It was hot in the COSTCO parking lot. We had just finished loading the car, but I needed to go back in to use the restroom, before our hour-long drive home. So, I reached in from the driver’s side to insert the key in the ignition so my wife could roll down her window to catch whatever breeze might help keep her cool for the next few minutes. Just then, I was startled by a loud blast of the horn of a car attempting to pull into the adjacent parking place.
I turned to hear a man yelling from inside his Lexus SUV. His right front bumper was already close to my opened drivers-side door. His passenger side window was cracked less than an inch, so I could not quite hear all his profanity. But I got his drift. How dare I delay his parking operation for a few seconds.
I could barely maneuver to close my door. As I returned my shopping cart to the collection center across the way, I heard him ranting about my having been in “no place to be having a conversation,” as he attempted to maneuver his body, overweight by at least 200-lb, toward the store entrance. He was obviously a very (self-) important man on a very important mission.
Parking lot etiquette has definitely not improved during the pandemic. People in the Whole Foods parking lot were already recognized as probably the worst, followed by Trader Joe’s customers. I’m not sure where COSTCO fits in overall, since I have only observed that one instance of “parking-lot meanie” behavior. But I do remember that incident several years ago when a man cut me off and zoomed into the parking place I was waiting for with my turn signal activated, as the former occupant pulled out.
We live too far away to go to COSTCO often. Well, I haven’t been to Whole Foods much either, since billionaire bimbo Jeff Bezos degraded its quality and selection while keeping the prices high. Those “Whole Wallet” stores ain’t what they used to be.
Narcissism Overcomes Civility
Yesterday, the New York Times reported on the widespread rude behavior of customers of restaurants across the nation, which are struggling to re-open after big financial losses and current problems hiring enough staff to operate smoothly. The wonderful owners of the farm-to-table Apt Cape Cod restaurant in Brewster, Mass., Brandi Felt Castellano and Regina Felt Castellano, closed after a particularly nasty incident to proclaim a “Day of Kindness” for their employees, who had been made to cry by the extreme rudeness of customers who expected everything be be exactly as it had before the pandemic. Importantly, this is not an isolated incident; similar customer nastiness is happening all over the country.
Americans live in a nation that promised to be the greatest ever. However, we have lost most of that potential because of the forced ethos of self-indulgence and entitlement that now pervades the industrial-consumer culture. (It’s good for sales.) Think of how fantastically peculiar it was that almost half of the voting public could not or would not recognize the grossest of narcissism, and the coldest of indifference to human suffering, in a fake presidential candidate for president of the United States of America, who became far too real.
It is almost as if the former Narcissist-Sociopath in Chief had become the ‘role model’ for acceptable incivil behavior. It is not that he caused all that rancor and indifferent meanness that has swept the nation. But he sure did amplify it with his encouragement of hostility to everyone not an old white male, and by his incitement to riot and insurrection that led to death and destruction in the nation’s capital. The anger and resentment was all there before, if slightly subdued by social pressure to withhold outright racist, jingoist, and fascistic tendencies from blatant public performance.
Fear, Hatred, and Violence: It is All Connected
This nation, as we all know was born in violence and has lived by it ever since. I need not list the many massacres and internments of the indigenous people who those colonizers replaced. (Today’s neo-Nazis chant that “We will not be replaced,” by Jews, Blacks, Latinos, or immigrants—never mind that their own ancestors immigrated here, pushing aside native inhabitants). And now, we have the growing phenomenon of #karensgonewild. The term refers to nasty white women arbitrarily calling the cops on innocent Blacks, or harassing them on airliners or in shopping malls.
See a particularly rude assault on a United flight at Lauri_bamba’s Instagram page. In trying to placate the offender, the flight attendant completely ignored the victim, except to move the obnoxious white woman to first class and suggest to Lauri that she to move to the back of the plane (“back of the bus”?). We need not debate whether America is a racist nation. It is time for fair-minded white Americans to stand up and defend the victims and assert racial, social, and climate justice. It is not enough to not be racist; you must become anti-racist pro-actively.
It is not that the old declining middle class has nothing to resent. The corporate global industrial-consumer economy of plunder, extraction, overconsumption, and waste has indeed abandoned the blue and white-collar workers who made the accumulation of wealth by the financial and industrial elites possible, to the detriment of everyone else.
The middle class has all but disappeared. In such situations it is easy for shrewd demagogues like the former Fake President to shift the blame for ordinary people’s struggles and loss on the most vulnerable groups of ethnic, class, and immigrant minorities. It is working.
Transformation or Tragedy: Can We Save Civil Society?
Good question; I don’t know the answer. I do know that the improbable is nevertheless possible. Many diverse movements have arisen to support the exploited, the abused, and the unfairly incarcerated, among others. Movements are afoot to salvage what we can from our near-collapsing ecosystems and climate. I have never seen a more diverse crowd than at the Black Lives Matter protests that followed George Floyd’s murder by an arrogant authoritarian cop, caught live on citizens’ smartphone videos. The demand for justice is alive and well. The demands that the techno-industrial-financial elites pay their fair taxes and that we abandon the Fake Democracy that serves them, not the public, is growing stronger.
The great economist, John Maynard Keynes once said, “Capitalism is the extraordinary belief that the nastiest of men for the nastiest of motives will somehow work for the benefit of all.” Well, “capitalism” and “socialism” are just words. What counts is the actions their advocates take in the name of their ideology. History has not reflected well on the –isms.
Extreme individualism is the value that poorly justifies the hierarchical anti-community, racist political economy under which we live. Selfishness is the norm that the system expects. So why should we be surprised when, especially under the circumstances that system produces, so many persons act just like the former racist-narcissist-sociopath in chief ?
Please, have a Day of Happiness.