We Americans are just too darned sophisticated. We've been to too many places, we've seen too much. You can't excite us anymore.
Tell us the world population is about 6 1/3 billion, and we yawn. Tell us the U.S. population is about 292 million (compared with 130 million when I was born 71 years ago), and we say, "So what?"
Overpopulation -- on our roads, in our cities, in our states, in our nation -- is somebody else's worry. Our kids will figure out how to deal with it. Shucks, by the time it becomes a real problem, we'll be traveling by time machine to distant planets as yet undiscovered. Relax.
Same with global warming (more than 3,000 dead so far from this year's heat wave in France, the arctic ice cap on schedule to melt away within the next hundred years). Our president knows how to deal with problems like that: "Who cares what the bureaucrats think?" That's his attitude. God will take care of us.
What will be, will be. C'est la vie.
Then there's the Oct. 7 recall election in California. It doesn't rank up there with overpopulation, but there is a connection. It has to do with the Curse of Bigness.
In the old-fashioned one-room schoolhouse, all the kids knew each other. In today's mega-complex school factories, even the teachers don't know each other. That's an example of the Curse of Bigness. It's the dehumanization factor. It's what puts our kids in starter jackets or anything else with an identifying logo on it.
The Curse of Bigness is what drives us nuts when we go shopping and can't find a salesperson. If we're lucky, we can find a cashier -- at the other end of a line of impatient customers. The stores are huge, but all the jobs have been dummied down so a few underpaid humanoids can handle them.
The Curse of Bigness is everywhere these days, including in our recall election.
In elementary school, we learn how the American colonists resented being ruled from far-off England. Decrying taxation without representation, they threw tea into Boston Harbor to protest England's tea tax.
The colonists felt impotent. There was nothing they could do. The Boston Tea Party was mostly a demonstration to vent their anger.
Today, in the United States of America, that same sense of impotence permeates the culture. We in California are ruled by men (and a handful of women) in far-off Washington; they don't seem to care about us.
Los Angelenos are ruled by the politicians in Sacramento; the people in San Francisco's Sunset District are ruled by the wheeler dealers at City Hall.
A good many of us feel we have no voice, which may very well account for the popularity of talk radio. Even at that, we consider ourselves lucky if we "get in." In print, we're lucky if we can get a letter to the editor published.
Nobody listens to us. Nobody seems to care.
In San Francisco, during the height of the dot-com boom, the mayor managed to find jobs for more than 1,000 sycophants outside the civil-service system. Nobody blinked. Every year, the huge, unrealistic overtime salaries of ordinary city employees -- cops, firefighters, school janitors, stadium groundskeepers, Muni drivers -- are published in the press, and nobody blinks, because the corruption in city government is rampant and nobody in power seems to care.
Our esteemed chief of police, at the height of a police scandal, suddenly becomes so ill with hypertension (wink, wink) that he has to go on indefinite medical leave -- and walk with a cane when he's seen in public. No doubt he has high blood pressure, but one wonders if it's such a virulent strain that it can't be controlled with daily medications, the way most of us control our hypertension while we continue our normal daily activities.
The topper is when the 65-year-old chief announces he's going to take a disability retirement, which pays better than a regular retirement. He'll get 90 percent of his $188,778 annual salary.
Those of you slogging away at $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 a year will be happy to know where your hard-earned tax dollars are going. It ain't project chicks on welfare.
Corruption is rampant throughout our political system. Our governor got big, fat political contributions from the state's powerful prison guards' union, and in return the guards got nifty pay increases, while other public employees didn't.
If you think that makes Gray Davis a bad man, think again. His predecessor, Pete Wilson, did exactly the same thing. Bribes in, payoffs out. It happens all over California, and, one must assume, in most other states.
You and I are powerless to do anything about it. NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw regularly does a feature about government waste called "The Fleecing of America," and even that kind of exposure brings mixed results. If a voice as powerful as NBC can't get results, what chance have we?
(Locally, The Chronicle does a daily feature called "Chronicle Watch" in which it exposes annoying little problems that the powers-that-be seem uninterested in fixing. That does get some results -- but in another era, a phone call from an irate citizen would have worked just as well. Now, it takes a powerful newspaper to get action on what should be routine problems.)
Last week, the Curse of Bigness struck big time when the power went out in huge chunks of the United States and Canada. Not only were citizens unable to do anything about it but their local power companies were impotent, too. Decisions -- and repairs -- were made God knows where by God knows whom.
(And, interestingly, we were told nobody knew the cause of the problem at the same time we were being assured no terrorism was involved.)
It's that feeling of impotence, caused by the Curse of Bigness, that keeps people away from the polls. Last November, fewer than half of eligible California citizens voted in an election in which neither of the major candidates had our respect.
Now, we're preparing to elect a man as governor who should instead be given a pair of Speedos and a set of full-length mirrors and sent on his way. Arnold is big and tough (so long as nobody is fighting back), and he claims to be an outsider, a "man of the people," so we're preparing to gamble on him.
We'll probably elect him, because we're frustrated and angry and feeling impotent, and we have nowhere else to turn. Career politicians have made a mess of our state. Maybe it's time to gamble on the amateurs.
But we should know in advance that no single officeholder can straighten out the financial mess in our state. The Curse of Bigness has done us in. The men and women holding office in Sacramento are not accountable. They don't care what you think in Yreka or Redding or La Habra Heights or Arroyo Grande. They care about their own careers and their parties, and who are you anyway?
Whether it's global warming, the power-grid failure or California's recall election, a good deal of what's happening today harks back to overpopulation. But what do we care? We have other things to worry about. How 'bout those Giants? Go Niners!
©2003 SF Gate