I've hated that store and what it stands for for a really long time, probably since I lived in Fayetteville, AR, which is pretty close to the epicenter of evil that is the Wal-Mart headquarters in Bentonville. So it should come as no surprise that I hold Wal-Mart largely responsible for the the tragic events at one of their stores on Long Island this morning.
But this story is bigger than just Wal-Mart. This is a story that really shows just how desperate people are getting to continue the lifestyles they've become accustomed to during the last two bubble economies. We've spent the better part of my adult life being told that we, as a nation, can have it all: a strong economy built on outsourcing manufacturing, offshoring profits, and processing, slicing up and securitizing debt. We're told we can have the brand new cars, the huge house in the exurbs or the loft in the city (or both), all filled with the latest gadgets, because we've found yet another way to beat the system. And when, as is inevitable, the system beats us, we don't want to admit it, so when a company like Wal-Mart (and they are far from alone--they're just the trendsetter as the largest) says that if you show up at 5:00 a.m. on the day after Thanksgiving, we'll give you one more hit of what you want, we shouldn't be surprised when the public reacts the way it did.
Let me be clear here--I have nothing but loathing for the people who were in such a hurry to get to the sales that they trampled a man to death, and then complained later when they were told they had to leave because the store was now a crime scene. But let's not pretend like they're the only ones responsible here. Shopping on Black Friday (which has a slightly different meaning to a lot of people now, I think) has been a tradition for quite some time now, but every year, the stakes get higher, and the early shoppers get more desperate. That someone died today wasn't surprising--the only surprise was that it hadn't happened earlier. For crying out loud, the Sawgrass Mills mall opened at midnight, and there were over 30,000 people there in the first two hours.
30,000 people, all chasing a limited supply of deals.
And the deals are all lies, because we never actually get to see the real cost of any of these items. We don't hear about the labor conditions the people who make this stuff have to work under. We don't see the polluted groundwater or the carbon emitted into the air. We especially don't see the damage being done to our own economy as we continue down this road of unsustainable debt. We just see cheap plasma televisions and Coach bags and trample people in order to get to them.
Desperation makes otherwise reasonable people into monsters, and I'm afraid we're only seeing the beginning of the desperation.
For a completely different take on this--an amusing one, from my perspective--you can go here. It's been a while since I've been called part of the "Neo-Stalinist left."