’s, and dispute the instructions in which a bunch of leading ecologists had been seeking to push it.

The expose threw me. Edward Deevey died in 1988, but here he was once, talking to me. And here I was once, making assumptions about him and his colleagues, what motivated them, how they spent their days.

photo of ashes

Ashes of Parula Warblers in a fruitcake field, one of many treasures in the Eugene P. Odum papers on the Hargrett Uncommon Book & Manuscript Library. Courtesy of Hargrett Uncommon Book and Manuscript Library / University of Georgia Libraries.
Hargrett Uncommon Book & Manuscript Library, MS3257, sequence 1, carton 149.

The Online page Cadets met twice a year from 1954 to 1966. From seventeen founding people, the team eventually grew to 200 panelists. Edward Deevey recounted: “We met at [the National Institute of Health], or in some lodge, steadily the Dupont Plaza; entertainment at buffet suppers was once amazing, however the dialog was once extra so.” Other long-time duration people had been Duhl, Calhoun, the psychiatrist Erich Lindemann, the urban economist Harvey Perloff, the sociologist Herbert Gans, the thinker Scott Buchanan, the biomathematican Nicolas Rashevsky, the physicist John Q. Stewart, and the urban planner Richard Myer.

At the origin, dialog centered on two questions: What was once mental health? And what was once the area of federal planning in mental health? Or, extra specifically: Were insights from the mental health of people acceptable to the collective? And was once planning correctly matched with democracy? At stake in these conversations was once the seek files from of whether or not social scientists can also make a contribution to constructing the future world. If recent advances in psychology shall be generalized to the collective, then the Online page s can also collaborate to manufacture greater cities.

Nonetheless not the total Online page Cadets agreed that social behavior shall be modeled. At the October 22 assembly, in 1959, John Seeley of the Alcoholism Review Foundation and Thomas Gladwin of the NIMH sparked a debate on the top seemingly spend of scientific gadgets in discovering out “social adaptation”:


[…] this complete dramatic operation takes area inside of Historic past, over which, in its huge trip, we now haven’t any alter, which is a single, unfamiliar, unreproducible act, utterly not like the experimental mannequin. […] The closer we arrive to the mannequin of the machine or the biological machine, the extra we must always lead ourselves off target and the extra we must always flip our attention a ways from that which we now salvage advance here precisely to manufacture, particularly to insure that human existence shall be various attributable to our being here from what it would also otherwise had been, by deliberation, by preference, by one thing that is as a ways from adaptation as anything else I’m able to accept as true with.


You’ve got silenced the team.


Generous for a second.


I ponder, Jack, why probabilities are you’ll presumably also very correctly be so enthusiastic. It appears to me that every strive to reach society, whether or not scientifically or otherwise, entails the sequence of a restricted number of dimensions, a restriction in the total advanced viewpoint. In case probabilities are you’ll presumably also very correctly be Karl Marx you peep at it by blueprint of economics; even as probabilities are you’ll presumably also very correctly be Freud you peep at it by blueprint of war and option of war; others fabricate it in aloof various ways. Whether we strive to position up an organic or a mechanical mannequin, there shall be those who feel that it’s all-inclusive, but these usually are not steadily the participants whose opinions we would admire anyway. Right here’s factual one activity of working toward a sequence of successively closer approximations, by the isolation of relevant variables and modes of description, which is ready to red meat up our working out of our society. As I explore it, it doesn’t restrict our range of preference. It merely provides us one more mirror in which to explore society mirrored, one more filter which filters out some things and lets various helpful things advance by.

photo of students

College students in the Department of Geography and Group Planning at Appalachian Assert University in 1977.
University Archives, Appalachian Assert University, Typical Checklist Info, 2004.040, Field 10, Geography and Planning, C14.2.2.4.

Because the years handed, current concerns crept into the Online page Cadets’ conversations: nuclear annihilation, delivery alter, racial integration, communism, computers, the “scenario of ulcers and coronaries by blueprint of social hiking in suburbia.” At one session, the team discussed The Fund for the Republic’s Heart for the Assume of Democratic Establishments’ 1960 anecdote, Group of Apprehension, which imagined a future cave-put of dwelling society dwelling in cities dug underground to trot the hazards of nuclear battle. The Online page Cadets wondered: Would there aloof be social alarm underground?

