A Philosopher's Blog

Litter & Vandalism

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on January 14, 2013
English: Littering in Stockholm

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I went for my run this morning, I ran across the usually bounty of litter that people dump in the park, streets and sidewalks. I actually run litter loops in the park each day, picking up trash. Today someone had slung the remains of a big takeout order from a restaurant into the park-the large bag, plenty of plates, cups and so on. I also got my usual collection of discarded water bottles and other assorted debris. I also ran across some impressive vandalism.

When the park was “renovated” a few years back, they added sign posts labeling the various trails. These posts are landscaping timbers that were sunk into pre-dug holes and had spikes driven into them to make it harder for folks to pull them out. But, some local vandal-hulk was up to the task and ripped out one of the signs, bending the spikes. I spotted the hole before stepping into it (a person could easily get a foot stuck and break something) and then found the timber that had been tossed into the woods. I replaced it as best I could and then checked the others for vandalism.

Since I’m teaching ethics and hand plenty of time on my run to think about this, I wondered about whether or not littering and vandalism are evil. On the face of it, I would say that they would seem to involve, at the least, a lack of virtue.

In the case of littering, there would seem to be two main contenders for the controlling vice. The first would be laziness: littering because one is too lazy to carry the trash away. This, obviously, would not account for people who throw trash from their cars, but could explain those who simply leave empty water and sport’s drink bottles littered about. The second would be a lack of respect for the environment and other people. Of course, a person might also casually litter due to lack of thought-some people treat their own living areas as trash pits, so they would no doubt see public places the same way. I would probably not consider being this way an evil thing, but is clearly a defect of character and it could be considered a vice.

Vandalism is more clearly immoral. After all, a person is damaging or destroying property with a malicious intent. Even if a person is “just playing” or “having fun”, the person is still causing damage or harm when s/he has no right to do so. There is also the obvious matter of the consequences of the vandalism. Someone will have to expend resources to repair or undo the damage. For example, I had to spend my time this morning putting that timber back in place so people would know where the trails led and, more¬†importantly, so that someone did not get injured by stepping into the hole.

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  1. ajmacdonaldjr said, on January 16, 2013 at 2:26 pm

    I’m experiencing much of the same here in Mexico City. The sidewalks are a veritable booby-trap for walkers, like me, and no easy to negotiate by all the women wearing heals either. The litter is an issue as well. I’ve noticed the main problem being that in the poorer parts of the city the trash, which is bagged and left on the street each night, is gone through by poor people, whereas in the nicer sections of town it’s not. Since most of the city it not well of trash is left blowing in the wind every night, having been scattered by people scavenging for food, goods, and whatever they can find. I’ve always thought litter very discouraging, especially for kids to see everywhere in their neighborhoods, and it’s a good work to volunteer to clean-up trashy areas of poorer sections of large cities.

  2. Trendy Tummy Maternity said, on January 17, 2013 at 10:27 pm

    Interesting post. I live in Calgary and downtown is where we see most of the vandalism and littering. However, even here in the burbs there is still some littering (not too much vandalism) .. it makes beautiful streets ugly. From what I have observed, it tends to be the young high school students who have yet to gain an appreciation for how the world works etc and how to act like a responsible person… kinda sad. You would think parents would help to instill more responsible behaviors but perhaps some of these kids don’t have very good role models.

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