April 2007


You can tell an awful lto about a society from its garbage.

Traveling by train as a great way to see the country; not the coutnry we want to show off, but the coutnry as the country is. There's one thing you see an awfull lot of and that thing is garbage. You see country garbage. You see city garbage. You see industrial garbage and you see plain old home-grown trash. It's everyehwere.

Most times in the country, the garbage is pushed off into a back corner, or along a fence line. Old tires mix with a variety of plastic containers, shiny and rusty things, and unrecognizable square things covered in layers of vegetation. This is separate from the gaggle of old cars and trucks, with here ad there a school bus or big rig tractor. In towns you see small to large piles against the back fences of house yards. In cities, the banks running down to the tracks are covered in an almost continuous tilted river of refuse.

Every ten years, there's more garbage. Seems like just about everything you buy comes in more and more packaging. Every few years ther's another layer through to get into your food. My kids, when they were small, used to watch a video from PBS that had the refrain "You can't make nothing from something." All that stuff you bought with the stuff you really wanted to buy has to go somewhere.

Every now and again, I wander into some tourist shoppe and look at the tons of weird and ugly plastic crap they have for sale. Charactures of animals are popular. So are oddly out of scale representations of physical monuments. Of course, everything is made in China. I often wonder what the Chinese must think of Americans, who buy all this junk. And you know what happens to all of that stuff, eventually: it becomes garbage.

What does your garbage tell about you? Have look at your garbage and think through what you bought with it. How much did you pay per pound for the garbage you're paying to have hauled away?

We don't spend a lot of time thinking about our refuse. The preferred state of affairs is to be totally oblivious to our garbage. That's why people litter. That's why so many people fight having to recycle. It's a hassel. But we're resenting the wrong thing. We resent having to deal with the refuse, but we seldom think about the possibiltiy that we could choose to have less garbage by making different things that result in different garbage.

What is it about Americans that we can be so childish? When a child acts like this, we don't look the other way, we intervene and tell them that adults act differently. They do act differently one at a time, but in aggregate, we're four years old.

Of course, one thing I learned a long time ago: being intelligent is no defense against doing stupid things. Smart people do really dumb things all the time. But there's a difference between doing something stupid because you don't know any better and doing something dumb because you find it more convenient and pleasing not to think. Like our garbage, this congenital deliberate infantilism threatems to choke us right off the only planet we have.

Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.