Diminishment by Numbers:
Being one of 260 million can drive you crazy
By Russel Baker
It was practically empty here in 1930, at least by
today's standards. I was one of only 123,202,624
people that year. No, that didn't make me a
contender, Charlie, but I was still somebody. One of
There's a Beatles song about a man depressed because
he suddenly finds he's only half the man he used to be.
I know that feeling. The population today is more than 260 million.
No longer one of only 123,202,624, I am now merely
one of more than 260 million. To put it baldly, I am now
less than half the man I used to be.
But wait, it gets worse. Here are the latest figures on the
motor vehicle population: As of 1995, there were 176 million
of these machines in the country.
Here is population explosion, indeed. The country now has 53
million more motor vehicles than it had people in 1930.
Even worse, the government reports that since 1969, the U.S. motor-
vehicle population has grown six times as fast as the human population.
In other words, the average couple producing three children during
that period also produced 18 cars, trucks, vans, sport utility vehicles and
These population figures explain a lot about why
so many of the country's worst problems are insoluble.
The effort to end political corruption, for
example, cannot succeed, no matter how many campaign fund- raising reforms
There are simply too many—far, far too many—people for traditional
political methods to work anymore. The last serious presidential candidate
who tried to shake hands with every voting American was Estes Kefauver in
1956. Even back then, he was dismissed as an antique.
significant number of voters requires modern
technology. Modern technology requires unlimited money.
People who want public office will raise that money
one way or another. If excessively scrupulous, they
are doomed to remain unheard of by millions of
voters and unelected. They are victims, poor devils, of our rollicking
Here is another product of the population boom: road rage. This
melodramatic term refers to the increasingly common tendency for a motorist
to drive dangerously when displeased with another motorist's driving.
Sometimes the displeased motorist may express himself with firearms or
demand satisfaction with bare knuckles.
A glance at the population figures affords the obvious explanation for
this irrational behavior. There are too many people in too many cars.
Drivers of Social Security age, whose numbers rise at a dizzying rate,
are old enough to remember the sweet peace of driving on a balmy Sunday
afternoon in 1930 when there were only 123,202,624 people on hand.
Each motorist was somebody—one of only 123,202,624. There were not
175,999,999 other cars on the road. There was elbow room. Drivers with
these memories in their bones naturally become testy when immersed in
today's endless stream.
In one short
lifetime, each has been whittled down to a trivial one in
more than 260 million. Now each is hemmed in by
175,999,999 motorized e xhaust-fume spewers.
smoldering rage, which is made worse by the sensible
fear that every other driver out there may be insane or
packing a gun.Younger drivers
Too inexperienced to be melancholy
about being whittled away by population growth, they
attack the highway as a great beast to be overpowered by
courage, daring, brutality and cunning.It is not
surprising that instinct for self- preservation
They are in the grip of psychic forces that cause breakdown in people
subjected to intolerable crowding.
Reduced to inconsequentiality in oceans of cars, the poor wretched young
driver subconsciously feels his identity being ceaselessly eroded by
ever-swelling hordes of humans and cars.
Often these sufferers can safely discharge their rage by shouting
Lately, I have twice been verbally roughed up, once by a woman, once by a
man. Each shouted the same trite epithet involving reproductive and
alimentary-canal systems. Has overpopulation also put an end to
Copyright, 1997, N.Y. Times News Service