What it means: Toxic Waste is better than Green

Note: this piece is a continuation of “On the Psychosis of the Grocery Store,” to be read after the latter.

With the evidence presented in the piece above in mind, let’s now observe its currently popular workings, namely the so-called Green Revolution marketing campaign. The title of this piece is not a work of irony, but a conclusion based on the evidence of the introductory piece above and on the evidence to be presented below. Right now the entire US, on one level or another, is embroiled in the latest consumer fad of going “green.” It seems every major industry is encouraging us to go green by using their products -even SUVs have little perverse green leaf badges on their rear ends, right above the exhaust pipe.

This means, by a definition compiled from all the products and services that I’ve seen marked “green,” that the product or service is less harmful to the environment with regard to its ingredients, construction, business practices, und so weiter. We shall take the scare quotes away from “green” for the rest of the paper to avoid being annoying, and take pains to avoid describing anything below that is in fact colored green, except when describing packaging on materials that are supposed to be “green.” You get the idea.

For instance, my credit card is green because I can get a statement online rather than a paper envelope containing a paper account that must be delivered to me by airplane or truck. My household cleanser is green because it’s made of plant-derived chemicals found naturally in the earth, so it theoretically shouldn’t harm the ground that I empty the mop bucket on, nor contribute harmful chemicals to the sewer system. One of my Spanish 1 students retorted to my hemming and hawing about consumerism by showing me that the plastic cap on her plastic water bottle is green because it’s smaller than it used to be (indeed its label, which is usually red and white, was now green). I noticed right away when she showed me, because one’s hands memorize a bottle cap.

As we discussed in the introductory piece above, our symbols are undergoing modification to protect us from the concept of starvation or harm; they are symbols protecting symbols from other symbols. We now have this green symbol that protects us from the symbol of environmental disaster, which threatens our symbol of selfish satisfaction and prosperity. That’s not a blame on anyone; that’s a report on reality. However, as we suggested toward the end of the piece above, these products are still produced in the exact same way as the more harmful products, yea, even side by side with some. Similarly, the credit card is still a piece of plastic made in a factory and loaded with information enlivened and managed by coal, gas or nuclear powered computer systems, and the people who manage it still commute to work through the usual methods, und so weiter. The most dramatically stupid example of this scam may be cars, which are extremely destructive to produce, but recycled packaging for convenience food items is just as culpable.

We want to talk here about the productivity of our symbols. The fact is that the green revolution is a desperate shift in marketing and production that protects our most valuable anti-hunger symbol, that of the unshakable presence of consumption. Consumption protects us from hunger, and now environmental crisis threatens consumption. Green means that we can keep driving individualistic cars (to be discussed in our next psychosis essay, if we ever finish researching it), keep buying packaged food and goods, keep doing things exactly as we do, as long as it’s green. Greenness is ordering us to keep consuming, and most of us are eating it up like hungry dogs. But what about our behavior modification proposed above, that of reconnecting to all things through growing our own food, and so forth? If we grow our own food, as discussed above, we get the understanding of our seasonal lifecycle, and so forth. If we buy green, we’re still buying.

We’re experiencing a huge resistance to the green revolution by many consumers, even though this shift is barely different at the point of purchase -that is to say, they sit on the same shelf and we pick one -and certainly not an effective solution to our environmental crisis. This is because greenness is not effective enough a symbol for our above-demonstrated symbolic economy. Toxic waste is an excellent symbol, as even the lousiest of our high school history books tell us (see Loewen, “Lies my Teacher told Me, usw). No one likes toxic waste, no one wants to swim in a polluted body of water, no one wants to live next to a dump. Therefore, to ditch the green scam and go back to paying attention to toxic waste would be a much more effective symbol for driving behavior modification. But of course greenness is far more profitable for those selling the products; toxic waste is only ever a liability. As long as we’re in a consumerist mindset, any consumer-oriented brainwashing will be effective on us.

