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Friday, June 23, 2017

Isaac Asimov on Democracy, Population, and Freedom of the Bathroom

By Nicholas Stix

A colleague just sent me the following succinctly brilliant observation by the late, legendary science-fiction writer, an important observation by M. Boyd Wilcox, and a third observation by anonymous writer.

1. The Population-to-Representation Ratio

Isaac Asimov said that democracy cannot survive overpopulation:

“It's going to destroy it all. I use what I call my bathroom metaphor. If two people live in an apartment, and there are two bathrooms, then both have what I call freedom of the bathroom, go to the bathroom any time you want, and stay as long as you want to for whatever you need. And this to my way is ideal. And everyone believes in the freedom of the bathroom. It should be right there in the Constitution.

“But if you have 20 people in the apartment and two bathrooms, no matter how much every person believes in freedom of the bathroom, there is no such thing. You have to set up times for each person, you have to bang at the door, ‘Aren't you through yet,’ and so on. And in the same way, democracy cannot survive overpopulation. Human dignity cannot survive it. Convenience and decency cannot survive it. As you put more and more people onto the world, the value of life not only declines, but it disappears. It doesn't matter if someone dies.”

[M. Boyd] Wilcox said,

“The original ratio (in Congress) was 1-30,000. Not only has our nation’s population increased over 270 times since the founding of the Republic. It would take 8,700 members of the U.S. House to restore that original ratio.”

2. I [my colleague] recently read somewhere that Western countries are currently too complex to be governed effectively, which contributes to the disintegration of representative government.

N.S.: My only quibble with Asimov is in his invocation of “democracy.” Democracy does not promise “freedom of the bathroom,” or any other freedom, save for the ability of a majority, or even a mere plurality of voters, to impose their will on the rest of the nation.

America was not founded as democracy, and although it has democratic elections, it has never been one. The U.S. Constitution, particularly the Bill of Rights, is undemocratic. If we were a democracy, the Bill of Rights would have long ago bit the dust. As it is, the Bill of Rights is presently on life support.

The brilliance of Asimov’s observation is in its powerful imagery, and in how it implicitly cuts across different political categories.

• It evokes the law—overpopulation requires all sort of laws and stealth law regulations of things that were formerly private matters;

• The environment, because we now have all sorts of waste disposal and water issues we didn’t previously have;

• Culture, because we have to transform our society from an individualistic to a collectivist one; and

• Morality, because moral standards lasting centuries, if not millennia will have to be jettisoned.

America was founded as, in Ben Franklin’s immortal words, “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

Can we?

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

:America was not founded as democracy, and although it has democratic elections, it has never been one."


Correct. A republic and not a democracy.

Anonymous said...

Asimov perhaps on the one of the greatest minds that ever lived? Probably so.