August 25, 2019

Litter.

After writing the last post and creating a new tag "littering," I launched into the enterprise of adding the tag retrospectively, through the whole 15-year archive of this blog. Soon enough, I saw I was creating a parallel tag. There already was a tag "litter," so I had to work to get rid of the new tag.

I don't want my blog littered with duplicative tags. So the tag — the good old tag — is "litter."

I hadn't used it consistently, since I'd forgotten I had it. Just now, I added it to a few old things, including that post about Professor Amy Wax 2 days ago, which included The New Yorker's paraphrase of her saying "that white people litter less than people of color."

What Wax actually said was that French children "wouldn’t dream of creating a ruckus, just like they wouldn’t dream of littering." Then the New Yorker interviewer, Isaac Chotiner, prodded her with the question "So white French kids wouldn’t dream of littering, you mean?" She answered in an indirect way that reinforced her position that she's talking about culture:
Well, certainly, in Germany, I don’t think they would. I’ve seen them being upbraided on the street for doing that by other people. I just think there are differences in behavior that track culture, that track nationality. They’re not perfect. There’s a range. If you want to deny that they exist, you know.... [Laughs.]
She didn't agree with the absurd idea that the tendency to litter is inborn and race-based! I remember back in the 1950s, I saw litter all along the roadways where I lived (in Delaware, amongst white people). I felt really bad about it, and it seemed hopeless. But Americans decided to turn things around and we did. And look at England. The American humorist David Sedaris frequently writes about his public-service work picking up litter near his home in England.

From "Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls":
I find a half-empty box of doughnuts and imagine it flung from the dimpled hand of a dieter, wailing, “Get this away from me.” Perhaps the jumbo beer cans and empty bottles of booze are tossed for a similar reason. It’s about denial, I tell myself, or, no, it’s about anger, for isn’t every piece of litter a way of saying “fuck you”?
So click on the "litter" tag. There's some good stuff in there, including litter at the Wisconsin protests (and discussion of the folk belief that left wingers litter and right wingers leave a place cleaner than they found it), litter on Mount Everest, the old Arlo Guthrie song line "What were you arrested for?," the "Garden Spicer" project, and the concept of "hipster litter."

The etymology of "litter" is bed-related. "Lit" is the French word for bed. It's from a bed that you get to the sort of "litter" that you carry a person on...
... and the idea of a "litter" of animals. Picture the scraps of plant material that would be the animals' bed.

From there you get the plant "litter" — the bits of fallen leaves you can use as mulch or that might be involved in Finnish forest-raking. Once you see that, it's easy to see how "litter" became "Odds and ends, fragments and leavings lying about, rubbish; a state of confusion or untidiness; a disorderly accumulation of things lying about" (OED). That meaning emerged in the 18th century.

The verb "litter" begins with the idea of making a bed for an animal. By the 18th century, it could also mean "To cover as with litter, to strew with objects scattered in disorder." The oldest use with that meaning comes from Jonathan Swift in 1726:  "They found, The Room with Volumes litter'd round." Later, there's Charles Dickens, also talking about written material as litter: "A dingy room lined with books and littered with papers" ("A Tale of Two Cities, 1859). Indoor litter. Clutter. And, notably, books.

Today's digression got started with the discussion (in the previous post) of a comics artist depositing tiny scraps of writing around town. So I've cycled 'round to where I began. Literary litter. And oh, the scraps of writing I've strewn on this blog for 15 years! But there's no paper, no substance at all. Am I littering? Am I literary?

And no, "litter" and "literature" do not share an etymology. The "lit" in literature comes from a line that had another "t." The French is "littérature." It's not like the French "lit" for bed. Think of "letter."

Now, get moving...

46 comments:

Birkel said...

Journalists wanted to turn a simple statement into an argument for 1619.
Imagine that.

rehajm said...

Keep Britain Tidy...

rhhardin said...

Paper balls on the floor next to the wastebasket are not litter. Their future is part of the definition.

gilbar said...

