20 March 2023
Trash hill, Paris; Image credit: Philosophy World Democracy.
The familiar concepts of evil were derived from the experiences of a component within the lives of the ancients, which includes the feeling of “disgust” at the sight of excrements and the experience of deprivation. Today evil is trash and to understand this proposition a survey of the accumulation of trash and the accumulation of wealth as trash is needed. Trash then appears as power which is surrounding that which generates it, without having the powers to comprehend it.
Authored by DIVYA DWIVEDI and SHAJ MOHAN
For Association des Amis de la Génération Thunberg (AAGT)
Trash is evil. This appears an obvious proposition, that is, if we take “evil” to be obvious; as something which appears in life as an ache seeking relief; as feelings of discomfort to be led away for the return of a familiar order; as a matter which intrudes into the regularities of everyday life. Trash is all this, and much more in the familiar meaning of evil. But we have now to invert the proposition — Evil is trash — and try to understand it in the same way we understand evil is steresis and evil is stasis.
It may appear as an extraordinary step to designate evil through the word “trash”, rather than considering trash as a species of the genus of evil. However, in Ancient Greek, κακόν (Kakon), which could have originally meant “to defecate” came to refer to evil, and its opposite was καλόν (Kalon), which referred to what we may call the beautiful and the orderly. Here too, our conceptions of evil and the names of evil were components of the ways of lives of the ages. These components, which came to be the designation for evil, and the laws which comprehend them, analogously identified evil in actions and functions which were far removed from their origins. Therefore, when the presence of vomit and other excretions in the component of the home produced disgust (κακόν), and threatened beauty, health and the prosperity (καλόν) of the home, it was comprehended as evil in relation to all the other components of the city. The feeling of disgust and fear named the other practices which evoked the same feelings. To engage in evil for desired ends was itself perceived as disgusting, as Sophocles shows through the lament of Philoctetes,
But your corrupt mind, always on the lookout from some position of ambush, trained him well—unsuited and unwilling though he was—to be wise in evil (ἐν κακοῖς εἶναι σοφόν). (1)
That is, the conjoinment of what can be good (wisdom) along with the bad in this conceit is disgusting. As we will see trash is analogous to the ancient and modern conceptions of evil, but trash is a new birth of evil.
The precedents of trash
We have contextual and contemporaneous beginning to think the meaning of trash properly. In the city of Paris in France the sanitation workers had been striking since February and they refused to remove the refuse of the city. The city strewn with trash, rising above the windows, collapsing like sand castles as rats march up the little hills, the fallen disembowelled black plastic bags pouring putrefying fruits and flesh on to the wet pavements.
The trash mountain in the city of Kochi is one of the (at least) 3000 such mountains in India. This particular trash mountain of Kochi is the size of several football stadiums. (2) It caught fire in March and for two weeks the fire could not be extinguished. It is possible that those who received the contract to manage the trash mountain may have themselves set it afire due to the impossibility of disposing it elsewhere. (3) Like a lazy and persistent chemical bomb the smouldering, smoking trash mountain sent many to hospitals and those who could afford it to shelters far away. Nobody knows yet the levels to which the surrounding land has been poisoned by the fumes and the infusions of trash.
Mountains of clothes which have lost in the sprint of fashion in the first world have reared up in Africa and South America. In Ghana the trashed clothes form long walls along the beaches blocking the fishermen and hurting the marine life. (4) The Atacama desert in Chile with its dry sensitive éco-system is treated as analogous to the landscape of Mars by scientists, where lie the geoglyphs left by an ancient people, including the giant shaman. The 59,000 tonnes or more of trash fashion that arrives in Chile pile into mountains in the Atacama. (5) These trash fashion mountains have also been catching fire, and we still do not know their impact on the land and the world. (6)
Trash differs from the older meaning of pollution, garbage, and rubbish. The older sense of pollution relates to the Ancient Greek λῦμα (dirt) and Latin lutum (mud), and it was used to signify, among other things, ‘nocturnal emissions’ of men, to defile, to violate the sanctity of a ceremonial arrangement, to leave the streets with animal excrements. All these meanings refer to the creation of a certain excesses of the ways, or the comprehensions, of life which could be returned to nature: The cities of the nineteenth century had horse driven carts as a component which necessarily left horse excretions in the streets. Rubbish on the other hand was the material left out of the construction or destruction of buildings—stones, rubbles, mud, dust, nails, wood pieces—which could return to the construction or could be buried without worry.
