The water: a parable

Soft-drink manufacturers notice something annoying: people like drinking water, and what’s more, municipalities give it away for free. So advertising companies, at the behest of those companies, convince those with money to waste — the companies’ target market — that there is something suspect about the water coming from their taps. At first, people become convinced it’s more “convenient” and stylish to carry little bottles of packaged water around, depsite the fact that the packaging requires a whole recycling industry to process them once they are emptied. It is fashionable to drink pre-packaged water, so much so that people will pay more for it than for other soft drinks. Soft-drink manufacturers are suddenly much less annoyed. Then, slowly people begin to believe they shouldn’t drink tap water at all; to do would be putting themselves and their children at risk. They believe this in part because advances in science allow the detection of toxic substances in water at much, much more minute levels and in part because the novelty of drinking packaged water has evaporated and a new justification is required. As more people become convinced of this, fewer in the political classes use tap water, and in the meantime the water treatment facilities begin to decay. Should taxes be levied so that these could be repaired? Why should they? That wouldn’t be fair, since it would force the middle class to pay twice for water — once at the superstore where they buy their bottled water and once in local taxes. So tap water begins to truly become dangerous, but this doesn’t matter since those consituencies who exercise power — middle-class voters, corporations — are happy and safe. And meanwhile health and beauty corporations have noticed something that annoys them (check out this in the New York Times Magazine) — people are washing themselves in tap water instead of using expensive lotions and moisturizers. Clearly something needs to be done about that.