Of mice and men – Choosing between fight and flight


Getting away with it, all messed up, that’s the living


Every animal that faces an enemy has but two choices: fight or flight.

However, man has developed three strategies to deal with the enemy since he became “human”:
Fight, flight or befriending him.

None of these strategies is effective enough, so the world is full of enemies.

But which is the best solution?


All humans descended from (the genus) Homo who migrated from Africa to Asia and then to the rest of the planet, even to the farthest island of the Pacific. Only the last 10,000 years Homo Sapiens settled and built towns.

But even then they continued to spread, to flee, perpetual nomads or – at least- dreaming of a little escapism during summertime.

Magic and religion are means of escape. Apart from prayers and meditatio, which offer “escapism”, there is the ultimate “holiday resort”, a veritable heaven, far away from the problems and adversities of reality.

People use substances which help them to “escape” from the moment they realized that the world is a cruel and/or boring place. Mushrooms and alcohol, roots and cannabis, moldy seeds and extracts of plants, every single civilization had trips of its own.

And, sure enough, the High Priests of Escape are the artists who, most of the time, live in their own world.


Every day man faces problems and enemies enclosed in the package of reality and life.
Most of the times, people choose flight over fight.

A survey in the USA revealed that only 12% of the population addresses the everyday problems in an aggressive way.

A 25% tries to escape, to break free through pleasure (alcohol, psychiatric drugs, gambling, food and sex)

A 15% feels trapped, but does nothing to change this.

A 28% is satisfied for “making it out alive at least”.

Only 20% are absolutely satisfied and believe they lead a balanced life.

In UK, a mere 18% has made complaints in a shop, while willing to do so, and a poor 2% has participated in a demonstration or a boycott.


Henrit Laborit, the man who introduced chlorpromazine medical treatment, claimed that flight is always the best solution.

Laborit measured the stress levels caused to mice, under very challenging conditions even for lab rats.

The first group of mice which were allowed to escape from the shock-therapy room, had normal blood pressure a week after the experiment.

The second group that included mice which could not escape, maintained high pressure even a month after the end of the experiments. These mice were losing weight, developed ulcer and were so shocked that would not leave the cage, even if they were free to go.

(Read also about Seligman’s experiments and learned helplessness Getting used to electroshocks; Seligman’s experiment)

In a third group, where mice were caged in pairs and could not escape, they reportedly began to fight with each other. Curiously, the group maintained normal blood pressure, despite the fact they underwent the same trials with the other groups.

Laborit concluded that fight and flight are the two effective means for avoiding stress.

But battle, even when successful, leads to addiction and competition-induced pressure.

Sooner or later the subject faces an enemy that it cannot defeat and subsequently channels aggression to itself, generating more stress.

Therefore, Laborit insists that the best solution is always flight.


Applying Laborit’s conclusions to society, we can better comprehend the behavior towards refugees, migrants and those who are left behind.

Countries such as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, as well as Greece and Spain, are “Electroshock Rooms”

The best way to survive and reduce stress is to escape in another “room”.

The “test-humans” who remain in the shock-room, either because they don’t want to leave, or they are unable or banned from doing so, are filled with stress.

And based on Laborit, which means do trapped rats use to reduce stress?

They fight with each other.

This battle can be real (with guns the Experiment Leaders sell to the animals) or metaphorical.

By channeling your aggression to the other mice, you feel better.


Primary targets are mice which speak another language and believe in different gods: refugees, migrants and minorities.

Then the cannibalism extends towards mice of the same “race” as long as the aggression is channeled to someone you can beat.

A target might be, for example, homosexual mice, an ever-vulnerable minority.

Mice with different political beliefs, even though in the same boat  receiving the same shock, are fiercely fought against.

Mice that live in different cities of the same “room”, think of the north/south/foreigners/peasants, as enemies.

The public-sector mice are a love-to-hate enemy, since the Experiment Leaders use the media among other means to direct the aggression of the unemployed or private-sector mice against them.

The elderly mice are a suitable enemy too, weak and costly as they are unable to work and produce.

Drug addicts, the poor, the ill and mentally ill are equally dangerous.


It turns out that every rat you share the room with, is a potential enemy.

The trapped rats won’t turn against their arch-enemies, the real enemies, those who administer the electroshocks.

Not only because this fight is hard and requires selflessness and sacrifice, but mainly because they are convinced that the Experiment Leaders are invincible – if not Benefactors.


Theodore Zeldin, in his book “An Intimate History of Humanity”, opts for the third choice, “to love” the enemy, as opposed to fight and flight.

Personally, I find the word love an exaggeration, if not indefinable, especially when it refers to the enemy – or to the ones we hold close.

I prefer the term friendship, or alliance or understanding or affiliation instead of love, bearing in mind the perception of Confucius about human relations.

According to Confucius, parity exists only in friendship.


If you don’t mean to beat or avoid your enemy, the best thing is to see each other as equals.

Tolerance is a good start. It’s crucial since fanaticism, dogmatism and intolerance are the rule, but it’s not enough.

You must listen to your enemy, “understand” them, literally and metaphorically, and let them“understand” you.

Undoubtedly however, this third option, like compassion, is not common among the animals of our kind, at least not on a large scale.


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Translated by Alexandros Mantas

Edited by Irina Vlahaki


Photo by Dorothea Lange, California, March 1937, «Toward Los Angeles»

Inspired by the book: “An Intimate History of Humanity”, Theodore Zeldin