I don’t often post human-interest type stories like this one below, from CNN, but aside from my wanting to note that had this been an anti-war demonstration gone wrong, in which case I think a lot of people would have ended up in jail (I don’t believe any arrests happened), I wanted to hear some response to this. Because I know there are going to be a number of different ways of looking at it as regards America’s cultural idea of alpha/beta types and the drive to get what you desire.
I comment below.
Panic ensues in rush for cheap laptops
Tuesday, August 16, 2005; Posted: 2:05 p.m. EDT (18:05 GMT)
I took my chair here and I threw it over my shoulder and I went, ‘Bam.’
— Jesse Sandler
RICHMOND, Virginia (AP) — A rush to purchase $50 used laptops turned into a violent stampede Tuesday, with people getting thrown to the pavement, beaten with a folding chair and nearly driven over. One woman went so far to wet herself rather than surrender her place in line.
“This is total, total chaos,” said Latoya Jones, 19, who lost one of her flip-flops in the ordeal and later limped around on the sizzling blacktop with one foot bare.
More than 1,000 people turned out at the Richmond International Raceway in hopes of getting their hands on one of the 4-year-old Apple iBooks, which retail for between $999 and $1,299. The Henrico County school system was selling 1,000 of the computers to county residents.
Officials opened the gates at 7 a.m., but some already had been waiting for hours in line. When the gates opened, it became a terrifying mob scene.
People threw themselves forward, screaming and pushing each other. A little girl’s stroller was crushed in the stampede. Witnesses said an elderly man was thrown to the pavement, and someone in a car tried to drive his way through the crowd.
Police would not immediately comment on the number of or extent of injuries, though witnesses said they mostly had scrapes and bruises.
“It’s rather strange that we would have such a tremendous response for the purchase of a laptop computer — and laptop computers that probably have less-than- desirable attributes,” said Paul Proto, director of general services for Henrico County. “But I think that people tend to get caught up in the excitement of the event — it almost has an entertainment value.”
Blandine Alexander, 33, said one woman standing in front of her was so desperate to retain her place in line that she urinated on herself.
“I’ve never been in something like that before, and I never again will,” said Alexander, who brought her 14-year-old twin boys to the complex at 4:30 a.m. to wait in line. “No matter what the kids want, I already told them I’m not doing that again.”
Jesse Sandler said he was one of the people pushing forward, using a folding chair he had brought with him to beat back people who tried to cut in front of him.
“I took my chair here and I threw it over my shoulder and I went, ‘Bam,”‘ the 20-year-old said nonchalantly, his eyes glued to the screen of his new iBook, as he tapped away on the keyboard at a testing station.
“They were getting in front of me and I was there a lot earlier than them, so I thought that it was just,” he said.
History books and the airwaves are filled with “dogged desire” wins out scenarios, the heat of competition winnowing out the losers from the daring-do winners, the glory of attaining hill’s crest, the reward of never-say-die. “God helps those who help themselves” is one of the big platitudes. “There is no second place.” “To the victor go the spoils.” Etcetera, etcetera. Some of us will look and say, “Well, it’s a stretch applying the platitudes to an Apple ibook, ” to which I wonder then where is the invisible cut-off line as to what is worthy, which for some is perhaps what their pocketbooks qualify as a perfectly redeemable effort. Because some who say, “Ugh,” may only be saying “Ugh” because they can afford the Apple ibook, and may find such a free-for-all perfectly legitimate if the stakes were higher.
Never mind the mismanagement that made the event a coliseum gladiator affair. Because it was certainly mismanaged. There were, I read, only 1000 ibooks available. Camping out for a good place in line was said not to be permitted. But of course people began showing up as early as midnight. Then when the time came to open the gates, the authorities said that vehicles would be first permitted to enter. Those who had first arrived went to their vehicles, and a rush was made on the gates by those who stayed on foot and those who had arrived later (whence the story of vehicles attempting to drive through pedestrians). Then once the people were inside there was a second line to form and weather. And the authorities didn’t close the gates until there was a line inside of several thousand people. For 1000 ibooks.
