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We're not so different from mice

Feb 3, 2013 - By Randy Tucker

Mass hysteria affects both species about the same way.

The old adage it's always greener on the other side has been proven time and time again since man first looked across the valley and decided the next hill was better than the one he was sitting on.

It seems that people are not the only organism that follows this pattern. You don't have to look at migrating geese or giant herds of bison moving north in spring, then south in the fall on the Great Plains before farming and fencing ended the annual trek. Sometimes all you have to do is look down.

We have a small flock of laying hens, and when the temperature drops below freezing their water dispenser is kept from freezing by a round heating element that rests on the ground.

In the course of adding water every four or five days, I always disturb a family of mice that has taken up residence directly beneath the heating element.

One morning I moved the heater slightly to level it, and the hens went crazy chasing several scurrying mice that jumped out of a hole beneath the heater.

I moved the metal dish to the side and noted a series of tunnels carved in the soft dirt beneath. There was a sizable amount of corn, oats and millet stored in these tunnels as well.

In the rodent world, this was as close to nirvana as these field mice were likely to get. They found a warm spot in the midst of a sub-zero winter with an unlimited supply of food coming in every morning. All they had to do was sneak it away from the hens.

It wouldn't be much of a stretch to call it manna from heaven, at least in the world of mice.

The corollary to mankind is an obvious one.

For the best part of the last century, sociologists, psychologists and even city planners have studied the mice behaviors in trying to figure out the actions of people in both individual and group settings.

Researchers found that mice addicted to nicotine would ignore food, rest and even sex before they gave up their jolt of the drug. The Food and Drug Administration used these tests in their war against Big Tobacco, but, as with mice, there is no short supply of addicted people matching the profile of these addicted rodents.

The only difference is that the people have a choice.

While addiction is a serious problem, it is an individual problem, albeit with societal side effects. A more onerous problem comes when you begin packing rats into tighter and tighter places.

The crowded conditions are meant to mimic tenements, overcrowded prisons and classrooms packed with wall-to-wall desks. The results in the rodent world are astoundingly similar to how humans react to the stress of just too many bodies in too small a locale.

Rats actually form alliances that grow into gangs. These gangs attack lone rats and battle with other rodent gangs for supremacy.

Gangs remain the largest problem in prison populations and are endemic in large facilities packed with two or three times the population they were designed for. G

angs in inner city schools and even on otherwise isolated Indian reservations display the same behavior.

Sometimes state legislators members of congress exhibit antics that fit this mold. It all seems to be about property, ownership and power.

Those last three words are the hallmarks of people with too much authority and too much time on their hands.

Nobel Prize winning author William Golding's classic "Lord of the Flies" describes the mania that comes when individual welfare takes precedence over the good of the whole, but it does it with a twist in a group of marooned boys " boys who quickly succumb to every type of human vice associated with power.

Once again, legislative bodies, particularly those we deal with here in Wyoming come to mind.

What is it about human nature that creates monstrous demagogues in otherwise normal people when they get a little bit of power?

Fictional works abound in short stories, novels and in class television such as the "Twilight Zone." Neighbor turning on neighbor in a cloud of mass hysteria makes pretty good entertainment.

It is a sobering reality when we see this behavior go unchecked. Left alone, the worst that man can conceive begins goose-stepping, rounding up minorities, and preaching mythological, psychotic gibberish as fact. Yes, even laboratory mice can take on the same fascist mania that led to Nazi Germany and imperial Japan.

The grass was much greener in Poland in 1939 when the policy of lebensraum (living space) led to hundreds of Nazi tanks rolling across the border.

Whether mice or men, if what is mine is mine but what's yours is debatable comes to be, we're all in trouble.

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