Often used as a synonym for trash, “garbage” emerged from the laws of cuisine—those parts of animals that are not or no longer preferable for man’s palate, such as the head of animals and the intestines of birds. Perhaps from the same meaning garbage as a transitive verb was used for some time to mean “to disembowel”. Unlike trash, which has a universal meaning, garbage is something which varies in its function as a component according to the comprehending laws. For example, the entrails of birds considered garbage could be fed to animals other than man. At one place, the fat of the pig could be a component in the raising of animals as their feed, while in yet another it could be the grease for the wheels of carts, and in another the fuel of wick lamps. In the rich cities of the world, before they became ‘sanitised’, rag men or ragpickers gathered the refuses of well lived lives, separated the metal and wood from the food, and made an honest poor living. Poets and writers placed their imagination of living at the lowest of limits on the ragpickers –
We see a ragman coming, shaking his head,
Stumbling, and bumping into walls like a poet,
And, without taking care of the snitches, his subjects,
Pouring out his heart in glorious projects. (7)
We can see garbage and rubbish in the villages of the world where not everything comes with the labels of corporations—rice, vegetables, milk, meat, clothes, carpets. In these villages, the peel of onions and carrots could be tossed (δια βάλλω) into the garden for birds. Old clothes seal the sheds for animals from the wind and cold. The excretions of animals become dried cakes of fuel and manure. Rock tiles are stuck together with mud, cow dung, rags, and hair to make sealed roofs. Rubbish and garbage were components of the organisation of life which would move away (as the orange peels thrown in the garden) and towards (as the manure) each other according to their comprehending law. There was no anomia between these components of the kitchen, the animal pen, and the garden.
The components which make up each thing have componential laws which refer to the regularity of these things. In the kitchen of the village, one of the regularities of onions and potatoes is that they are peeled. The regularity of the peel of vegetables is that they go into the garden. There is a homological power in what is conceived as vegetables in that they can be home to two different componential laws—as nourishment for man, and for the animals and plants. In the same way, pig fat holds the homological powers to come to be oil for lamps, shine for the walls, grease for the wheels. That is, each thing can be legislated differently, in that things have polynomia. These homological powers which are polynomial are related to each other through the comprehending law of the components, which cannot be reduced to one of the componential laws. The wick lamp is not the law of the farm.
There are at least three orders of evil that can seize a system—criticalisation, stasis and anomia—of which we should be concerned about the latter two. Stasis appears when a componential law seeks to be the comprehending law of the system. Anomia is the incomprehensibility of the relations among components by the comprehending law. (8)
The anomia of trash
Coincidentally, it is with the appearance of “poubelle”, the French term for trash, that we can also see the beginning of the appearance of trash which emerged from a concern for beauty (pour belle). It was introduced for the beautification (pourbellecation) by Eugène Poubelle. When Mr. Poubelle introduced the trash cans—boîtes Poubelle—as a compulsory component of homes in Paris, they also removed the ragpickers from the streets. The coffins of garbage and rubbish coincided with the emergence of trash, as that which could be removed from the city, but could never be returned in any form back to the cities. With the appearance of plastic in the early 20th century trash grew in proportion to what is called ‘economic growth’. As we know plastic, which means something capable of polynomia, is not plastic once it has been moulded for a particular function, and its decomposition rate is comparable to amber.
We progressively entered an epoch where everything had to be bought from a market place, which now presents itself as if it were the comprehending law of life. Not many would remember rice, salt, and sugar without packaging and their individual names stuck on them for “product differentiation”. Now everything has a brand name and they must be peeled, but the peel cannot be tossed into the garden. Industrial waste is an extension of the very system of un-tossable peels of all things. The progress of the life of the consumer through “product differentiations” and the life of the ‘economy’ proportionately generates trash as that which cannot return under any form, as a component into the system which ‘grows’. The process of throwing away something without any regard to its relation to everything else recalls another older meaning of evil— διαβάλλω—or to throw across, from which also comes “diabolus” in the sense of the one who slanders.
Under a different formality, trash is the endogenous variable which forms the parameter for the whole system. If we take the system of small scale rural agriculture, the management of the land and its processes refer to the endogenous variables of this system which includes the tilling of the soil, seeds, and the nourishment of the soil; these are variables which vary with the phases of agriculture in relation to each other. The sun and the rains are the exogenous variables of this system, which are for this reason assumed as the parameters (or constants) of this system of agriculture. Trash, on the other hand, grows in proportion to the growth of the system of production, but it never returns to the system as a variable in the sense of the stalks of wheat returning to the field as manure. Trash grows as an exogenous variable which has to be kept apart from the system which produces it, without (so far) affecting the system of production directly. In a common place understanding through several relays of analogy, the problem of trash can be thought through the scientific (not philosophical) concept of “entropy”. For example, the sun, according to such a concept, is entropy as an exogenous variable entering the system of agriculture which reduces it. We can see that trash does not submit to this analogy of “entropy”, although it is often described in terms ‘increasing entropy’.