Speaking of Littering; Kirsten Gillibrand's campaign is littering up the place.
She's SO DESPERATE for enough contributions to qualify for the next debate;
That she is LITERALLY Paying people to contribute
Gillibrand has resorted to hawking T-shirts to anyone willing to chip in $1 to get her on the debate stage.

stevew said...

When I was a kid in the 60's it was common to just toss small items of trash out the window of the car, or drop them along the sidewalk as you walked. The MA anti-littering law was passed in the late 60's or early 70's IIRC, and there was great public attention paid to eliminating littering. The culture shift took awhile but was eventually successful.

Every year on Thanksgiving we listen to Arlo Guthrie's Alice's Restaurant, starting at noon. The best song about littering, ever.

Annie C. said...

So much of the litter you see is not from some crass, white, American male thoughtlessly tossing his trash out the car window in front of a stoic Native American standing on the side of the road with a tear in his eye.

It is from wind blowing over open dumpsters, trash cans, landfills and construction sites.

rehajm said...

...and creating a nuisance.

Annie C. said...

Just like so much of the OMFG, we're all going to die, global warming, global cooling, climate change, climate crisis, has more to do with this big ball of fiery gas in the sky, it's distance from the earth, it's activity, and earth coming out of an ice age than Bubba's monster truck or those damn cow farts.

narciso said...

Menageries oh my
https://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2019/08/political_forecast_stormy_weather_ahead.html

Michael K said...

Litter is what covers the grounds after a leftist rally.

Wince said...

Really, literally?

Wilbur said...

"It is from wind blowing over open dumpsters, trash cans, landfills and construction sites."

Interesting. Where did you learn this?

Phil 314 said...

And as a heap of trash crashes at his feet a tear trickles down the cheek of Iron Eyes Cody.

“Keep America Beautiful”

Phil 314 said...

50 years ago a new generation expressed its commitment to a cleaner environment at Woodstock.

Fernandinande said...

She didn't agree with the absurd idea that the tendency to litter is inborn and race-based!

We all know that all groups of people are 100% exactly the same in every biological way including their brains and the resulting personalities.

We know there are absolutely no differences between any human populations because the 10s of thousands of years of evolution of the human brain in very different parts of the world were all converging to the same sort of human perfection, the non-litterer.

We also know that cultures are imposed from above, or something like that, because we definitely know fersure that a culture is not created by the people who make up the culture, and therefore there is absolutely no correlation between a culture and the personalities of the people that the culture was imposed upon.

alanc709 said...

When you have hundreds of homeless living around the city, as in Seattle, you have litter that votes Democrat. Can't have that disturbed.

buwaya said...

Litter bearers - a once widespread urban trade that is gone.

It could be an illustration out of "Bell Curve", showing how work has become more complex, forcing what would once have been productive people out of the economy.

Its also an illustration of a different commercial idea of costume. Trades once had distinct costumes. You still have uniforms, in some cases, your UPS man is in brown, but there is little concern now with distinction, decoration and dignity.

Wince said...

It’s about denial, I tell myself, or, no, it’s about anger, for isn’t every piece of litter a way of saying “fuck you”?

Or a person moving-on in rejection of something that had previously held one back, used thematically in movies often as something being tossed out a moving car window.

Brad repudiating his career in fast food when laughed at by a fast car driving Nancy Wilson in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Butch the boxer in Esmerelda's cab throwing out the last vestiges of his old life in Pulp Fiction.

I know there are other examples...

Annie C. said...

Wilbur said...
"It is from wind blowing over open dumpsters, trash cans, landfills and construction sites."

Interesting. Where did you learn this?

Texas Department of Natural Resources. In the run up to the re-introduction of the "Dont Mess With Texas" campaign, I served on a committee that reviewed a study from Texas A&M that tracked 3 different waste products. It found that more than 67% of the pieces they tracked came from wind blown trash that was disposed of, not thrown out loosely or dropped.

