January 22, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 4

Dr. Wes

We’ve been living rent-free on this planet for a long time

By Dr. Wes Browning

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(Original title: We’ve been living rent-free on this planet for a long time,
but pretty soon the landlord is going to turn up the heat)

Here’s a headline I saw today that set off my PTSD: “Climate change can become irreversible in 15 years, if not addressed immediately.” This is right up there with “Plastic garbage covers area the size of Texas in the Pacific Ocean and will stay there and only grow in size until radioactive mutant germs evolve to eat it, which germs will then, when finished eating the ocean plastic, grow legs, climb on land and eat our computer cases and car seats.”

The concept of “trash” is what triggers me. As they said at the demonstrations back in my days of radical youth, “No trashing.” It meant, “Please, fellow radicals, while we march through neighborhoods on our way to the courthouse, don’t litter or break windows, because the window you broke or the lawn you littered might have been the window or lawn of a potential new supporter.”

The concept is thus linked to potentiality. If nobody were a potential new supporter, then the leaders could say, “Have a good time, smash anything you want on the way.”

In fact I have witnessed enough examples of unrestrained trashing in my life to know that trashing is part of the natural human makeup. People will trash what is around them if they think there are either no consequences or if they don’t see any downside. They’ll do it just to have an effect. I could give examples from childhood on, but I’ll stick to one case in the ’80s.

I lived in the University District in a cheap, illegal boarding house. The landlord decided after I was there two years that he no longer wanted to be a slumlord. So he sold the property to a developer. The developer didn’t care about the building, wouldn’t maintain it, but didn’t collect rents either. All tenants were given was notice to evacuate by a date six months later, because the building would be wrecked then.

So from the time we got the notice of demolition to the act of demolition, there was no landlord presence. Good that there was no rent, because the property received no repairs. For example, four months in, the toilets were broken. They were never fixed, so for the last two months waste piled up. I won’t draw a picture. It was ugly.

Now, if human beings were universally rational and enlightened, wouldn’t you think that the eight tenants of this little old house on 21st Avenue Northeast could have banded together and kept that place in good repair with the money they were all saving on rent? Or at least pooled their talents to find solutions to disrepair that were mutually agreeable?

Sure. And you read about those good news stories every other day in the good news press. But this wasn’t to be that kind of modern fairy tale, this was to be one of those old-fashioned fairy tales, where all the incidental characters are sadists.

What in fact happened was that even though we all still were sharing this place and it was our mutual home until the wrecking date, my neighbors, figuring that there was no downside to trashing the building, did so gleefully, with themselves still living in it.

These boneheads got drunk every night and pretended to be Bruce Lee and kicked walls in, ripped wiring out, smashed light fixtures and left garbage all around the common areas. Some of them conducted target practice with pistols at walls inside and across the street. They took turns finding creative new places to defecate. All the time laughing insanely, knowing they’d be still living there for weeks.

This is what I fear most of all. That the human species, faced with a doomed planet, won’t make the best of its dying days, but make the worst of them.

It won’t be, as people often imagine, a final struggle among us to be the last remaining survivor.

It will be a final trashing, for which all the trashing that preceded was only a rehearsal.



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