Actually, population growth is the greatest threat to humanity as a whole. But likely well before the effects of that consumes our human existence our country will fall victim to not so much over-population but rather an accelerated population growth. Likely it will be a combination of normal increases in the birthrate, an increase in life span longevity, and immigration. The effects of a burgeoning population will not necessarily translate into some Hollywood sci-fi of people barely able to move around, available real estate is all consumed, and cities are polluted. It is very plausible that we might be within 50-60 years of some kind of civil war to change the way we rule ourselves. It doesn’t mean the civil war need be violent or bloody like the last one (although it could be) but the growing issue will be the relevance of our Constitution as it was written by the Founding Fathers to the changing world around us.
One of the debated hot topics in the current election cycle is how our Constitution is interpreted. You have one side opting for a strict interpretation as-written and the other side preferring to interpret the Constitution as a “living document”; in an interpretive flux in order to adapt to changing social conditions. Obviously this makes the Supreme Court appointees’ political views one way or the other very important toward the side wanting the greater influence. Some justices might rule according to what the Founding Fathers might have meant at the time. Other justices might rule according to opinion that it is the spirit of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights that allows for a contemporary interpretation and legal application. The interesting part is that the Constitution itself contains the blueprint for changing it.. or not. I am guessing here, but I suspect that a simple amendment could terminate the Constitution altogether.
The Constitution provides that an amendment may be proposed either by the Congress with a two-thirds majority vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate or by a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of the State legislatures. None of the 27 amendments to the Constitution have been proposed by constitutional convention. The Congress proposes an amendment in the form of a joint resolution. Since the President does not have a constitutional role in the amendment process, the joint resolution does not go to the White House for signature or approval. A proposed amendment becomes part of the Constitution as soon as it is ratified by three-fourths of the States (38 of 50 States).
So, if Congress presents an amendment… “This amendment terminates the U.S. Constitution.” And it passes all the above requirements, then we can assume the amendment is passed and the country has no government; no Congress, no executive branch, no Supreme Court. Sounds pretty far-fetched. But what may not be so far-fetched is the idea that an increase in population will inherently change the needs of our society to govern itself. New social stresses and pressures will enter our daily lives as the things our neighbors do will begin to affect our lives, directly or indirectly, whether we like it or not. It will be a numbers game. Our rights, even if guaranteed by the existing Constitution, could very well be interpreted differently for the betterment of some future society. Freedom of movement could be severely restricted; auto travel restricted, increased mandatory use of automated public transportation. We all love our freedom of speech and the right to assemble. Because of a future of sheer numbers of people all moving within their own agendas, and a government trying to maintain public order, it’s not too far out to imagine free speech being tempered and our right to assemble limited. We are feeling this now with the internet and social media… the impact of a single post can have a world-wide impact on public reaction, good or bad. There is little time for government or law enforcement to react if it were necessary. Consider this happening now… our public parks, once considered accessible to everyone at anytime are even now limited to reservations-only, and restricted vehicular and foot traffic on and off the trails to reduce the environmental impact from all the visitors’ footprints. We can’t walk on certain public lands without getting a reservation to go there or a permit to stand there.
In another post on this blog I mention the Second Amendment. We are currently thinking of this sacred right in current terminology based on contemporary weaponry available to the public. The Founding Fathers never had semi-automatic weapons, magazine-fed weapons, rapid fire, armor piercing bullets. All they had were flintlock muzzle loaders that might be fired three times in one minute with practice. That was the state of the art when the Second Amendment was written. Yet we still debate this as if what they wrote was somehow some scripture from the gods. But let’s put that debate aside for a moment and think beyond. Move ahead 50-60 years from now and try and imagine what will constitute “arms”. Some form of ray gun? Phaser-like laser pistols that have endless ammunition (or power) capacity? Smart bullets capable of not missing their target? Essentially, mass devastation in your hand that will make even the worst early 21st century night club or theater terrorist attack look like a minor occurrence. This should amply illustrate that some of our rights need some healthy fine tuning to meet the future… whether it’s to address future population growth or changing technology.. or both.
As our population grows more and more, what we thought were guaranteed rights are being whittled down… or more to the point, interpreted more liberally (meaning restrictions for the public good), to meet changing social conditions. This is called political evolution. What about that civil war I alluded to at the beginning?
Much as the current political mood suggests, with its opposing sides favoring a more liberal or conservative interpretation of the Constitution, the future will likely see a breaking point; a social backlash when realization of the past freedoms seem to be vanishing. The pressure cooker will be the increasing population in the country at all levels. Will it be a social civil war or a fighting war? Well, the war will be between those wishing a return to the original Constitutional interpretation… and those who want a more contemporary status quo interpretation. It could go either way. Likely it will start with civil disobedience, ala the 1960’s.
What might we do to avoid this “civil war”? Realize it’s coming in order to survive. You can’t really avoid it given increased population is inevitable. Yes, nature can intervene with disasters, disease, foreign wars, and suddenly limited resources (like fresh water) that could moderate the population growth, but by and large population growth is inevitable as is the nature of man in adapting to it. Or maybe we begin a constitutional convention to begin talking about revision now. Why can’t WE be the founding fathers of the country’s next 250 years?
One possibility to try and stave off a future civil conflict is to begin now to revamp portions of the Constitution to be more explicit using contemporary terminology based more on the spirit of what the Founding Fathers intended. Doing this now rather than waiting 50 years when the crisis is in full swing will make for a better thought out document. But I don’t see this happening.
We can always hope that strain of mutant bacteria that was created (or evolved) when we all started using antibacterial hand soap, rises up and thins out the human herd a bit. We might be able to buy a few more generations of using the “old” version of the Constitution.
But it won’t happen in MY lifetime… so why worry about it now. Let future generations worry about ray gun control.