November 06, 2002

Litter: Following the Thread

Thanks to all for your thoughtful and helpful posts on littering. It is an issue that puzzles and concerns me, and I am glad to know there are others out there who struggle to understand this curious aspect of human behavior. It is hard for me not to be personally offended by littering on our road here, but not just there; like many of you, it is the blatant attitude of selfish disregard for others and for 'the land' that most aggravates me about those who litter. I am trying to condemn the litter without despising the litterer; a better understanding here may be helpful.

Some themes emerge from your replies, and I will attempt to lay those out for possible further discussion: (pardon my not giving specific attributions to each of you; I don't litter but I am lazy).

  • Several of you credited your parents, teachers, or the Scouts as teaching you that littering is wrong.
  • You have pointed out that dropping trash in a given spot is not due to lack of convenient recepticles. It is not something that only happens when there is no other place to throw your unwanted 'stuff'.
  • The theme of 'commodification' runs through several of your comments, and I think this is something worthy of further discussion.
  • There is some debate over whether littering is a class-associated behavior among the less educated, less wealthy, those with less control over life in general who don't see themselves as 'belonging' to anything outside themselves. Someone in an email described the insensitivity of a litterer, suggested that 'litterers are illiterate--that is, that they are unable to read the natural world.'
  • Some see littering as a defiant, rebellious act, with hostile, aggressive undercurrents, while others view it as totally mindless and value-neutral, a sign of lack of citizen-maturity to consider consequences of their actions on others, or especially in regard to an abstraction such as 'common land'.
  • The idea of stewardship versus ownership is mentioned by several, and I concur that the concept of 'entrustment' and maintaining an 'inherent integrity in all of creation', looking to the good of others, is an important concept for me. I view 'ownership' as a temporary priviledge and responsibility, a legal illusion, if you will, when it comes to land, things, even 'my' body and 'my' time. (And the Carter Family fades in..."This world is not my home, I'm just a'passin' through...)

Please continue to share your thoughts for purely selfish reasons. I certainly come to see issues differently passing through the filters of other's eyes and experiences and knowledge that exceeds my view from this small world I live in.

There seems not to be a lot of constructive study of this issue and maybe out of this, I can learn to better understand the mentality of those who grace our road with their wrappings, not to mention the discarded large appliances, old tires and rusted car parts. (Around here, we have what I call 'gravity assisted trash disposal' in which you back yer pickup to the edge of the road, and shove all that crap down the side of the bank into the creek. And yes, there is a dumpster just a mile further down the road.)

Posted by fred1st at November 6, 2002 07:15 AM

According to an article I am reading an attempting to slowly take in on the Buddhist perspective on the current ecocrisis, it seems that from a Buddhist perspective we and our environment are linked not only physically but mentally. So the theory goes that a bad environment negatively affects us emotionally and our negative thoughts and emotion impact our environment. This is a deep concept which I'm only starting to get, but on a simple level it does tie in with your observations that litter begats litter :)

Posted by: FluffyMuppet at November 6, 2002 11:09 AM

On the subject of litterers...

I boil when someone has such thoughtless disregard as to litter. I think part of that is because it acts as a symbol of all the things I hate within much of mankind, especially in those around me, and what's more it is such a simple little thing to avoid. But back to the point, I have one friend in particular that I have known for many years who at least used to be an avid litterer. I don't notice as much anymore, I would hope its a bit of me rubbing off, but may just be different circumstances or I don't notice him do it as much anymore. In his particular case, littering seems a mix of manly bravosim (the smash the beercan on the forehead and throw arbitrarily mentality of complete disregard and machoism) and simply thinking nothing of it. He's not a bad guy. He doesn't have any rebellion against the system attitude. He just doesn't think anything of it. And then confronting someone about something like that is a very tricky situation because they will immediately become defensive and create a reason to do it even though it wasn't there in the first place. I have to agree a lot with the guy who brought up the fruedian concept in that a large part of it is an arrest in personal development that plays a large part, as if they were consciously aware and if they were concerned with the world outside themselves and the moment they probably wouldn't do it. Of course there are also other factors that make each case different and this issue very complicated. There's the manly man bravoism I mentioned before of complete abandon and of being constantly on the defense in an effort to exemplify and become the alpha male. The whole concept of brute maleness is based on controlling and ego, being on the top of the hill so everyone else will do everything and no one can touch you. There's the rebellious angst in some cases, of destructive behavior all around. The source of this much broader and more complicated than simply lower class. And all of these are boldened as a defense for humanity's innate tendancy of laziness and oppurtunism(including the concept that if someone can do something without anyone else knowing that they themselves did it they are more likely to do it, even something that they wouldn't normally or ever do when someone is around or a likelyhood of someone knowing). All and all, besides the laziness/oppurtunist concept which is ALWAYS there, I believe personally the root of the problem is a general lack of care in much of humanity combined with no ethic in regards to such issues imprinted in them to make up for the conscious lack of thought and care for anything outside themselves and immediacy. (A well-developed ethic imprinted on a person will make up for an arrest in personal development.) In other words, there simply is no thought involved.

Posted by: Josh Parkinson at November 6, 2002 02:10 PM

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