Less Free (And Loving It) In Austin: Thoughts on the Plastic Bag Ban

Here’s a little update on the City of Austin’s plastic bag ban. Some may think it tedious or draconian, but forcing businesses to cease the use of plastic bags has made a noticeable difference already, regardless of whether it achieved its stated goal, which is to change residents’ behavior. And in this case I mean literally noticeable; I haven’t seen as many plastic bags floating around, getting stuck in trees and in gutters, winding up in roadside strips of grass and green medians.

And really, what a small price to pay for a less trashy city. I don’t know about you (if you live here, that is), but I haven’t been inconvenienced one little bit. No business that I know of is suffering as a result, and if there have been complaints they’ve been so few and far between as to be rendered inaudible.

For anyone thinking such a rule restricts freedom, they’re right–it does. But the result is overwhelmingly positive for both humans and non-humans in Austin. There’s a good lesson in all of this.

We will have to restrict freedom if we’re going to do anything about the impending ecological collapse. That’s okay. Human freedom does not trump the life and longevity of the material world. In fact, that should go without saying, as no material world means no humans alive, let alone free. Human freedom should not be the paragon for success as a society. I know that such a notion is anathema here in the land of so many liberty myths, but the health and sustainability of ecosystems must be the primary goal. Note that more human freedom can still be judged as better than less, as long as the activities granted by such freedom don’t destroy our habitat (and almost all of them do).

Besides, absolute freedom–let alone some kind of American version– is an illusion. Even with no government, humans wouldn’t be totally free, as long as we’re beholden to non-humans and the rest of the material world (which we are). There shouldn’t be anything terribly upsetting about this fact. Just like every other living being, we have a responsibility to everyone else and to the ecosystem. This responsibility restricts our actions. Duh.

Back to the immediate issue: ask yourself, does your life feel less enriched–less worth living–because of the plastic bag ban? If you answer yes, then you’re either not answering honestly or you have Stockholm syndrome.

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