Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The Rat Race - when winning means loosing

Some years ago I lived in Tokyo.

Coming from Australia Tokyo seemed to exemplify "the rat race".

Higher density than I'd ever actually walked around in and perhaps more concrete and motorway and high-rise residential accommodation than I'd ever seen in my life.

Seems the logical way to go when everyone wants to be in the same place (or perhaps only want to make money and thus come there for that). Unlike other animals we choose to live in the places where we congregate for work.

Academics have discussed the benefits of cities for most of the latter part of the twentieth century, particularly from the standpoint of economics. It makes good economic sense to bundle everyone together. History it seems was filled with examples of ones (which curiously many of which were now being reclaimed by jungles or so far decayed we barely know they are actually there).

Well failure never seemed to stop people from doing things in the past.

So it was with interest that I noticed this article in the Guardian today. Apparently in Japan people are not interested in sex anymore.

Japan's under-40s appear to be losing interest in conventional relationships. Millions aren't even dating, and increasing numbers can't be bothered with sex.
A survey in 2011 found that 61% of unmarried men and 49% of women aged 18-34 were not in any kind of romantic relationship. Another study found that a third of people under 30 had never dated at all....
... 45% of women aged 16-24 "were not interested in or despised sexual contact"

I was struck by the same thing ten years ago when I was there. Everyone was dressing 'sexy' but they had nothing in their hearts. It was like going through the motions but not being interested.To me it somehow seemed a consequence of over crowding and the attendant social issues.

Some years earlier I came across an interesting research where a fellow set up mouse cities to see what would happen. I recently stumbled across a WWW site which reviewed his work, so it was fresh in my mind again.

The fellows name is John B. Calhoun  and information on his work can be found here. A really interesting website which sumarises it can be found here. Compelling stuff if you take the time to read it.

Essentially the made a metropolis for rats, providing shelter, food water and sanitation. What happened was that eventually the populations stopped growing. Some salient points from the CABINET summary page:
  • Mice found themselves born into a world that was more crowded every day, and there were far more mice than meaningful social roles
  • Normal social discourse within the mouse community broke down, and with it the ability of mice to form social bonds
  • Lone females retreated to isolated nesting boxes on penthouse levels. Other males, a group Calhoun termed “the beautiful ones,” never sought sex and never fought—they just ate, slept, and groomed, wrapped in narcissistic introspection. 
  • The failures and dropouts congregated in large groups in the middle of the enclosure, their listless withdrawal occasionally interrupted by spasms and waves of pointless violence 
  • Elsewhere, cannibalism, pansexualism, and violence became endemic.
Perhaps the most interesting thing in his research was the finding that even after the populations dropped down again:
On day 560, a little more than eighteen months into the experiment, the population peaked at 2,200 mice and its growth ceased. A few mice survived past weaning until day six hundred, after which there were few pregnancies and no surviving young. As the population had ceased to regenerate itself, its path to extinction was clear. There would be no recovery, not even after numbers had dwindled back to those of the heady early days of the Universe. The mice had lost the capacity to rebuild their numbers—many of the mice that could still conceive, such as the “beautiful ones” and their secluded singleton female counterparts, had lost the social ability to do so.
Seems pretty close to the situation playing out in Japan to me ... perhaps parts of it even in other western big cities.

Planners have sought to solve the problems of cities for centuries, sanitation, power, water, hygene and more recently even greater social security via money. Money is something you can't live without in a city. Can't just draw water from your well, go shoot a rabbit for dinner or even grow any food. Heck if you live in an apartment you probably can't even do anything meaningful like repair and service your car / house / stuff.

Even less meaningful roles exist when you don't have a job (but can survive with social security). Another interesting quote:
No matter how sophisticated we considered ourselves to be, once the number of individuals capable of filling roles greatly exceeded the number of roles, only violence and disruption of social organization can follow. ... Individuals born under these circumstances will be so out of touch with reality as to be incapable even of alienation. Their most complex behaviors will become fragmented. Acquisition, creation and utilization of ideas appropriate for life in a post-industrial cultural-conceptual-technological society will have been blocked.

Japan is of course suffering from a problem that I think perhaps we'll see in other developing countries soon.

Personally never liked big cities to live in ... ok for work or a holiday, but I personally prefer the natural world.

1 comment:

Charles Maclauchlan said...

"Personally never liked big cities to live in ... ok for work or a holiday, but I personally prefer the natural world."
Amen, brother!