Of course plastic to this modern world is the very devil, the use of it needs to be expunged from our society. And yet we still face that logical problem exemplified in Chesterton’s Fence. Why did we start using it in the first place?
This is the idea put forward by the early 20th century writer, GK Chesterton, and it’s a logical structure. Imagine two walking in the countryside and coming across a fence. Looking around, they see no use for it and think perhaps that it should be abolished, destroyed. Why have this, there seems no apparent reason for it.
The logical insistence is rather different though. We need to know why the fence was built in the first place. For only once we know the reason for it can we say that the reason, the justification, has passed. That is, unless we know why in the first place, we cannot say that it is of no use any more.
We are indeed not talking about a fence in the country-side here, but the same logic still stands. Why did we move over to using plastic, even single use plastic? Only once we know that this need or desire is dealt with in some other manner can we then insist that the material should no longer be used.
So, why did we start to use plastic? Because, compared to what came before, it’s the miracle material. It’s incredibly, incredibly, cheap. It’s also very clean — as with most single-use items of course. But it’s so cheap that we can only use it once.
This is, in a manner, just the economists’ insistence that there are always opportunity costs. Or, as Thomas Sowell puts it, compared to what?
What are the effects of not using plastic as against the effects of doing so? It isn’t enough to note that the use affects the fishies. We need to know what is the effect upon them and everything else of not using.
And the thing is, the fact that we do use tells us that there are at least some benefits over not using. For if that weren’t so we wouldn’t have switched to using, would we?