Garbage, minimalism, and religion

2004-08-09 11:31 - Opinion

Three things you may not normally associate with each other. But, if you read the discussion to follow, you will understand why I do. Lots of things make me sad. This morning, walking to work, it was realizing just how much garbage there is, and how little everyone seems to care about it. Walking just the 2 blocks between my apartment and the subway station, I could see what I estimated to be between 100-200 individual pieces of trash littering the streets and sidewalks. This makes me very sad, that so many people so clearly care so little about their city, and the environment they live in.

There is, I think, the classic "What can one person do?" attitude to blame. Every individual seems to think, "It's just one cigarette butt." Or, "It's just one empty styrofoam cup." But then, we get to the point we are at now, where the streets are literally lined with garbage. Even with frequent street sweeper activity, I see them running quite often, and streets all over have the "Don't park here for suchandsuch hours cause the streets get cleaned then" signs.

This is where minimalism comes in, a bit. It's a term I've recently invented for describing myself, consumer minimalist. I do not claim to be a minimalist, there are quite a number of physical possesions which I quite enjoy, and would not like to part with. But, I do attempt to exercise consumer minimalism. When I go to the grocery store, I carry a big canvas bag, with my bottles to return for the deposit in it usually, and I use it to carry my groceries back. I cringe at how readily the people behind the registers double bag things. So much wasted plastic. On top of avoiding unneccessary usage and purchase, I conserve that which I have, I do not like to waste things that need not be wasted. Truthfully, I'll throw out plenty too. When some cereal gets too soggy, I just can't eat it and I throw it out. On the whole, I do my best to reduce my waste production though. And what I do produce, I like to recycle if possible, and always dispose of properly.

So we get back to the "What can one man do?" topic. Do all my efforts produce any noticable effect? Almost certainly not. But, and here's the big thing, there's a lot of individuals out there. Each individual taking a small action adds up to a massive difference. We could massively benefit the world and the environment if we each took small steps. It seems the average mind is unable, or perhaps unwilling, to accept such a simple truth though. Economies of scale in general seem to baffle the average individual. I believe there are significant ties between this sort of thinking, and the religious mindset.

I cannot help but believe the majority of religions are based on fear and uncertainty. People fear that which they do not understand. Think back to middle school, when you learned about ancient greek mythology. This was, be honest, their religion. They believed in various gods, and stories of the actions of those gods. Perhaps not assembled into one big book and called the bible, but very analogous to current day religion. I think today even most religious people would find it silly to consider that people once believed the story of Prometheus, forever doomed to have his guts pecked out by eagles for stealing fire and giving it to humans. Or perhaps the unrelated beliefs of animal (or virgin!) sacrafices, or rain dances, to convince the gods to be merciful and provide a bountiful crop, or good weather.

Nonetheless, most people believe something that distances themselves from their actions. True, most religions have a code of conduct built in, it is often the central point when one seeks a definition of religion. But outside the narrow guide explicitly provided, belief largely is that "God has a plan" which guides everything, or even to the point that fate controls all, and individual action effects nothing.

Well I'm here to say something. Individual action does effect something. Quit throwing trash on the street! Maybe after that, we can work on wasting paper, and overreliance on fossil fuels.


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