BOSTON — Very 10 years, the United States numbers its people. The goal is not to help the tax man, as Caesar Augustus intended at the dawn of the Christian era, but to apportion congressional seats. In a representative democracy, it's important to count the representees. Plus, government agencies thrive on census data.
But something in me, and many others I suppose, balks at being counted, at being a statistic. I guess it's because I cherish what I consider my uniqueness.
It's certainly why I like literature more than the social sciences, especially political science with its statistical sampling - 15 people vote in Oshkosh and the next senator of Wisconsin is predicted. No matter if it's accurate, I don't like it.
In fairness to data collection, who would want a traffic light where there is no traffic, and no traffic light at a busy intersection surrounded by new housing developments because no one counted the drivers.
So when I read Laurent Belsie's article (at right) on the 2000 Census and all its ramifications, I had mixed feelings: grudging agreement we have to do it; no small respect for the sheer size of the task; concern that everyone from every group be reliably counted.
And a chuckle.
In 1970, I was to mail in my census form stating where I lived. On that very day, I was moving from Denver to Albany, N.Y. I was in a Volkswagen Squareback somewhere in Iowa, having skidded off the interstate in an April snowstorm. I had no home.
The explicit instructions on the form said that if I did not have a residence, I was not to make one up. Just mail it in and a statistical variable was in place to account for my state of transition.
Neither Colorado nor New York got me on their rolls. In the '70s, I just didn't count.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society