The creation of trash also created the ethos of trash, or the mores which makes the resonance of analogy with respect to the other domains which it captures. The trash function—something produced which is beyond the comprehending law and therefore does not return as a component—is everywhere. The unforgivable expression “white trash” points to the trash functions. In recent decades, work has come to be temporary. It corresponds to the jobs which have come to be, like the sprints of fashion, short-lived. The jobs which have lost their sprint have ended up with the men who occupied them in the coffins the living—the living trash of humanity—which exist outside the orders of production which created them.
If the trash function began with the poubellecation of cities which removed the rag pickers, now most jobs have the character of the rag pickers. If we can recall the television repairmen, the call centre employees, the factory worker, awe-inspiring computer hackers, assistants in super markets, and insurance salesmen, then we can also perceive their vocations in the trash. They are not "deplorable", it is the trash-ethos of the political order which set them inside the coffins for the living that is deplorable. To the wine of Baudelaire we have added newer intoxications, which are capable of giving sleepful awakening and deathly liveliness for the ragpickers of our time. These “divine progenies of the sun” produce man as trash—the pharmaceuticalisation of lives produces human trash.
The trash function has since entered the academic world where the adjunct and temporary teachers are the workers. The insecure conditions of their work has forced many of them to be sex workers and to live in their cars. (9) Each year several academics drop out of the profession; the universities are themselves creating people as highly educated trash to be left in the growing human-fill, akin to the landfills. Meanwhile, their students are anxious of their futures which are primarily about the debt burdens of education, who sleep in car parks. (10) The profession of reason, (11) a necessary component of democracies to continuously investigate and clarify their reasons, is itself a trash production system which brings forth scholars as trash.
It may be tempting to think these processes either as equal to or analogous to the analytic of capitalist societies in Marxist discourse where the categories to which the analysis leads are the division between bourgeoisie and the proletariat. In the communist manifesto, the proletariat are in a proportional articulation with capital—as capital grows the quantity of the proletariat also increase,
In proportion as the bourgeoisie, i.e., capital, is developed, in the same proportion is the proletariat, the modern working class, developed – a class of labourers, who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labour increases capital. These labourers, who must sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity, like every other article of commerce, and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market. (12)
The process of proletarianisation in the Marxist sense is still under way in most parts of the world even now, of which the well known case of recent years is the farmers' strike in India, where the farmers won a rare battle against a fascist government which brought in new laws to take away the autonomy of the people who continue to live off the land. (13)
The principle of the Marxist analytic is that of transforming the polynomia of a thing, or of things in relations, into functionally isolated objects; when a tree is cut and the wood is carved into a statue. It is a concept with Hegelian residues, while in Marx this “sensuous activity” is the only testament to reality. (14) The proletariat are conceived as the claimants of the revolution in the sense of being those who through their work functionally isolated things into products. However, Marxist discourse assumes that the proletariat are, often in principle due to their position in the system of production, ignorant of the comprehending law of the system. That is, the proletariat have the solace of what Engels calls “false consciousness”; like the ragpicker of Baudelaire they dream of the trajectory their hard work taking them to, the life of the bourgeois. (15)
Instead, the human-trash has been forsaken by the production systems; they do not have access anymore to the “sensuous activity” through which reality is touched by man; and, they do not have “false consciousness” that someday they too will become Gates, Musk, and Murdoch. The human-trash is neither proletariat nor a matter (at least not yet) for the production of more trash.
Finally, although it is complicated to analyse it sufficiently with brevity and ease, we are in the era of trash-wealth. The fact that the five richest men each have “worth” of more than a hundred billion dollars each to their names should indicate that this wealth, mounting like trash in the deserts, is without any relation to the world in which it is produced. The trash-money which is created through a combination of the manipulation of banks and stock markets can be seen in the extreme falls of men from the top of the list of the richest; for example, a billionaire lost his value by 63 billion in dollars in a matter of weeks. (16) The production of trash-wealth requires the collaboration of political systems. (17) There is a growing resonance without regularity between the trash mountains, human trash, and trash wealth in politics; in America between Trump and other billionaires and what can be called Trumpism, and in India between the upper caste racial facism which goes by the name of “Hinduism” and a few billionaires.
