17.2.14

THEORIZING CRAP.

To philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, "civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them."

To culture-studies types, thinking about routine is all.
Behind me was the hum and chatter of an art opening—this was at a now sadly departed radical Chicago cultural center called Mess Hall. On a table nearby were offerings of hummus and home-made brownies. Nearly everyone else was chatting and oblivious to my plight, but I could sense at least one other person impatiently waiting behind me. Then I went in, and, inside, next to a perfectly serviceable modern flush toilet seat, was a five-gallon bucket of shit. As far as I could tell—I’ll admit I kept my eyes averted—there was a layer of sandy material on the very top of the bucket, along with a note about how to use it. It was like a giant human litter box.

I was happy that they at least gave us a choice, between the loo and the litter.

Follow your shit, we were admonished in this project, and see how it’s all wrapped up in capitalism and the environment. The point was to get us to actually think of what happened to our shit once it left our body, and the ways in which we allow our shit to leave and mingle with the great waters of seas and rivers. The shit compost bucket was a way to make its materiality even clearer, in case we had forgotten.

And we have, by and large, been allowed to forget about shit. We believe that the problem of excrement is solved. In some senses it is, and a society with working waste removal is a healthy society.
Precisely, although there's a culture-studies essay of prodigious length about why that proposition is wrong.
The very idea that one should be concerned about privacy or dignity while shitting is one that hippy-radicals and academics mock. Historians of shit like to describe this urge to privacy as a bad departure for the culture. Some describe, with a smugness that sometimes floats to the surface, the fact that the ritual of going to the toilet was once upon a time a communal experience, with people laughing and chatting away and catching up on gossip as they went about their business.

Dominique Laporte’s 1978 History of Shit, for instance, interrogated shit as a reservoir of cultural anxieties and asserted that the development of modern toilets was symbolic of a larger bourgeoisification of culture.
Retired or not, I shall not rest as long as there are people who should know better using "bourgeois" and its variations as a pejorative.
Civilization, we are told, produces too much shit, and we cannot actually shit less. But there is more human and animal excrement than we can handle. Animal shit particularly has increased exponentially in countries like the U.S., where farming now means animals are herded in the millions as part of massive agribusiness corporations—and the nature of animal shit has changed as animal feed has changed.

So the composters come forth. They believe that to compost shit, to return it to the earth so that it might regenerate the world, addresses our environmental and ecological crisis.
Never mind the composters. I give you the sewer socialists of Milwaukee, who, years ago, saw the potential in selling dried activated sewage sludge as a fertilizer.  With a foot of snow (or is it the beginnings of the next glacier?) on the ground, and a layer of Milorganite under it, the potential for a lush lawn in May, if the ice cap melts, is great.

Fortunately, even culture-studies types have to recognize reality.
To reduce water and paper waste requires people to adhere to ways of life that take us backwards in time. It compels people to return to patterns of labor and leisure (or the lack thereof) which are often sexist and in fact can actually aid in the greater spread of disease.
Quite. In Whitehead's words, "The art of free society consists first in the maintenance of the symbolic code; and secondly in fearlessness of revision, to secure that the code serves those purposes which satisfy an enlightened reason. Those societies which cannot combine reverence to their symbols with freedom of revision, must ultimately decay either from anarchy, or from the slow atrophy of a life stifled by useless shadows."  Whether the culture-studies types are the anarchy or the useless shadows is left to the reader.

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