Tag Archives: affluence

Archeology and Waste

? For some reason, even though I checked, WordPress did not publish this. A glitch in the system? Here is what was supposed to be Wednesday’s entry.

When archeologists dig around looking for artifacts there are several places that become treasure troves. Obviously where cities once were, and more, houses will relinquish many items of eras past. Various places that served as guildhouses or factories will have pieces that were considered of  inferior quality, or flawed some way. But the best place of all  to find treasures are the midden heaps.

These were the garbage piles, sometimes the leftovers of the latrines and garderobes. Castle toilets often just open from above with the waste falling down to a festering pile below. Some had troughs built and some might have been contained. But the best way to keep the stench down was to let some air in, even if the stench was below on the ground. Unwanted items and refuse went into various midden heaps. Garbage yes, but something worn out, something no longer wanted. Of course in the centuries past, possessions were hard won, made by hand and expensive to the common person.

A piece of clothing would be worn until it fell apart and usable pieces would be incorporated into newer garments, if they were salvageable. Utensils and dishes would be used through generations until they broke or wore out. Then they would be tossed on the midden heap. And of course, people have always lost things. Those who could afford a higher level of affluence would eventually toss out or pass to their servants an item they no longer wanted.

Our midden heaps of today are  landfills and garbage dumps. But whereas of old usually only the most worn out items would ended up in the dumps, now we have a plethora of discarded things. A thousand years from now, should humanity not have completely depleted resources and polluted the planet, there will be archeologists digging in our midden heaps.

This weekend I spent an hour going through my trough of pens, finding the ones that worked, unscrewing the ones that could be taken apart and trying refills in them. Not one of my refills fit these pens and though they say refillable we often just throw out the pen that has died. So yes, archeologists will find pens but perhaps fewer and fewer as they move up through the strata, indicating our greater dependence on electronic media. Yet, at home I have a glass calligraphic pen (Venetian), other calligraphy pens that use nibs to be dipped in ink or come with a cartridge, as well as ballpoints,  felt pens and pencils. I don’t use them as often as I once did but I do still use pens.

Our middens will contain numerous paper clips and pennies. Was any coin considered so beneath notice in Roman times or Rennaisance Italy? No wonder some places want to eliminate the penny (and make more money as a result). I’m sure there will be numerous hangers of wood, plastic and metal. These are the tiny items, along with buttons and zippers after the fabric has corroded away, that will litter our landfills.

Plastics eventually grow brittle and crack, breaking down and in a thousand years would only be evident if buried. So there will be some containers buried deeply, leeched of color and symbols. Glass of course perseveres for centuries so our dishes will still be there to check out. Clothing as stated, will deteriorate quickly, if it’s natural fiber but the polyester blends and synthetic-made-from-plastic-bags polar fleece will stick around a bit longer, though it’s still a plastic and will break down, even if it does take a long time.

And then there are the TVs, stereos, fridges, cars, phones, digital this and that’s and computers. Hundreds of thousands of computers. Archeologists will probably judge rightful conclusions from the fact that the midden heaps will be festooned with TVs and computers. And those conclusions will be that we were a wasteful society, that somehow these things gave out quickly (planned obsolescence–the worst idea to hit the last two centuries), that we needed them to survive or that we were a leisure society bent on possessions.

Well, yes, there it is. Waste not, want not. And unfortunately we waste a lot and want a lot, and our wastage will continue to leech into soil and water. Heavy metals, radioactive materials, plastics–they’re all changing our environments and if you wonder why were developing more and severe allergies, this is why.

But in essence, the future will be filled with archeologists trying to figure out what ran our society, what was prevalent, what was popular and cheap. Whether they’ll come away with that we were an affluent, decadent, careful or conservationist society will be in the making of each layer. I hope it’ll be evident before a thousand years have gone by that we started to change before it was too late.

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It’s an All About Me World

I sometimes wonder what it would have been like to be living at the height of the 40s when people doffed their hats, everyone said please and thank you and called people by their last names, and politeness was just a way of life. Over the decades things have changed. Morals and moires have loosened up, there is more freedom in speech and thought and dress and we live in a very affluent society in North America.

With that, has come consumption at a phenomenal rate. Products are over-packaged, packaged and packaged again to make them splashier, bigger, brighter and harder to rip off. Fashions for everything from clothing, to cars to home furnishings are advertised everywhere, on billboards, in magazines, on TV. Even the poor have TVs and cell phones and wearing the latest cool rock or movie star inspired trend is what matters.

We toss out usable TVs, computers, clothing, furniture because we’re tired of them, they don’t fit the new decor, whatever. Once upon a time in a world only a hundred years old people kept and used items until they were used up. Except perhaps for the rich. But now we have a much richer society compared to a lot of the world’s population.

And what does it seem to have made us? Selfish, self-centered, rude, righteous and arrogant. How often do we drive, turning every other driver into a nonentity or someone to race past, curse out or otherwise denigrate to prove we’re superior, faster, more entitled to use that HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lane to switch in and out of traffic than all those people who follow the rules? How often do we shop in a store or walk down the sidewalk, not considering that other people are using it too and trying to get past but making everyone move at our pace?

Do you bump into someone and don’t even bother to say, “Sorry,” presuming that they just expect it to happen? Do you throw your litter on the ground because you don’t care, it doesn’t matter, everyone does it, or any other way that you justify it being fine for you to do what you want? Do you push in front of someone in line, whether on the road, or at an event? Do you stand in the middle of a walkway, chatting with your friends and blocking the way for everyone? Do you say thank you if someone serves you, lets you in, holds a door for you (no matter the gender)?

We’ve become such a selfish me-me-me society that it really saddens me. I too fall into this at times, because I’m in a rush, I’m grumpy, I was cut off by that jerk. I’m not perfect but I try to consider others around me and not make it that the world was designed only for me and serves me first.

It takes effort to be polite, courteous, kind, but it can really make one feel a lot better if someone says thanks. I once needed change for parking, four quarters for a dollar. I tried to ask a man walking by and he veered around me like I was a leper. We’re turned into a very uncaring and callous society. If we all just try a bit harder we can make our rich, affluent world a pleasant one. Try just being considerate to one person more than you’re considerate to today. Consider a stranger and how your actions may affect them. Think about the world around you and try and imprint it with kindness. The 40s seem quaint now but they had their value.

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