SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Column: Commentary

Curse of Big Cities



February 10, 2020
Monday PM

(SitNews) - My water heater stopped working during a cold freeze. I planned for a cold winter after moving into my house last winter and experiencing the joys of frozen water, a broken water pump, and a broken water heater that all froze because the previous owners didn't do a good job winterizing.

jpg Arthur Martin

“Not this year!” I proclaimed to myself as I spent the summer of 2019 saving up money and redoing the pipes under my house and boxing everything in with insulation. Meticulously, finding (most) of the air gaps that could freeze the pipes and filling them with expandable foam and installing a heat lamp. When the winter finally hit I triumphantly gloated to myself (how 'umble of me!) as my neighbors water all froze and I still had mine...

Until, my water heater stopped working.

What good is running water if you can't take a hot shower? Turns out it's still better than nothing, however, the problem that I ran into is that because I don't live in a city and instead live in “The Middle of Nowhere, Alaska” I can't JUST go buy a new water heater. The water heaters that are sold here on Prince of Wales start at $1K and they aren't the same on-demand water heater brand that mine is, which means that if I wanted to fix my water ASAP, I would also have to completely redo the vent system in the house, of all which costs big money and lots of time!

“Why am I reading so much about water heaters?” you may be thinking, “when the name of the article is Curse of Big Cities?

Good question!

If I lived in a big city and rented chances are I would never have issues with a water heater and if I did, I would call the landlord and let them worry about the headache for me, while reserving the right to complain daily hourly as progress on my water situation wasn't progressing to my liking.

Living in a city is so much easier!

Even if I DID own my own house in a city, I could go on Amazon and have a new water heater delivered to my doorstep in less than 24hrs and not have to pay retail prices at some mom-n-pop shop.

Living in a city is so convenient!

Even if I my water did break in a city, I could just drive or Uber to a gym a few minutes away and take my showers there while I hired someone else to fix my water.

Living in a city has options!

Easy, convenient and full of options, i've been tempted to live the 'city life' on more than one occasion and may be tempted again in the future. Every time, I get tempted I think of the mouse-utopia experiment and how many of my friends and acquaintances suffer daily from the curses of ease, convenience and options—never fully realizing they are animals pent up and suffering.

The Mouse Utopia Experiment:

“Back in the 1950s, Dr. John Calhoun of the National Institute of Health in Washington DC performed a unique experiment called the Mouse Utopia Experiment. This later came to be known as Behavioural Sink. The purpose of this experiment was to study not just the population growth but its effects on individual behavior as well.

Dr. Calhoun along with his researchers found that in an environment with limited space but unlimited resources, the population of the animals under study would first explode then peak-out and in the end collapse to extinction. Even after repeating the test a number of times, the same results were observed. The reason for such an outcome was found to be derived from social decay and as the population increased, the social decay only worsened with each new generation. This led to unrest in the environment, which in turn led to sub-replacement fertility.” (1)

“Universe 25 started out with eight mice, four males and four females. By day 560, the mouse population reached 2,200, and then steadily declined back down to unrecoverable extinction. At the peak population, most mice spent every living second in the company of hundreds of other mice. They gathered in the main squares, waiting to be fed and occasionally attacking each other. Few females carried pregnancies to term, and the ones that did seemed to simply forget about their babies. They'd move half their litter away from danger and forget the rest. Sometimes they'd drop and abandon a baby while they were carrying it.”
“The few secluded spaces housed a population Calhoun called, "the beautiful ones." Generally guarded by one male, the females—- and few males — inside the space didn't breed or fight or do anything but eat and groom and sleep. When the population started declining the beautiful ones were spared from violence and death, but had completely lost touch with social behaviors, including having sex or caring for their young.” (2)

We wrongly believe that because we have on-demand water heaters, cellular devices that can talk to men in space, and modern conveniences that shelter us from storms and cold weather that we are immune to biology and evolution. I remember driving on the interstate several years ago and getting stuck in rush hour on a four lane road with a mile of break lights in front me and thinking to myself, “where is everyone going? Why is everyone in a hurry?” At first I was amused and as the “rush hour” turned into “rush hours” I became agitated, stressed and angry. It was at that moment that I promised myself I would never live in a city because cities are cursed.

All the conveniences and luxuries come at a heavy price...stress and crowding. Talk to any practicing psychiatrist and they will tell you stress is what causes the biggest mental and physical block in people. Often, that “stress” is triggered not by bad weather or broken hot water heaters but by failing to meet the expectations of other people. Expectations at work, expectations with friends, expectations with loved ones—it never ends. Now expectations and stress aren't a uniquely urban vs rural phenomenon it happens to everyone, everywhere and at anytime. The difference however between my rural friends and my urban friends is that we can escape society and go to the lake or the woods and relax...they can't.

This ability to relax, get away from people and refresh your mental state is critical for inspiring our artistic intellect and regain our sense of humanity, something that our mouse friends weren't able to do and ultimately led to their extinction.

Which brings me to my water heater, it’s inconvenient that it broke and even more inconvenient that I have to pay a small fortune to replace it. However, if having a heater break on me every winter is what it takes to live a stress free life in the “Middle of Nowhere, Alaska” and away from crowded cities, then I would take it every time.



Arthur Martin ©2020

Arthur was born in the Soviet Union and immigrated legally to Alaska when he was young. He graduated from Craig, Alaska. Holds a Bachelor's Degree from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and worked for the Alaska State Legislature for three sessions.

Arthur now lives on Prince of Wales Island. He can be contacted at - This column has been edited by the author.

Arthur Martin is the Editor of the P.O.W. AK Report


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