From prosperity to despair

Subhash Kak
5 min readApr 28, 2024

This is Part 4 of The Coming Population Collapse

The fertility rate is falling everywhere but in rich societies it has crashed much below the replacement rate. Does modern prosperity, which comes from a lifestyle that alienates people from nature, lead to the death of the spirit, and is it a driver to population collapse?

The spirit is experienced in terms of many intangibles related to meaning and value that the academy negates and it doesn’t figure in the policy decisions being made by governments, even though the role of the spirit is fundamental.

For example, recent research has found that spiritual well-being has a strong negative correlation with end-of-life despair. In particular, the ability to find an overarching meaning — even at the end of life — was protective against the development of hopelessness, the desire for a hastened death, or thoughts of suicide.

Calhoun’s Universe 25

A famous experiment of biologist John Calhoun over fifty years ago supports the idea that the size of a population doesn’t depend only on outer prosperity. His colony of mice, once as large as 2,200 individuals, faded away and died when it lost the will to live.

He took eight mice and put them in a large pen, with plenty of food and water and 256 separate apartments, which were accessible via mesh tubes bolted to the walls. The first pups were born 3.5 months later, and the population doubled about every 55 days (Phase B, explosive growth).

Eventually this growth slowed, and beginning at Day 315 and continuing for 245 more days, the population grew at a much slower rate, doubling every 145 days (Phase B, slow growth, stagnation). For some more time, the population continued to climb, peaking at 2,200 mice during the 19th month, and then it went on an inexorable period of decline and eventual death (Phase D, decline and death).

Life and death in Universe 25 (Calhoun, 1973)

Mice have social hierarchies, with dominant alpha males controlling harems of females. In the real world, the mouse who can’t compete moves off to a distant place to start over. Since there was not a place to go, these losers that Calhoun called “dropouts” just gathered in the center of the pen and did nothing and indulged in senseless fights and violence. Even alpha males, who kept their harems in private apartments, suffered because of the frequency of challenges from hotshots and some got exhausted and stopped defending their places.

Apartments with nursing females were regularly invaded by rogue males forcing the mothers to fight back. The continuing violence was to the detriment of the young, and some mothers simply abandoned their places. Increasingly, mice in such conditions became neurotic, and many females began isolating themselves like hermits in empty apartments.

Many mothers pushed out their youngsters from the apartment early, before they were ready. Some mothers even panicked and attacked their own young.

Neurotic males took to grooming all day. Calhoun called them “the beautiful ones.” Although they obsessed over their appearance, they had no interest in courting females, and no interest in sex. Calhoun had noticed in other experiments that such neurotic behavior could spread like a contagion, and he called this phenomenon “the behavioral sink.”

With the new generations drifting to asexuality, the birth rate fell and as the females were unable to raise pups properly, the infant mortality shot up. The population of Universe 25 began to decline. By the 21st month, newborn pups rarely survived more than a few days and soon new births stopped altogether.

By Day 1588, the inexorable decline had brought the population down to 27 (23 females and extremely old 4 males, the youngest of which was over 987 days old). Calhoun estimated that the last male would be dead on Day 1780.

The colony died even though it had plenty of food and comfortable accommodations. The fertility rate had fallen rapidly for psychological reasons and not for any adverse environmental factors.

Lessons for humans

Is the contemporary collapse of the fertility rate amongst humans similar to the one that took place in Calhoun’s colony? If that is so, are we in the latter part of Calhoun’s Phase C, with the danger of slipping into Phase D.

There are uncanny parallels of our story with human society. Both males and females are increasingly exhibiting neurotic behavior like Calhoun’s mice. Examples of this are the widespread drug and social media addictions, homelessness, and gratuitous violence of American cities.

Western establishment’s embrace of unrestricted illegal migration and DEI protocols diminishes white people and it is like the abandonment of apartments and their young by nursing mothers in the mice colony.

Both males and females are falling into Calhoun’s behavioral sink for social media amplifies mimetic desire as we do not autonomously decide on the objects of our desire; rather, we desire what others desire because we imitate their desires. This explains the contagions of transgenderism and narcissism.

John Calhoun’s NIMH experiment

The larger lesson that Calhoun drew from his experiment was that if a society does not offer opportunities for role fulfilment of sufficient complexity, violence and disruption of social organization will follow. “Just as biological generativity in the mouse involves this species’ most complex behaviours, so does ideational generativity for man. Loss of these respective complex behaviours means death of the species.”

The rejection of free thought, negation of biological sex in favor of fluctuating gender identity, gratuitous violence in cities, colleges, and schools in the United States indicates that we might be getting close to Phase D of Calhoun’s Universe.

Death is hardwired into life. Modern societies are like Calhoun’s Universe for they focus on physical welfare and don’t incorporate an experience of death in life.

Life is not only morality and duties (D: dharma), material progress (A: artha), desires and enjoyment (K: kama), but also the experience of freedom (M: moksha). It is this weaving together of freedom in our lives that inoculates us from thanatos (the desire for physical death) and keeps our spirit alive. Western societies don’t have liberation as a component of the template for life and individuals feel adrift and lacking in agency.


J.B. Calhoun, Death squared: the explosive growth and the demise of a mouse population. Proc. Roy. Soc. Med. 66 (1973)


Part 2: The coming population collapse — part 2

Part 3 — The coming religious war in Europe and how it may be avoided