Post #31 – Externalities and a Nasty Shit

Have you ever done one of those turds where you’re scared to wipe your arse afterwards? I have – and my inner monologue usually goes something like this whilst my pants are around my ankles and I’m breaking out in a sweat:

Jesus what did I eat? Is it… is it bleeding? This surely isn’t normal… ohh God I think I need a doctor… Ohh man, I feel like I’m shitting out a whole steak! I don’t even eat steak! Is there something wrong with my sphincter? Is that what it’s called… a sphincter? It’s literally just falling out of me now, it’s like a waterfall – this is so wrong! OK… catch your breath (don’t breathe too deeply though, it smells like death in here) the worst is over. It’s done. Finished.

Ohhh man, here we go again…! How is this possible? Oh Lord, why have you forsaken me!?!

And so it continues…

Everybody’s been there, and I can guarantee you that no one enjoys the experience. It’s one of the saddest jokes of life that we can put a man on the moon but we can’t yet pump out a poop without the possibility of the process ending in tears.

Recent studies suggest men can tolerate pain better than women, but women have the unenviable rebuttal of being able to give birth to an actual human out of their nether regions – so I’d say levels of pain tolerance between the sexes works out about even. However, when it comes to squirting out a nasty turd, men get all pansy about pushing through that pain barrier. Maybe it’s because us men tend to consume too much beef jerkey/junk food/protein/beer, maybe it’s because us men are just a lot more frank about our bodily processes, or maybe we’re just not as accustomed to pushing stuff out our human holes as the opposite sex are. All I know is, us men complain a lot more about doing a nasty doodie than women do. This is fact.

However, recently the market has provided us men with an avenue of reprieve and civility – wet-wipes. Those cool, moist, soft towelettes seem to be the soothing antidote that us men crave so much when faced with the prospect of a  terribly troublesome turd. No longer marketed to babies, hospitals and retirees with bladder problems, wet-wipes are now created solely for the ‘masculine dollar’. Manly product titles like Biz Wipes, Dude Wipes and Mon for Men are servicing a market that is growing exponentially every year.

The chief executive of Dollar Shave Club has even come out in a recent promotional ad sprucing the advantages of their new lines of wipes by stating:

I don’t have time to jump back in the shower after a messy No. 6. I’m an executive now. I have papers to sign.

Despite the hilarity of the head of a multinational corporation talking about his doodie (you need a fucking shower after pooping?! How bad are your shits? And why are you referring to them as a ‘No. 6’? I’m so confused by this video) it seems that the Dollar Shave Club have tapped into an up-and-coming market.

Studies have found that over half of all men in the U.S actually use these wipes, and that by next year the men’s turd towelette business might top $15.5 billion by next year. No shit!

So although it looks like the hairy bum’s of men the world over are trending towards a ‘gentle peppermint-scented‘ Nirvana, this new fad can’t avoid Newton’s third law: that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

It was recently revealed that these ‘disposable’ wipes are costing authorities tens of millions of dollars in cities and towns all across Australia. Even though they’re sold as ‘flushable’ that doesn’t mean they’re biodegradable, and when us men flush them down the toilet after wrestling with a grog bog or a curry flurry we’re contributing to clogging the pipes and polluting the waterways. As if a typical man’s shit wasn’t putrid enough, us men have bought into a market where our nasty excrement lives on in memoriam wrapped up in a cozy, moist cocoon of awful excrement.

Just in south-east Queensland alone, they remove about 120 tonnes of wipes from the sewerage system per year. Because  they’re made from synthetic materials they can actually take years to break down. The Daily Telegraph reported that in Sydney,

more than 1000 tonnes of disposable wipe “balls” have been removed from 24,000km of pipes, 680 pumping stations and 29 waste water treatment and recycling plants.

Wipes that actually made it through the network were ending up in the environment, polluting waterways and interfering with the ecology.

And this isn’t just an Australian problem. In London they removed a 15-tonne ball of towelette infused disgustingness from the city’s sewer system. These behemoths are becoming so common in sewers around the world they even have a name these days – ‘fatbergs’. The fatberg removed from London’s sewers in 2013 was the size of a double decker bus. So the question should be posed, who’s ultimately responsible for this double-decker doodie?

Well lets look to mainstream economic theory. The impact that these manly wipes are having on the environment and the public’s sewerage system are classified by some as ‘externalities’. Simply put, an externality is a spillover effect, essentially the unintended costs or impacts from a transaction or decision experienced by third parties (that is, they were external to the decision). The concept, I think, represents a major flaw in contemporary economic thinking and one we as a species haven’t properly been able to address.

Popular environmentalist David Suzuki recently came out railing against the concept of externalities by stating that a contemporary economists’ mind goes something like this,

‘Who cares whether you keep the forest – cut it down. Put the money somewhere else. When those forests are gone, put it in fish. When those fish are gone, put it in computers.’

But if you ask the economists, in that equation ‘where do you put the ozone layer? Where do you put the deep underground aquifers of fossil water? Where do you put topsoil or biodiversity?’ Their answer is ‘oh, those are externalities’. Well then you might as well be on Mars, that economy is not based in anything like the real world.

And I think you’ll agree that Suzuki’s critique of externalities also applies fittingly to the wet-wipes marketed at today’s men with sensitive bottoms. It’s not too difficult to consider the very real possibility that the corporations who produce, market and sell these wet wipes (who can be classified alongside some of the largest corporations in the world) simply don’t give a shit what happens with these wet-wipes once the initial sale has been made. And why should they? What’s their incentive to care?

When they sell these wipes as ‘flushable’ not only are they being deceptive, but they are willfully passing the buck on responsibility for the negative repercussions of their product. As noted in The Guardian,

Increasing numbers of wipes, which because of the plastic fibres they contain are not generally biodegradable, are also washing up on beaches – 35 wipes per kilometre of beach, according to the Marine Conservation Society’s most recent count. Turtles mistake them for jellyfish and eat them.

These wet wipes not only destroy your toilet, your areshole, your plumbing, your sewerage network and your states’ finances, they also fucking kill turtles! Cute little turtles, goddamn it! But in line with current economic thinking, that’s not the producer’s problem; let someone else deal with it.

Wet-wipes for men may epitomise this fundamental flaw within current economic thinking, but it is in no way the worst example. There are other serious issues that literally leave the rest of us up shit creek without a paddle. Because the thing is, this doesn’t just apply to wet-wipes. In the capitalist model of commerce nearly every mode of production creates some sort of externality – from polluting factories to asbestos to disposable diapers – and quite simply contemporary economic theory struggles to decide how to deal the matter. Capitalism therefore becomes a victim of it’s own success.

So what can we do about it? Well…

Us men take a lot of time on the shitter pushing out nuggets – it’s where we go to meditate, to escape from our girlfriends, or contemplate the meaning of life. But may I take this opportunity to suggest something else to do when doing a doo-doo? From now on when us men gently wipe around our over-sensitive bum-ring, maybe we can also reconsider the repercussions of our actions. Maybe we should reflect on where those ‘masculine’ wet-wipes really end up. Because if we don’t, well quite simply, who else will give a shit?

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