Wednesday, December 16, 2009


"Would you like to donate your change to breast cancer?"

This is what they ask me.
The teenagers. The not so teenaged. The middle aged and beyond.

Retail experiences are strange. At turns arduous and exhilirating: goods given, services rendered, tolls taxed.
They are apt metaphors for our larger experiences in a pocket of the world that is a hub of industrialization and consumption. Like our larger experience as political actors, we are guided by scripts and roles and our tacit roles divide us against one another in the service of the script: either salesman or consumer, enforcer or obeyer. The liberties and privileges the script protects are defined by a the items on the shelf and the money in your pocket.

Retail experiences are bad strange. It reminds me of a dystopian, nightmare future sometimes. That is why I go to the Wal-Mart and shudder. As the Brazils, Russias, Indias, and Chinas emerge in the global economy, and robotics prove that the paradigm that holds laissez-faire conceptions against social welfare spending is going to have to shift or be shifted by massive, violent instability.

To put that another way: unemployment could conceivably rise above 50% and stay there.The jobs that did exist for the great masses of Americans will only grow worse and worse, with more and more fucking Red Wall-Mart vests and less manufacturing jobs. One day a majority of people could find themselves cut out of the production process.

The robot thing sounds crazy. Don't take that as a throw-away line. It has already started to happen and it is crazy not to think that the trend of machines replacing human labor, that began in the industrial revolution, isn't only going to accelerate in the 21st century.

Prison planet.

Retail experiences are funny strange.

They ask me: "Would you like to donate your change to breast cancer?"

I tell them no. Because I am against breast cancer.

But it gets me wondering: why breast cancer?

Of all the things that the retail people, who only have ever given a fuck about getting as much of my cash as possible, or my name and email address, or to tie me to them with cards and memberships and BS.

Of all the things that the salespersons could be required to ask me by the powers that govern them. Breast cancer.

It's obviously noncontroversial.
The store doesnt want you to associate your Pepsi and Doritos with city slickers, crack addiction,or AIDS, or the infrastructure needs of the community.

Breast cancer is an awesome cause. Please dont take this the wrong way. Breast cancer isn't benign or funny. It is monsterous and blind. Women of all races and ages and social classes fight it. But the reason the stores are willing to devote their salespeople to collecting your change for that cause, is that it is good for sales.

It should be obvious. Buisnesses only care about doing good insofar as it causes them to do well. The philanthropy of corporations is much needed, but it is also disingenuous, cynical and kind of scary. The classic is the proverbial company that spends $500,000 dollars on a charitable cause and $10,000,000 telling their customers about it. They want you to associate that store with a warm and fuzzy feeling that, "us humans ultimately have each others backs."

Who knows. Maybe that conviction will make you save less and spend more...

People who have been touched by that cause will feel almost charitably, if not merely warmly, towards that buisness.

I realize this is all sounding like half-baked Marxism. But maybe Marxism isn't dead but ahead of its time. It is the kind of prophetic vision that loses its power without a sense of urgency. If you were as brilliant as Marx, it would be easy to overstate your insight, having experienced the fantastic passions that motivated him to discover some of the truths he did.

In the coming centuries, society will deliver a bill to our current system of production for which this system will be unable to collect the sum from its constituent pieces. Giant problems are emerging that know no borders. Capitalism and sovereignty cannot coordinate the collective sacrifices of the economic interests that threaten stability in the 21st century and beyond.

I fear a day society turns to the propertied, moneyed interests for help. The emmergent truth will be that corporate charity was nothing but theater performed in the interest of profit.

There is no dine and dash on global warming, unless you own a spacecraft I don't know about.

"Bush 2012."
That's what we call this thing. Change is funny like that.

1 comment:

  1. Hans, your blog is subverting my socially constructed proclivity to venture out into one of America's great malls every holiday season. I once felt at one with the sheople as I perused Bath, Body & Beyond for my mom and sister, and Eddie Bauer for my dad. But, no more!

    I think I'll just do my Christmas shopping online this year.