I’m not trying to single out one person — you can tell because this flyer is from an earlier election — but it illustrates something I think about often. Until civilization came along, there was no such thing as waste. Browsers leave stubble and turds, predators leave bones, and the bacteria handle it all. Monkeys are omnivores and drop lots of stuff, all biodegradable, from their nimble fingers. We are monkeys too, but our fingers and brains are too good at their jobs. We’ve invented stuff the bacteria can’t deal with yet. We drop it all over the place. The human age will be known to future paleontologists as the Age of Hominid Litter.
Watch someone drop litter in the street some time. That casual, automatic act might look like default behavior, what monkeys do as they roam the woods. But the style with which people do it, from their stance to their glance, is learned behavior, a product of culture. They release their trash with panache. You just know that if you called them out, they would be offended. So today Oakland is a shabby city. Too many of its inhabitants don’t see it as a home to care for, just a setting for doin’ shit.
To do otherwise — putting wrappers in pockets or waste receptacles, automatically — can be learned too and done gracefully. I learned it and I simply don’t litter. But can a whole civilization become sustainable, acting with, as Whitman called it, the prudence suitable for immortality?