Friday rant: Far and away edition

“Throw away” is a fascinating expression. I love that word “away.” Where is “away”? It’s over there. Somewhere. Away. Not here. The gentle arc of the apple core gliding into the shrubbery. And that is what throwing away used to consist of. The term could be a soft-focus expression of benign vagueness because that’s what the activity was. Seriously, it’s hard to think of anything from the pre-industrial era being thrown anywhere that could have had much of an impact on anything. Okay, catapulting a plague-infested cow carcass over a castle wall would be an exception to that.

But the more things change, the more they change. When industrialization cranked up, things changed a lot. A company that was producing a lot of poison, rather than dealing with the cost of the toxins it produced, decided it was more profitable to put them in the river. Your river. The river your drinking water came from. Or into the air. Your air that you breathe. See how that saved them some money? They put THEIR costs on YOU. “Away” now meant “you.”

We spent a lot of time in the second half of the 20th century trying to fix that situation, but we never quite established in the public consciousness the idea that these dangerous “externalities” are just fundamentally costs generated by producers that those producers are responsible for, but which they are trying to pass off on the public whenever they can get away with it. We will try to resist the temptation of likening that to certain media outlets that are designed to generate their profits from toxic vitriol.

Tom Toles is the editorial cartoonist for The Post and writes the Tom Toles blog.

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