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There’s No Such Thing As Dirt (Part 1?)

By Billy | October 13, 2011

I want to pay people to take trash apart for the production of new and better products. A customized society, tailored for you; can you imagine? Your computer breaks and what do you do? You sell or donate it and hope nobody steals your identity, you keep it in the museum that is your basement, or you throw it out. Even if you send it to a reputable company with a respectable recycling program, there is a decent chance your computer will end up getting burnt by poor people looking to harvest expensive metals out of it. (You’ll have to watch the whole documentary, really) A disproportionate part of you, compared to the rest of the beings on this planet and the rest of the human that have ever lived, will continue on doing absolutely nothing but taking up space (and possibly destroying more beneficial resources) for well after you and your family name have passed from this place. I want this process to change. I want an economically viable way to turn my old computer directly into a new and better computer, and I want the things that cannot immediately be used or melted down and re-used in the next generation to not be put on my computer in the first place. I’ll pay more, I’ll carry a heavier load, and I’ll be a repeat customer. If you take things apart, melt things down, and put things together while I’m there, you’ll never lose me as a customer.

My the Hebrew Bible teacher told me that there’s “no such thing as dirt.” What’s dirty for Jews is clean for Christians, what’s dirty for Christians is clean for Buddhists. Hell, in Zen Buddhism and many earth-centric religious, nothing at all can be “unclean.” Dirtiness is a socially constructed concept with no bearing whatsoever on true value. (Value might also be socially constructed, so we’ll define it as effectiveness, which somehow ties into phenomenon and logic, and is somewhat transcendent of society. Unless you practice Zen.) To believe in something that doesn’t exist (like Zen!) is to reify it. That means that dirt is a reification.

I’d like to introduce a new socioeconomic paradigm. There’s no such thing as trash. Trash is a reification. [Other reifications: Money, gender, labor, suffering] Now; there are a few words that go hand in hand with this word, “trash,” that must be reclaimed too, because they are also socially constructed notions. There’s no such thing as trash, there’s no such thing as waste, and there’s no such place as “away” when you throw things. I believe that abolishing these notions is one of the most important steps we as humans can take right now. If we stop believing in trash, waste, and “away,” most of, if not all of, our “problems” (also a construct) will go away or be resolved. Please note that I don’t think doing away with these notions will inherently resolve the problem, but I think that the steps necessary to do away with these problems happen to also collect solutions to the rest of the problems.

Let’s talk about throwing things “away.” Where is “away” when you throw things? I propose that as long as a thing remains on our planet, we can’t actually consider it away,” even for practical or intensive purposes. Trash cans play the same role as smokes stacks for our era. We use them so our troubles travel far enough away that we can’t see them anymore. Short of sending our “waste” to the sun or past it, I don’t see any way to practically send something “away,” and since I practice Zen I can’t see any action that would even make anything actually “away.”

But let’s not worry about where we throw our waste if we’re not throwing it “away,” because…

There’s no such thing as waste, so we can’t send it anywhere.

We’re told since for as long as we can remember that the universe is cyclical. The Circle of Life, The Water Cycle, The Carbon Cycle, The Krebs Cycle, there’s a lot of freaking cycles. Throughout the day, we’re vaguely conscious that trees are necessary for human survival because of their breathing mechanisms, but we hardly even notice that we depend on sucking up their waste products. The plant and animal kingdoms literally depend on each other’s waste. What if trees considered their waste “waste” like we do, and decided that it would be better to sequester (which is a fancy word for throw away) their waste down under the earth’s surface. Spoiler Alert! Everyone dies. [I’m not saying our industrial outputs are as good for plants as a forest’s output is for humans, bear in mind.]

Can you imagine what would happen if trees all organized and shipped (probably at the expense of smaller, less obviously important plants) their leaves to the desert, where there’s not enough life there to give a shit about? [Well actually, if every tree shipped their leaves (shit) to the desert, the desert would become remarkably more biodiverse.] But anyway, if trees tried to treat their crap like humans do, the shit would hit the fan right quick. [The phrase, “nobody gives a shit” speaks to our misunderstanding and misappropriation of waste. It implies that shit, and specifically shit, is bad, useless, undesirable, and problematic. Shit hitting any fan anywhere ever seems pretty much undesirable. BUT] If trees stopped crapping their leaves on the forest floor,  insects whose primary function is to eat leaves and serve as the only source of food for young fish would cease existing. Then the fish would die out in one generation. The soul (what a great typo for “soil”)… the soil of the forest wouldn’t keep its usual temperature, wouldn’t attract the right bugs and animals to be properly aired out, wouldn’t have the right fungus to communicate and regulate other organisms, water wouldn’t be retained, and eventually tree life would be affected.

But tree crap happens to be it’s fertilizer. Our human waste is… oh, also perfectly good fertilizer. Human waste produces food-ready fertilizer with pretty much no effort in about a year, and yet we piss in a resource that the Pentagon predicts will be so valuable a in the future, wars will be fought over it. Wouldn’t it be easier to, you know, turn a profit from your waste, rather than pay money to have someone provide a precious resource for you to destroy while shipping it “away?” Let’s keep it in the neighborhood and turn it into something useful. This isn’t about not doing something bad, this is about doing something easier and profitable. Effective, not “right.” Remember, I practice Zen and don’t believe in right, wrong, or working too hard.


Spooning is Easy

So. I’ve run out of steam So this will have to turn into 2 or 3 segments. If the muses are so kind, there will be more on this – and somehow this will all tie into upcycling, (which is like re-cycling, only you use old products to make better products, rather than old products to make worse products), planned obscelescence, turning waste management into… resource reclamation? Or just properly using resources… and maybe a 3rd part about how a world without the notion of trash doesn’t view people as commodities, doesn’t choose sides of a war for political gains, doesn’t marginalize entire civilizations or deem them insignificant,  doesn’t turn our home into a thing covered in pricetags, or worse; a buffet that is humankind’s birthright. And then a 4th part which is completely fantastical that somehow argues that this progresses into a world where Jews and Muslims get along. Ha.

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