A Rubbish Solution to Refuse

“One billion people [in the third world] have no access to toilets so they defecate out in the open. Three billion more have toilets, but their waste is dumped untreated, seeping into water and food supplies. About 800,000 children under age 5 die each year from diarrhea, pneumonia, and other common infections caused by unsafe water and sanitation.” – Bill Gates

That’s the opening pitch from the world’s richest person. So what’s the proposed solution to this sanitation problem:

“A few years ago our foundation organized a “smell summit” to discuss ways to address this problem. Representatives from Firmenich [Company] were among the attendees and they thought they might be able to help.” – Bill Gates

Of course. First step, get a cabal. However much Tom Wolfe wants to deny it, this sounds exactly like the “baize covered desk with a bunch of capitalists sitting around pulling the strings”. Whatever you do, don’t get input from outside: after all, we’ve just seen how well relying on inside experts, such as super-delegates, results in the “right” choice.

“The problem with Clinton wasn’t her peculiarity but her typicality. It was characteristic of this Democratic Party that the power players in Washington decided on the nominee, with overwhelming endorsements, many months before a single ballot was cast.”

Putting all that aside, on what solution did this cadre decide?

“We use pleasant fragrances to cover over the malodors we want to hide—the olfactory equivalent of sweeping dirt under a rug.” – Bill Gates

Surprise surprise. The people who make perfume think the solution is to sell perfume. “Sweeping dirt under a rug” is an apt comparison as well, seeing as it refers to changing nothing in substance and still expecting better outcomes. Always look to isolate any problems and never examine the whole system. In this instance, the thing that should be examined is the fact that the third world is being viewed and treated like a dump. Don’t think about other places pollutants can come from other than human excrement: we’ve done the heavy cognitive lifting, and we found the sole source of disease and pollution. Fin, end of story, tout court.

But just for the sake of argument, how’s all this going to turn out:

“Firmenich is launching pilot projects in communities across India and Africa to understand whether the fragrances will make toilets and pit latrines more inviting for users. They also need to determine if it’s better to distribute the fragrance as a spray, a powder, or something else. The ultimate goal is to make the product affordable and easy-to-use.” – Bill Gates

That’s right, make sure you do the cost-benefit-analysis of affordability of your product before any ethical calculus. If it’s not worth selling, let ’em suffer. That’s market principles 101 btw, not me being cynical. Those doubtful should look upon the quotes from Ayn Rand and despair (“If any civilization is to survive, it is the morality of altruism that men have to reject”, etc. etc.).

But you may ask yourself: wait, even if this scheme works, how is a perfume going to help those who use toilets but the waste is being “dumped untreated, seeping into water and food supplies”? Silence! Remember, always blame the plebes, always credit the intelligenstia.

We’re long past the times of morality of Charles Dickens (“If men would behave decently the world would be decent”). That kind of morality has been discarded on the grounds that it was too simple; as if being simple made something more likely to be wrong rather than more likely to be correct. As a result, we face a dearth of decent denizens. We live in “interesting times” where the leader of the free world plans to defund studies into earth science and climate change because the “science” is politicized. Science can absolutely be politicized (which is something to be discussed later) but unless you’re changing the model under which data are collected then this shouldn’t change the underlying facts.

Politics is about how we react to the facts we have gathered, and it is dangerous to place politics at any other point in the process. If you’re defunding NASA’s data collection then that’s meddling at the inception of the process, and problematic. If you’re in favor of using private market products like perfumes to deal with problems relating to infrastructure and public health, then you’re squarely within the field of politics – but that still doesn’t mean you have the correct solution. Keep in mind, this same billionaire also said poverty will be gone by 2030. The truth value of future events need to be determined within time to be valid as there’s no fast forward button for the problems of induction, so technically we’ll have to wait and see.

But covering up the smell of excrement doesn’t make the problems of sanitation go away. To those with sufficiently open minds, this should be as obvious as saying poverty is not going away within our lifetime if the current systems are kept intact.


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