Recycling is Deadly

Monday, October 02, 2006

Here's one Andy might want to save for when his kids get a little older.

Donald Boudreaux at TCS Daily does a nice job of putting recycling into its proper context by undoing two things the environmentalists have done: (1) pushing the notion that "recycling" applies only to trash, and (2) causing many to lose sight over the fact that recycling potentially wastes an irrreplaceable and very important "resource" known as time. I have seen people make both points before, but never the former so thoroughly nor the two so well-integrated as here.

... I brew coffee and fix breakfast. Each day, I use the same coffee maker that I used the day before. I clean it after each use, recycling it for the next brew. My wife and I drink the coffee from mugs that have been used many times in the past. (One set of our coffee mugs was handed down to us after my wife's parents used them for several years.) We also eat our breakfasts using dishes and utensils that are recycled from countless past uses. After breakfast, we recycle our mugs, dishes, and utensils with the help of another recycling machine: an automatic dishwasher.


If it's immoral to waste, then it's immoral to recycle when the benefits of doing so are less than the value of the time it takes to do so. It would indeed be wasteful for me to discard my fine china after each use. So I don't do it.

But I do discard paper plates - for the same reason I recycle my china rather than discard it: it would be wasteful to do otherwise. After all, I could recycle paper plates. Careful washing would enable me to reuse each paper plate two or three times. But valuable time and labor would be wasted. Time I could spend playing with my son, reading a book... [bold added]
This piece also brings up an interesting point. I frequently rail against recycling, and against the left for attacking values. But notice the near-explicit connection between the two here. Recall what Ayn Rand once said about values in her Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology (which I excerpt here from Harry Binswanger's The Ayn Rand Lexicon):
Since a value is that which one acts to gain and or keep, and the amount of possible action is limited by the duration of one's lifespan, it is a part of one's life that one invests in everything one values. The years, months, days, or hours of thought, of interest, or action devoted to a value are the currency with which one pays for the enjoyment one receives from it. (521)
Notice that by focusing everyone on garbage as if it is "semi-precious" (as Boudreaux puts it), the leftists are helping us forget what it is that makes something valuable (i.e., its ability to help us live, specifically, in relation to other potential values). Furthermore, the inflated value of garbage then induces millions of people to fritter away parts of their finite and irreplaceable lives for the sake of treating garbage as if it is actually more valuable than it really is.

We thus see that recycling -- at least as the leftists would have us do it -- is not just immoral. It is deadly. But then, as an Objectivist, I repeat myself.

-- CAV


Myrhaf said...

I think the real point of recycling is to get the individual to sacrifice for the collective. The fact that it is impractical does not matter to the left. The spectacle of Americans humbly wasting their time on garbage is too sweet a show of selflessness and submission for the left to ever give it up.

Gus Van Horn said...

You bring up the biggest weakness of the column: that it only implicitly accepts selfishness as moral, if at all.

The column is really only good at causing people who already value their lives over abandoning technology in the name of preserving Mother Earth to stop and think before falling for recycling hook, line, and sinker. Those who think humanity is unnatural or damaging "nature" will remain unswayed. And anyone they can persuade that acting to promote their own welfare is wrong can still be convinced to recycle....

This is why making moral aguments in favor of selfishness is so important.