Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Spiritual Sickness

They call it Black Friday. The New York Times reports on the ugly scene as unruly shoppers trampled a man to death at a Wal-Mart early yesterday morning:
By 4:55, with no police officers in sight, the crowd of more than 2,000 had become a rabble, and could be held back no longer. Fists banged and shoulders pressed on the sliding-glass double doors, which bowed in with the weight of the assault. Six to 10 workers inside tried to push back, but it was hopeless.
Suddenly, witnesses and the police said, the doors shattered, and the shrieking mob surged through in a blind rush for holiday bargains. One worker, Jdimytai Damour, 34, was thrown back onto the black linoleum tiles and trampled in the stampede that streamed over and around him. Others who had stood alongside Mr. Damour trying to hold the doors were also hurled back and run over, witnesses said.
Since when did shopping become a blood sport?
Some shoppers who had seen the stampede said they were shocked. One of them, Kimberly Cribbs of Queens, said the crowd had acted like “savages.” Shoppers behaved badly even as the store was being cleared, she recalled.
“When they were saying they had to leave, that an employee got killed, people were yelling, ‘I’ve been on line since yesterday morning,’ ” Ms. Cribbs told The Associated Press. “They kept shopping.”
I'm told that many retailers offer bargains for just a few hours early on the Friday morning after Thanksgiving. Economists would say that it's a way of rationing access to favorable prices. A limited supply of popular clothes or toys or electronics are offered at a steep discount for those willing to get up early and race through the store like stampeding cattle when the doors open. It's the free market at its Darwinian worst, nature red in tooth and claw, as Tennyson put it.
Shopping in itself is not evil. Working in the retail industry is not evidence of moral depravity. Millions of Americans buy or sell goods every day without betraying such a lack of basic human decency.
But creating, encouraging or participating in this ugly mob scene, in which shoppers were whipped into a frenzy in search of bargains, strikes me as symptomatic of a deep spiritual sickness.

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