In the 'modern' world we take for granted our sinks and toilets, and their capacity to remove the manifestations of our indulgences, but how long have we had this fortunate technology? Archeologists have discovered evidence for one of the first flushing toilets in ancient China, but who can really know? Certainly the Romans were known to have a relatively sophisticated set-up using sluices and gravity to channel the bodies' outpourings away from their owner, but such facilities would only be for the use of the exceptionally privileged, and really only moved it somewaht further away from the nose of the do-er. Today, in the wealthsome corners of this world, such technologies have become ubiquitous. The ever-present toilet as we recognise it, with its sophisticated flush plumbing, was a Victorian invention called the night commode, an extrapolation of earlier models with built-in bed pans, that more than ever necessitated upon the vast Victorian sewer building projects. Once more, such devices began as the sole preserve of a notional aristocracy, and prior to the pull and slosh of the flush into the sewer, would have been the servant, to whisk it all away.
In older pasts, humans made little of mess and waste that could not be readily re-sorted into the environmental matrix, nothing that could seriously pollute, or not be eaten by something or other. Bones, cunningly shaped stones and footprints, were typically the only things we could leave in our wake, humanure squat into existence a little ways from camp, perhaps in a hole, but as such, always there to confront us. With the invention of the flushing toilet, all of this changed; the foul botherings of our bowels could be removed from sight and being with but a jaunty tug and a porcelain gurgle. It can therefore be understood that the advent of the flushing toilet can be seen to be blamed for all of our current problems of pollution.
Obviously I'm being facetious, the problems of waste and pollution are extremely complex, yet on a simple psychological level, this enabling facilty of removing one's waste from one's sight, and so escaping the consequences of having to deal with it, is profound. In more recents pasts, humans have conjured with their ingenuity all kinds of infrastructures and industries for removing and hiding waste, and in parallel, increasingly sophisticated and insidious pollutions. It therefore bears considering that the commode can be seen as a metaphor for all blasé waste disposal, in that washing powders, shampoos, toothpastes, micturated pharmaceutical metabolites and other glorious effluents now flow down the drains with your poo, removed from sight and cognisance.
The problem of pollution has to a certain extent crept up on us while we sleep-walked, in that the majority of historical waste was readily degraded by nature. Unfortunately, modern pollutions are not always so easily disposed of. In the last hundred years or so, with advancements in science and technology, we have seen the appearance of plastics and other petrochemical derivatives; complex novel chemistries previously unknown to the biosphere. Some of these chemistries have been released into the ecosystem of Earth with very little care or awareness of their consequence, caution was not erred. The environment however is not a laboratory and unexpected or unintended consequences are still consequences. Some familiar examples include PCB's and DDT and the endocrine disruptors of more recent renown.
We can trace this recklessness back into the past, to when the world was vast, environmental consequences were slight and fevered dieties reigned over matter anyway. With the advent of agriculture came domesticity, and ironically that which had bound man to the land was also to drive a wedge between them. Cities separated people from the soil, both physically and psychologically, even though these cities relied on agriculture to sustain them. A limen of perception manifested in the urban dwellers, nature became increasingly exteriorised and distant, this division catalysed by anthropocentric religions and philosophies. More and more the veil became opaque, the plasticised limen thickened; light pollution blotted out stars, shrinking context; food appeared by magick in plastic packets, convenient wrappings which also conveniently disconnected us from its origin; ugly sanitised social planning forced us into lawned toy realms and gated yards, or worse still concretised monoliths devoid of any kind of sympathy to environment or empathy to the needs of the spirit. Reality increasingly became a life vicarious, lived through screens and devices, the biosphere now an abstract, its direct 'experience' becoming another novel product, or a desirous holiday destination. Meanwhile, all of the cities' waste was carried away by new, uncomplaining, technological minions.
We do have a problem here, both psychologically and physically, I am no luddite, but the plastic limen is now manifesting serious repurcussions; polluted water-systems; whales dispossed of as toxic waste because of high concentrations of volatile organic compounds; seas filled with plastic bottles; shrinking and collapsing habitats, abandoned to the vicissitudes of necessity and frivolity; etc. etc. On a local level we have littered streets and countryside, abused animals, toxins permeating our foods and water, and all of this exists alongside and operates in a vicious cycle upon an entrenched, unwholesome culture of ignorance and disrespect (occasionally enforced and glorified) towards both each other and our environment. The common lack of direct felt presence of the wild, of living systems and things, I believe, has made us miserable, because such witnessings feed our imagination and enrich our experience, simply because nature is beautiful, and to be occluded from it, is a huge social and spirtual loss.