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The Great Green Bin Crusade
Mankind's greatest weapon against methane pockets
I want to tell you all a story today. If it’s a story that sounds like it hits close to home, that’s because it does. My home city, in fact. And as much as my home city increasingly resembles a mental hospital run by brain-damaged goats, I would still rather it not be on fire. It’s something like when Márquez refers to “the same burning dry city of nocturnal terrors” as his city. Sure it might be a scorching hellscape . . . but it was his scorching hellscape, you know?
And before you start accusing me of incurable bumpkinhood, remember that the vignettes playing out in millions of small towns and cities around the world aren’t irrelevant. They are the suddenly-seizuring canary in the coal mine; a stark reminder that the world, for all its beauty, isn’t a safe place. As we descend further into the black hole of globalization, the priorities and ambitions of global entities will increasingly find their counterparts on the municipal stage.
All that to say it behooves us, as those who should “understand the times” (Matt. 16:3, Rom. 13:11) to pay attention to local happenings, when they happen. As the old saying goes, “Once behooved, twice removed.”1
Once Upon a Time . . .
Our story begins with a wide-angle shot on a lonely green bin. On this bin are the words, “Peterborough: Organics Only.” Zooming out farther, we see that the green bin isn't actually alone at all. In fact, he lives in a city full of green bins, which suddenly join together in singing Rodgers and Hammerstein’s broadway hit “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Welcome to the eco-friendly future! In which the lives of harried citizens are played out in pedantic, diaper-smelling cities; in which “waste campaigner” becomes a viable profession; and in which you spend most evenings bullwhipping gangs of racoons away from your carefully-curated waste bins.
But wait a second — I thought the green bin program was about helping the environment? Shouldn’t we share in Mr. Mayor’s excitement that “The green bin service will divert an additional 15 to 20 percent of garbage” away from landfill? Aren’t you just trying to dig up a problem where it doesn’t exist? Isn’t this you just being cranky again?
Before I get into why I don’t think this is just me being cranky, it’s worth a reminder that our problem right now isn’t too many cranks. In fact, the rise of political monocultures in the first place, which are directly responsible for burdensome social programs, is because the aren’t enough cranks to go around. Democracy only works when there’s a reserve of cranks, known colloquially as “the opposition,” helping to keep the progressive element from burning the house down.
An absence of cranks, and a steep rise in kitten-hearted “influencers,” is the only reason an expensive, unnecessary composting program can receive unanimous approval at a city council meeting.
But enough about me.
Go Green or Go Home
To clarify, no one on either side of this issue is arguing against composting. By means of compost, farmers grow healthy crops and ecosystems maintain equilibrium. What some of us are uneasy about, especially after the past few years, is the obsession with standardization.
Now, there are two ditches here — two unhealthy reactions — known as libertarianism and authoritarianism. We need to avoid both ditches, while not becoming so petrified that we freeze on the highway like a bewitched squirrel. Forward momentum, in a world such as ours, requires careful consideration, which we heard about last Sunday. It’s a road rarely travelled these days, but one we desperately need to bushwack our way back onto.
Those with libertarian dispositions tend to instinctively recoil at any and all attempts at standardization. While I understand and sympathize with this attitude, the problem happens when you have a bunch of people living in close proximity to each other. Like in a city for example. Some kind of agreement on speed limits, garbage days, and parking bylaws can be a good thing in these contexts.
Our immediate concern, however, is not the libertarians. The bigger problem seems to be the frothing policy-wavers crawling out of the other ditch. For despite their loud “Huzzahs!” for diversity, there’s nothing authoritarians hate more than actual diversity; and nothing they love more than standardizing every last filiment of your life. Sure they’re happy to let the tri-gendered-fairy-calflings prance around in their fever dreams, but just one of you try and set out your garbage in a bluish bag rather than a clearish one.
Nations that move away from the centrality of Scripture in forming public conscience and in defining the limits of civil authority eventually stop becoming democracies and start becoming authoritarian states. Even though the kind of authoritarianism we’re seeing play out today doesn’t look like wicked moustaches and charismatic speeches. Rather, it’s what David Collier calls “bureaucratic authoritarianism,” which “seeks to curtail popular mobilization and is built on a political coalition and a party orientation that entails strong ties to international economic actors.”2
This is the reason behind crippling property taxes, inscrutible zoning laws, and increasingly complex rule structures (fire bans, disposal systems, building permits, etc.). What these measures do is effectively “curtail mobilization.” And as any astronaut will tell you, extended immobility eventually leads to atrophy. Cogsworth said it best, “Life is so unnerving, for a servant that’s not serving.” An inability to take dominion in our individual and corporate lives leads to increased dependance on government, which leads to ever-reaching governments.
This is the strategy of bureaucratic authoritarianism.
The Greatest Commandment
The greatest threat from total standardization isn’t just our freedom, but that most ancient of laws: love for neighbor. Where the land is governed by the endless lawmongering of unaccountable power systems, it should come as no surprise when the lives of citizens become increasingly unbearable.
Instead of productive labour, or productive rest, now we must spend Thursday nights scouring our trash for popcorn kernels, muffin wrappers, and microfibres of organic waste. As for the monsters who still use disposable diapers, you must now appeal for a royal exemption, which will allow you to deposit a total of TWO (count ‘em!) bags of diapers every other week. These may not be big things in themselves, but their power lies in numbers.
Not only do such programs bog down already struggling families with more rules, they do so with more costs as well. That’s right, if you think the green bin program is “free,” I’ve got a nice balsa-wood bridge to sell you. Peterborough city staff are already calling for an all-inclusive tax charge of about 10% for 2024; ostensibly for ambulance and police services, but more likely in order to sustain the rapidly expanding dung pile of progressive initiatives.
But hold on a second — what about the greater good? After all, we don’t want any “harmful pockets of methane gas” opening up around the landfill area. But then — what exactly are methane pockets? Judging by the hushed voices and reverent tones of climatologists, we’re let to believe something involving sulphur, stygian darkness, and one of the more inhospitable breeds of ancient-Mesopotamian demons. What I believe we’re actually seeing is the creation of an imaginary nomenclature (peak oil, carbon offsetting, climate emergency) in order to stoke imaginary fears, in order to ladle government even more very real powers. It is an attempt to recover the tunnel-vision we saw on display during covid. In an emergency, the measure of human well-being suddenly shrinks to a single metric: avoiding that one thing. But while everyone is busy avoiding that one thing, all kinds of other dangerous things start to creep up behind them. This is the play.
I believe there are practical things we can do to resist standardization, which I’d like to get into in the coming weeks. But in closing, I want to leave you with some practical encouragement from the Savior himself, who came not for self-righteous lawmakers/pharisees, but for the poor, needy, and burdened. Jesus came not as a burden-giver, but a burden-bearer. He came not to break the bruised reed, but to strengthen and support it. He came not to snuff out the sputtering candle, but to nurture it back into warmth and brightness. It has always been the lot of petty tyrants to grasp at power, and to hate those who resist them.
They will come and go, but Christ has overcome the world.
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Uncle Ben’s Big Book of Quips and Quotes for the Apocalypse. Actively querying agents and publishers.
The Oxford Companion to Politics of the World, 2nd edn., Joel Krieger, ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 93–95.