Material Trace of Deficient Socialization

I like to talk. I like to talk to people I know, people I don’t know, people I want to know better, and even people I don’t give a shit about. I’d rather talk to the guy behind me in the checkout line buying nothing but peanut butter and People magazines than stand silently by myself. I consider myself a decent communicator – unless I’m talking about something I actually care about. Then I dissolve into a sputtering, foul-mouthed wreck.

Case in point: I fucking hate littering. Like, a lot. If I see you tossing a cigarette butt out of your car window, I wish upon you nothing less than instant and explosive diarrhea. Alas, I can put it no more eloquently than than, “Hey you! Litterer! I hope you have a shitty day!”

The closest I’ve come to having a rational discussion about littering was on an “urban hike” (I don’t know why I put that in quotes; we literally walked 14+ miles through our city, which is the capital of Virginia and therefore a legitimately urban setting, with camelbacks filled with water and Lärabars) and she told me that friends had been giving her a hard time about tossing banana peels from her car window. As these friends live in Asheville, NC, a notorious hippie enclave, I got the feeling that she expected my reaction to be along the lines of “Damn tree huggers! Of course you should throw your food leavings from your car window!”

Her argument was that 1) banana peels are biodegradable and 2) who wants to drive around with a banana peel in their lap? While the logic of her arguments are admittedly sound, 1 + 2 does not equal C.
I had to move beyond my typical argument against littering – IT’S FUCKING DISGUSTING – and dug way back to Ethics 101.

“What if everyone threw their banana peels out of the window?” I asked. “There’d be piles of rotting banana peels lining every road in the country. The garbage would attract raccoons and possums and the roads would be cluttered with roadkill. The view would be ruined, marred by blackening banana peels and the odors of decay. You are an exceptional human being, Nameless Friend, but you are not an exception to the No Littering rule.”

Kant ruled the day, and my friend was convinced.

(This logic, however, rarely works on smokers, as they all throw their cigarette butts wherever they choose and have absolutely no shame.)

Some people are gifted with emotionally-resistant golden tongues and can express themselves eloquently not only despite of their very deep feelings on the subject, but perhaps because of these very same feelings. I was listening to a recently discovered podcast (Intelligence²) when a line delivered by one of the debaters prompted me to get out a pen a jot it down.

The discussion was about whether Tiger Moms were doing a better job of turning out successful children than Western parents. Arguing for the Tiger Moms was British writer and psychiatrist Anthony Daniels. He recounted personal anecdotes of French mothers arguing with their children in the shop around from his house, British kids yelling obscenities as they ran through the streets, and the abundance of trash he had observed concentrated around school yards.

“Each piece of litter, and there are millions of them,” deadpanned Daniels,”is a kind of material trace of deficient socialization.”

YES. “A material trace of deficient socialization.” Don’t you just want to repeat that phrase until it moulds to the contours of your brain like a favorite sweater? Fuck, those are some delicious words.

When you litter, you are basically acknowledging that you either have no idea how your actions might impact anyone else in the world, or simply do not give a damn. I would argue that littering is one of the most selfish, self-centered acts one could commit.

What makes littering unique as a social plague is that almost everyone is disgusted when they see anyone else doing it. We don’t high five each other for tossing a dirty diaper into the ocean. No one compliments the man chucking an empty big soda bottle from his window on a job well done. And yet we do it ourselves and sleep soundly at night, having justified our act of littering as a one off, or (perhaps more bizarrely) as a “green” act akin to composting, having returned a peach pit or orange peel to the earth to disseminate it’s carbon back into the environment.

So yeah, don’t litter. I really hate hating you.