My last post promised to look closely at a recent study by Jianguo Liu of Michigan State University (MSU), claiming to prove that divorce and singles-people households are bad for the environment. You can read it here.
Let's put aside the problematic idea that staying together in a bad marriage is good for the environment, even if it's bad for you and your mental -- perhaps even physical -- health. Let's put aside the patently shamefaced way in which a study like this seeks to piggyback on the recent craze for linking global warming and the environment to just about anything. Let's focus on the last bit: "The growth of single-person households is also damaging the environment...They consume 38% more products, 42% more packaging, 55% more electricity and 61% more gas per capita than four-person households."
The report has been greeted with a combination of faith and derision. Some insist, without irony, that divorce really is a problem and this is one more reason why we need to preserve marriages at any cost. Others hasten to point out how, well, stupid this kind of "research" is. And yet, even those people, for the most part, can't seem to get beyond the idea that singles are an essentially pathetic lot who deserve our sympathy. One response, symptomatic of a general cultural perception of singles, comes in this form: "May I remind them usually when people get divorced; they move to smaller places. They usually have to work and their kids are in school most of the day or day care. Has anyone seen singles places today. There is no furniture because they are not there. They are lucky if there's a bed." Whew. It's a good thing I don't have children. They'd be perpetually hungry for food, attention, and even bedding. Imagine: I'd be working while they went to school or played with other kids in day care.
In case you missed the point, singles are now no longer just shifty, useless lumps of flesh that take up space while failing to maintain our households and taking care of our children - we're causing the end of the world. A whole half a ton more waste than households of four or more. How can we stand ourselves? How, I ask you, how? Why even bother?
Should we not clamour to serve in soup kitchens? Look for the nearest elderly person to help across the street? Rescue a cat, a puppy, a mouse even - anything to prove that we are truly useful to the world? How can we, in the face of such damning exposure, redeem ourselves?
The answer, of course, is simple. We can't, and shouldn't bother trying.
My fellow singles: The time has come for us to reveal ourselves for the loathsome, selfish, bloodsucking scumbags that we are. As evidence of the shocking perversity of our sadly insular and individualistic and utterly wasteful lives, I offer up my own residence and living habits for inspection.
I live in an apartment by myself. Instead of sharing it, I spend my days here on my own, mostly lolling around on the couch to the point where my thighs show the impress of the cushion buttons; picking gunk out of my navel; and dreaming of world domination. Worse, I'm a "freelance writer." This really means I do pretty much nothing all day except all of the above. And watch free movies rented from the library. I don't cook, and my fridge is filled with the detritus of my pathetic culinary life: little white Chinese takeout boxes, filled with sodden and rotting masses of half-eaten entrees and soggy crab rangoon.
I've already exposed myself as a non-recycler, which confirms everything stated in the MSU study. Household waste? Even the stuff that doesn't technically count as waste is just wasteful garbage, at least until it can be rescued and passed on to needy families of four or more. For instance, I own books. Many of which I have not yet read! There is, for instance, one titled Jasmine. It's about the flower, and I picked it up for obvious reasons. I couldn't tell you what I think of it because I haven't read it. I indulged myself, with no thought for the consequences of one person buying an entire book for herself.
My place is filled with useless junk from past lives that I can't seem to throw away (that would be the junk and lives, of course). There's an extremely heavy, long, rectangular thingy made of cast iron which, if I remember correctly, is meant for roasting a whole pig. Or at least one the size of Babe. Seriously. I was still trying to learn to cook and it seemed a good idea to have something in which I could roast an entire animal (it was three in the morning when I flipped through the catalogue, two past three by the time I made the decision to buy). It's been unused for years. Sometimes, I think of hauling it to the dumpster - there's a scrap metal guy who goes around every now and then -- but at the back of my mind is this fantasy: A friend, the hunter-gatherer sort, goes somewhere vaguely wild and kills an animal in a vaguely humane fashion. A bunch of us look at it and wonder what to do and voila! I save the day with my cast iron pig roasting thingy. As for laundry, don't get me started. I, a single person, have been known to use the machine downstairs for one load at a time. Instead of filling my life with other people's laundry - a partner's pyjamas, a baby's recyclable cloth diapers (excuse me while I retch at the thought), the family's towels.
Am I pissed about the idiotic stereotypes about singles? Yes. Do I think we should work hard at redeeming ourselves in the eyes of society? No. Let's face it. We're here, we're doing fine, and our numbers are increasing at such a rate as to induce these kinds of idiotic research projects. If you put all the singles in America on the Western seaboard, the land mass would shift and dip into the ocean. Do I know that for a fact? No, but give me enough resources and the will to prove a dumb thesis like the one out of MSU, and I can drum up all the numbers you want.
There is, of course, a larger point to be made here, one that connects to part 1 of my post. It isn't just that global warming and recycling have become obsessive topics for people who otherwise have no politics and no vision for greater social change. The problem (and here I borrow heavily and blatantly from my friend A.) is that we've happily allowed for the individualisation of the problem at the cost of any systemic critique or search for solutions. Which is why it's really no surprise that the blame for global warming/environmental degradation is being put upon singles. I'm mad about the emphasis on singles because I happen to be one, and resolutely so. But let's face it, this "research" could just as well have said that singles are too fond of taking long walks by themselves, thus causing their sneakers to lose their tread, thus making them buy more pairs, thus causing global warming. In the end, the issue is less about singles, and more about distracting ourselves from the fact that we lack the will to force real change. The problem here is with the onus placed on individual behaviour - sort your trash; buy different bulbs; use a cloth bag; get and stay married - at the cost of any collective anger and action over, well, anything. We sort and buy "sustainable goods" as individual consumers but don't argue collectively for, say, public transportation. Adolph Reed puts it brilliantly in a recent piece (kindly forwarded by E.) for The Progressive ("Sitting This One Out," November 2007, see here), when he writes that a social movement only "...happens through struggling with people over time for things they're concerned about and linking those concerns to a broader political vision and program." Visions and programs are hard, sorting the trash and blaming the singles lifestyle is easy.
This is a blog entry, and I'm slowly getting used to the idea that I don't have to do more than provide food for thought. So, on to my shameless plugs: Bella DePaulo's excellent book Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After is now out in paperback. It's a thoroughly well-researched and very funny look at what she calls "singlism," and considers the real economic costs of the same. And somewhat related is Christopher Lane's excellent new book, Shyness: How Normal Behaviour Became a Sickness, about the ways in which a perfectly acceptable way of being became a medical and medicated condition. See links below for my reviews.
Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever
Shyness: How Normal Behaviour Became a Sickness
(This is part two of a two part series. The first post is "Singles Cause Global Warming: Where's the Revolution?")