There is of course a graduation of actual effectiveness of these green products. As mentioned above, my household cleanser actually can be dumped in a cold compost pile without hurting the stuff living in the compost. The dust and crap I clean off my surfaces is probably more harmful. When the cleanser runs out every three years or so, I wash the plastic container out and either get it refilled with a new natural cleanser (I’m spoiled by living in northern California) or I throw it in the curbside recycling.

Furthermore, it could be argued validly that we need some things, like toilet paper and soap. Those of you who make your own natural toilet paper and soap are welcome and encouraged to knock this section down a peg. These products are nevertheless prime candidates for one hundred-percent recycledness. Of course we can make natural soap -we’ve been doing it for centuries. Of course we can make waste paper into toilet paper. It’s all paper, unless it’s one of the heavily treated kinds.

However there is an opposite and ridiculous side to this. In my district they’ve outlawed polystyrene packaging, and vegetable starch-based fast food packaging has become the mandatory rage. So I got breakfast a few sundays ago and took it to the beach, which I almost never do. When the food was gone, we were stuck with a biodegradable plasticine bag, a potato-starch paper carton, and potato-plastic forks -which could not be thrown in the recycling because they’re biodegradable. The alternative: throw them in the regular beach garbage can, which is lined with an old-fashioned plastic bag. So the biodegradable mass still won’t ever biodegrade, because it’s now stuck in a plastic bag in the garbage museum. In this way, the green revolution will cause more garbage and threaten the funding for recycling, which encourages us not to recycle, but rather to stay lazy and wasteful unless we have a compost bin at home for the packaging.

More important than arguing the validity of green products is recognizing how fast the introduction of greenness has set up a tyrannical rule over our perception of environmentally harmonious living. Ten years ago “organic” was still a relatively new idea for most people, and now there’s a “certified organic by whomever” sticker on almost everything in the store to help us use our new green symbol. Has anyone asked a Navajo in the desert or a Bavarian high in the mountains how they’ve managed for so long? Of course not. They don’t have the “organic” sticker, and we mean that literally. A piece of cave-aged cheese from France from a provincial farmer can’t be organic, because it’s natural, and hence doesn’t need to be graded by the organic police. I was talking to a Mexican man I know who works up here and then spends what time he can at his family’s ranch in the central Mexican mountains. At home he does everything “naturalmente,” a description I eagerly encouraged him to use. He at first said “organico,” but I assured him that I understood that he meant natural, and the conversation went on with a wonderful easiness of understanding.

In colonizing our consciousness, Green has made us as scared of naturalness as the processed food titans of the twentieth century did. A solution: begin to connect to all things by raising even the smallest bit of food for oneself. We must realize that we’re scared of tradition because we’re supposed to be doing this increasingly ridiculous “progress” thing. Organic and green are not a solution to the side effects of progress. Dwelling on toxic waste will just make us scared, but what action we take when confronting fear will have a much greater longterm effect than action taken from delusion. I’m not qualified to argue that point; one may look up the civil rights movement for a good dramatization.

We can conclude by reflecting on how easy it’s been, for those of us who have gone green, to go green. Anyone who thinks that they’re going to save the environment (“save” being the egotistical active word) through consumption is gullible. Hitler used simple semantics and rhetoric to convince drunk laborers in the beer halls that, given we=poor and jews=in germany, then of course jews/(#jobs – #us) is a function f(x) when x=the regression into poverty of us. This was one of his simplest ones, but you get the idea. Similarly, Jackson argued that, since there was so much gold in Georgia Territory and so many Indians in that territory blocking the white man from getting at that gold because it was under their homes, then the Indians were guilty of keeping the white man in poverty. The above examples are identical to the present argument that toxicness and wastefulness are keeping us from feeling good about our rampant consumption. So, like Hitler and his mentor Jackson, we march toxicness and wastefulness off on the trail of tears with our mighty weapon greenness. Like the Indians and the Jews, toxicness and wastefulness are nevertheless still here, and we’re not addressing the issues around them realistically.