Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Waste is a Terrible Thing To Waste

My Oral-B electric toothbrush died last week. I was innocently preparing to indulge in my nightly ritual of oral hygiene when I clicked the 'on' button, began brushing and the little motor inside just...stopped. Naturally, I shook it, slapped it against my palm, looked at it inquiringly, placed it back in the charger briefly, slapped it again, and finally concluded that it simply didn't work anymore. And I was mildly pissed. I take reasonably good care of my stuff because I generally can't afford to replace my stuff. So here I stood with a mouthful of toothpaste, contemplating my new-looking yet dead toothbrush. And I started thinking about where I'd find a new battery for it and how much it would cost. Of course, there is no new battery available for it. I think I knew that, but denial is a powerful thing, so I Googled it anyway.

Fast-forward to yesterday when I received my brand-spankin'-new Oral-B Sonic electric toothbrush. (NOTE: I'd continued using the dead brush in the interim, which is kinda like going up an escalator that's turned off: It does the job but it feels...wrong.) The instructions that came with the new brush told me how long I had to charge it before I could use it (12 hours), and it told me something else. It told me how to dispose of the battery when "the usable life of the toothbrush was over". And I thought, "So now products are announcing their impending doom?" When did that start?

About a month ago, I replaced a Shark hand-held mini-vacuum cleaner that I paid $69.99 for. (As advertised, it was a beast, although I never had any spilled ball-bearings lying around that needed sucking.) Again, I was going to simply replace the battery and discovered that a replacement was indeed available...for $30. Really? The new Dirt Devil mini-vacuum I ended up getting instead was $20. I remember years ago when my first Sony Discman stopped working, I took it to a electronics store to get it repaired and discovered that it was cheaper to replace it than to fix it. Even then, in my youthful ignorance, I sensed that something was terribly wrong.

At what point did replacing gadgets, as opposed to fixing them, become the norm? How many plastic trees were felled so I could use up my 'things' and simply add them to a landfill? Are the Energizer Bunny's days numbered because fewer and fewer things have batteries that can be easily replaced? Is my shoebox-full of AAA, AA and D batteries going to be obsolete before I get to use them? (Fortunately, my remote controls and authentic Darth Vader Light Saber still require the use of my trusty Duracells.) A close friend of mine recently shared a bit of post-modern consumer wisdom with me: She buys the cheapest thing she can find because it's cheaper to replace and breaks the same as the expensive stuff. Sigh.

It just seems like a cryin' shame that so much of what we use today – DVD players, vacuum cleaners, cell phones – has become entirely disposable. I'm old enough to remember when the only thing I threw away was the packaging, not the product.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Civil Rights 2.0

I was a kid living overseas during the height of the civil rights movement in the late sixties and early seventies. I'm still not sure whether I consider myself lucky to have been away during that tumultuous period, or that I somehow missed out. I consider myself a progressive, even brave person and I'd like to believe that if the need had presented itself, I would've been right out there, waving a sign and doing my best to stick it to The Man with all the other angry, idealistic people.

Civil rights, or rather the idea of civil rights, seems so basic, so much of a no-brainer, that it shouldn't even still be an issue. But, of course, it is. We've all heard a variation of the story about how someone's cousin's best friend's wife's sister didn't get a job someplace doing some-such-thing because they were white and a minority quota had to be met because of Affirmative Action. That may be so. And it's unfortunate. No one should be denied employment because of their color. (I almost used the word 'race', but we're all one race, right? Anyone out there not human?) Truth be told, Affirmative Action is tantamount to reverse discrimination. But at that time in this country, discrimination was so pervasive that bigots had to be forced, by law, not to engage in racist practices, at least in the workplace. Rocky Redneck had to hire black folk whether he wanted to or not, sometimes to the detriment of his company (too bad, Rock).

That was then. And this is now.

Reading, listening, watching, thinking. As I've gotten older and experienced more, something has continued to bug me. How equal is equal? And what exactly do pundits mean when they claim they seek equality? Black civil rights activists have fought being singled out in a negative way in favor of being singled out in a positive way. But why be singled out at all? In an effort to foment inclusion, activism has perpetuated exclusion, even separatism. There was a time when the black community in this country had to band together and toot their own horn because no one else would. But in this day and age, why is it okay to have 'black' colleges, or 'black' night clubs, or 'black' TV shows? If an institution openly touted itself as being 'white', they'd be considered racist. When blacks do it, it's socially acceptable as 'black pride'.

I'm not saying that prejudice doesn't still exist. I'm not saying that there isn't still work to be done. But how long does the current generation of white people need to be held accountable for what their great-great-great-great ancestors did? How long should black people feel that they're still "owed" something? At some point, a generation needs to say, "Enough."  

Enough with the separatism. Enough with the sense of entitlement. If blacks want to be truly integrated into all aspects of mainstream society, the exclusivity needs to stop. To be clear, my opinion is as an observer and participant, not as an authority. I'm not a journalist or a cultural anthropologist, I'm just a guy who believes a little modernization of the civil rights dogma is overdue. Just as the U.S. Constitution was written nearly 250 years ago and has since been amended dozens of times to address changing times, the thinking of the 60s needs to progress wholly into the current millennium. It's not okay for any group to continue to spout they're own ethnocentric rhetoric in the name of civil rights. Rule of thumb: If any group would be considered racist for saying something, no one else should say it either.

Rosa Parks fought for her own seat, not her own bus.