Leisure time was once one more sticking level. As Dr. Gans proclaimed in a 1961 assembly, “a period ago, boating and golf had been greater-profits team sports; this day, almost all people of heart profits who just isn’t apprehensive of the water or too lazy to stroll the greens can clutch half in each.” Summer season theatre, art work motion photos, international dart, fabricate-it-your self actions, photography and painting, tv. A bunch of critics argued that “citizens” (read: greater heart class white households) would soon be unable to psychologically take care of extra will increase in leisure time. The Online page Cadets discussed “weekend neurosis,” a situation that existed mostly among legit participants “for whom work is so pressing or appealing that every person various styles of exercise pall.”


If we settle an 8-hour day, with five workdays, roughly 8 hours of sleep—some of us don’t receive it—we now salvage one more 8 hours which shall be undesignated, which, theoretically, is aged in family exercise or otherwise, or a complete of one more 153 days. The 2 collectively point out 157 days of the year, out of 365, in which we now salvage leisure time or unassigned time. That is a devil of moderately a few time.

Dr. Gans’s be taught suggested that “the pleasures of being delivery air are as gratifying in a runt yard as they are in the majestic atmosphere of a National Park landscape.” Presumably the urban particular person was once field to a “sensory overload” to which he or she was once not adapted.


I contemplate this presses differentially on the actual person and girl. I contemplate the actual person in lots of suburbs would insist “I explore enough various styles of people all the blueprint in which by the day” (and here can also very correctly be factual) “and once I advance dwelling at night I must be among my grasp.” The isolated girl, in some suburbs on the least, says “I underneath no circumstances explore any one various from myself. Let me exit—let me traipse to the club—let me play golf—let me play tennis,” and a bunch of various things.

Calhoun, for one, believed there was once a natural restrict to the number of social interactions a particular person rat—or human—can also psychologically address, so that huge teams over a apt dimension—twelve, to be actual—bred discontent. Establish larger than twelve in a dwelling and unwanted interaction would result in hostility and withdrawal, and eventually, social breakdown. Partial to H. G. Wells and George Orwell, Calhoun build stock in the different futures those authors imagined.

Nonetheless the bomb loomed huge.


All this bother about leisure time continually bothers me because of I narrate that we are dwelling in an age when 25 years from now our civilization can also honest not exist. I contemplate that we are currently engaged in a world fight for survival, and I don’t contemplate there is great time. So that once participants talk in regards to the American citizens lounging around in parks and being concerned about whether or not or not there are enough swimming pools, that fabricate of ingredient concerns me.


John B. Calhoun in the rat universe, 1970.
John B. Calhoun, “Demise Squared: The Explosive Growth and Loss of life of a Mouse Inhabitants,” Lawsuits of the Royal Society of Medication 66 (1973): 80-88.

Nowadays the Online page Cadets are worthy for exploring the confluences of psychology, ecology, and concrete planning. Even though psychology and ecology aloof every now and then interface (contemplate Final Youngster in the Woods or “biophilia”), sociobiology peaked in the 1970s, and ecologists not incessantly ever meet with their urban planning equivalents, landscape architects. Ecology, a field basically based to face up to disciplinary borders, is now a correctly-outlined discipline that provides with rats but not humans.

Human inhabitants development, it appears to be like, is the fully ardour of the Online page Cadets that has remained central to ecology and conservation biology. Many narrate that catastrophe looms in due route, that humans will overflow their earth as Calhoun’s rats overflowed their pens. Others narrate in the energy of craftsmanship to beat famine and bother, a technological utopia.

And so it was once no shock that a September 2013 New York Occasions Op-Ed article entitled “Overpopulation is No longer the Draw back,” precipitated a kerfuffle. Erle Ellis, an ecologist on the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, wrote:

Many scientists narrate that by reworking the earth’s natural landscapes, we are undermining the very existence red meat up systems that procure us. Admire bacteria in a petri dish, our exploding numbers are reaching the limits of a finite planet, with dire consequences. Be troubled looms as humans exceed the earth’s natural carrying skill. Clearly, this can also not be sustainable.

Nonetheless Ellis went on:

Right here’s nonsense. […] The stipulations that procure humanity usually are not natural and underneath no circumstances had been. Since prehistory, human populations salvage aged applied sciences and engineered ecosystems to procure populations correctly past the capabilities of unaltered “natural” ecosystems.

Joel Cohen, Daniel Schrag, and William Clark, professors at Columbia University and Harvard University, respectively, retorted:

It is not seemingly to predict precisely what some human decisions can also honest result in, or whether or not some future environmental modifications can also honest be past human alter. It is miles obvious, nonetheless, that every extra billion participants constrain extra the decisions available for existence on earth, human and otherwise.

