John Masterson: Change your behaviour or stay stupid

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John Masterson

What is the definition of stupidity? One I find useful is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. It pops into my mind when I am trying to sort out some internet problem. I have to remind myself that this is an instance of PICNIC. Problem In Chair Not In Computer.

Does anyone remember the days when the TV detector vans used to appear to check who had a TV without a licence? We all speculated that there was nothing in the van at all and it was just meant to scare people into buying a licence. They failed miserably. These days it would be hard to find a house without a television so it is easier to assume that everyone has one. People also watch material on computers and phones and some of this comes from Sky and Netflix, etc. You don't find many people who do not pay their phone bill or top up their credit. The reason is simple. They get cut off. Ditto if you do not pay Netflix. Or your internet provider. Or your electricity bill. But, since before Moses grew a beard, a substantial minority of TV watchers have freeloaded and the percentage remains stubbornly the same. Every now and again there is a fuss when we waste more money by putting someone in jail for a few hours for not paying their fine. So what are we going to do? We are going to put this out to tender to continue much the same system. Remember that definition of stupidity. But then Napoleon said that "in politics stupidity is not a handicap".

Littering is another human behaviour that seems resistant to change. Again it is because the negative consequences are not applied. Few people are fined. Upstanding citizens who confront people caught in the act are taking their life in their hands.

So what are we going to do? Well-paid people are going to call to houses to ask for proof that they dispose of their rubbish correctly. Most people do. And what will happen when they find a house that does not behave responsibly? Not a lot I suspect.

We were told that privatising the waste business would be cheaper and more efficient. One look around shows it does not work and not because of the people in the waste business. It is because there is a minority who do not fear the consequence of leaving their black bags for someone else to deal with. And it is not because they are short of money when you see the number of bottles or cans in their bags.

The cleanest town I know is in France. There are three giant bins, mostly invisible below the ground, in several car parks. One for paper, one for plastic and one for general waste. And guess what? Everyone puts their litter in the correct one. There is NO litter or illegal dumping. It is paid for from property tax, and it works.

Community service seems to me to be much underused. In other countries I see people in coloured jump suits collecting litter on roads. I would like to see some of our antisocial people clearing up the place and maybe learning about the effects of their thoughtless behaviour.

I write this fresh from a pleasant walk along the river where I stepped in some newly laid dog poop. I have been a lifelong opponent of the death penalty. But for this offence I would consider bringing it back. And I don't mean for the dog.