capitalism and garbage

Daniel A. Foss (U17043@UICVM.BITNET)
Mon, 26 Sep 1994 22:28:57 CDT

of the miserable conditions prevailing in precapitalist, so-called Traditional,
agricultural societies, got so overgrown I had to stop before reaching The
Point: The emergence of capitalism makes for a decisive, qualitative increase
in the order of magnitude of pollution, trash, contaminants, and socially
constructed dirt, the latter as defined by William James and transmitted to
us by Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger, 1965: "matter out of place."

The cities of Antiquity were filthy stinking crime-infested firetraps.
Those of Medieval times were worse, if smaller; and the Roman contribution
to urban well-being, the public bathhouse, was suppressed in the interests
of moral virtue. Yet, it was in the sixteenth century, well before the
Industrial Revolution, that air in London became to smoggy to breathe; and
the first bourgeois society to fight for independence, The Netherlands, was
the scene of the invention of the word "garbage." [From the Spanish Army of
Flanders, sent to suppress the Dutch Revolution, whose soldiers often went
unpaid, hence mutinied and rioted until they were. Which gives us *garbear*,
"to scrounge and pillage for a living," and in Walloon French, what got left
over after the occupying forces resorted to *garbear* was "garbage."] The
first municipal garbage dump was opened in London in 1670.

In capitalism, an imperative exists to expand the market. Material products
sold in the market have "exchange values," prices. "Previously owned" material
products may be sold in derivative markets. Those which cannot be sold even
there may be given to those so impoverished that they cannot readily pay for
what their social Betters have discarded. The latter, if charitably inclined,
may donate the objects in question to a thrift-store-operating eleemosynary
organization, say, The Salvation Army or Goodwill Industries; else take the
stuff, in these latter days, to a Recycling Center; but the System Default
is, Chuck It Out!

Residential segregation by class, even outright homelessness, where the
latter has had its ups and downs in the last five centuries of capitalism,
ensures that those who have something to discard, perhaps because there is
too much effort to be expended in giving it away, throw it away, socializing
the ultimate cost of final disposition. Meanwhile, those so impecunious as
to lack the means of transport to the parts of the city where their Betters
dwell may, nevertheless, have their need for, say, a pair of shoes supplied
by contract between a manufacturer eager to dispose of substandard merchandise
and some public-sector agency which spends much more money on bureaucratic
evaluation of the recipient's need for the shoes than the shoes actually cost
the agency, let alone the fair-market value of the defective shoes, before the
voucher is issued, or however the transfer payment is made.

There are numerous other aspects to why, wherein, and how capitalism
generates more stuff to throw out and more things to keep clean. But for
the time being, just bear in mind that the Medieval peasant hardly ever
had anything to throw out; and practically everything that was made was

Daniel A. Foss