We have this idea that if we are spending money and doing things, we must be making progress. I wonder.

Our neighborhood is being treated to a sewer. We never needed one before but we do now. Never mind that sewers are water wasters and we live in a desert, never mind that the heavy equipment used to dig mammoth holes in our streets spews forth tons of extra carbon dioxide into our air, never mind that the noise and dust makes us all crazy; we’re spending money and doing things, so it must be good. Right?

Wrong. It is noisy, noisome and offensive. It is bad for the environment — dual flush toilets (or composting toilets) and modern septic tanks are as efficient removers of waste as sewage lines and treatment plants and use far less water and energy — and it is bad for the neighborhood. One of the machines literally rattles and shakes the houses. The birds must hate it, those that are still around. Many have left. Besides, it is making us cranky. [1]

Normally, I am a mild mannered sort but even I had an altercation recently with a neighbor and I blame it on the sewer project. The neighbor is probably a reasonable person and I blame his irrational behavior on the sewer too. Humans are not evolutionarily adapted to unrelenting noise, even those who live in Manhattan or San Francisco. We need silence. Our souls need silence. And we certainly don’t need our local paper “thanking us for our patience” while they do this stupid sewer project, which includes ripping out all the existing pavement then replacing it. We haven’t been patient nor should we have been. George Washington, in his farewell address, warned us about being led like sheep to the slaughter.

That altercation was only the second time in my entire life when I failed to get along with a neighbor. I was only a little boy the first time, when the neighbor shot my dog. You read that right; she shot my dog. The dog didn’t die but my parents decided to give it away, which is one of the few things they did wrong and the one for which I’ve never forgiven them. Anyway, we nick-named that neighbor, “Pistol Pete of Maple Street” and I hope she died with a bad taste in her mouth because she shot that dog. I’m assuming she’s dead; I certainly hope she is.

But back to the sewer which, as I said before, is a bad idea and the result of Americans’ belief in progress. It is costing 10 million dollars. That doesn’t include the $3000 or so that each house will have to pay for hooking up. Imagine: $3000 and nothing will be visible. When you pay that kind of money for something, you ought to at least be able to see it. The $3000 includes crushing the septic tank and filling the resulting hole with dirt. They’ll come inspect it to make sure we did it because they don’t trust us.

A government that does not trust its citizens is in deep trouble. The local mayor has won his last election.

Nor do we have any choice. Suppose an environmentally conscious citizen, perhaps a bird watcher for instance, has installed a gray water system, composting toilets and a sanitary wetland for birds. No matter. Here is what the local ordinance says:

No person shall install or modify a private liquid waste system or use a private liquid waste system that was installed or modified after public sanitary sewer service has become available.

If we don’t hook on, we’ll be fined $100 a month until we do. As far as I can tell no one even considered the possibility of a well designed decentralized waste water system. One that the citizenry could be proud of and invested in. For instance, our little street is a dead end where we could have built a small wetland system every bit as “sanitary” as a city-wide sewer system. The birds would have loved it.

I don’t often agree with George Will but I share his distrust of “vast collective undertakings” even when it is Americans undertaking them. We ought to encourage decentralized experiments with sewage, not punish them. We are learning, after all, that environmental problems have to be addressed by all of us and in diverse ways which include, but are not limited to, collective governmental action.

Worst of all, the roadrunner family has left us. Maybe they’ll come back after we quit making all this progress and it’s quiet again.

[1] For a list of all the other ways in which we think we’ve made progress, please press 1; for another list, please press 2; if you’d like to talk to an operator, hang up now.

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One Response to “Progress”

  1. Latasha Dilan Says:

    But men may construe things after their own fashion, Clean from the purpose of the things themselves.

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