As a result of my news media fast (hereinafter, “The Fast”)I talked about in an earlier blog, I have found myself focusing on my immediate surroundings and being more mindful of what my day to day experience tells me, rather than theories.
But old habits die hard. Every pseudo-intellectual has their theory about the decline of civilization in general, and ours in particular. Prior to “The Fast”, I would have knocked out a blog that talked about how our civilization’s decline is exemplified by our crumbling infrastructure, growing disparity of rich and poor, and the concentration of power within the executive branch to curtail our civil liberties. I would have referenced or borrowed from articles in Salon, Slate, The New Republic, The Nation, The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and, if I was feeling particularly pseudo-intellectuallish, Foreign Affairs.
Instead, based on my recent immediate experience, I think there is one public institution whose degradation is so widespread that it is, I submit, a clear indicator of the decline of our civilization – The Public Restroom.
Using the restroom is the great democratic equalizer of status. No matter your race, color or creed; regardless of your accomplishments, education, or wealth, you are obliged to follow the same five steps:
1) drop your drawers
2) release waste into the bowl
4) flush, and
5) (hopefully) wash hands.
The practice of making doo-doo in a place far, far away from where you eat and drink was one of the key innovations in human history for the prevention of disease. Therefore, proper toileting is, arguably, one of the most basic duties (pardon the pun) of a citizen of a democracy. Even before paying taxes and voting.
So what does it say that in almost every public place, in almost every restaurant or store, the restroom looks like the inside of a chimpanzee’s cage? We see discolored wads of wet toilet paper on the floor. And streamers of toilet paper draped across the stall like crime scene tape. This can’t all be the result of people who are disabled or infirm.
Most telling, however, are the examples of failure to meet one’s civic obligations listed above, which include:
-Missing the bowl (Step #2)
-Failure to flush (Step #4),
-Most disturbingly, failure to flush with absolutely no evidence of paper in the bowl, compounding a violation of Step #4 with a disregard of Step #3.
However, there is a ray of hope for us all in that the wet, sloppy mess at the sink indicates some attempt at Step #5.
In short, the breakdown of civilization seems to start around Step #2 (after our immediate needs are satisfied). Perhaps it’s not failure of public investment, the greedy “one-percent”, or government corruption that leads to the decline of civilization. Rather, it may be the simple disregard of manners and courtesy and shallow thoughtlessness about how our actions impact those of our fellow citizens. If we all rededicate ourselves to this basic level of citizenship, our country, and all of Western civilization, could be saved.
And let’s not forget the courtesy flush.