Thursday, November 18, 2004

The Genie in the Bottled Water

I know that this has probably been done to death by so many cultural commentators and comedians, but that has never stopped me before. And besides, I'm not ranting about low IQ's in high places for once.

I was running the other day and I ran past a car that had its hatchback open. I saw a gigantic shrink-wrapped box of plastic bottled water. I couldn't catch the brand - did I say I was running fast? :-) but I was struck at the effort that would be required to lift that much water from the car to the house. The owner was probably inside getting a fork lift or something. I didn't look up and to see a crane either. But anyway, that wasn't what I ruminated about on the rest of my run.

Someone who gets that much bottled water may have a lot of reasons for it and some of my suppositions may be off base. They always are and that doesn't stop me in the least. But it struck me that the compulsion of buying copious amounts of bottled water can be a political act like home schooling or living in a gated community. These acts can signify the removal from participation in the commonweal. No longer do they depend on transactions and interactions in the public sphere such as government, schools, utilities, law enforcement but they depend more on things that are directly accountable by writing a check.

The purchaser of bottled water can be saying "I don't trust the public water I get from my tap". And there may be good reasons for that - I'm not saying that their aren't. Rather my point is more that in the past, this mistrust would have been felt in political terms rather than commercial terms. Homeowners would have demanded and got action from their city, county and state governments for clean water. Now there has been a paradigm shift. Our governments (for all the cries of "regulation") are not depended upon or called upon as much as the public finds ways to buy what they need. Don't depend on the water - buy it bottled. Don't depend on local police - live in a gated community. Don't trust public schools - home school or religious school.

All of these situations are transactions that used to be between the citizen and their community as a whole. Grass roots efforts and using messy democracy through local institutions for clean water and air, good schools and safe neighborhoods are not seen as viable by the bottled water, religious schools and home schoolers and gated communitarians. Their money is being used for transactions between a corporate entity that they trust and themselves. They feel that through the forces of capitalism or religion they can get directly what they couldn't accomplish through democracy or activism. Furthermore, these transactions are benefitting the corporations/churches who provide the service and the people who use the service. Who they are not benefitting are the people who not using those services.

In other words, when solutions to better our society are done through democratic, grass roots, activist methods, everyone in the community can benefit. If we improve the water for a city - everyone in the city benefits. However, if I only improve the water for my household by buying slats of Dasani, that only improves Coca-Cola's bottom line and only my household. Similarly for home schooling and gated communities, the economy used to fund these are limited to those directly involved in the transactions and not the commonweal.

This argument is similar to the ones I've always had about buying local rather than Walmart. Funding an economy where the local, main street hardware store owner can pocket the profits and pay a living wage and benefits for his local employees is preferable to the big box store where the profits go to Bentonville, Arkansas and the money that does stay in town is for non living wages and no benefits. The commonweal I believe is not improved by Walmart as they suck money out of communities. The analogy I think of for this is water drainage. The main street of little mom and pop stores or local chains providing goods and services that feed money and good will back into the community can be thought of as wetlands. The rain comes down from the sky and gets trapped and recycled by the wetlands, encouraging a vibrant, healthy environment. Think of the rain as the money being spent by a communities citizens. Now think of the rain falling on the square mile of a Walmart parking lot. This rain never gets into the depths of the land, but rather runs off in big sewer pipes to the river or lake - bypassing the local environment. And oh, the destruction of the real wetlands contributes to the pollution of the public water that drives some people to drink bottled water.

So the genie in the water bottle is one I want to keep in there.

7 Comments:

At 11:47 PM, Blogger Scott said...

You're drinking the water from the tap? Excellent. Everything is proceeding according to plan. Phase 2 can now begin.

I mean...your devotion to your community is inspiring. *cough*

 
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