We're Too Darn Big

For some years, in my newspapering days, I was a columnist. And no sooner did I start that opinion-giving gig than people tried to peg me.

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For some years, in my newspapering days, I was a columnist. And no sooner did I start that opinion-giving gig than people tried to peg me.

I was a liberal. No, a libertarian. How about liberaltarian?

I don't like being categorized. Unless you have a horse in the partisan race, and make your living like Rush Limbaugh or Al Franken, labels are confining, and inexact.

But if you have to know how I feel about things, here's one clue:

I hate big.

Big government. Big corporations. Big institutions. Big.

Big organizations dehumanize humanity. It's inevitable. They cannot function, otherwise.

In my own growing, crowded Maryland suburb—just this summer—local park police have launched a crackdown on dog owners; my wife and kids and I have been ticketed four times by the new traffic spy cameras; my alignment is shot from all the speed bumps; a bike and nature path is threatened by light-rail proponents; the swimming pools list dozens of regulations ("No running. No diving. No fun."); and smoking has been banned—even outdoors—on the community college grounds.

So I was sickened to see, in this morning's newspaper, the Census Bureau's new projection that the United States will have 439 million people at midcentury. That is roughly three times the 150 million people living here in 1950.

It has occurred to me, many times, that the right-wing reaction to the liberal politics of the late 20th century was at heart a reaction to the runaway growth that conservatives themselves encouraged. (Remember Jack Kemp railing against the "Malthusian pessimists" like Jerry Brown and Richard Lamm?) Business needed bodies. Birth control was sinful. The notion of limits was un-American.

But you cannot run a country of 450 million people with the simpler rules with which you govern a society of 150 million. Live-and-let-live gives way to regimentation. Highways get jammed, emergency rooms are flooded, and rules proliferate in a land with half a billion people and a billion cars and guns.

To avoid chaos, societies forfeit freedoms. Not to mention clean air and water, open ranges, and pristine national parks.

Yet the obvious answer—to regulate population growth by limiting immigration and encouraging birth control here and overseas—is itself seen, by conservatives, as some Orwellian limit on personal freedom, and by powerful institutions like the Roman Catholic Church as immoral.

So we plod on, mindlessly growing, squeezed and crowded, consuming like locusts and wondering why folks won't just leave us alone.