Friday, March 6, 2009

Dog shit: ruminations on culture

Walking down the street this morning, a bag of dog shit loosely dangling from my left hand, I remembered a story I must have read somewhere. The details are fuzzy, but I think it was a David Sedaris story about seeing a photo of some American starlet (Cameron Diaz? Jennifer Aniston?) walking down the beach with her dog and a plastic bag, while he was getting his hair cut in France. [Feel free to correct me - I beg you to let me know the real story since I appear unable to recall it!] The hair dresser was appalled that this American beauty was blithely walking along, bag of shit in hand. Quelle horreur! Because in France, of course, this picking up of shit is not the cultural norm. They have darling little green street cleaning vehicles for such things in Paris, for example.

Of course, we're forever grateful to Harvey Milk for, among other things, initiating this pooper-scooper culture we live in. It is disgusting to deal with other people's dog shit. But really, isn't so it interesting that in this culture we live in, the individual is responsible for picking up shit, instead of the state.

Which then reminded me of a book that the wonderful Pierre gave me, called "The European Dream." The basic premise of the book is that one of the chief differences between the so-called American Dream and the European Dream is the definition of the individual and what s/he is responsible for. The American Dream rewards the individual who is self-reliant, entrepreneurial, the "self-made" man, independent, doesn't need a hand-out. The government is not responsible for taking care of any number of social problems -- homelessness, poverty, the education gap. Instead a gigantic social service and non-profit sector exists to handle these, as long as the will of the individual is to support it. All in the interest of keeping taxes low. If you want to contribute to helping other people, so be it, but the overall ethic is that we'd rather keep taxes low and helping other people voluntary.

I'm grossly oversimplifying obviously [in the interest of not being hours late for work]. Anyway, in this context, that simple act of picking up fresh shit really struck me as so indicative of a number of things that are both laudable and lame about American culture. Yes, we should be responsible for ourselves -- I agree. But what about those people who can't be? Then the rest of us have to deal with their dog shit anyway, since they don't. Would it really be so bad for everyone to pay a little more, in the interest of there being less shit?

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