THE BLOG

Prairie Voles and Politics

11/16/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Let us take a break from politics for a moment to consider the lowly vole. Turns out this small prairie creature is monogamous to a fault, doting parent, good provider - all the things we humans like to think we aspire to. And, it turns out, the male vole also gets really sad if he loses his mate.

In fact, scientists say the close monogamous relationships voles develop actually change brain chemistry, releasing a compound that increases loyalty but also causes depression if the vole is separated from his mate (they found this out by taking away the voles' mates and then killing them to dissect their brains, which would be enough to depress anyone). Anyway, researchers say this same compound, corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF), is also found in human brains, and they theorize it may provide some answers for treating depression in people.

Considering the state of Wall Street and the economy in recent weeks, we may all need a dose of something for depression. But I digress.

If voles feel fealty (I may be dipping too deeply into anthropomorphic description here, but bear with me) for a mate and sadness when that mate is gone, isn't that a good thing? If humans feel depressed when a spouse or significant other leaves, isn't that normal? Now I understand that depression can be clinical and debilitating, but a little sadness, grief, even, is good.

There's reason to be alarmed about a culture where extreme emotions require pharmaceutical treatment. Kids too wild? They must have hyperactive attention deficit disorder. Life throwing too many curve balls? Xanax works wonders.

Maybe, just maybe, the solution lies in simplifying things a bit. Do we have to possess all the latest toys and gadgets, the biggest house, the nicest car, the newest HDTV flat screen? Do our kids have to attend the finest schools, have iPods and laptops and iPhones? If having all of these modern niceties made us all nicer people, helped raise the fortunes of those less fortunate in some manner, or even managed to make our own lives less stressful, there may be something to say for having them. But I don't think so.

I think we are consumed by our own consumption, and all it does is drive a hunger for more. Perhaps it's time to slow down, cast off some of our attachments to things and find succor in relationships, community, and the simple pleasures of giving to others.
In less than three weeks we will have a new president-elect, and I hope he is the one candidate who throughout this campaign has called upon our better natures to make our nation a stronger, safer, more compassionate society. There is still much of the community organizer in him, which in my book is a good thing.

Let's make Barack Obama the Community Organizer in Chief. Then we won't need a new pharmaceutical for depression, and researchers can leave those poor voles alone.

Darn, I wasn't going to talk about politics...