There is a plethora of ways of measuring the progress of human societies -- political, economic, and social indicators devised by some of the most clever minds of our time. I was not clever enough, while working in the development industry, to have contributed any of the standard yardsticks of success. I would like to rectify this situation at this late date by offering my own original indicator of human progress: the level of toilet training among the people in a society. I daresay that this indicator is, at least, as accurate as any other in revealing the true state of affairs in human aggrupations. It is more interesting to measure (I am sure statisticians would rather count the people peeing in the streets than the GNP) and it has the potential of capturing many other realities (for example, the truth that Filipinas are more civilized than Filipinos, for less of them urinate in the streets).

A good way of immediately assessing the level of a country that one visits is to look for public signs that prohibit urinating in public places like street corners, monuments of national heroes, the presidential residence, parking lots, entrances to the best hotels, and the like. It is also good to actually watch people relieve themselves in public, but this may take a little time which the traveller may not be able to spare, and it may not be appreciated by the locals. There is a reverse logic that links public signs with the actual level of toilet training in a country -- the more signs there are, the more people actually urinate in public places; the more hysterical the signs and the stiffer the threatened penalties, the more common the practice is.

Most wealthy countries have no signs prohibiting public urination and defecation. Some of them have signs prohibiting pets from peeing and pooing in certain places. Obviously, those that do are still having problems with the progress of their pet populations. The newly rich countries have signs against spitting and littering, and a few against peeing, in public places. A testament, certainly, to the fear of backsliding after achieving their hard-won progress. The poorest and the most backward countries are littered with signs against peeing everywhere, many of them drawn, like graffiti, on walls, lamp posts, overpasses, doors, and any other blank space. This could only attest to the popularity of the practice.

Tender hearts sometimes excuse the widespread practice of public urination in a country by pointing out that there are no public toilets. This may be putting the karetela before the horse, for there may very well be no public toilets because no one feels strongly about the practice. Besides, if the lack of toilets truly caused public peeing, then why don't the women in afflicted countries do as their menfolk do? Come to think of it, they could become a formidable tourist attraction if they did.

If I remember it right, Freud made an elegant connection between severe toilet training and the development of repressed personalities, which he labelled as anal types. Perhaps this is the reason why we do not emphasize toilet training in the Philippines. Certainly, there is some evidence in our freewheeling driving habits that the absence of toilet training in early childhood can encourage the development of spontaneous personalities.

I wonder if the NEDA planners have taken account of this important indicator of national progress? It would be fun to devise programs to stem the flood of urine that is currently inundating the streets and sidewalks of our country. Or if this cannot be done, then perhaps projects to make use of the urine?

From The Asian Traveller: Essays on Development by Antonio A. Hidalgo (Anvil, 1996).

Posted on November 23, 2008