“It is the sheer overcrowding, such as occurs in the business sections of Manhattan five days a week and in Harlem, Bedford-Stuyvesant, southeast Bronx everyday—sheer overcrowding is converting New Yorkers into animals in a sink pen” (Wolfe 2). This is what Dr. Hall claims in Tow Wolfe’s essay O Rotten Gotham. It is a bold and relatively harsh claim about the living conditions of the people in New York, but as a doctor, he knows what he is talking about. Overcrowding seems to have a devastating effect on animal species, including humans. The effect on humans is yet to be proven, but animals have proven to react similarly as humans most of the time.
There is good reason to believe this theory because my firsthand experiences on busses and trains during rush hours have proven to be really stressful.The Sink Pen“The Sink Pen” is mentioned in the essay numerous times. As one may observe, the first letters of the words are capitalized. This means that the term is considered to be a proper or a specific noun, coined by experts in ethology. It is peculiar for a doctor of anthropology to relate humans to lab rats; a stereotypical scientist would be much more believable if he or she were to make this claim.
The doctor is even quoted saying “the floor was filled with the poor white humans running around” (Wolfe 1). It may be a racist statement, but he may have just said that to relate even more humans to lab rats which are predominantly white in color. The doctor made the comparison after seeing the “scurry” of humans in Grand Central during rush hour on a Friday afternoon.What the doctor means is that the crowded spaces of New York have thrown the city “into a state of behavioral sink” (Wolfe 1). The doctor explains that the term “sink” is used in ethology, the study of animal behavior, and that animals in this situation suffer from “population collapse,” in other words, mass decline in population or even extinction (Wolfe 1).
The doctor further explains his theory that all animals have minimum space required to live healthy lives, that even if there is an abundance of food, or even if they are at the top of the food chain, species that experience overcrowding “just die off” (Wolfe 1). The doctor’s theory is based on a study by John Calhoun regarding lab rats that experience overcrowding. The rats behaved erratically and complications rose significantly.
Overcrowding raises stress levels of animals and humans causing a lot of physical and psychological damage.The doctor has every right to formulate a theory about the effects of overcrowding to the humans; it is what he does. Although it not a proven theory yet, I believe that the doctor is right. Sometimes, things are obvious enough that we do not need scientific data to prove it. It makes a lot of sense to claim that people get stressed out a lot in confined spaces with a lot of different people—who wouldn’t? Traffic Jam, rowdy people, and claustrophobic atmosphere are the perfect concoction for stress. I often find myself in similar situations like the people in Grand Central, rushing to go home after a long and tiring day or in traffic jam where a turtle could literally outrun the bus I am riding.
As if those situations are not stressful enough, I encounter along the way people who are not mindful of others around them, pushing, shoving, and talking loudly on the phone; I even encounter people with bad hygiene. All of these add to the stressful day of going around a crowded city.Overcrowding means less space to move around and more chances of encountering people who contribute to stress. Dr.
Hall has related the stressful lives of New Yorkers to lab rats that experience the same situation. The comparison he has made is eerily similar, though not yet proven. Nevertheless, he has provided strong evidences that make his claim believable.Works CitedWolfe, Tom.
O Rotten Gotham.