Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The Tipping Point of Terror

How many times have you heard someone casually toss out this question: "Are there really more gay people or does it just seem that way?" Usually, the responses fly back and forth, ranging in veracity from the utterly ridiculous to the somewhat plausible. My answer, however, is always the same:

Yes. Of course there are more gay people.

The reason there are more gay people, however, is not due to some dark, cabalistic conspiracy to steal your children and train them in the arts of homoerotic lifestyles. It has nothing to do with environment or genetics, either. The plain, simple reason there are more gay people is that there are simply more people in general. If you take a percentage of say, seven per cent of the population as being gay, then you naturally would find -- in real numbers -- more gay people in America's current population of 300 million than you would in, say, 1910, when its populace numbered closer to 100 million.

Sounds simple, doesn't it? That's because it is simple. Simple math. In the early 20th century, there might have been 7 million gay people; in 2010, that number would probably be closer to 21 million.

Our society is built on an economic system of enterprise in which growth is an essential element. Without growth, markets can't expand and the quantity of consumers stagnates. So to the American economy, specifically that of its human population, growth is a good thing.

But that growth comes at a huge social cost.

When a population is small, its social values are created, upheld and enforced by popular consensus. Let's face it: America's founding fathers left England because they wanted to live in a place where they could live by their own standards. It pretty much worked, as it always does in the initial phases of social creation: The smaller the group, the stronger its members' adherence to its morals and ethics.

But that usually doesn't last very long.

Unfortunately, while growth is the archangel of economic engines, it happens to be the arch enemy of social conformity. The larger a population grows, the more differences evolve among its members. A small group of homogenous English refugees, for example, rapidly morphed into a nation of millions, which in a century's time saw its differences culminate in The War Between the States.

Combine population growth with a capital-driven economic engine and something else happens over time: Its small criminal element begins to grow alongside all that prosperity. Even if criminals and/or terrorists were to represent only two percent of a population, in 2010, that would translate to something like six million criminals and/or terrorists in America alone.

But let's say I'm wrong. Let's say that criminal percentage is lower. Much lower. How about, um, one half of one per cent? That would make the count in 1910 roughly fifty thousand hard core criminals/terrorists. By 2010, however, that number would have grown to 150,000.

Why does that matter? Because when you look at the absolute numbers, you find an interesting phenomenon: In the early stages of growth, when a population is very small, its criminal element - in real numbers - is also very small. Which means criminal acts are rarer, which in turn creates the perception that those criminal acts are anomalies. At some point, however, the real number of criminals rises until their activity ceases to be an anomaly. There are simply too many criminals. There numbers are too large; their crimes become so regular as to no longer shock us.

Put them all together and what you've got is a world whose population has grown so large that its rebels, rejects and revolutionaries abound in numbers too big to ignore. They own a place in society because there simply too many of them now. And that means only on thing:

The old social rules no longer apply: These guys are here to stay.

Ours is no longer the safe, small world it once was. It never will be again. But not because one day some civilian airliners dive-bombed some skyscrapers or a suicide sociopath strapped some dynamite to his chest. The simple truth is that there are just too many people. And while terrorists as a percentage of the population may remain the same, their real numbers have grown alongside the rest of the world's population.

In real terms, our vulnerabilities may not be due as much to cultural and economic differences as they are to simple math.