This is not something I thought of much as a child but there is a lot more to littering than the carelessness of the action. Littering is not just being lazy, it’s showing contempt for your own or other people’s environment. It goes still further than this though, when you litter you are making your mess the responsibility of someone else. When you carelessly throw an empty can of soda on the ground, someone else will probably pick it up and dispose of it. Whether consciously or not, the litterer relies on this being the case and the less true it becomes in any given society, the less civilised it becomes.
I haven’t been all over the world but I’ve been to enough places to know the difference. In Japan where I currently live, it is very unlikely that you will see someone litter. It would be shameful. The only time I generally see litter of any kind is when the bins next to one of the multitude of vending machines in the country has overflowed and people have placed empty receptacles around them. One should probably carry their trash on to the next bin rather than place it next to a full one but it at least shows some thought for others. I also see litter when crows have attacks garbage bags placed out for collection to get at the food scraps. There are set days and times for garbage collection and some people (I confess, like me), often put out there bags early which gives the crows more time to come. Other times a wily crow could just arrive at an opportune time no matter how well the disposal procedures are followed. What should be clear in both these examples is they still show people doing more or less the right thing with thought given to those who live around them. And I should add that the one time my own garbage bag was attacked by crows, I went out and cleaned up the food scraps and nappies as I should have.
This may be tedious to some but I always like to remind any readers I have that I do not consider myself perfect when discussing moral matters. I have littered before and I have made rationalisations for throwing away easily degradable items discreetly while keeping plastics with me. Littering is littering and it is not my place to make exceptions. I’m as guilty (without going into degrees) as the next man.
Now to get to my wider point. I’m fond of pointing out that many in the West defer moral action to the state. What I mean by this is they demand something be done and that it is the states role to do it. What makes this worse is that these statements are so often done with an air of smugness and self-satisfaction. People who take a more nuanced view or bring up complications are treated with contempt. I’m far from the first person to notice this or point it out but I believe the way I phrase it as at least somewhat original.
A specific example of what I mean is with the problem (which is putting it delicately) of single motherhood. I see statistics of this all over the place from the UK, USA and Australia. I am but a data point but I’ve also personally seen a lot of it myself and witnessed directly its effects. It is a very bad thing. Most people on the left (at least openly) do not think it is a good thing. The more extreme are another story but even they are more tempered when speaking publicly about it. What’s the solution though? Welfare. Pay to support mothers. Guarantee their protection from bad experiences and in many cases, their own bad decisions. The vast majority of conservatives are reluctant to question this and only offer pitiful sputtering about the family being preferable as if it isn’t so much more.
What has this got to do with littering? Well, this kind of response is littering. It is throwing a problem on the ground and expecting someone else to pick it up. It is also much worse. It avoids the harder work of finding a solution. It is saying that someone else should deal with it or at most feeling better about the cent or two in your dollar that keeps the problem away from you.
Really dealing with this and really going someway to solving it or at least making it better is much harder. It will require that a certain number of people do suffer for their actions and even things they are innocent of. It honestly involves people suffering in a noticeable way and not in a long drawn-out but conveniently hidden way. It involves making clear statements and action. It means being hated by many people, most especially those you are trying to help. But it is ultimately good whether or not anyone around you realises it.
I’m not suggesting is that there is some connection between the amount of people willing to litter and the resulting unwillingness to take action on far more serious matters. I used Japan as an example earlier yet it has a number of serious social crises (though thankfully not single-parent families) that require courageous action. Despite the clean streets, these larger problems are being kicked down the road for someone else to pick up.
My point is simply that it is not enough to ask as Homer Simpson said, “Can’t someone else just do it?” It is not enough to expect another authority to solve problems. At the very least, nobody has any business insulting or mocking those who take are more serious position when their own solution is for it to be taken completely out of their hands. This doesn’t make you moral or good it means your position is nothing but moral trash.