FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Swimming in Shit

by

New York City’s municipal swimming pools will open their gates, and their blue, chlorinated depths to the public in a few weeks. And while local and even national papers will report the advent of the city’s swimming season, the conduct of the crowds, the (overwhelmingly petty) crimes that tend to arise when so many people are concentrated into such tight confines, and (to a lesser degree) the ongoing privatization of the public realm that is limiting these spaces ever further, as so often happens the real issue will hardly be discussed at all – the real issue being: why is it the case that in a city that is almost entirely built on islands – a city literally surrounded by water – are there so few places to swim and cool off in the first place?

Though billions of dollars were recently spent refurbishing some of the city’s municipal pools, such as the McCarren Park Pool in Brooklyn, these pools can only accommodate a fraction of the overheated. All the while, the potentially refreshing waters of the Hudson and the East River – among other bodies of water which could radically improve people’s quality of life – are treated less with respect, and more with sewage and toxic runoff. Notwithstanding the occasional, anomalous swimming events (such as the annual Brooklyn Bridge Swim) and the accommodationist efforts of advocates of pools designed to float in the East River and filter the river water – the city’s natural waterways are practically unswimmable. Why?

Anyone who takes a not-so-short view of the city’s (and the world’s) history will quickly recognize the answer to this only apparently beguiling question; the present political-economic system, today’s exploitative, exchange-value economy (capitalism), has deformed the once bucolic harbor and rivers – not to mention the land and its inhabitants – into their present carcinogenic configurations. Indeed, in their descriptions of the region, early European chroniclers (such as Henry Hudson) without fail called attention to not only the salutary beauty of the harbor, and to the abundance of fish, but to the intensity of the sweetness of the air as well.

It takes little to see, and smell, that these conditions no longer prevail. And just as early explorers (blind to the indigenous inhabitants’ cultural practices) erroneously attributed this apparent pristinity to untrammeled nature, they raise a question as important as it is elementary: What is the point of an economy, and of technological prowess, and of society itself? Is it to create good swimming conditions – and, by extension, a healthy, peaceful world? Or is it to destroy these things?

As the planet continues to heat up (limiting places to cool off while creating greater demand for such places), and as the writing drips from the storm-washed walls, it is only becoming more evident that radical, transformative political and economic changes need to be enacted to keep cities, and the rest of the world, from growing ever more unlivable. Radical (and critically rational, as opposed to merely instrumentally rational) political and economic changes cannot take place, however, before a deeper shift occurs – one in which, among other reprioritizations, exchange-value and profit are subordinated (normatively and, ultimately, legally as well) to use-value and the well-being of the people, animals, and habitats of the planet.

As New York City’s municipal pools prepare to open for the summer season, many will no doubt dismiss projects designed to create a genuinely healthy environment, and to renew swimmability to New York City’s waterways, among others, as utopian and misguided. Yet such a project – which demands the correction of vast social and ecological harms – really ought to be regarded as what it in fact is: one of the most crucial social, economic, and practical questions of our time.

Elliot Sperber is a writer, attorney, and contributor to hygiecracy.blogspot.com He lives in New York City, and can be reached at elliot.sperber@gmail.com, and on twitter @elliot_sperber

Elliot Sperber is a writer, attorney, and adjunct professor. He lives in New York City and can be reached at elliot.sperber@gmail.com and on twitter @elliot_sperber

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 23, 2017
John Wight
Trump’s Inauguration: Hail Caesar!
Mark Schuller
So What am I Doing Here? Reflections on the Inauguration Day Protests
Patrick Cockburn
The Rise of Trump and Isis Have More in Common Than You Might Think
Binoy Kampmark
Ignored Ironies: Women, Protest and Donald Trump
Gregory Barrett
Flag, Cap and Screen: Hollywood’s Propaganda Machine
Gareth Porter
US Intervention in Syria? Not Under Trump
L. Ali Khan
Trump’s Holy War against Islam
Gary Leupp
An Al-Qaeda Attack in Mali:  Just Another Ripple of the Endless, Bogus “War on Terror”
Norman Pollack
America: Banana Republic? Far Worse
Bob Fitrakis - Harvey Wasserman
We Mourn, But We March!
Kim Nicolini
Trump Dump: One Woman March and Personal Shit as Political
William Hawes
We Are on Our Own Now
Martin Billheimer
Last Tango in Moscow
Colin Todhunter
Development and India: Why GM Mustard Really Matters
Mel Gurtov
Trump’s America—and Ours
David Mattson
Fog of Science II: Apples, Oranges and Grizzly Bear Numbers
Clancy Sigal
Who’s Up for This Long War?
Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail