This Destruction of the Tea is so bold, so daring, so firm, intrepid, and inflexible, and it must have so important Consequences, and so lasting, that I can but consider it as an Epocha in History. – John Adams
As much fame as the Tea Party has garnered, by today’s standards, dumping a bunch of tea leaves in the ocean certainly doesn’t seem to amount to an “Epocha” in history. The destruction of some merchandise, even for a legitimate political cause, wouldn’t amount to much more than a newspaper article, a few hours on TV, and a lawsuit.
We’ve become so used to the cliche of the Boston Tea Party that we don’t question the potency of the protest, but it doesn’t seem that tea constitutes a major political statement.
Something like the Boston Tea Party could not happen in our modern America where waste on a industrial scale has numbed us to the value of the physical world. It’s an ironic twist of materialism to diminish our ability to recognize the value of the material world in which we live.
The action was not particularly dangerous, nor was it violent. Although the issues surrounding this action were undoubtedly more important than tea or its waste, the simple boycott of tea (a way to avoid paying the unrepresented taxes that had been a general strategy for a while prior to the Tea Party) was not enough to bring on the Revolution.
But to this little thing of dumping tea into the water, the British Government responded with the Intolerable Acts, which sped the Revolution on its way. I find it curious that an act of conspicuous waste could be such a catalytic event in the American Revolution. What’s the big deal about waste?
To treat something valuable as having no value is what is shocking. Something precious was wasted: tea leaves, harvested on the other side of the globe, shipped by the whim of the wind thousands of miles, was vilely tossed into the all-consuming maw of the ocean.
Perhaps waste is not as serious in this current era because it feels like we can produce things with so much more ease. Or because the up-front cost of so many products is so low, we don’t value them with the proper weight.