The Behavioral Sink

Dr. Steve Mason
“We make some of our greatest gains when we see old things in new ways.”

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The Behavioral Sink

by Steve Mason

Way back when, in the middle of the 20th Century, people weren’t worried about Global Warming.  In fact, the big bugaboo at that time was Global Cooling!  Just twenty thousand years earlier, much of what would become the USA was under a two mile thick glacier.  Imagine ten thousand feet of ice and snow covering everything from NY to LA.  Scientists of the day said it could, and probably would, happen sooner rather that later.  And for good measure, they predicted a World Famine by 1975.

This latter catastrophe would be the inevitable result of yet another bit of bad luck…Population Growth.  Back in the Nineteenth Century, English cleric Thomas Malthus noticed that while the number of people kept increasing geometrically, food production could only increase arithmetically.  Twentieth Century author Paul Ehrlich picked up on the idea and wrote: The Population Bomb.

As you can see, scary forecasts have a habit of coming and going but a rapidly accelerating population is no forecast.  It’s right here and it’s right now.  If you haven’t been keeping track, the number of Americans has more than doubled from 150 million in 1950 to over 300 million today.  Now ask yourself, is there any problem we have today that wouldn’t be improved if half the population didn’t wake up tomorrow?  This may be why, on some level, we always seem to be flirting with yet another war.

Wondering how people were going to react to a Soylent Green level of crowding, psychologists in the 1960’s created what they called: The Behavioral Sink experiment.  They took several breeding pairs of rats, enclosed them in a large barn that was well supplied with food and water and allowed them to reproduce.  What do you suppose happened?

At first, the colony of rats did just fine. They ate and reproduced. But then they started to get a little crowded. Individuals wandered into each other’s space and fights began breaking out. In time, gangs formed and the occasional tiff turned into something more like organized warfare. Pregnant mothers aborted their fetuses while many of those who delivered simply abandoned their young. A small number of ‘King’ rats, as the researchers called them, set up kingdoms complete with a harem and a band of soldiers to defend their territory. Stress levels were so high that many individuals just curled up and died. Others lost their minds, some running in circles; some chewing off their limbs. And even though there was no famine or drought, pollution eventually took its toll resulting in wide-scale death and disease.

Look At It This Way

When a Presidential candidate runs on the slogan ‘Make America Great Again’ it’s pretty obvious that changes have taken place and that they haven’t been for the better. Today we see border conflicts and uncontrolled migration along with terror attacks, drug addictions, gang violence, government corruption and world-wide pollution on an unprecedented scale. In short, we see all the evidence of a behavioral sink. So while we hear about changing weather patterns, that’s merely a result. The root cause is a far more difficult problem to solve: Too Many People.


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