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People. I think of Barbra Streisand. I think of crowds shopping at Christmas. I think of crowds at football games, and traffic on Manhattan streets leading to the tunnels in the late afternoon. I think of L.A.'s freeways. I think of whole systems of education created to deal first with Boomers and then Generation X then the Millennials.

When I was born there were 147 million people in the United States. Today there are 300 million. By 2050, unless something major disturbs the trend, there will be 395 million here in America.

If you believe in IQs, you know that no matter how many people there are the average IQ will, by definition, be 100. I don't really believe in IQ, because IQ is a terrible predictor of behavior. Other factors seem to play a considerable part, such as motivation. With the Stanford-Binet IQ test theoretically people would top out at some number and never exceed it. Because of this, our culture began to think of people as having some upper limit of intelligence, verbal and mathematical intelligence, that is, not musical or caring or theatric or sports or craftmanship intelligence. When you have a culture that has a bell-shaped curve of people who are, on average, average at verbal skills and average at arithmetic, then you have a lot of average people if the population is 300 million.

That's what we have. But some say, we have a population in the United States that is smarter than the population a hundred years ago. We have learned some important lessons and not learned other lessons despite the beatings we took on battlefields around the world and in the trenches of the Great Depression. But, we are now a population that understands the uses and abuses of the internet, the good things and bad things about our food industries, the goals and inconsiderations of corporations, the ways of politicians and civil servants. We have been trained and tutored and formally educated to fit into the society that evolved out of the industrial revolution.

Some of us are here only because of the evolution of society. Our parents would have died before we were conceived but for penicillin or polio vaccine or seat belts or some other improvement in techology or medical practice. Some of us are alive now because our parents had the idea from their parents' culture that lots of children create a good domestic work force and show parental prowess and wealth. Some are here because the federal government was understood to be subsidizing procreation by giving AFDC moneys to children's parents. Some of us are here because our parents were too stupid to know better or because they did not care whether we had advantages they did not when they were children. Some of us are insane. Lots of us are unhappy with the way the world is, and we don't know what to do about it.

Lenin (and probably others) said: "After a while quantity has its own quality." Last week in America we passed that 300 million people milestone and are whirring along to the next marker along the way. What will our Quality be? What will be the effect of so many people in such a rich and consumption-oriented society? How will America change because of soon being a third of a billion strong?

Global warming is a result of two things: population pressure on the biosphere and use of technologies that are inappropriate for increasing numbers of people. Ironically, global warming may contain within its processes the automatic regulating mechanism, the governor, that will trim us back world-wide. America will feel some of this, but at first it will not be directly affected by mass starvation in Africa and Asia. We will be thanking our lucky stars that we are so well-organized that our unique civilization has cushions to protect us from climate change. Well, that's wrong! If the Sahara and Gobi Deserts expand then the desert regions of North American can expand, too. If now fertile regions become unplantable in Asia, then the great American bread basket from Nebraska to Ohio can be destroyed, as well. And there goes our country down the well-known tube. If the central valley of California goes, your dinner plate is going to look a lot more like beans and less like fried chicken and mashed potatoes with gravy. America is not applying the population pressure on the biosphere yet, but by consuming 25% of the world's energy resources using inappropriate technology we are the major source of pressure creating global warming. People in other countries who are severely affected in the next few years are going to begin to resent us ... all 300 million of us.

"Earth's great treasure is the human personality." This is a part of the motto of Jaycees. I was astounded that such a boosterish, sometimes "average" group of people could understand something this profound. Their creed nevertheless makes me wonder if there is a limit to the fund of goodwill we have for members of our species such that as the populations grows our personal share of the general goodwill contracts? Judging from my mid-sixties I would say yes. We still hold dear some of the old traditional views of the value of an individual human being, but even in my lifetime there has been a growing sense that some people are expendable.

When I talk to conservatives about welfare or Iran or Katrina or avian flu or any of the conditions of man and the hazards of existence I hear from conservatives the idea that some people are already written off. A preacher in fabled Riverside County California harangued his audience at my friend's funeral ten years ago with this. He said, "There are those who take the lord Jesus into their hearts; the rest are trash." I confronted him after the service and found that, to my utter surprise, this was the backbone of his teaching. Somehow this "Christian" had come to the notion that he could write off 65% of the world population. I think this was partly because he has no idea how many 6.5 billion people is. It only takes a quarter billion people standing on one another's shoulders to reach the moon. I think it was partly because he knows nothing of the world, except that which he takes on faith. He is obviously an idiot.

People look at the "welfare mess" and throw up their hands. God, they say, that woman they high-lighted in the Chicago projects they are tearing down had fifteen children! Soon their imaginations run away with that number and all welfare mothers suddenly have fifteen. It is part of the process of writing these people off. The arithmetic is too big, we cannot handle these large numbers, they become meaningless, and we collapse mentally under them. We give up and begin to write precious people off.

Precious, some will ask? Yes, precious. Those soldiers in North Korea ready to rain down destruction on Seoul are all sons and daughters of their mothers and, although they are fierce warriors now, in a few years they will mature into frightened middle aged people, too afraid to change, but fully cognizant of the peril and the horror they may have already created. In Tehran there are a million children whose only vice is that they were born in Iran to Iranian parents, attended Iranian schools, and will perish suddenly and painfully when Cheney and Rumsfeld rain down thermonuclear destruction on them to settle a score with fewer than two hundred and fifty people in that country.

Yes we are 300 million now, but are we really smarter? If there are 300 million of us, then don't the statistics say there will be more people with good sense. Yes, that is possible, but will they act?


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James R. Brett, Ph.D. taught Russian History before (and during) a long stint as an academic administrator in faculty research administration. His academic interests are the modern period of Russian History since Peter the Great, Chinese (more...)

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