Population Pessimism and Diminished Personal Freedom

Face it, if your Superbowl party includes a sofa that comfortably seats four people, and you have game snacks for four people, but two more people show up … Everybody has less room. Less popcorn. Less beer.

Those two extra people COST something to the others.

Further, if you lived on an island with sharply limited resources, in a situation where growing population had finally bumped up against those limits, you’d be forced by the situation to demand less for yourself, to work more closely with others to ensure everybody got their share of what remained (okay, unless you were content to be a bully and grab everything for yourself, with no thought to how many were going without). The situation would become less a matter of “my freedom” and more a matter of “What’s possible, or allowable, considering this limited environment?”

Increasing island population would cost something to everyone there.

We in the U.S. live in a rich society, and we tend to think — and talk — a LOT about our freedom and our rights as individuals.

But the thing is, we DO live on a island like that. It’s called Earth. And we are already in the thick of that population vs. resources event.

Doesn’t matter what we think or feel. What matters is the factual matter of the situation. The reality of what we face.

As we get farther into peak oil, peak water, soil depletion and agricultural limits, groundwater pollution (fracking, but also seepage from garbage dumps, etc.), global warming (rising sea levels, erratic weather and food insecurity), extinctions and invasive species, damage to the oceans, strategic mineral exhaustion, antibiotic resistance and the certainty of pandemics …

We’re going to be forced to realize that some large part of our concept of personal freedom may be something of a social luxury.

Hell, sometimes our own innovations place limits on us. The mass marketing of entertainment – movies, music, books – reduces individuality and discourages the broadest possible range of human thought. The surveillance society, ostensibly created to counter terrorist activity, but gleefully pursued for its own self, steals the right of privacy from all of us. Even our waste disposal (toxics, nuclear waste, etc.) degrades the safety of those living nearby.

So what happens to freedom in a world bumping up against real limits? What happens to individuality?

In our probably-diminished future, you will still be an individual, but you’ll be an individual with fewer innate rights – possibly even a LOT fewer – just by virtue of the situation: More people dividing up less stuff.

Happening already, isn’t it?

Beta Culture: The Poison of Stories
Gender Asymmetry, Again
Beta Culture: Beyond Veterans Day
Starbucks, Part Deux: Chasing the Red Dot