Such debate nests inside of a bigger contemporary debate over “the Anthropocene.” The magnitude of world replace— an umbrella time duration that entails rising tropospheric CO2 concentrations, rising UV-B irradiation, species invasion, eutrophication, radionuclides in oceans, and biodiversity loss—has precipitated some ecologists to spend the time duration “Anthropocene” when relating to the expose geological age. (The Global Union of Geological Sciences continues to spend the time duration Holocene.)

Few scientists contest the magnitude of human impacts on the Earth. Folk eat about one-third of all narrate voltaic energy transformed to plant subject, and their actions straight away affect 75 percent of the terrestrial world—or, if we clutch climate replace into anecdote, the total world. Nonetheless many contest what it capacity to adopt the time duration Anthropocene. In desire to the “cheery” Anthropocene, E.O. Wilson prefers to name Earth’s current period of history the Eremocene: the Age of Loneliness. In other locations, Erle Ellis has called the Anthropocene “an opportunity we are able to also honest aloof include.”

Fifty years ago, the Online page Cadets, too, had been divided over whether or not the future was once rotten or shiny. In 1948, two books had been published that impressed a “neo-Malthusian” debate on inhabitants and the atmosphere: Fairfield Osborn’s Our Plundered Planet and William Vogt’s Street to Survival. While attending college in the early 1950s, Paul R. Ehrlich heard Vogt lecture. The lecture resonated, and Ehrlich went on to submit The Inhabitants Bomb in 1968. In it Ehrlich warned of mass famine and social upheaval in the 1970s and 1980s attributable to overpopulation. The Inhabitants Bomb went on to promote two million copies inside of its first two years and fight by twelve re-printings, selling extra copies than Rachel Carson’s Tranquil Spring (1962).

Calhoun and some of his fellow Online page Cadets rejected Ehrlich’s “rotten theorem”—the root that every extra human would salvage a negative affect on the atmosphere. While the media portrayed the future as one of malnutrition, illness, and misery, the Online page Cadets requested the technique to manipulate human behavior while not restricting a particular person’s freedom of trip. The capacity to procure a ways from the future necessity of particular person psychotherapy, they contended, was once to manipulate the expose atmosphere. And to place that they wished first to achieve the relationship between dwelling and behavior. Varied arrangements of yards, housing devices, streets, and commercial centers can also, perchance, put at bay catastrophe.

In his early experiments, Calhoun believed he had seen innovation in rat society. When constructing a current burrow, some rats did not merely dig out the dust as they went, “as any common rat would fabricate”; moderately they packed it actual into a huge ball that they then rolled out. This innovation had advance not from the socially dominant participants, but from a disorganized and withdrawn team of subordinates. Impressed by this case, Calhoun attempted to carry out rodent universes that will create “ingenious deviants.”

Calhoun also believed that future applied sciences would replace the personality of the environments in which social interactions occurred. He predicted that a “communication-digital revolution” would occur in 1988. Because the offer of physical dwelling declined, human society would extend into “conceptual dwelling” to greater spend natural resources while ensuring that every particular person maintained a restricted number of social interactions.

That portion sounds about actual.


Screenshot from the game “Ravenwood Generous” on Fb
Wikimedia Commons

I returned to the Odum papers grateful for the quest for that Deevey had given me into the troubles and ambitions of a period of social scientists. It had saved me a ways from Fb, that leisure vacation area of the post-communication-digital-revolution workday. As of 2010, there had been thirty events extra farmers on the Fb game FarmVille than there are in the United States. Within the spirit of the Online page Cadets, we are able to also furthermore build a seek files from to what number of acres those FarmVille farms comprise in “conceptual dwelling.”

In his discussions with the Online page Cadets, Calhoun struggled with the constraints of gadgets. Would possibly perchance perchance perchance perchance furthermore rat behavior stand in for human behavior? Became once an overflowing pen in any admire like a city? Became once behavior definite by inhabitants dimension or by participants? Such questions had been unresolvable. Nonetheless it was once valuable to build a seek files from to them.

Admire the Online page Cadets, this day’s Anthropoceners are attempting to mannequin the expose world with an ask in direction of the future world. Nowadays’s Anthropocene discourse constitutes a teleological argument—it posits that past human trip has put us on an inevitable trajectory that ends with the Anthropocene. (If this final level is unclear, build a seek files from to: When will the Anthropocene end?)

Anthropoceners are attracted to the neatly-liked, not the actual. They survey world patterns. And they also aggregate the impacts of human lives. Nonetheless while generalizations are customarily generative, patterns alluring, the Anthropocene mannequin is blind to the distribution of energy. It asks what—what are the consequences of human trip—and not who—who is performing, who is responsible, who is suffering. The Online page Cadets modeled the disenfranchised with rats. Who’re the Anthropoceners modeling? And for whom is their future world?

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