Trash grows as the non-component which is not comprehended by the system, however it is generated by the system. There are two worlds today—of trash and that which generates it—and their separation is tenuous. The various accumulations of trash is also creating a new political power and ethos of trash—Trash is coming to power. If we follow Marx, total computation gives you the society with the trash-lords. (18) The new trash lords in power in our political institutions create people as trash on the one hand, and on the other hand trash wealth. As we found, there is anomia between the political and economic systems, and trash. Trash wealth is sufficiently commutating itself into political power through the people who are progressively made into trash each day. Again, it is not the people who are “deplorable”, but the systems of power and production which have forsaken them. Associatively, the people who had been trashed still remain people, and it is the rage of this people that we often find incomprehensible in the tendencies of populism.
The relations of specific orders of trash are inherently incapable of forming componential relations with each other. The chimera of this trash power progressively seizing the familiar institutions of democracy looks more and more imminent.
1. Sophocles, Philoctetes 1010 – 1015.
2. Report on status of solid waste management in Kochi, International Urban Cooperation, European Union, August 26, 2020 https://www.ieup.eu/assets/knowledge-bank/230220210.43935800%201614067870.pdf
3. “Kerala waste dump fire: All you want to know about it”, Gulf News, March 08, 2023 https://gulfnews.com/special-reports/kerala-waste-dump-fire-all-you-want-to-know-about-it-1.1678288387342
4. “Mountains of clothes washed up on Ghana beach show cost of fast fashion”, The Independent, 27 July 2022 https://www.independent.co.uk/climate-change/news/fast-fashion-ghana-clothes-waste-b2132399.html
5. See the documentary “Fast Fashion - Dumped in Chile's Atacama Desert”, Deutsche Welle Television, 31 May 2022 https://www.dw.com/en/fast-fashion-dumped-in-chiles-atacama-desert/video-61985080
6. “From Attire to Ashes: Clothing Waste in the Atacama Desert”, Atmos, 4 August 2022 https://atmos.earth/atacama-desert-chile-unwanted-clothing-waste/
7. Charles Baudelaire, “Le Vin de chiffonniers” –
On voit un chiffonnier qui vient, hochant la tête,
Butant, et se cognant aux murs comme un poète,
Et, sans prendre souci des mouchards, ses sujets,
Epanche tout son coeur en glorieux projets.
8. “Anomia is harrowing and it creates monstrous transient forms. Hesiod writes about the anomia in the conjunction of those components which are without a comprehending law; Typhaon is the monster or anomon which is half snake and half man. Sophocles describes the anomon as beings with doubled laws which are without something comprehending them, such as the Centaurs.” Shaj Mohan, “Teleography and Tendencies: Part 2 History and Anastasis”, Philosophy World Democracy 3.4 (April 2022): https://www.philosophy-world-democracy.org/articles-1/teleography-and-tendencies-part-2-history-and-anastasis
9. “Facing poverty, academics turn to sex work and sleeping in cars”, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/sep/28/adjunct-professors-homeless-sex-work-academia-poverty
10. “‘My car is my home’: the California students with nowhere to live”, The Guardian, 28 September 2017 https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/apr/02/college-students-unhoused-school-help
11. Or, the profession tasked with creating out of every "homines carnales" the "homines sapientes" in the Spinozist sense.
13. “Farm laws: India farmers end protest after government accepts demands”, BBC, 9 December 2021 https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-59566157
14. “The main defect of all hitherto-existing materialism — that of Feuerbach included — is that the Object [der Gegenstand], actuality, sensuousness, are conceived only in the form of the object [Objekts], or of contemplation [Anschauung], but not as human sensuous activity, practice [Praxis], not subjectively.” Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach, 1845.
15. “Ideology is a process accomplished by the so-called thinker consciously, indeed, but with a false consciousness. The real motives impelling him remain unknown to him, otherwise it would not be an ideological process at all.” F. Engels, Letter to Franz Mehring July 14, 1893. https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1893/letters/93_07_14.htm
17. For example, see “Modi govt allowed Adani coal deals it knew were ‘inappropriate’”, Al Jazeera, 1 March 2023 https://www.aljazeera.com/economy/2023/3/1/modi-govt-allowed-adani-coal-deals-it-knew-were-inappropriate
18. See Karl Marx, Poverty of Philosophy, translation Harry Quelch, Cosimo, Inc., New York, 2008.