|Why Morris Is Relevant to Us in the Twenty-first Century? 03/09/2015|
| (Quotations without sources are from my thesis)
I think William Morris is relevant because problems he faced and warned are still with us, often in more exaggerated forms.
Production of huge waste
Morris would be dumfounded if he found that we Japanese now have the problem of ‘gomi yashiki’s or rubbish residences, where person(s) live among so many plastic bags of full of rubbish and old household belongings. Its volume is so overwhelming that most owners of such a ‘residence’ have little space to live. Messy smelly bags are often overflowing out of their houses and annoy neighbours. One of them actually caused a fire recently, destroyed two other houses. Dwellers in those houses could have some psychological problems such as hoarding obsession or inability to deal with waste. Therefore ‘gomi yashiki’ might be an extreme example, still, it shows an illness of our society which produces huge waste, unable to handle and impossible to return to dust.
a "gomi yashiki" with overflowing rubbish
According to the data by the Ministry of Environment, a Japanese person produces 320kg of waste in one year. This is ranked at the top in the world. French with 180kg, German with 140kg, American with 100kg are following (www.oceanconserve.org/). Industrial waste is not included in this data, which is about eight times bigger than general waste ? 412 million ton in total in 2006 in Japan (http://kids.gakken.co.jp/). OECD data in 2008 also tells us that Japan is the top of the list on the number of incinerators ? 1243 incinerators, followed by USA with 351 (www.chikyumura.org/).
Looking at these facts, it seems to me that we are captured by a particular way of thinking as I wrote the opening of my thesis:
| We, who live in so-called developed countries, are surrounded by huge
volume of goods and services, spoilt for choice in terms of quantity as
well as variety. New types of cars, computers, women’s clothes, household
utensils ? production seems limitless. Some goods are bought and consumed.
Some are not. Still, in order to satisfy consumers’ appetite, they must
Do we really need all of them? Do we have a space for them? “Do not worry”, some might say: Just get rid of the old ones to make space for the new. Of course we need these new things. They are prettier, more convenient, more powerful, and more energy-saving. Besides, our friends already have them! We know we bought the old ones for the same reason, but that was then and this is now. We have to keep buying, otherwise our economy will shrink.
So, we produce, consume, and dump, while many people in so-called developing countries live in poverty. Japanese had lived relatively ecological lives until we started to follow Western lifestyle. Edo, Tokyo’s old name in the feudal period, was a very self-sufficient town and said to have recycled almost everything, producing little waste. It all changed in 1867, when Japan tried to be a big power with strong economy and army. Now we are enshrined at the top of waste producer in the world.
Talking about waste, I cannot omit mentioning Fukushima accident ? the source of extremely dangerous waste.
To live highly consumable life with full of items, we need an inexhaustible supply of electricity to support. A material we do not know how to dispose after use is used to make energy. It is argued that the commencement of nuclear power plant operation was just a byproduct of developing nuclear bombs. Setting that issue aside for another occasion, this new source of energy brought a disaster in Japan. The situation of Fukushima nuclear power plant hit by tsunami in 2011 is not in any way “under control” today, contrary to our Prime Minister’s declaration in 2013 to invite Olympic to Tokyo.
Although certain efforts seem to have been made, it still spills contaminated water. Since nobody saw what exactly is going on within the reactors, the company and the Government have been only acting to patch up things. And they are not forthcoming to give us information about the situation. Many evacuees cannot return home. And even the victims were not properly buried.(*)
Nevertheless, Japanese Prime Minister allows reopening of nuclear power plants’ operation around the country, although he once announced to change the energy policy after Fukushima disaster. He also has been active to promote its export to countries such as Mongolia, Turkey, and India, as if nothing happened.
(*) According to a report (Kyodo News Agency, 31/03/2011), the remains of the tsunami victims in a radius of 20 kilometers of Fukushima plant were left on the spot and the authority could not quite work out how to lay them to rest because the bodies were highly contaminated by radiation. About one month later, a NPO member, who went into the area to rescue dogs and cats, reported to say that she saw many bodies. We are not informed what happened since then.
Do we really need such volume of things we couldn’t even manage to consume? Since when do we want such huge amount of products which eventually end up as waste? The modern way of living started around Morris’s time, although it was much simpler compared with our way of living in the twenty-first century. “The Industrial Revolution radically changed our way of life and production. We have been spending huge amounts of energy on production and consumption since then. The amount was much increased after World War II, and has gathered momentum in these few decades.”
Since the problems are so apparent, people nowadays seem to care for recycling and environment ? the climate change, the rise of sea level and so on. However, I think it important to analyse why we have chosen this way. In order to do so, it would be better to look back the period it started. In this sense, Morris’s words are very helpful since he was the man who was concerned with overproduction and waste the new economy brought, as well as its inequality and exploitation. He questioned mass production system by manufacturers and money-oriented economy, namely commercialism, as he witnessed them from day to day. He wrote in The Lesser Art in 1877:
| Is money to be gathered? cut down the pleasant trees among the houses,
pull down ancient and venerable buildings for the money that a few square
yards of London dirt will fetch; blacken rivers, hide the sun and poison
the air with smoke and worse, and it’s nobody’s business to see to it or
mend it: that is all that modern commerce, the counting-house forgetful
of the workshop, will do for us herein.
He also deplored the flood of adulterations in that lecture:
There is a great deal of sham work in the world, hurtful to the buyer, more hurtful to the seller, if he only knew it, most hurtful to the maker: … [T]he public in general are set on having things cheap, being so ignorant that they do not know when they get them nasty also; so ignorant that they neither know nor care whether they give a man his due: … the manufacturers (so called) are so set on carrying out competition to its utmost, competition of cheapness, not of excellence, that they meet the bargain-hunters half way, and cheerfully furnish them with nasty wares at the cheap rate they are asked for, by means of what can be called by no prettier name than fraud.
Morris explored the question of waste through the qualitative aspect of work and life. It is worthwhile for us in the twenty-first century to read his arguments in essays such as The Lesser Art.