got myself to my garden for the first time on Tuesday. I haven’t
quite figured out what to plant where, so I didn’t bring any
seeds, but I spent a happy hour digging out those persistent,
early-sprouting perennial weeds that don’t wait for wimpy
“last average frost dates” to start staking their claim. It
seems a little obsessive to be weeding empty beds, but I know
from long experience that left alone, these suckers become
really hard to deal with, especially without accidentally
pulling up the delicate seedlings next to them.
I am, it should be noted, one of those sentimental nature
lovers who has had a hard time with the idea of “weeds” at
all. I had multiple fights as a child with my grandmother
over whether dandelions in a lawn were flowers or weeds. I
have long been acutely aware of the way we’ve poisoned ourselves
in the name of weed killing. I have even recently become a
big fan of edible weeds.
It took, not a gardening book, but Jared Diamond’s Guns,
Germs, and Steel to made me feel OK with weeding. It’s
a deal we strike with domesticated plants, he explains. They
divert the energy they would usually put into competing with
other plants into producing larger or more of whatever part
of the plant we eat—more pea pods, larger squash, more fleshy
cucumbers. In return, they require coddling. No one nearby
shading their leaves or stealing their water or soil minerals
or space for root growth.
Weeds are not “bad plants.” They’re not even just “out of
place,” as some people like to soft pedal it. (Ecologically,
that’s silly. Plants that tend to be garden weeds are ones
that grow fast and well in disturbed sunny soil. They are
exactly where they “belong.”) No, weeds just don’t co-exist
well with plants that produce enough food per square foot
for us sedentary humans. Until we shift ourselves back to
hunting and gathering, we’re going to have to observe this
deal with domesticated plants in some fashion.
On the day after tax day, this year complete with “Tea Party”
protests, it seems relevant to think a little about the deals
we strike and then later layer morality on top of.
Taxes are one of them. They are not good or evil. They are
a compromise we make when we live in such concentration that
to form a civilized and basically decent society, there are
things that we want a government to do collectively for the
whole. This is not inherently a redistributive notion. The
wealthy, in fact, tend to benefit at least as much, if not
more, from most of our collective endeavors: They have more
assets to be protected by law enforcement. Their businesses
rely on more people educated by the public schools, kept healthy
by subsidized health care, and delivered to work by public
transit. They make more use of publicly maintained roads and
airports. And on and on.
Taxes can, of course, be both collected and spent wisely or
unwisely, fairly or unfairly, and it’s no surprise that there
are huge differences between us about how to do it right.
Having just sent off a check to the IRS that was larger than
what my family spends in a whole month, and having done a
fair amount of research on what happens in shrinking cities
when taxes spiral upwards to meet basic services for a dwindling
population, I’m not sanguine about the burdens of too-high
But the conversations that need to be had get so muddied by
the whole “taxes are evil” or “government spending is evil”
or “raising taxes/government spending is evil” discourse.
Muddied is probably too kind. Hell, they are usually cut off
And that is too bad. We need all the brains we can get to
figure out how to sort out, for example, the foreclosure crisis
and our current recession. Despite what some would have us
believe, there are no clear liberal/conservative lines to
be drawn through the morass and its proposed solutions.
But one thing is clear to me: When knee-jerk ideology means
you don’t even understand what is going on accurately,
you don’t have much to offer to the debate. And our fellow
citizens who were protesting on tax day have some key facts
wrong. For example, the homeowner bailout plan, designed to
modify or refinance troubled (usually fraudulent) mortgages:
It’s not giving out free rides. These mortgages are going
to be turned into 40-year loans. The bailed-out people are
going to owe more in the long run than they do now.
And they’re more likely to have to actually pay it instead
of going bankrupt or walking away from the house. Mortgages
that are too far upside down (i.e. jumbo ones on seriously
overvalued McMansions) don’t qualify either.
For another example, give up on the paranoid ACORN blaming
already. You know what their role was in this? (1) To be the
ones who knew what CNBC and Jim Cramer didn’t: That Lehman
and kin were in danger from their stupid investments and going
to fail. (2) To give loans to low-income people that weren’t
predatory and destined to fail. Call the exorcists now.
Let’s set aside the fairy tales, and get our hands in the