Friday, April 9, 2010


















wonderful forts built from trash by gnomes, note moats


April showers here. Nice dripdripdrip out the open window to wake up to. It's the best kind of alarm clock. Rainy days at the beach.

That's the spectral Atlantic City Boardwalk in the hazy distance above, and yours truly slouching toward the library via the beach with a pack full of books. T and I walk the beach every day, picking up trash and interesting shells, the trash to deposit in one of the ginormous trash cans the town leaves at every single entrance to the beach, so clearly whoever left the friggin trash on the beach could have deposited their trash in the can on the way back to wherever they were aiming to pollute next. And folks with their dogs! You simply would not believe how many dogowners are fully convinced if they walk their dog near the dunes, let it off the leash for a moment, let it do its business, and releash that canine, no harm is done. At the core of their belief system seems to be the notion that the ocean is one vast flushing mechanism that will completely eradicate any evidence of the dog's passing (whatever it passed). I see folks doing this every single day. It's really just so gross the way everyone, I mean without exception, everyone (and there aren't many folks on the beach this time of year, so I can pretty much generalize on a small scale) seems convinced this beach is here for their convenience alone, for the dog to crap on, for them to leave their bottles and trash on. Someone needs to clue these folks in: It is NO LONGER 1850! The world is no longer the pristine place it was before the petrochemical industry became king! It may LOOk similar but it is definitely NOT the same place! It's saturated with crap! I am, yet again, suddenly mindful of the opening line of the film "Sex, Lies, and Videotape" and Andi McDowell's character moaning: What are they gonna do with all the garbage? to her shrink -- the vast sea of invisible garbage that looks deceptively blue unless you look to closely at the brown eddies washing ashore carrying waves of plastic debris. Or put a drop of that water under a microscope...

I watched a bevy of teens lounging against the dunes leave a dozen empty soda bottles and a towel scattered all around them and split. The public education system is failing indeed if these kids don't yet realize there are consequences for them and their kids in such actions as those bottles get pulverized into microscopic bits of plastic chemical shards that find their way into the fish sticks Mom microwaves for them and the very sand they are lounging on, the water they swim in and drink.

These aren't aberrant behaviors, they are the norm here. EVery single person walking a dog lets it crap on the beach and pretends not to see. Which brings me (quoting Colbert) to today's word:

Deniability

Have you ever noticed the phenomenon of, for example, folks who are all about buying green, socially responsible products, who love to tell you their latest discovery, and who turn right around and buy plastic bottles of water by the dozen, refuse to recycle, dumping everything in the garbage for someone else to deal with, drive gas guzzlers when they do not live on a ranch or have a need for such vehicles, and are uncomfortable with conversations involving "carbon footprints" and passionate political thought? Who give you that look if you go there?

Puts me in mind of the episode of South Park about the Smug Alert. I am not a South Park fan. John Stewart, Yes. But my son, knowing where his mom's at, told me about this one, and, as much as I have objected to the crassness of that show, I had to give it to him, this one was right on target. The premise: A cloud of Smug hangs over LA. It comes from, as the writers comment, the incredible smugness they witness in folks who, for example, drive hybrids -- on the way to their private jets! (The theme song is a scream, the epitome of bad, repetitive, "deep meaning", hot tub soaking, we- are- the- world kinda stuff, song lyrics my brother used to call "another tune about dysfunctional relationships". ) You say, Yeah! these South Park fellas are onto something. And you'd be right, here's proof!

From a truly fascinating study from Canada I found this morning in "Psychological Science" online. It turns out that mere exposure to green, socially responsible ideas tends to make folks behave better, that is, make better moral choices than those who actually buy those products. And the reason? Apparently actually buying green creates an immediate and long lasting smug response that activates a sense of entitlement (or what I would call "specialness") in the green consumer, rendering their subsequent social/moral decisions less ethical than those of folks who are simply exposed to the notion of social responsibility (or surrounded by it -- seems to me this speaks to a greater need for more "socially responsible/globally mindful" public spaces and enhanced ubiquity of such messages, eh?). Turns out folks who actually shopped for and bought green products were more likely to steal or lie later on than those who were merely exposed to the idea of green , socially responsible consumerism. Now ain't that a kick in the head? No wonder Al Gore's so smug! His entire estate is green! To quote the study's conclusion:

People do not make decisions in a vacuum; their decisions are embedded in a history of behaviors. In three studies, we considered prosocial and ethical decision making in the context of past consumer behaviors and demonstrated that the halo associated with green consumerism has to be taken with reservations. Although mere exposure to green products can have a positive societal effect by inducing prosocial and ethical acts, purchasing green products may license indulgence in self-interested and unethical behaviors.

Any ol' catholic school attendee will tell you 'bout dat "halo" effect; that going to confession gives you a clean slate to go out and sin with abandon. It's the same with green shoppers, many of them anyway. They like the hipness of the edgy green consumer space (like rednecks fell in love with long hair once they realized it could cover their godawful ears), but haven't a clue what it really means to be part of that. Being part of "that" requires mindful, willing sacrifice, as stated in the study, and sacrifice for the greater good is just not on their radar. (Is this the same convenience mentality for whom slavery would not have been an issue in 1850, who would have appreciated the upside of Hitler's new society? Who voted for Bush cause they thought he'd stop givin folks the finger in public once he got to the white house?) Ask the folks who work at Whole Paycheck and can't form a union, who have to live with the sneaky suspicion their bosses, pseudo-progressives at best (what we used to call co-opters in the old days) who, despite the lavender scented washroom soap dispensers, are basically me- me- pick-me sort of folks, adamantly anti- single payer health insurance or reform of any kind that might pinch their bottom line. Faux hip is nothin new.

Read the whole study. It's not very long, the details are very revealing, and it's written in a lay-enough lingo for anyone to follow.

We are all prey to such tendencies to pat ourselves on the back, forgetting that we, all of us, are, in fact, the ones who have allowed things to get as screwed up as they are. Come to the beach and take a good look. What's all that brown foamy stuff? And for chrissakes, bring a bag and pick up some trash while you're at it.

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