Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Robert Wright is too lazy to make his law perfect, and he uses environmental concerns to justify accepting a weed-strewn expanse:
As I’ve told my neighbors, I feel bad about lowering the value of their property. I mean, it isn’t my goal to have a front yard that, by standard reckoning, is unattractive. The unkept look of my lawn is just a byproduct of a conclusion I reached a few years ago: the war on weeds, though not unwinnable, isn’t winnable at a morally acceptable cost. . . .

The first of the two externalities — releasing dubious chemicals into the environment — is the inevitable result of using them on your lawn; you can’t negate this negative externality without rewriting the laws of nature. But the second externality — the depressing effect on local property values — results from something that may be mutable: prevailing opinion about what makes for an attractive lawn. The preference for Wimbledonlike lawns is not, I submit, a law of nature.

I mean, sure, an expanse of green probably does appeal to the typical human’s sense of beauty. But so does a snowcapped Alpine peak — and I’m definitely not putting one of those in my front yard. The question isn’t whether carpets of green are intrinsically attractive, but whether the more natural alternative — my front yard — is intrinsically unattractive.

I think not. If it were, why would hikers pause, look out on an unruly expanse of earth and reflect on how great it feels to escape civilization for the great outdoors? Moreover, given our species’ long history of traversing various unkept landscapes, how could natural selection have imbued us with an intense aversion to them?

If you train yourself to see perfect lawns as sources of dangerous chemical runoff, it is easy to stop loving them so much.

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