Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Out with the old, in with the fold

For all its other real or perceived faults, no one can ever say that any garbage ever gets past the London Free Press. Local refuse has established itself as a top leader brand for the newspaper under the management of Editor-in-Chief Paul Berton, who just last week helpfully informed readers that city staff had removed trash bins from Ted Early Park this spring in an effort to reduce litter.

That's not as counter-intuitive a tactic as might seem at first — although quite as uninteresting as expected — on the premise that minor inconveniences may promote minor awareness of minor behaviours. And, according to anecdotal evidence as reported by Berton, the strategy may even be working … or may not, but who's to tell? Evidence to suggest that anyone aside from Berton actually cares is, however, even less than anecdotal, including for city staff who apparently removed the receptacles having "felt they had more productive things to do on behalf of taxpayers in city parks than to empty bins and clean up refuse."

Do they really? Taxpayers might similarly feel they have more productive things to do than pay city staff to decide for themselves what's productive for taxpayers. But in fairness the peremptory tone and rationalization do not belong precisely to city staff but are likely more products of Berton's vicarious fantasies, staging for himself the ideal attitudes of the garbage men who steadily occupy his consciousness.

Still, less litter in city parks or elsewhere remains a desirable outcome for almost anyone of course, but Berton is unclear whether he regards litter reduction as an effect of "a more socially responsible, more environmentally friendly society" or as a cause for it. It's likely all one and the same to an habitual liberal like Berton, possessed by the relentless imperative to accommodate all separate or conflicting propositions into an unreticulated mass of prejudicial buzzwords. In the language of social engineering suggested by Berton, cause resembles effect resembles cause … and the world goes round and round.

More than anything, however, litter is really only an effect of ordinary courtesy and consideration … or at least a lack of them. Berton may mean just those by "social responsibility," but why use such a distended and ambiguous term? And why conflate "socially responsible" with "environmentally friendly" to such a commonplace end, especially if there is no evidence that the trash that city staff is not picking up themselves isn't just being thrown out somewhere else? For no other reason than wishful thinking on Berton's part that people will attach as much significance to these contrived journalistic buzzwords as repetition would suggest. And it must be admitted that a great deal of repetition has certainly helped in the cause.

But what the appeal to buzzwords gains in smooth passage, it loses traction in meaning. If litter reduction is a commendable aim — and it is — then surely the proper and most effective exhortation is made to ordinary human courtesy rather than to recent academic devices. Even where courtesy and consideration have been neglected, their use and meaning are never wholly forgotten by many … far more than be said for artificial constructs like "social responsibility" and "environmental friendliness," whose meanings are parsed to anyone's own fleeting self-satisfaction, shifting with fashion's every attention span and generally impervious to even modest scrutiny. Blank canvases for self-made virtue, the "social" and "environmental" of buzzword prefixes are quick and easy opportunities for temporary narcissistic gratifications — which is why they're repeated so frequently of course. But stripped of meaning by their servitude to buzzwords, "social" and "environmental" as qualifiers of modern pursuits also turn out to be remarkably indifferent supports for society and the environment.

While ordinary courtesy and consideration are easily resumed from the long experience of their practise and benefits, the attempt to assume the slippery postures of inconstant buzzwords is doomed to produce no lasting effects … beyond sustaining the market for journalists and academics to hector us, of course. But noble ends, if that is what they really have in mind, deserve noble means and not merely benign intentions.

1 Comment:

basil said...

Great! Now dog owners won't have anywhere to leave their droppings so a lot of them won't bother to pick them up - and those who do will leave their (God forbid!!!) plastic bags in your blue box as they walk by.

Ever stand down wind of a park garbage can? If they want to reduce park garbage, outlaw dogs.