Saturday, November 29, 2008

Death by Terrorism... versus Death by Capitalism

For those who have grown up in a country like Canada, it's difficult to imagine what things must be like in Mumbai at the moment. For the families of the victims, there is anguish and anger - at the loss of their loved ones, at the perpetrators, and at the politics of terrorism which punishes the innocent. Unlike 9/11 in the US, terrorism in India is an ongoing phenomenon, yet because the terrorists struck Mumbai - where western influence is in evidence everywhere - this is big news. Mainstream media are doing their usual comprehensive coverage, with step-by-step explanations of the timeline of events, human interest first-hand accounts, and the local connection (any Canadians who were victims).

As we ponder the tragedy of death under these circumstances, there is an unrelated story which is buried under the Mumbai headlines. In Nassau County, NY, a temporary worker was trampled to death at a Wal-Mart, when hundreds of impatient shoppers literally broke down the doors to take advantage of the 5:00 AM start to "Black Friday" sales. There was no malice in this death, no anger. No one intended for anyone to get hurt. People simply wanted bargains.

I've been in life-threatening crowd situations a few times. It is a terrible feeling to realize that a crowd is out of control, frightening to see the potential for disaster and death so close. When a large crowd of people presses forward and those at the front have nowhere to go, either the barrier containing the crowd will collapse, or people will get crushed. I've experienced tightness of breathing from the pressure, and had that flash of memory from news reports of similar incidents when people described how the deaths occurred. If you fall, you're not getting up again. There's no space to manoeuver, and those behind you are being pushed forward, trampling anything underfoot because the crowd is so dense and tight that no one can see their feet or the ground.

However my life ends, please - if it's not a natural death, at least let it not be inconsequential. We hope our lives will have value, that we can make a difference in this world. It would be nice to leave this world in a similar manner. Most of us will die of old age, or perhaps of illness. But we don't tend to imagine dying a senseless, meaningless death. I'm not talking about accidents; I'm referring to the "Darwin Awards" stuff, or the flukes that sometimes end up on the internet "news of the bizarre" sites - like getting a piano dropped on your head. I don't need to be eaten by lions while helping starving children in Africa. But could my death have some purpose?

The Mumbai terrorism victims were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Their deaths weren't exactly accidental, but their loved ones might see it that way. At the moment, it may be hard to attach meaning to these deaths. But when, one day, the terrorism ends, the Mumbai incident will have played a part - if only in increasing the desire to end strife and achieve peace. These deaths, then, may one day have purpose, even if they seem not to right now.

The Wal-Mart death has no such meaning. A man is dead, and for what? So that a few people could get a 50" plasma for $800? How much of a saving is that? How many people saved money on xmas gifts? I wonder if the people who saved money at Wal-Mart today will stop to think about the part they played in this incident.

Not that the Wal-Mart shoppers should take the blame alone. In learning all about "Black Friday", I am amazed at the stories of people pushing, elbowing, and grabbing merchandise out of the hands of others. What have we become? We may think we are motivated by the need to save money, especially in these hard times, but that is just an excuse - and a cop out. In capitalist society, our number one motive is greed. Would you rather be nice to a fellow citizen, or save a couple of bucks?

In the Wal-Mart death, there is potential for meaning. Just as the deaths of 11 people at The Who concert in Cincinnati led to the demise of "general admission" seating ("festival seating" in US dialects), so perhaps this death will result in significant changes to "Black Friday" sales. (Canadian Boxing-Day sales are similar, but the savings are not as good, so the sales don't create the same frenzy. It's a kinder, gentler madness. But the concept and the greed are still there.)

We live in the age of the internet; don't tell me a substantial portion of this can't be done online. I don't even care what the solutions are, but when we are reaching the point of fist-fights - and deaths - over sales merchandise, it's time to put a stop to it. Let's not let one more person die because of our greed for a bargain. If we can prevent that, this year's Wal-Mart death will not have been completely meaningless.


wrath of khan said...

What is the Iraq war if not "Greed for a bargain"?
This so-called "civilized" society that we live in is just as much on the brink as any "other" society in this world. Just try to take away one, just one thing of luxury from their lives... like sports, junk food or tv and watch their wrath rain down!
What if for a day the entire country had no clean or drinkable water, like in Zimbabwe. We would all be at each other's throats faster than you can say Evian!

L-girl said...

Very nice post. Thank you.

StL Mike said...

I just read an interesting piece on the stampede in the L.A. Times:,0,3938897.story?track=ntothtml

Kim_in_TO said...

Thanks for posting that. It's pretty much what I'd imagined - a little worse, actually. The sad thing is that if the incident actually leads to any change, it will likely be a result of the lawsuit, not Wal-Mart's compassion for the worker who died or his family.