For Freedom of Bathroom
Science Fiction, by its nature, tends to travel some dark roads. None darker, I fear, than a single, disturbing question: Why Do We Matter?
Asimov put the issue in pretty stark terms during an interview with Bill Moyers on A World of Ideas in 1988. The exchange went like this:
Bill Moyers: “What do you see happening to the idea of dignity to human species if this population growth continues at its present rate?”
Isaac Asimov: “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, 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.”
As should be growing more and more evident the more you pay attention to the world, we have less and less ‘freedom of bathroom’ as time goes on. If you aren’t disturbed by this, you should be. If you hope there’s a way out of this without something terrible happening, you should be a fan of science fiction.
Let us be bluntly, terribly frank: if you or I or any other person on this planet were to die *right now* or, indeed, if any ten or twenty thousand of us were to die this very moment, the world would continue to roll along. In some cases there may be political implications, sure, or this or that company on the NYSE may trade up or down as a result. But, in the end, it won’t matter one bit. There are billions of us; a couple thousand barely makes a dent. Hell, a million won’t stop much. Ten million. Demographics may alter, but will the world be changed? Probably not. At least not in any substantive sense. If you think McDonalds will vanish because the population of Mississippi croaks overnight, think again. If you think Assad will cease to be ruler of Syria just because he kills 10,000 of his own people, you’re probably wrong (if he leaves/is deposed, it will be different reasons altogether).
Population pressure is a supremely terrifying reality, and it is growing. This isn’t the first time it’s done this, and thus far humanity has been ingenious enough to figure out a way out of it. When cities overgrew their capacity to provide food and water to their inhabitants, humanity developed aqueducts and sewer systems. When the prospect of employment or decent lives grew ever more improbable or impossible in this or that locale, humanity found other places to colonize. When food became scarce, humanity found ways to utilize food more wisely. But how much further can we push this?
The only sustainable way to escape this pressure cooker we call Earth without the deaths of untold hundreds of millions is to find somewhere else to go. Otherwise, the more of us there are, the less we matter. This isn’t a moral judgement , this isn’t apocalyptic doomsaying, this is math.
So, for God’s sake, fund NASA. Replace the Space Shuttle with something new and better. Get our butts to Mars. Build a colony on the Moon. Think it’s a waste of money? Well, I’m going to give you two choices: spend money to build new frontiers for humanity, or spend money to destroy our fellow humans when they come after our bathrooms. Your choice. I know what I’d prefer; I only wish more people preferred that.
Posted on March 12, 2012, in Critiques, Theories, and Random Thoughts and tagged Asimov, NASA, population growth, scifi, space exploration. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.
For italics, you wanna use HTML code, not BB code. Or just hit the I button. Or CTRL-I.
Oh, right. I was writing as though in a different medium. I’ll fix it. Temporary mind blank.
I enjoyed reading this. Definatley gave food for thought. Persoally I’d like to try to find better uses for different land. Reshape cities, Build Arcologies, Multipul story green houses. I’d rather find better ways and more sensible ways to use what we have. We can put a birth limit cap on us and alter it as we increase or decrease as a race. Could we not manipulate the top of a mountain to turn into a productive city? Could we not start looking to expand in places we haven’t tried yet. Underground, underwater, on top of the water. Maybe we could have floating farms (vggies and grain type stuff). Would it be possible to have gardens and crops in caves. I would like to work with other ideas before I run away. We have a marvoulous brain to come up wilth some awesome solutions. Has anyone even though about any of these idea. Before we say they don’t work we should give it an honest try first. I believe we have everything hear that we can use and that if we were ment to live on mars or the moon we would have started there in the first place.
All of these things have been suggested, yes, but they are stop-gap measures. Even if we *were* to do these things, all it does is postpone the inevitable, even provided it helps. The problem, you see, is not having places to live, but having places to live *in addition to* having enough resources and energy to support those people. This is dwindling quickly (exponentially, actually), and unless we’ve got a back -up plan (or are willing to entertain mass extinction events), we’re in trouble.