Mensch and Ubermensch

Often I get the feeling that there are too many people in the world. I’m not talking about overpopulation. (There are 7 kids in my family. If I get married, I plan on having roughly the same amount. I don’t think the earth is overpopulated in the conventional sense of the term. No; for there to not be “too many people”, the population of the earth would have to be several orders of magnitude smaller.)

What I mean by “too many people” is that there seems to me to be too many people alive for any one life to really matter. Or at least, for any particular life to have much of a chance of mattering. Let’s do some quick math and see why. Say that out of everyone you have ever met, you are the most intelligent person. You’ve probably met a few thousand people (at least enough to judge whether they are your intellectual equal). So I’ll be generous – of a random group of ten thousand people, you are the Best. Of this group, the rest are mere mortals, but you are a Nietzschean Overman.

There are around six billion people in the world. 6,000,000,00 divided by 10,000 is 600,000. Even if you are the most intelligent person you have ever met, there are roughly six hundred thousand people who are at least your equal. Probably most are your superior. Not so Ubermensch now, are you?

Six hundred thousand people is a helluva lot. And only a very small number of them – at most, a handful of thousand – will actually be able to have a meaningful effect on the world. By this I mean something like write a book, or discover a scientific theorem, or prove something in mathematics, that will actually be remembered a hundred years from now. Even the most intelligent person you have ever met is unlikely to actually have an effect on much of anything.

That’s a kind of depressing thought.

And that’s what I mean when I say it sometimes feels like the world has too many people. If there were more like a few thousand, a few hundred thousand – then it might be bearable. It would then be within the apparent realm of possibility for someone to actually make a difference, if they merely had the skills – intellectual, physical, 1337 haxxor, whatever – to actually do so. As it is, though, the difference between an individual person’s circle of acquaintance and the size of the actual world is just too great. At least, it sometimes feels that way.

What should the response to this be? I really don’t know. Intellectually, the response is somewhat clear – but that doesn’t make it any less disconcerting.

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