Synanon’s Contribution to Society

Michael J. Vandeman

April 4, 2021


  I’ve been doing habitat restoration (removing invasive non-native plants) on private land three days/week. The landowner had bulldozed a trail through his land without marking it private, so that people started using it as a hiking trail, assuming that it was public land and a public trail. While I’m working, dozens of hikers pass by. Most seem to assume that I’m doing “trail maintenance”, which is something in which I have zero interest. My aim is actually to make the land more hospitable to the native wildlife (plants, animals, and fungi).


  Over the years, people have built a viewing platform in an oak tree, created a few homeless bivouacs hidden in the woods, and thrown trash into the bushes. When I find trash, I throw it near the trail, hoping that someone will take the hint and carry it to a trash can. But no one picked up any of the trash, unless I asked them to do it. Finally, one couple whom I asked decided to return with a plastic bag so they could carry away trash. Only a few people seemed to understand what I was doing. One Mexican guy said I am “a beautiful human being”. Nice! Only three people, over several months, offered to help, but none of them actually followed through. I guess that most people assumed that I am working for a public agency whose job it is to maintain the land – even though no public employee or agency would leave trash and plant cuttings on the trail, as I did.


  I was never taught to take care of public land or wildlife, or pick up other people’s trash, though I may have come to that conclusion on my own. But Synanon actively drove the idea home. In Synanon I learned that I am responsible for everything I see. It doesn’t matter who threw the trash on the ground. Whoever did it is not likely to ever come back and pick it up. I also learned that every little bit that I do is important. I bought myself a trash picker, called “Park Patrol”, made by Pike’s Peak Industries, so I never have to bend over and never have to touch anything. It’s so precise that I can pick up a rubber band off of pavement.


  When I can carry some trash down the hill, I put it in a trash can near the university’s volleyball courts. I once asked the students if they could pick up the trash around them. One student said “It’s not ours”. I said “It is now!” Another student promised to pick it up, but I still see trash around the courts. I guess they think that it’s the university’s responsibility to pick it up.


  I went on a tour of an island park that can only be visited by joining a tour. The caretaker said that he used to pick up trash that floated onto the beach, but gave up because it is “endless”. It’s not endless. Einstein said that the only thing in this universe that is infinite is human stupidity.


  Synanon’s contributions to society are numerous and precious, especially the Synanon game – a celebration of freedom of speech, which I try to practice every day. How do you practice your Synanon education?