Monday, 25th May, 2015
Of affluent rats and man
Alfred E. Baldacchino
I was still in my early teens. Television was still black and white. But I still clearly remember a documentary based on Konrad Lorenz’s studies on animal behaviour.
Konrad Lorenz (7 November 1903 – 27 February 1989) hailed from Austria. Besides being a zoologist and ornithologist he was also an ethologist. He is best known as one of the founders of modern ethology – the study of animal behaviour. In 1973 he shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Nikolaas Tinbergen and Karl von Frisch.
The documentary was based on the behaviour of a number of rats confined in a large circular cage built with interconnecting radial divisions. It housed a rat society living under affluent conditions, but in a limited space.
The availability of food contributed to an increase in the rat population. But considering the limited space available, the rat society soon became overpopulated.
Observation showed that the affluent rat population revealed alarming signs in their behaviour. It was observed that the urge to survive was being lost: females ignored their young to the extent that some intentionally killed their offspring. Males too behaved strangely in such an overpopulated scenario. Males copulated with other males, and females did likewise. Other observation showed that when individuals confronted one another, the oppressor easily eliminated its victim without a fight. Throughout the whole experiment the rat society was exposed to an affluent environment.
Konrad Lorenz was worried. The behaviour of rats in an affluent society did not show any pleasant results. So another experiment with the same conditions, highlighting affluency, was undertaken. This time instead of mammals (rats) birds (egrets) were used. The limited cage area was this time built in a place where wild birds were nesting outside: a means of control to the observations. But the bird population in an affluent environment behaved in a similar manner. Nests were abandoned. Eggs in the nests were intentionally broken or abandoned. And same sex copulation was the order of the day.
The conclusions of the documentary are as vivid and clear as if I saw them yesterday. Konrad Lorenz prayed that his conclusion of such overpopulation on rats and birds did not apply to man – Homo sapiens – the species who knows all and is superior to everyone. But it could not be denied that such natural mechanisms were aimed at a control and decrease of population.
The conditions in the overpopulated environment of the rat and the bird societies led to similar results.
If one looks around today, nearly half a century after I saw this documentary, one can see such similar behaviour in our society. The pro-business vision of the western capitalised world is not only bereft of any social and ecological consideration, but it exploits the unfavourable social behaviour for further commercial gain.
Euthanasia is legalised. So is abortion. So is same sex marriage. And if one looks deeper one can also see the commercialisation of the elimination of species, including fellow humans, just for the fun of it, all engulfed in an affluent society fuelled by commercial gain.
Is there any correlation between the observations in Lorenz’s experiments and the present day behaviour of man? Are natural mechanisms at work to reduce man’s over population driven by affluency that keeps on exploiting and exploiting it for commercial gain?
Last year His Holiness Pope Francis in an interview with Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia, warned “Our global economic system can’t take any more. We discard a whole generation to maintain an economic system that no longer endures”
In the meantime, the greedy pro-business vision bulldozes on, to the detriment and expense of society and the environment, which it exploits to the fullest.