(With thanks to Glenn Reynolds for calling this to my attention.)
In a discussion thread that wandered to the subject of Walmart and its enemies, I said “Scratch a Walmart-basher and you’ll find a snotty elitist, a person who hates capitalism and consumption and deep down thinks the Wrong People have Too Much Stuff.”
The commenter replied: “You know, I don’t think you need to be an anti-capitalist in order to disdain over-consumption and its enablers.”
No, certainly not. My own preference is to live simply, getting and spending little and putting my energy into creative work. Much of what we think of as “normal” behavior in a consumer society strikes me as wasteful and vulgar. But it’s a disdain I tend to keep quiet about, for at least two reasons:
I find that, as little as I like excess and overconsumption, voicing that dislike gives power to people and political tendencies that I consider far more dangerous than overconsumption. I’d rather be surrounded by fat people who buy too much stuff than concede any ground at all to busybodies and would-be social engineers.
But there’s more than that going on here…
Rich people going on about the crassness of materialism, or spouting ecological pieties, often seem to me to me to be retailing a subtle form of competitive sabotage. “There, there, little peasant…” runs the not-so-hidden message “…it is more virtuous to have little than much, so be content with the scraps you have.”
Like the above writer, I don’t particularly care for Walmart’s ambiance, but that’s because I’m privileged: I live in a heavily populated suburban neighborhood with my relatively affluent parents, so I have access to plenty of other alternatives. I can buy my clothes at Kohl’s, my groceries at the Safeway, the Wegmans, or the Bloom, and my electronics at Best Buy. If Dad weren’t backing me up on my health care expenses? I’d be a typical Walmart denizen. One of my acquaintances, meanwhile, lives in the Appalachian foothills near the border of North and South Carolina. The Walmart Super Center located just across the NC/SC line is his only option unless he wants to buy things on the net.
In my estimation, Walmart has done more to bring material comforts to the rural and impoverished than any group of left-wing moral busybodies has ever dreamed of accomplishing through charity work or changes to public policy. For that reason, you will never find me publicly attacking the chain no matter how unpleasant or “crass” it might be.