Millennium Mouse  

An Ecological Parable

 - by Christopher Michael Langan


There is a tiny cabin in the northern woods.  Because it is tiny, it is easy to heat during the long, cold mountain winters.  But because it is so warm and cozy, it is also a good winter abode for the mice that live in the surrounding hills.  Each winter, a pair of mice finds a way into the cabin and makes a home there.  If they were able to exercise good judgment, these mice would remain as unobtrusive as possible, taking a few stray crumbs and tidying up after themselves so as not to arouse the suspicion and ire of their hosts.  Life would be warm and comfortable atop a ceiling beam over the potbelly stove, and enough crumbs would fall from the homeowners’ plates to sustain their tiny guests.  In fact, these little guests could even take pride in helping to keep the floors clean!  They would live modestly until spring approached, have a single litter of pups, and then exit with their new family into the wide world outside the cabin as soon as the weather permitted.  That way, when the coast was clear six or seven months later, those who had survived could use their old entranceway under the eaves and get cozy for another winter. 

Unfortunately, this is simply not the nature of mice.  First one pair comes in.  Then another, and another.  They begin to fight for territory, screaming at each other in the wee hours and sometimes even awakening their hosts.  Soon, they are scrounging hungrily from table to stove to countertop, eliminating their bodily wastes even where the food that sustains them is prepared and served.  Meanwhile, they breed copiously in nests made of materials torn from the private possessions of their hosts, wreaking havoc on bedding and furniture.  Before long, the cabin undergoes a population explosion of filthy, destructive, combative little beasts that boldly rob their hosts right under their incredulous noses, urinating and defecating in the food supply to boot.  And their hosts, being left with no choice, retaliate by setting a lethal gauntlet of spring traps, glue strips and poison bait.  Mouse Armageddon ensues, and a pile of tiny bodies accumulates under the window. 

In considering the self-destructive behavior of mice, human beings silently congratulate themselves on their superior judgment.  “Mice are stupid to behave so injudiciously,” they think.  “If these mice just went easier on us, we might be able to tolerate them.  But since they lack the intelligence to see this, we’ll simply have to keep trapping and killing them.”  On the basis of such thoughts, one might almost think that human beings were innately wiser than mice with regard to such matters.  But in this, one would be profoundly mistaken.  For the only thing that separates the planet earth from that tiny cabin in the woods is size, and the cumulative effect of mankind on the earth is every bit as disgusting, from an ecological viewpoint, as that of mice on a cabin.  

Being the evolutionary descendants of tiny mouselike proto-mammals, human beings are every bit as capable as mice of overpopulating, befouling and fighting over their living space, and there is no sane reason to think that the ultimate outcome will be any less unpleasant.  After all, a mouse can always scurry from one cabin to another in an emergency.  But when the earth is fouled beyond habitability, there will be no scurrying away from it, at least for the vast majority of us.  Like mice, we will be trapped here and exterminated.  And when that day comes, we will obviously not have our “superior intelligence” as a species to thank for it. 

  © 2000 by Christopher Michael Langan