Tragedy of the Commons

The Tragedy of the Commons is a concept in environmental conservation that essentially explains how and why humans are utterly incapable of maintaining (or even supporting) a healthy ecology in places with questionable or no land rights. Example: over-fishing, those Japanese whaling boats that flout international agreements and are then attacked by armed-but-hippie-whale-lover-vigilantes.

This is the first thing I thought of when I saw the carnage of a family lunch at a local shopping mall. Four rowdy children running amok, darting through the legs of customers waiting at Burger King and that Disgusting-Looking-Kumpir-Place, who barely sat long enough to scarf down their burger and fries, whose entire family left their lunch wrappers on the table of the packed food court.

Cardinal rule of my childhood? Pick up your * expletive* mess.

While traveling from Fethiye to Selçuk, on a less-than-stellar Pamukkale Seyahat bus, a young woman began vomiting, quite violently, all over herself and her (lucky) friend who was seated next to her. If the 38+ (100+) heat plus the body odor it produces weren’t enough, this young woman’s vomit didn’t add to my sense of relaxation. My cousin, fresh off the metaphorical boat from the US, sat there, sweat trickling down her forehead, fanning herself with her ancient copy of Jane Austin’s Sense and Sensibility, staring in horror at this young woman. Why didn’t she get up and go to the lavatory? Well, my dear grasshopper, there isn’t one.

Then, after pulling into what seemed the fifteenth rest stop, the woman disembarked, leaving her plastic bag of vomit and a floor covered in whatever she had recently eaten. Call me crazy, but if I had been that bus attendant, I would have marched her sorry fanny back on the bus to clean up the mess herself.

Friends and I have speculated this seeming lack of compunction when blatantly littering: the ritualistic emptying the undesired contents of one’s purse into the street. I once had a bus  stop on the side of a stunning mountain to dump the trash into the whipping wind. Why do the filthy streets bother no one but me?

After Duxbury’s 4th of July parade down the historic Washington Street yesterday, I saw local families picking up the trash left by various guests and visitors. I never would have guessed the Americans, Americans of all people, would do a better job than anyone at trash desposal, especially in the legal grey-area that is the sidewalk. But there it was.

Turks take note. Clean streets really might just be worth it.

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4 thoughts on “Tragedy of the Commons

  1. So… How much of Duxworth’s parade garbage ended up getting sorted for recycling?

    My immediate guess is that Europeans are probably more conscious of what happens to their rubbish. However, I will admit that EU citizens probably don’t qualify as “anyone” – American exceptionalism never functions properly without being juxtaposed against a token developing economy.

    Seriously though, how’s re-entry going? You enjoying your fill of bacon burgers and diner food and freedom?

    • Well my dear, since I live in the people’s republic of Massachusetts, we must dispose of our own trash (no, no trash collection here.) We pay a fee to use the recycling center and also pay to purchase special trash bags for everything that can’t be recycled (which then entice you to recycle more effectively.) Ah, yes, my dear Sean, we do sort quite fanatically for recycling.

      Bacon has become a regular staple in my diet (much to my heart’s dismay.)

      • I don’t think my home town had much recycling until after I’d left, but I wonder how US systems (and incentives) actually compare to those in Turkey. Did Tekirdag have the armies of Roma collecting plastic and cardboard that Istanbul does? Did it have the street sweeps?

        Don’t get me wrong, the trash here bothers me too, but there are “solutions” in place, as well as ample evidence of failed efforts. I get that your observations apply to personal behavior, but I think that’s what I find interesting – even if Americans are personally taking care of their trash, their waste is still often transferred to the developing world (or West Virginia). I get the sense that your criticizing the average Turk a little unfairly. For instance: When was the last time the PKK put a bomb in a public trash bin in Duxbury?

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