07 May 2008

Toledo's Stepford Trash Bins

One of the great questions of the 20th century was, "Was there something special about Germany?" That is, could Naziism and the genocide have happened anywhere else? I don't know about that extreme case, but potential fascists (of the kinder, gentler, Italian-type variety, I suppose) are found everywhere. Case in point: Toledo, OH.

Toledo's trying out a new automated trash pickup program, with special trash bins that are mechanically picked up by the truck (rather than a human having to jump out and pick them up). Evidently, some people are painting their addresses on the bins, but the bins don't actually belong to either the people using them or to the city, but are the property of the trash company. And since this is a pilot program, if the city doesn't follow through, they'll have to pay the trash company for the defaced bins, so they're asking people not to paint on them.

OK, all well and good. A standard public information campaign, which is entirely legitimate. But then this:
One of the pluses of this program is the look of uniformity these identical containers brings to the city. Spray-painted addresses closely [resemble] graffit and [detract] from that uniform appearance.
Oh, god forbid our trash bins don't all look the same! We should all be nervous anytime public officials want to enforce aesthetic uniformity. Next thing you know, someone might find it amusing to paint a smily face on their trash bin, or some other such symbol of anarchic rebellion.

Maybe we can just cover up the defaced bins by putting black shirts on them.


James K said...

"Maybe we can just cover up the defaced bins by putting black shirts on them."

Ooh!, harsh but fair. :)

Anyone who seeks or attains power will always want more of it, either out of naked lust for power, or out of a belief that utopia is possible as soon as their grand vision is implemented. The only way to stop that is for the people to resist any centralisation of power.

Once unbounded centralised power is tolerated by the people, either out of belligerence or fear or a natural deference to authority (Weimar Germany had all of the above) some form of authoritarianism or totalitarianism is probably inevitable. That they got a form as pernicious as Nazism was probably bad luck. Swap Hitler and FDR at birth and the 3rd Reich would have been extremely illiberal, but not actually evil.

Perhaps the question we should ask is not "why fascism?", but "why liberalism?".

James Hanley said...

Perhaps I'm an optimist, but I think it's more often a misguided belief in utopia, once you get all the troublemakers in line, that guides people to seek power. I think the pure lust for unlimited power is rather rarer, although I do think Nietzche was right when he said that the first action of any organism was to assert itself against its environment--the beginnings of power.

I think black shirts is fair, also, but brown would have been going too far.

James K said...

I think that balance is right as well, most societies can keep the genuinely depraved away from the reins of power. I tremble at the thought of the dark power of misguided good intentions.

James Hanley said...

"most societies can keep the genuinely depraved away from the reins of power."

I teach my students that that is the primary purpose of elections, rather than to get good government. They have a hard time with the idea at first, but by the end of the term, it usually seems to be one of the more solidly implanted ideas. At least that test question has one of the highest rates of correct responses.