Striking to observe how difficult the idea of “waste” has become. Whatever “wasting something” really means isn’t obvious.
If you can use it again, keep it.
If you have no use for it anymore but it could be absorbed by another process, you’re recycling.
If you accidentally spilled it, take a picture and call it art.
It could sound like I’m being facetious but I’m not. There’s a moralistic, patronizing element to the condemnation of wastage. When the cost of Margaret Thatcher’s funeral was announced, one of the saner common responses to the announcement was the simple question of where else that money could have gone. In other words: What a waste.
It’s not that by being anti-Thatcher you are necessarily smarter about wasting things. Yes, a deeply conservative antagonism to some perceived decline in cultural standards suggests the regret that so much of worth in what has shaped one’s culture should “go to waste” amid the rabble and the babble; but the revolutionary spirit itself, especially when animated by the desire for bloodshed (or the terribly sorry necessity of it) brings with it another standard of wastage. Can human life be wasted? My ideologically inflected answer is: sure. But what kind of waste is impermissible? The genocidal? The plotted? An unfulfilled life? An unexamined one? A godless, hedonistic fall into hell?
Online culture, home of the new utopians, is one of the best examples of the trouble with waste as a concept. Whether it’s Clay Shirky with his “cognitive surplus” or Chris Anderson with his “long tail,” there seems to be a (perhaps imaginary, but too easily imagined) consensus on the matter: waste is difficult. Remixing and resampling is easy, and sharing is easy, so whatever old material you find, you can reuse artistically. No waste. Or: It costs little to store enormous collections of music in the cloud, so even if, out of all the available music, only a fraction of it actually generates real money on its own, the sales from the rest will also be significant taken together. No waste.
Thus, abruptly, ends my catechism.