Friday, December 5, 2008

On Consumerism: Trample To Death, Save Money, Live Better...

“...Jdimytai Damour, a 34-year-old temporary employee at the Wal-Mart store, was crushed (to death) underfoot as thousands of shoppers, chanting "push in the doors," did just that -- ripping the doors right off their hinges, these desperate-for-a-deal maniacs stampeded into the store, massacring Damour under their heavy, relentless feet, which I guess were so caught up in marching to the capitalistic tune of consumerism that they just couldn't register the life they were squeezing out of the man beneath them.

There are no reports of any shopper attempting to help Damour. On the contrary, Damour's co-workers, as well as paramedics and police officers at the scene, all tell of hostile shoppers who impeded assistance to Damour and who became angry when the announcement came over the PA that the store would be closing because of Damour's death.

Since hearing about this horrific murder I have made myself nauseous imagining Damour terrified, gasping for air, the weight of all those shoppers grinding him into the floor. But, the truth is, I have also found myself unable to stop thinking about the connections between his murder, and capitalism, and consumerism. I cannot help but think that this horde's behavior really isn't all that far off from how consumers in a capitalistic society are programmed to behave.

Think of this: if a corporation's purpose is to maximize profit, isn't a consumer's purpose to minimize price-paid? That is, in order to be the very best consumer , don't you need to seek out the lowest-priced goods? Further, capitalism teaches us to celebrate those who achieve success and material wealth, even as we acknowledge that "getting to the top" often involves scrambling up over the backs of fellow human beings. Sure, driving your heel into the flesh of a man trapped beneath you is a bit more visceral than the sort of bloodless exploitation that corporate climbers employ, but the impulse -- the drive for personal success or satisfaction; the ambition to meet one's own needs at any cost -- springs from the same notions of individualism that lay at the heart of a capitalistic system.

In the movie Dirty Pretty Things, a character, Okwe, makes a statement about the sorts of people with whom we share our world yet often do not acknowledge-he says:

"... we are the people you do not see. We are the ones who drive your cabs. We clean your hotel rooms. And suck your cocks."

I think about this whenever I think about one of this country's most enduring mythologies: the American Dream. As the story goes, everyone is born equal in America, into a country with a level playing field, where, with hard work and perseverance, anyone can achieve economic stability and financial success. Integral to the idea of this American Dream is the notion that those who do not "make it" fail because they choose to fail. This is an important part of our mythology, and it is convenient for explaining the existence of the people Okwe mentions. How do we reconcile the poverty and desperation we see all around us? Or the knowledge that we share our world with people whose lives are miserable, hopeless and grim? By believing that they are responsible for their own wretched existences. Otherwise, we have to admit that the system is flawed. And if we admit that the system is flawed, then we will have to change it. For many people, this is not only a terrifying notion, but it also seems impossible. Further tempering any impulse to demolish the capitalistic system is the fact that we are so seduced by the elusive promise of wealth and privilege that the false-hearted dogma of the American Dream is a stronger motivating force than is the reality that we see all around us.

We are complacent.
And gluttonous.
And divided.

I believe that within a capitalistic society, especially one that is teetering, seething, and grasping as desperately as ours is, this sort of brutal, every-man-for-himself mentality is likely to manifest in more and more everyday occurrences. Capitalism can behave in no other way -- it exists for only as long as there is a class of people to exploit. As Ezra, the prophet of Elle Flanders's brilliant documentary Zero Degrees of Separation, says:

"Without the cogs, there would be no machine." We are all cogs in this plutocracy we call "America." And we chew each other up to bloody bits..."

-Tani Bellestri (Excerpt: "Blood In the Machine,", 12.5.2008. Image: Title Card, "Born To Kill,"directed by Robert Wise, 1947).


Anonymous said...

Is not striving to become better, or to better your situation a human trait? In a society without an outlet for this part of humanity, equally bad thing happen. A consumer mob crushing a man to death is not the normal outcome of capitalism, but an exception. Anyone who does not see the flaws in their systems are blind, capitalism has obvious flaws, but so does Socialism, Communism, Theocracies and Dictatorships. You can bitch all you want, unless you offer a better solution, you are doing nothing. What would you recommend?

VioletPlanet said...

The trampling death is more than an exception, it is a reflection. What would I recommend? Obviously Capitalism needs quite a bit more corporate regulation # 1. The bottomline is that the corporations have way too much power.... This is Ultra-Capitalism and it has obviously failed. Private enterprise without stricter regulations cannot be trusted to do the right thing. There are too many rotten people in the world who take advantage of the system. I would advocate a balance between Socialism and Capitalism. Socio-Capitalism if you will.

Vic Phelps said...

I, like many, am dismayed with this latest act of greed, but in the over all picture of consumerism out of control, this one man's death only stands out because he worked for WalMart rather than 100 feet down a diamond shaft.

Every year, millions of people die, trampled beneath the crush of the corporate greed that supplies 90% of the consumer goods in the whole world. The story of these deaths is so huge and so long that the scope of it is lost somewhere over the horizon.

This man's death is close to us. We could have been that part-time worker and so his death becomes front page news. The millions of other deaths are "Somewhere-I'll-Never-Go" and so they get relegated to Industrial Accident Reports and Cancer Statistics.

I disagree with Nephi. This death is EXACTLY the normal outcome for capitalism. Everyday, American's and people in general, do things that can kill someone later, and we do it without thought and usually without consequence. We buy cheap kid's jewelry and then find out it is poisoned with lead so we throw it away--but what about the people who manufactured it? How much lead have they been exposed to? When our children are harmed by bad products, we sue. Who is suing for the children working in sweat shops?

In the USA, we throw away over 90% of everything we buy within a year of it's purchase. We fill up landfills with junk that in many cases, isn't even paid for. People live near landfills, drink the water and breathe the air--who is going to pick up the tab when they get sick? How long can we keep doing it?

One death is a tragedy, a million deaths--just a side-effect of capitalism. H

Anonymous said...

i think it is a result of capitalism whre the concentration of attention is on individuals and not the general public

Anonymous said...

I don't know how you can blame capitalism for the deadly effects of a density wave. Herding people like cattle is more of a socialistic behavior than an individualistic one. In this case it was corporatist related not necessarily capitalistic-I've never seen this happen at a mom&pop owned store and yet I CAN see it happening in a communist type store when the rare merchandise (bread) comes in. Individuals loose the title of individual as soon as they join the wave. Waves are dangerous, no matter what the construct, be it water, air, cars, planes, pedestrians, radiation, etc., etc.. To a degree we must admit that the class baiting that socialism utilizes to win it's arguments and battles could be cause for the us vs. them mentality of the crowd. Another ingredient may be the immediate need to save money in an eroding economy brought on by the Utopian ideal of home ownership for those who couldn't afford it coupled to a total lack of ethics in the governing bodies. Increasing liquidity by utilizing all the new instruments they were inventing had the same effect as if the Fed had printed the money itself. Now that the derivatives market has started to come unraveled the central banks can't print the money as fast as it is disappearing into the same thin air it was made out of. These trillions are just a trickle compared to the quadrillion that are out there. This tiny stampede may be the good old days compared to the stampedes to come.

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