08 March 2008

Musings on Trash and Democracy

7:30 p.m., Smirnov Street, Taganrog: A woman and her young daughter are riding the tram. The daughter has a small piece of colored paper – an advertisement or somesuch – that she throws on the floor of the tram in typical toddler fashion. Her mother scolds her roundly for throwing it on the floor, picks it up, opens the window of the tram, throws it out the window onto the street, closes the window and sits back down.

I don't understand why Russians care so much about clean floors, but don't seem to care about having clean streets, sidewalks, parks, beaches, lakes or forests. Ok, I take that back. What I really don't understand is why Russians don't appear to make the connection between their individual actions and the condition of the environment in this country, which they are only too happy to complain about. Do Americans only make that connection* because of the government and educational system's concerted efforts to teach us conservation?

Since other things the government tries to teach us don't stick, I think the determining factor is instead our differing perceptions of the impact an individual can have on society and the world. That is, Americans avoid littering for the same reason that they vote, and Russians litter for the same reason that they don't vote.

Voting, of course, is a more complex matter, because it's also influenced by the American assumption that elections will be fair and the Russian assumption that they'll be rigged; on top of that, there's the American assumption that having politician A versus politician B in power will lead to different results, and the Russian assumption that all politicians are equally criminal/ineffective. Obviously, none of these assumptions is universal, but I think they're widespread enough to make a big difference. But are Russians' feelings about democracy specific to the political sphere and caused by actual corruption therein, or are they symptomatic of a larger disbelief in one's power to affect the processes at work in one's country and the world?

Anyway, that's two wordy blog posts in one day, which is really too much. I think I'm going to go for a walk and eat some ice cream. And then throw the wrapper in a trash can.

*By this I'm not saying that Americans never litter – I did Adopt-a-Highway in high school, so I've seen some of the random crap that people throw out of their cars – but I'm sure anyone who's ever been to Russia will agree with me that Americans litter a lot less than Russians do.


Celine said...

Maybe it's also our luxury to be able to worry about the environment? We have so little worries, we have enough 'room' to worry about things as a clean envirionment and global warming. However, maybe newly elected Papa Bear will be able to change things ;-)

andrei said...

Funny thing. M.Twain in his book "Simpletons abroad" was writing smth very similar only describing Americans but not Russians. Writing about amazing cleanliness and tidiness of French streets he was lamenting why "we" (Americans) leave so much trash on the ground and spit all over on the floor in public places even when there's an available spitoon nearby. Things did change in the US in the last 150 years.