From TLD, Whole Number 14 (October 28, 1996)


A Clutch of Nettles
By Virginia Dare


Hey, Comrade, recycle this!


Recently a couple of guys I know were having lunch together when one of them told a story about the rampant and indiscriminate environmentalism being taught in the elementary schools. His son, a third-grader, had chided him for throwing some paper product into the trash and told him he was supposed to recycle such things. The father was recounting how he had attempted to explain to the kid the erroneous premises behind the recycling propaganda, when the second fellow interrupted him: "Wait a minute, Wayne! Where does an 8-year-old kid get off telling his father what to do?" Wayne's eyes got very wide as he began to comprehend the extent of the invasion by the Unspeakable into his family life.

The scary part wasn't that the third-grade teacher issued any direct instructions to her class about turning their parents in to the Recycling Police. Probably she did nothing of the kind. More likely, the message was part of a whole scenario of the Earth is our friend and we have to take care of her or Global Warming will fry our brains. With the predictable punch line: if we don't do it voluntarily, kiddies, then the government will have to protect us from ourselves, by Gaia.

Then the other day I heard a snippet of news on the radio: the Center for Science in the Public Interest was at it again. Several leading weight-reduction programs were being taken to task because the people who partake of their services gain back the weight that the programs help them lose. Apparently, responsibility for an individual dieter's lack of self-discipline reverts to the weight-loss program, and the program's failure to remedy that can be held against it.

CSPI, you'll recall, are the good folks who pressured theater refreshment stands into changing the oil used in their popcorn poppers, which had the incidental effect of changing the satisfying flavor of popcorn to something vaguely reminiscent of Styrofoam peanuts. CSPI's favorite ploy, designed to ruin our enjoyment of practically anything that tastes good, is to remind us that the substance in question "contains as much artery-clogging fat as (fill in the appropriate figure) sticks of butter."

Please note that "artery-clogging" is a mandatory modifier of the noun "fat," and that butter — that lovely, all-natural dairy delight — is bad. CSPI came down hard and hysterical in their condemnation of fettucine Alfredo, as though a single serving of the stuff would send you straight from the trattoria to the coronary care unit. Personally, while I love fettucine Alfredo, I can't imagine eating the stuff more than once or twice a month; it's a treat, not a staple. But our dear friends at CSPI want to protect us from treats, maybe even by banning them for our own good.

As readers of this fine publication, O Best Beloved, you already know that the issue is not fettucine Alfredo, or popcorn, or Burritos Supreme, or the components of the Special Sauce on your McWhatsit. The issue is control — whether we are competent to exert it over our own affairs and those of our loved ones, or whether a kindly agency should relieve us of that awful burden. CSPI puts up a smoke screen of benevolent concern by posing as a private organization, engaged in the battle of pressuring various governmental agencies to enact regulations that will protect us from various perils of CSPI's own devising. If you believe that CSPI is on the side of righteousness and the FDA is shirking its responsibility toward you, or that the CSPI and the FDA are actually not part of the same force — the force hell-bent on enslaving the bejeezus out of you — then you need to dig out your back issues of The Last Ditch for a little bit of Remedial Awareness.

One morning when I was walking to the subway station about 7:00, I saw walking in the same direction, on the other side of the street, a man with a big dog on a leash and a plastic bag in his hand. The dog paused to take care of some urgent business; when he was ready to move on, his owner stooped down with his plastic bag.... At that point, as I crossed the street, I saw a sheriff's car moving behind us at a crawl. The dog owner stood up with his neatly sealed little bag of dog leavings and continued up the street, at which point the sheriff's car speeded up and drove past us.

I have no idea what the sheriff's man was doing while his car was slowed down. Maybe he was screwing the lid back onto his coffee mug. Maybe he was retrieving something that had slid off the passenger seat. Maybe he was blowing his nose. But even the meagerest scrap of circumstantial evidence that my tax money is being spent to ensure that one of my neighbors is cleaning up dog crap outrages me to the point of paralysis. Sure, I don't like stepping in the little gifties that somebody's mutt leaves in my lawn. (It's the same with metaphorical mutts, by the way: I get annoyed when passing motorists with their windows down and their stereo volumes up drown out conversations inside my house with the gentle cadences of Snoop Doggy Dogg.) But I would rather have 10 dogs a day dumping on my daisies than live in a society where the observance of common civility is enforced by the Gestapo.

No doubt to the benefit of my heart rate and blood pressure, I eventually passed from explosive outrage to quiet contemplation, prompted in part by the very recent observance of Tax Freedom Day (the point at which my cumulative earnings for the year have finally stopped paying for the federal, state, and municipal interference in my life and started paying for such things as rent, groceries, and cat litter). If that deputy really did pull the Puppy Poop Patrol that morning, do you have any idea how much money my neighbors and I are spending on dog excrement disposal, as opposed to whatever cost is involved in leaving the stuff in the flower beds? The ROI (that's return on investment, for you non-beancounter types out there) is preposterous.

But, of course, were we to complain about spending dollars to save dimes, some advocate of the establishment's obligation to spend lavishly would point out that it really does cost a lot of money to take care of us properly. The fact that we object to all of the complexities necessary to do it right is merely additional evidence that we need to be protected from our own worst instincts. Look at our canine example: first we need to establish scientifically that dog excrement is not clean. Then we need an environmental impact study to figure out how much additional dirt it adds to the soil. Then we have to develop a responsible method for removing it from the soil. But the task has merely begun at that point, because we must then analyze independently the health, safety, and impact of each possible solution. Think of the unspeakable hazard that might threaten my health and welfare if my neighbor had used a non-biodegradable plastic bag to remove a (biodegradable) substance from my already-biodegraded planting soil.

It would be nice if we held benevolent feelings for each other, you and I, but nonetheless I'm not going to cajole you into thinking right thoughts under the guise of detached kindness. I am telling you this stuff because it proves, I think, that we are surrounded by serious threats to health, happiness, and quality of life. But just remember, the threats are not Daddy's profligate disposal of a piece of paper, not fettucine Alfredo, and not poodle poop. The threats are the widely accepted solutions to those putative problems.

Catch a clue. The teacher, the food Nazis, and the cop all wanna have your rear end in a sling if you don't get with the program; they just aren't going to admit it. Yet.

Virginia Dare writes from the Old Dominion, where many folks have not forgotten that tyrants are biodegradable, too.

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