Now granted, they were Aggies, but they are pretty good with the whole earth and nature stuff.

Amexpat said...

Littering is our natural state and culture teaches us not to litter. I remember as a kid Lady Bird's efforts and the "Keep America Beautiful" campaign. They effectively imprinted my anti-littering habits.

Mike (MJB Wolf) said...

Still calling it a myth after all those Tea Party rallies that ended with clean assembly areas? Both hunting and camping cultures (to echo Wax’s theme) drill the “leave it cleaner than you found it” principle into adherents. What equal and similar principle drives the urge to litter? Didn’t we over-50 citizens ALL absorb the meaning of the fake Indian’s tear in that old public service commercial?

Fernandinande said...

Genes play no role at all in forming character traits -- such as self-control, decision making or sociability -- just as we have always thought, new research confirms.

A study of more than 800 sets of twins found that genes had no influence at all in shaping any personality traits, which are completely the result of a person's home environment and surroundings.

Psychologists at the University of Edinburgh who carried out the study, say that the very few characteristics which are largely inherited, such as conscientiousness, are theoretical and have absolutely no influence at all on how people act.

Just kidding

WWMartin said...

It would seem that certain journalists would do well to read Thomas Sowell's "Race and Culture", assuming they have the intellectual curiosity and honesty to absorb the material.

Gahrie said...

Developed countries, and the people who live in them, care about the environment. Undeveloped countries, and the people who live in them, don't give a shit.

Here in California a real problem has developed where our immigrant population dumps trash and debris wherever they can instead of paying to put it in the dump.

Birkel said...

Litter happens when there is no ownership. That is why there is a Tragedy if the Commons. This is most obvious when there is direct, personal ownership. It is less binding when there is a sense of pride, e.g. America the Beautiful.

The Native reservations before casinos used to be bad. The Constitution removes the option of personal ownership. Mandated, enforced socialism led to some terrible conditions. Now that there are casinos, the trash is hidden from tourists. But it's there all the same.

Bill Peschel said...

Annie, that's interesting. Thanks for sharing.

"It’s about denial, I tell myself, or, no, it’s about anger, for isn’t every piece of litter a way of saying “fuck you”?"

I live in Hershey, which is exceptionally neat compared to the surrounding area. I walk down a wide street in front of the Reese factory, and frequently pick up a half-dozen pieces of litter, usually cups, containers, and bags from fast-food restaurants. No Dumpsters in this area. I also see hairnets, which can only come from the Reese workers. That's really sad, because they're trashing an area that should be kept beautiful, if only for the tourist dollars.

Wilbur said...

- “the leave it cleaner than you found it” principle -

... also applies to the golf course. Or a lot of other locales.

Annie C. said...

Just a note Bill, the study we reviewed was conducted in rural and suburban areas. They did not conduct any portions of it in urban areas. I suppose that makes sense for an agricultural college.

Karen said...

I’ve noticed the area where I live in Silicon Valley has grown increasingly littered over the last 10 years. It’s just plain sad to drive down the freeway and see the sides of the road covered with trash. When I visit other places like Nashville, everything seems quite pristine. Even if I go to Southern California to a place like Newport Beach, it is clean and tidy and lovely to look at, but here, one of the greatest aggregations of wealth and education, litter is supreme.

stevew said...

Update: just in from a walk around the neighborhood, 2.5 miles or so. Picked up three empty Bud Light cans and an empty pack of Marlboro reds (hard pack, of course). These were deposited along a 50 yard stretch of the road. This is a rural place.

I suspect someone was sneaking around smoking and drinking. Kids these days.

JaimeRoberto said...

When I lived in SF I used to commute by bus to downtown from my my lily white neighborhood through Chinatown. Anyone with half a brain on that bus could tell you that there are cultural differences in behavior. Orderly queuing being one of them.

If there are no differences in cultural behaviors, then what's the big push for diversity about?

gilbar said...

does the broken window theory have a littered highway corollary ?

Annie C. said...

