As I had this one as a work in progress I see Big John has beaten me to it. However John and I are coming from a very similar perspective and I find his post lends weight to my assumptions as he has a little more life experience of the days before ‘the man’ took over than I do.
I find it interesting that one of the principle criticisms of what many see as having been the embodiment of Communism is that everything is required to be the same, no variation because all is dictated by the State. Leaving aside for the moment whether what they are basing this on is a valid system of comparison or whether this idea of a uniform-requiring State is correct to any left-wing ideology I wanted to try to see just how the alternatives to anything left of centre manufacture this difference, if they do so at all.
If one looks across the Western world and in particular the United States the reach of the corporations is practically all-pervasive across the board. From one town to the next there is a worrying homogeneity that renders each town devoid of any singular identity. Much of this can be seen most graphically in comedian and broadcaster Dave Gorman’s Unchained America in which Gorman seeks to travel from Los Angeles to New York without paying any money to ‘the Man’ ie the chain corporations of America.
Gorman’s choice of vehicle may be more in keeping with the romantic wooly ideals that one starts any such road trip rather than to do with any practical study as to what sort of vehicle one might actually need in order to safely conduct a trip but this in a way is part of the charm, along with his tendency to veer off at tangents that make interesting broadcasting if not fiscally or physically prudent.
Gorman’s presumption is that the trip will be relatively straightforward but this proves to be far from the case. On his trips into towns called Independence across America, he finds either that the faceless corporations have rendered the town utterly indistinguishable or that the few places of character and individualism are in terminal decline, one particular gem closes on the very day he is there having served as a diner for the community for over 60 years. It will not be replaced and is unlikely to be revived.
Interestingly the smaller independent places whilst ‘economically unstable’ do sometimes fulfil more one of the fundamental points attributed to Marx and Engels namely to provide workers with more of a stake in things and therefore an interest into their success. There were numerous examples of multi-generational working through the family business. It is not surprising that in this situation these people care about the business in which they work and the community feel of such places can lend itself to a belief that one is providing a service to the wider inhabitants and not merely in the pursuit of profit. Of course this is not always going to be the case and standard employees may feel no more empowered than were they to be working at K-Mart or Wall-Mart or AN Other-Mart.
The people running these independent premises tend to be those with a sense of family tradition or occasionally a sense of the absurd or the non-conformist as embodied in the dog-shaped hotel that Gorman stayed in en route. These are people, generally 50 and older who have lived through times where the homogeneity was not so pervasive, the 1950s with smaller more intimate shops outside and even often inside the cities, the 1960s with its social changes and cohesive ideals. These are perhaps the few people that didn’t grow out of such intentions and sought to continue to live by their principles in one form or another.
What the corporate premises cannot provide the same is the value-added service that the independents can, it’s just that this is not appreciated in today’s world as it once was. Everything now comes down to the bottom line price. No longer is it important for the cashier to know your name, or what your usual order or to have a specialist expertise in their field and this means not only are we offered merely the selection due to the pile ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap philosophy but we are also given homogenous staff who have no field of expertise and cannot give any depth to the shopping experience.
Even the few places holding out like a Gaulish village against the invaders are having to make sacrifices, butchers are forced to buy in much of their stock wholesale in order to compete with the supermarkets on the prices of staples such as sausages and mince restricting themselves to the more premium speciality items. Bakers are now usually chains producing the same items daily in one shop as another, and could the young today tell the difference between a Grocer’s and a Greengrocer’s let alone cite any place that they might have seen one?
I find as I get older that I look forward to the chat at the butcher’s on a Saturday morning as I pick up my meat for the weekend. I know many who make the monthly trip to the farmer’s market in town mainly because they . When even the local pubs in many towns are run by national companies serving the same beer at the same price and keeping it badly in the same way
This trend is not set to stem in its tide. As the time in our lives as well as the budget gets steadily ever more squeezed people are understandably feeling that they are forced to count the cost above all other concerns, choosing to shop in the huge monolith one-stop supermarkets and their partners online and this is a service that can generally only be provided by the big guns and a token smattering of a select few enterprising farmers.
Gorman’s conclusion is that whilst he just about managed coast to coast with only one corporate petrol station payment and one burger that only made a brief foray into his stomach before rejection his journey was far from easy and like as not would be impossible in ten years time. Big John’s idea of doing a similar thing in Britain I suspect would be beset with many similar problems especially through the more industrialised sections of the country, however owing to the smaller distances I imagine the refuelling would be less of a problem. This should not make us be complacent about it, what has happened in America has frequently over the last 50 years translated itself over here in time as the culture melds itself into the hegemony and the businesses seek greater influences in the market. Most of the time the smaller independent businesses survive now where there is far less economic viability as the great corporate entities are uninterested in the service ethos unless it carries a hefty profit worth their while.
There is therefore a real danger of Britain becoming awash with such uniformity, it already reminds me of the America in which I lived 18 years ago and not in a good way. But can we really be surprised? One cannot expect businesses to reign themselves in because they have become too successful. Whilst the marketeers may talk about competition and freedom of choice being the ideal these do not make good business sense as much as having a monopoly on the market and the ability to keep overheads low and profits high, it is as if the competition phase is the fiscal capitalist revolutionary stage necessary to facilitate the vultures from picking off the corpses of the dead and the dying in order to facilitate their subsequent dominance.
Ironically when one looks at which ideology demands pureity and uniformity both racially, culturally and socially I think these are normally things associated with the right rather than the left so why is it still the perception that capitalism provides for a wealth of choice whilst any alternatives are the road to guaranteed totalitarian adherence and conformity? For this one has to look at the great propaganda victory of the multi-nationals who now have us thinking that we have a mass of choice when actually we merely have a variety of ways to have the same thing and these are dictated by the middle men themselves. The providers are squeezed in order that corporations can buy their raw materials for as low a price as possible and we are forced to pay the prices they want us to, whilst led to believe they are doing us a favour in doing so.
Go back to your shopping lists people and prepare for markets and local shops and local produce, it is the only way to make the stand.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
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