Black Friday just got blacker

Dec. 8, 2008

by Ivan Raconteur

The story about the worker who was trampled to death by frenzied Black Friday shoppers at a Long Island Wal-Mart store could be an ominous sign of things to come.

Even as the unfortunate worker lay helplessly on the floor, the mindless hordes continued to tramp on his limp and broken body as if it were no more than a stray scrap of trash.

When other employees and emergency personnel tried to come to the aid of the downed worker, they too, were washed over by the crowd and had to fight for their own lives.

When it was announced that the store was closing because of the body on the floor, the mob reacted with anger and outrage. Shoppers were mad because they had waited in line, some of them since Thursday, and they were determined to continue shopping.

This is consumerism at its ugliest.

Have we really reached the point where some must die so that others may shop? Has human life become so cheap?

What does this mean in terms of our future?

Some say that the store and the police are to blame, as if we are justified in behaving worse than a pack of wild animals if there is no one standing over us to force us to be civilized.

Economists and policy makers say that for the economy to recover, money needs to circulate. This means that people need to have confidence and be willing to buy things.

It seems that some people have a bit too much confidence, and are in too much of a hurry to buy things.

The fact that thousands of people will stand in line all day to get a deal suggests that the credit crunch and the economic slowdown have not yet dampened the enthusiasm of some Americans.

Some might argue that the sluggish economy is the very reason people are so desperate for bargains, but this a cop out.

If we have reached the point where getting a deal on a plasma TV or saving a few bucks on a DVD is worth more than a human life, then we are all in deep trouble.

I was not around during the Great Depression, but I believe we can learn something from those who were.

They seem to have a much different perspective on wants and needs than many younger people have.

In order to survive, we need food, water, clean air, and shelter from the elements.

The old-timers understand that most material things are wants, not needs, and there is a big difference between the two.

Some people think that they need to live in a mansion (which helped to fuel the housing crisis). Some think they need to own several cars, have a TV in every room, designer clothes, and all of the latest and greatest electronic devices (which will be obsolete by the time they get them home).

These are wants, not needs. They might be nice to have, but we won’t die if we don’t have them (although it can apparently be fatal to stand between a rabid horde of shoppers and their perceived needs).

It seems that a lot of people are living beyond their means today. We might be able to get away with this when times are good and wages and property values are increasing, but it doesn’t work out so well when times are tough.

So, what if the economic crisis is as bad as some have suggested, and there are darker days ahead?

One hopes this is not the case. One hopes that things will turn around and the economy will soon be contentedly humming along again.

But if it is not, and if more people find themselves out of work, or struggling to support themselves and their families due to rising costs and stagnant wages, where will we be then?

There is no way that I will ever be caught (dead or otherwise) anywhere near a mall or big box retail establishment on Black Friday, nor can I imagine why anyone would want to put themselves through such an ordeal.

But, if the recent incident is a sign of things to come, we could all be in danger.

If people start to get desperate, hungry, and mean, like a pack of timber wolves at the end of a long, hard winter, we could find ourselves grappling with other shoppers over things like a loaf of bread or a tin of soup that happens to be on sale.

If people will kill others in their lust for tawdry bargains, what will they be prepared to do when it comes to getting things they really need?

Let’s hope we never have to find out.

Perhaps there is a bright spot in all of this. Perhaps we can view the Wal-Mart stampede as just another good reason to support local businesses. Despite common misconception, it is possible to find bargains at local shops. Another benefit is that one almost never has to contend with thousands of voracious consumers lined up in front of the local grocery store, hardware store, or drug store, or any of the other small shops that give communities character.

One doesn’t have to drive for half an hour or more burning precious fuel to get there, parking is free and convenient, and one might even experience some old-fashioned personal service when one shops close to home.

And, in light of recent developments, shopping locally could even save one’s life.