Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Wal-Mart as cargo cult

When European explorers first arrived in the islands of the South Pacific, they must have seemed like gods to the natives. Their never-before-seen sailing ships, their firebreathing weapons, their miraculous metal tools all made such an impression that after they left, the islanders built effigies of the ships hoping again to attract the god-like creatures to their shores in order to obtain more of their wonder-making wares.

These island peoples had no knowledge of how the strange boats and tools were made or where they came from. To James Howard Kunstler in a piece for Orion Online this seems very much like the relationship between Wal-Mart and its customers who similarly have little notion about where the things they buy come from or how they get to America. The magic is not so much the technology as the price. Privileges heretofore reserved for the wealthier set are now available for $7.99 and falling.

The trouble is that the encounter between Wal-Mart and its shoppers has been every bit as devastating to America's small towns and cities as the encounter between the Pacific islanders and their European conquerors eventually proved to be.

Something for nothing is America's motto now. And where you can't get that, then something for next to nothing is the next best thing--even if it destroys the very place you live.

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