For those of us that have led sheltered lives [or are increasingly leading sheltered lives] then its probably time we leant about John Calhoun’s Beautiful Ones [even if we aren’t beautiful].
John B. Calhoun (May 11, 1917 – September 7, 1995) was an American ethologist and behavioral researcher noted for his studies of population density and its effects on behavior.
He claimed that the bleak effects of overpopulation on rodents were a grim model for the future of the human race.
During his studies, Calhoun coined the term “behavioral sink” to describe aberrant behaviors in overcrowded population density situations and “beautiful ones” to describe passive individuals who withdrew from all social interaction.
In the 1960s John Calhoun built a high rise utopia into which he released four pairs of mice.
In the early 1960s, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) acquired property in a rural area outside Poolesville, Maryland.
The facility that was built on this property housed several research projects, including those headed by Calhoun.
It was here that his most famous experiment, the mouse universe, was created.
In July 1968 four pairs of mice were introduced into the Utopian universe.
The universe was a 9-foot (2.7 m) square metal pen with 4.5-foot-high (1.4 m) sides.
Each side had four groups of four vertical, wire mesh “tunnels.”
The “tunnels” gave access to nesting boxes, food hoppers, and water dispensers.
There was no shortage of food or water or nesting material.
There were no predators.
The only adversity was the limit on space.
However, life in utopia didn’t last long due to the breakdown of society and “normal” behaviour.
The population peaked after 315 days and the last surviving birth was on day 600.
Initially the population grew rapidly, doubling every 55 days.
The population reached 620 by day 315, after which the population growth dropped markedly.
The last surviving birth was on day 600.
This period between day 315 and day 600 saw a breakdown in social structure and in normal social behavior.
Among the aberrations in behavior were the following: expulsion of young before weaning was complete, wounding of young, increase in homosexual behavior, inability of dominant males to maintain the defense of their territory and females, aggressive behavior of females, passivity of non-dominant males with increased attacks on each other which were not defended against.
After day 600, the social breakdown continued and the population declined toward extinction.
During this period females ceased to reproduce.
Their male counterparts withdrew completely, never engaging in courtship or fighting.
They ate, drank, slept, and groomed themselves – all solitary pursuits.
Sleek, healthy coats and an absence of scars characterized these males.
They were dubbed “the beautiful ones.”
Breeding never resumed and behavior patterns were permanently changed.
John Calhoun concluded his experiment was a metaphor for the fate of man.
The conclusions drawn from this experiment were that when all available space is taken and all social roles filled, competition and the stresses experienced by the individuals will result in a total breakdown in complex social behaviors, ultimately resulting in the demise of the population.
Calhoun saw the fate of the population of mice as a metaphor for the potential fate of man.
He characterized the social breakdown as a “second death”.
His study has been cited by writers such as Bill Perkins as a warning of the dangers of the living in an “increasingly crowded and impersonal world.”
Central planners performed the same high rise utopian experiment after the Second World War.
The post-war British tower block vision
Post-war Britain was the stage for a tower block “building boom”; from the 1950s to the late 1970s there was a dramatic increase in tower block construction.
During this time, local authorities desired to impress their voters by building futuristic and imposing tower blocks, which would signify post-war progress.
Another key aspect of the tower block vision was the Brutalist architectural method, popular with architects and planners at the time.
The Brutalist emphasis led to the construction of stark and striking tower blocks with large sections of exposed concrete.
Concrete was to be an integral part of the tower block designs; it could be poured on site, offering boundless flexibility to the building designers.
To the planners, concrete was a silver bullet for the construction process – it was economical, and “was vaunted as being long-lasting, if not indestructible”.
Unsurprisingly, the results of this experiment [with humans] were pretty much the same.
The post war British tower block reality
Coleman’s 1985 work argues that in trying to emulate Le Corbusier’s ideas, the tower block planners only succeeded in encouraging social problems.
Although architects and local authorities intended the opposite, tower blocks quickly became, as Hanley sharply stated, ‘slums in the sky’.
Due to demanding deadlines, complicated construction practices were rushed and many tower blocks experienced structural decay as a result – roofs leaked, concrete suffered spalling, steel corroded, and damp penetrated the buildings.
Unfortunately, by replicating tower blocks across the nation, planners ‘disastrously’ replicated design faults.
In many tower blocks, concrete quickly exhibited signs of decay; cracks soon formed and destabilised the buildings.
The partial collapse of the Ronan Point tower block is an infamous example of the hasty and substandard construction that occurred in a number of the towers. The tower blocks quickly lost their “futuristic” look; concrete turned from the crisp white the designers had imagined to a dull grey, stained by pollution.
Poor design decisions ruined the anticipated benefits of the buildings.
Open spaces, which were supposed to benefit the residents, were instead unattractive, unused and inadequately supervised.
Residents felt it was difficult to maintain the large open spaces around the blocks because they realistically belonged to no one.
Social problems increased as the tower blocks quickly degraded because of poor maintenance and an insecure communal environment.
Apart from frequent break-downs, communal lifts were a source of fear for people travelling alone.
It was a rarity to “enter a clean-smelling, undefaced lift”.
The tower blocks, many of which were on the periphery of the city, made residents feel isolated and cut off from society.
Outsiders and newcomers were also affected; they felt the overbearing design of the tower blocks made them fearsome and unsociable.
Power argues that as a direct consequence of their design and construction, security problems were prevalent in many of the tower blocks.
Break-ins, vandalism and muggings were common, which were aided by the buildings’ concealed areas, the mazes of internal corridors, and dark corners.
Police were often required in the tower blocks, but their infrequent presence did little to pacify towers rife with delinquency.
To contain disruptive behaviour, local authorities began to place “problem families” in the same blocks; Hanley argues that this policy only led to “further alienation … nihilism and a creeping sense of lawlessness“.
Dunleavy seconds this, suggesting that the mental health of long-term tower block residents may have been detrimentally affected.
While local authorities and their architects intended to create tower blocks that encouraged harmonious and vibrant communities, often the results were far from ideal.
Post-war tower blocks were compromised from the outset by a combination of faults: local authorities advocated impractical architectural methods; design and construction faults were frequently reproduced; and there appeared to be a lack of understanding about the social consequences of certain design features.
Collectively, these oversights transformed many tower blocks into undesirable places to live.
Therefore, the central planners have changed their strategy and are now concentrating upon putting a television into every room.
“I’m The Slime” – Frank Zappa
I am gross and perverted
I’m obsessed ‘n deranged
I have existed for years
But very little has changed
I’m the tool of the Government
And industry too
For I am destined to rule
And regulate you
I may be vile and pernicious
But you can’t look away
I make you think I’m delicious
With the stuff that I say
I’m the best you can get
Have you guessed me yet?
I’m the slime oozin’ out
From your TV set
You will obey me while I lead you
And eat the garbage that I feed you
Until the day that we don’t need you
Don’t go for help . . . no one will heed you
Your mind is totally controlled
It has been stuffed into my mould
And you will do as you are told
Until the rights to you are sold
That’s right, folks . . . Don’t touch that dial
Well, I am the slime from your video
Oozin’ along on your livin’ room floor
I am the slime from your video
Can’t stop the slime, people, look at me go