I'm employed by the smallest possible governmental unit, and, of course, I see what I do as necessary to the general good. Somebody wants to build a fence between his yard and his neighbor's; the law says it can be no more than eight feet in height. He wants it to be as tall as possible and who are we to tell him a fence on his own property can only be eight feet tall? He has a deck and if he sits on his deck, he'll still be able to see his annoying neighbor. The annoying neighbor, on the other hand, will get No Sunshine on his property if the fence is as tall as our man wants to build it.
Small Pond, the village that employs me, had a little damage from the floods. Nothing in comparison to the village that I call My Village. After the flooding, Small Pond's authorities had a dumpster put in place for use by the one street of people whose cellars and cellar contents had been damaged by the water. A couple of officials went door to door to let that street's residents know the dumpster was there for them. There wasn't wide publication of its presence because it wasn't meant for regular ol' garbage. A Man Who Is Never Happy phoned and complained that the dumpster was too high . . . people kept wanting to borrow his truck so they could reach the top to throw in their ruined armchairs and things. "And what about the old people?" he asked. "How are they supposed to use it? In BlahBlah and OverThere, they had trucks go around and pick up from in front of houses."
"Yes, those would have been National Guard troops going house to house where entire houses had been swallowed up by flood water and were being gutted," I did not say.
"I had to replace my furnace twice in three days!" he ranted. "Do you know how much that costs?"
"Yes. Yes I do," I said, calmly.
He went on for some time, complaining that the dumpster was there, that it was unsightly, complaining that it wasn't accessible enough, complaining that the sidewalk on his street has a dip in it that still held water.
"I don't mean to be a pain in the ass," he said.
"Too late," I did not say.
People call every week on trash pickup days.
- The truck [that went by at 7am] didn't pick up my trash and I put it out there as soon as I got up at 7:30!
- The containers are too big for me to move from my garage to the curb! What am I gonna do? (To that person, I did say, conversationally, "I guess I'd ask my neighbor for help.")
- The containers are too small for our household: we have nine people in our family.
- The containers are too big: I don't fill it up in a week. Why should I pay the same amount as the people next door who have nine people making trash?
All of us who take these calls wish that Small Pond would get out of the garbage business. The group of people who make these decisions keep renewing the contract. The alternative would be to have individual haulers coming through the village every day of the week, with trash containers sitting out on the curbs here and there every day of the week. And the cost to individual households would be higher than the existing arrangement. And maybe some people wouldn't have a hauler come, and would let their garbage accumulate. And then there would be . . . vermin. Another can of worms. So to speak.
So, I think about these small-scale problems, and I think about people's dissatisfaction with the services that Government provides, and I know that there is no winning. Sometimes I think that this country is too large and too varied in need and custom for one government to perform services that make people happy. Even perhaps this state, with its great variation in population densities and lifestyles . . . for Heaven's sake, we have New York County (aka Manhattan) and Onondaga County in one state!
Everybody thinks the government should do some things for the public good. But it seems that nobody can agree on what those things should be.
Take care of the roads? Yes, of course. But what roads? If all the roads are partially demolished, in what order should they be repaired?
Provide education to minor children? Sure. The argument goes, "We all benefit from communities filled with people who can read and write." Do the schools need to provide basketball programs? Swim programs? And, well, you know . . . Husband and I have no children, but we've been paying school taxes forever.
I get a tax break because I own land that's used partially for agriculture. Why should I get any favors because we could afford to buy that much land?
I pay taxes that pay for the state trucks and other pieces of equipment that are dredging out the streams that the floods filled up with gravel and rocks and rootballs. But I'm on top of a hill: my land won't flood. At least not until the gravel and rocks and rootballs accumulate to a depth of four hundred feet. I guess that would take quite a while.
So here are the questions that I keep coming back to:
Should we just let it all go and let everybody get by as well as they can on their own?
Should we have no permanent dwellings where there might be floods, or tornados, or wildfires that start by lightning?
Maybe we should all migrate seasonally, garden with pointed sticks, live in houses partially heated by the bodies of large animals.
At night in summer and all day in winter the peasants shared their huts with their animals. Parts of it were screened off for the livestock. Their body heat helped to keep the hut warm. ~A History of HomesMy boss read the other day that the house of the future will have no livingrooms. Dwelling units will have fewer rooms, and those rooms will be multi-purpose. That sounds to me like a return to a way of living that worked for humans for a good many years. We'll all have multi-generational households, filled with fleas and the aroma of manure, and we might be stuck all together for weeks on end if the roads are impassable, but at least it would take our minds off complaining about government.