That the manufacturers stopped putting ashtrays in cars hasn't helped.

gilbar said...

Annie C. said... That the manufacturers stopped putting ashtrays in cars hasn't helped.

Yes! forget Straws;
if they want/need to ban something, ban filters. Cigarettes are biodegradable; Filters Aren't

Ingachuck'stoothlessARM said...

"Crying Indian" -- (for old time's sake)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Suu84khNGY

Annie C. said...

Another thing the study found was a lot of roadside trash is from kids living at home and doing stuff in the cars they cannot do at home. Smoking, drinking, eating fast food, etc.

mikee said...

Littering purposefully is an example of the incorrect economic philosophy espoused by that monster, Zorg, in the wonderful movie, The Fifth Element. The idea that your creation of a mess is an opportunity for everyone else to have a job cleaning up after you omits the more important truth, that if they weren't cleaning up your mess, they could be doing productive and profitable endeavors, instead of maintaining an expensive status quo.

Louie Looper said...

For a good illustration of how attitudes about littering have changed, see “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. There is a scene where George Peppard and Buddy Ebson are sitting on a bench in Central Park. One is eating a candy bar and the other is getting a smoke. Both just toss their wrappers on the ground without a thought as if it is the most natural thing.

It’s rather appalling.

dugans said...

Though knowledgeable before, I’ve recently found that Adam Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments is an excellent “hook” into his life and thought.

Here is a recent article along the same lines:
https://www.aier.org/article/there-only-one-adam-smith

Adam Smith’s professor, Francis Hutcheson, argued, in my understanding, that people have an innate sense of beauty, in making his case for a comparable moral sense:
https://www.libertyfund.org/books/an-inquiry-into-the-original-of-our-ideas-of-beauty-and-virtue

In response to this (and to similar thought by his good friend David Hume), Adam Smith, in TMS, used the construct of what he called an “impartial spectator” in judging the Propriety of one’s actions, and that of others. In this sense what you think about something you do, see or experience is influenced by what others similarly think or would think (is not completely innate).

TMS, and the Impartial Spectator introduced there, is not only a good complement to understanding The Wealth of Nations— but also how people behave and interact on places such as this board.

There is a lot of good recent work on Adam Smith in modern electronic format. There and in earlier works you see people characterize TMS as not so much moral philosophy as social psychology. Directly related are F.A. Hayek’s ideas about how institutions like language, law, money, and markets develop bottom up, through “spontaneous” or emergent order (through “human action”rather than by “human design”).

Again, I am no expert, though somewhat familiar. But a deep dive into Adam Smith’s thought, and that of his contemporaries on such matters, I expect to be rewarding. And undoubtedly directly related to Professor Wax’s point.

mockturtle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mockturtle said...

There is a cultural attitude about littering. At the risk of obloquy, I will assert that it's an observable fact that Mexicans tend to litter. It's done in Mexico so they think it's OK here in the US to just toss trash out of your car window. But those who have lived here for a while catch on to our anti-littering culture. Eventually.

mockturtle said...

But I have also observed that their homes tend to be cleaner and less cluttered than those of gringos.

Fernandinande said...

If there are no differences in cultural behaviors, then what's the big push for diversity about?

"Diversity" is generally race-based, and although a complex behavior such as littering obviously has a big cultural component (culture = the people around you, who are probably similar to you), as well as individual personality components (sociopathy, conscientiousness, etc) it's also literally physically impossible for such behaviors (complex & polygenic) to NOT vary between races, even though that variation might be small.

Amadeus 48 said...

This litter thing could be important. It needs a deep dive.

bagoh20 said...

"... the absurd idea that the tendency to litter is inborn and race-based!"

I myself do not have any data to know if the idea is absurd or not, so where did you learn this fact? Please tell me you have some proof, or I'll be forced to assume you wrote that just to signal your virtue. If that's the case just simply leave it unsaid. It should not be necessary, for as Obama once said: "You're likable enough".

Anonymous said...

Uh....ok......