July 5, 2019

Look no further than the public fecal matter to understand a people.

There I was, sauntering across the grass to avoid walking on the pavement, when the unthinkable happened. It’s a bog-standard tragedy. A tale where sole meets shit. If you’ve ever tried to remove crap from your shoes, you’d know the range of emotions that I went through in a split second. First, the horror that followed the soft squelch underfoot, then comes the disgust from the realisation, followed by outrage, anger, and frustration with a tinge of sadness. And then, resignation as I scraped the shoe against the kerb. Futile.

I hate dog shit. Nothing against our canine friends but goddamn do I despise the errant owners. Never mind that I should have kept off the grass, the pile of poo should not be there in the first place. Dog owners may think they’re doing nature a favour by going au naturel and not picking the shit up but it’s really an environmental pollutant. On the pavement instead then? You’re a sociopath.

But this isn’t going to be a long whinge about dog owners. I’m quite convinced that a city’s attitude and quotidian dealings with public poo clearly explains what kind of society it is. Travel opens the mind as they say, and if you get eye level with the poo, you’ll understand the people too.

For instance, this incident happened in Singapore. You can be fined up to $1000 if convicted of sullying this fine city with your pet’s excretions. Everybody who lives here knows, understands and begrudgingly accepts the laws. The broken window effect and each Singaporean’s integrated fear of the law keeps things spick and span, so you don’t generally tend to see a lot of poo in public, save for the odd unfortunate encounter in the grass. But in every draconian hellscape, there are pockets of rebellion (just watch Hunger Games, Blade Runner, The Matrix etc). People, burning with the desire to rage against the system will do anything to let their natural human instincts for freedom flow freely. Haven’t you felt the naughty joy of smuggling gum from JB? Or jaywalking when the overhead bridge is just 50 m away? And so you will occasionally find the lone poo amongst the grass. Hidden, in waiting, visceral proof of the owner’s desire to defy the system. That is pure anarchic joy.

The Parisians are more open with their defecation. It’s merde everywhere since they’ve got liberté, égalité and fraternité on their side as they pay their high taxes. They have the freedom, on the ground all shit are equal and if nobody picks up shit then nobody will—that’s brotherhood united in their shared disdain for cleaning up after themselves. Oh how the government has tried but the French have emphatically insisted that this is the job for the public services for which they’ve paid a lot for. The cleaning is for the cleaners. Efforts at shaming or fining the culprits do not work. And so you see it echoed in the other areas of the society through history. If the ones that govern them don’t do their jobs very well, it’s off to the chopper they went (in the past). These days, the French are still very willing to loudly demonstrate their unhappiness with the government and other state apparatuses, and what they’re supposed to do for the people. It’s not the other way around.

Look at San Francisco, if America has long been seen as the land of plenty then San Francisco in this era is THE place to be. If you’re a technopreneur. If you’re a long-time resident of the city but being priced out by the techie interlopers with their shiny new money, no dice time to move out. If you’re homeless, that’s even more difficult with everyone seemingly pinning the blame of public shit on you. SF’s problem with street shit is infamous but how do you tell the difference between human and dog poop? You can’t, and so the problem is politicised.

The poor are demonised in America, land of opportunities so if you’re poor it’s because you’re lazy. America is also land of the free. Free to do whatever you like, with a growing number being uncomfortable with Big Government telling them what to do. Will the government-wary people be inclined to a clean campaign in the vein of Singapore’s state nannying? Nope. Is it easier to blame it on the indigents? Probably. After all, it’s easier to point at someone else while you get deep in the muck yourself.

If we look at the dog poo leaver in the eye, question his motives via the Socratic method, and get down to the real reasons for his leaving the turd nuggets in the open, you’ll understand that it is simply an absence of civic-mindedness. How each society deals with that issue, of making the individual understand the importance of the collective, reflects the differences in their dealings with faeces. The day we end this heinous plague is the day we unlock the path to true utopia. Understand the poo, you understand a people and you learn how to direct them effectively. Future benevolent dictators, take note.