Clown World Chronicles: What Is A ‘Behavioural Sink’?

The story of Clown World is a story of collapse. Therefore, it’s unsurprising that all of the signs and symptoms of social collapse in other mammalian species can also be observed in our societies today. The concept of the ‘behavioural sink‘ is an ethological observation that applies just as well to human society.

In the 1950s and 1960s, ethologist John Calhoun ran a series of experiments with Norwegian rats. This involved creating a controlled environment where the rats could thrive – food and quality shelter were limitless. These are sometimes called the Mouse Utopia Experiments on account of that the environment was so conducive to life.

In one of these experiments, known as “Universe 25”, the easy nature of life led to a population explosion, as the natural birth rates of the r-selected rodents (mice in this instance) were not kept in check by the natural death rate that would have existed had they lived in the wild. The overpopulation eventually reached such an extreme degree that the inhabitants of Universe 25 began to exhibit some strange behaviours.

Beyond a certain degree of overpopulation, asocial and then antisocial behaviour became much more common.

First the rodents would start to become asocial. The typical expression of this was a passive form of withdrawal. Some rodents would avoid the others during the daytime, only becoming active at night when the others had settled down. Other rodents, dubbed the “beautiful ones”, came to devote all of their time to grooming, withdrawing from social interaction completely.

If overcrowding became worse than this, the rodents would become aggressive. They would start to randomly attack each other, sometimes fatally. The slightest irritation could trigger a murderous assault. At its worst, infant mortality came close to 100%, as the rodents came to completely neglect their parental duties. Eventually the population would collapse on account of all this homicidal and suicidal behaviour.

Calhoun coined the term ‘behavioural sink’ to describe this societal collapse. He described it as a kind of “spiritual death” that preceded physical death. Observing the disintegration of rodent society on account of this overpopulation gives us great insight into the nature of Clown World. The terrifying truth is that the human animal in Clown World is not so different from the rat and the mouse in the Mouse Utopia Experiments.

The human animal did not evolve in a state of overcrowding. For the vast majority of the 100,000 or so years that humans have existed on this planet, we did so in small bands like the other primates. These bands rarely exceeded 150 or so – if the population of one band would swell beyond this, part of it would split off and form a colony elsewhere.

Because living conditions were so harsh during this time, there was never a time when the birth rate was significantly higher than the death rate. Hunger, disease, natural disaster, tribal warfare and predation from larger animals all worked to keep the human population in check.

This all changed when sanitation and then modern medicine were invented. These two advances meant that the death rate dropped sharply. Because the birth rate initially stayed the same, the human population ballooned. The human population has quintupled since 1900, and most of that growth has been concentrated in urban areas close to the major international trading hubs.

By 2019, the human animal is presented with a set of living conditions very similar to the rats in Calhoun’s study. Perhaps inevitably, we have responded in a similar fashion. The essence of Clown World is the collapse in social behaviour that has come about from the massive overpopulation on our planet. We are exhibiting the same behaviours as the rodents of Universe 25.

In Clown World, many people have withdrawn from social contact completely. This phenomena is one that we share with the Mouse Utopia. The overpopulation of Clown World has led to a sense that all possible social niches are filled, therefore striving for social success is futile. Many of these people have turned to cyberspace, which offers social contact without being forced into close physical proximity with extremely unpleasant people.

The phenomenon of the beautiful ones is replicated with the rise of the hipster. The 21st century hipster, with his grooming obsession, is simply the result of heavy overcrowding. This is why he is only seen in urban areas. As with the rodents, the modern hipster does not pursue females for reproduction and he does not fight for dominance with the alpha males. He simply withdraws.

Parental incompetence is another feature of overpopulation that the Mouse Utopia shares with Clown World. In the Calhoun experiments, rats in heavily overcrowded pens failed to look after their offspring properly. It was as if the rats became even more r-selected, and adopted attitudes to their offspring normally held by reptiles and amphibians.

This shift towards r-selected patterns of child rearing is also replicated in humans. There have never been a higher proportion of deadbeat dads than there is today. Never before have there been so many single mothers on welfare. Despite the protestations of many conservatives, this isn’t because the welfare system is too generous. It’s because people no longer give a shit.

Consequently, a number of children are growing up feral in Clown World. Their parents have all but given up on life, and so the children wander the streets of their neighbourhoods looking for entertainment. Many of these children end up joining the recluses on the Internet. Others, as in A Clockwork Orange, turn to mindless crime. This breakdown of social order is at the core of Clown World.

A third feature that the Mouse Utopias share with Clown World is this mindlessly random violence. Just this week there was a diversity incident in London where two passers-by were killed by a knife-wielding Muslim. These incidents are becoming so common that they are hardly news anymore. It’s just taken for granted that people are under so much stress nowadays that some will randomly flip out and start killing others.

It’s impossible to understand Clown World without understanding the concept of the behavioural sink. Calhoun’s Mouse Utopia Experiments gave us the chance to observe the behaviour of social mammals in a state of extreme overcrowding. Now, with 8,000,000,000 people on the planet, we can see those same behaviour patterns arising in humans.

We’re going down the plughole of the behavioural sink.

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This article is an excerpt from Clown World Chronicles, a book about the insanity of life in the post-Industrial West. This is being compiled by Vince McLeod for an expected release in the middle of 2020.

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