May 15, 2006

'70SLAND (via Tom Morin):

Astonishing Quantities of Rubbish: Theodore Dalrymple takes a drive along the A55 - and finds litter, great mounds of it (Theodore Dalrymple, Social Affairs Unit)

If I had to choose a single road that, by itself, had ruined more towns than any other, I suppose I would choose the A55 in North Wales. The number of charming and elegant little Victorian and Edwardian seaside towns and villages it has defaced and destroyed is staggering. It is tragic that the only efficiency demonstrated by British transport and town planners has been in the destruction of the appearance and atmosphere of the whole country. There they have managed a giant effect with the slenderest of means.

A drive along the A55 is very instructive. Of course, it passes through landscapes and countryside of great beauty, some of the most beautiful in our islands; but, as the drive will also instruct you, the first instinct of the modern Briton when he sees a fine landscape is to throw litter at it. Indeed, it is almost a reflex with him; I hesitate to say that he cannot help himself, but he might as well be unable to help himself for all the effort he makes actually to do so.

The verges, the bushes, the trees are festooned with astonishing quantities of rubbish. It is not only the major roadways, moreover, that are the repositories of such detritus; any of the lanes that are frequented by visitors are also used as their personal rubbish dumps.

The nature of this rubbish is very instructive too. The vast majority of it consists of the packaging of food and drink consumed en route by passers-by. Indeed, when the sun is out, the rays of the celestial body glint on all the plastic bottles and tins cans, just as in inner cities they glint on the shards of shattered glass of the windows of cars that have been broken into. Of course, much of the litter is matt and reflects much less light: for example, the discarded polystyrene containers of fast food and drink.

I have no idea of how many pieces of such litter are strewn on the roadside, but it must run into the hundreds of thousands or perhaps even millions. And when we consider that each individual piece of such litter constitutes evidence of an act of unbridled egotism by an individual, we must conclude something very unflattering about the nature of at least a large proportion of the British population. The fact is that so much rubbish could not have accumulated if there were only one or two people who used the country as their personal litter bin.

This fits in with the theme-parkization of Europe as it becomes a place that American tourists will visit to see quaint little 17th/18th century villages on the one hand and where the rest of the country is swamped in the pathologies that plagued us in the 1970s.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 15, 2006 1:45 PM

In an extreme application of the "broken windows" theory of justice, I advocate a $5000 fine for the first littering offense, and execution for the 2nd.

The idea that one throws trash on the ground or out of his car is simply evidence that they are animals beyond the reach of reason. (the $5000 fine is a gentle reminder to get a braincell or two and combine them to create a conscience)

If you care so little about the society that sustains you that you can't clean yourself to live in it, then that society has the right to terminate you and harvest your organs for people who might actually add to it.

What do you think? Too Extreme?

Posted by: Bruno at May 15, 2006 2:15 PM

Just a tad :-).

I would advocate, instead of fines or execution, time on a chain gang cleaning it up.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at May 15, 2006 3:26 PM

I've been known to throw a recycled Mountain Dew bottle out the truck window, but only as a safety measure: you don't want the recycled ones getting mixed up with the rest, trust me. And you wouldn't want my liver anyway.

Posted by: joe shropshire at May 15, 2006 4:19 PM

It's all biodegradable anyway. well eventually, maybe..

Posted by: h-man at May 15, 2006 4:35 PM

And when we consider that each individual piece of such litter constitutes evidence of an act of unbridled egotism by an individual, we must conclude something very unflattering about the nature of at least a large proportion of the British population.

Err....Theo, baby, stick with the yobs.

Refuse and garbage are incidents of the initial path from traditional economies to economic take-off. They are also problems fairly easily remedied by law enforcement and civic resiliency--no need to moan about terminal decline, just toughen up. It's also a perception problem grounded in time and circumstance. I recall a colleague telling me about his aunt who was a proto-leftist/hippie/environmentalist in the 1950's. She lived on a lake and once a week she would fill a bag with garbage, row her canoe out onto the lake, tie a rock around the bag and let it sink. Try doing that today without at least earning five years of hard time.

I hope Theo doesn't end up a sniffy toff.

Posted by: Peter B at May 15, 2006 5:25 PM

End up? He's British--he starts that way.

Posted by: oj at May 15, 2006 5:29 PM

The litter by the side of the road reminds me that, if it really is the 70s in Europe, they need to start showing a commercial of an Indian dude looking at the garbage while a tear rolls down his cheek. Very effective commercial. Or at least it was when I was 8.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at May 15, 2006 9:22 PM
tie a rock around the bag

Sorry Peter, but you (or your colleague) have strained my credibility to the breaking point.

Posted by: Kirk Parker at May 17, 2006 2:22 AM