We perhaps have never thought of wealth in terms of poverty. How many thousands of the poor does it take to support a single millionaire? How many more thousands of impoverished has society generated to support its newly minted billionaires? We fail to recognize poverty as the sustenance of wealth. We may see the homeless and occasionally encounter the impoverished, but we never see ourselves as a cause. We are too busy, too preoccupied with ourselves, to reflect upon our collective generation of wealth as a cause of poverty.
Source: Loyola Poverty Law Journal, Spring, 1999, SOCIAL STRUCTURE AND RESPONSIBILITY, Kenneth Ehrenberg, referencing, William J. Curran III, After 100 Years: A Disquieting Discourse of Poverty and Wealth, 35 N.Y.L Sch. L. Rev. 1031, 1033 (1990).
The truly impoverished likely were not among those in line for the ibooks. Perhaps some were. I’m just looking at the continuum here. Probably didn’t have “wealthy” individuals involved in the brawl, nor people who are truly disenfranchised. But you’ve got a lower end on some scale who have determined that these are the proper rules of engagement and they are really the same rules of engagement that result in the class structure defined in the above quote.
Which results in everyone being a loser.
One of the central premises of our capitalist system is the condition of “scarcity.” That is, capitalism claims to represent a solution to the problem of scarcity. [FN17] Capitalism is supposed to be the most efficient way of dealing with this condition. Indeed, this condition is often cited by those who wish to defend our economic system against the attacks by the adherents of other systems. However, what this term means is far from clear in our society which has such an abundance of wealth.
By “scarcity,” most of us mean that goods are in short supply: there isn’t enough of something to go around. While there often is no clear-cut understanding of what constitutes “enough,” the simple fact is that there is more than sufficient food to sustain everyone on the planet. The same is true of land and renewable energy. The important question, then, is why the staples of life are so egregiously maldistributed – why, for example, the United *13 States, with a little more than 5 percent of the world’s population, uses something like 40 percent of the world’s resources. What appears to be a problem of scarcity usually turns out, on closer inspection, to be a problem of distribution. [FN18]
The upshot of this realization is that a characteristic upon which the economic system is based is perverted in our society to justify the inequitable distribution of resources. How does this come about? First, and perhaps foremost, is the fact that the term “scarcity” does not mean the same thing to economists as it does to the rest of the population. [FN19]
Generally, when the term is used to bolster capitalism, economists are talking about either that in certain circumstances the choice of one product or commodity precludes the choice of another, or the presumption that, as a matter of human social nature, people will never be satisfied with the amount they have – no matter how much that is. [FN20] When we hear the word used in casual conversation, however, we usually think that the speaker is talking about a condition in which there are not enough resources to meet the needs of every individual. This latter condition certainly is no longer the case in the United States (if it ever was), and may not even be true of *14 the world taken as whole. [FN21] One problem with the economic definitions is that the first condition (one which, when taken as a premise, no system will alleviate) may give rise to the second. That is, if we are in a situation where the choice of one commodity precludes the choice of another, people will always be faced with what is just beyond their reach, making satisfaction of all “needs” (natural and artificial) next to impossible. This point is made more clear by its application to the competitive system.
When we combine the competitive aspects of capitalism with the condition of scarcity (economists’ first sense – the choice of one good precludes another), we end up with the familiar problem of the unequal playing field: The fact that choosing certain commodities will preclude the choice of others leads individuals to try to maximize their opportunities for choice. The more choices one has, the less likely one will find oneself in the position of having to choose between mutually exclusive commodities. In a competitive system, however, the only way of accomplishing this maximization of choice is essentially to take away the choices of another. Because certain circumstances will arise where the choice of one good will preclude the choice of another, and since we are in a competitive economic system, the drive to maximize one’s own choices necessarily entails minimizing the choices of others. Because one choice may exclude another, and there are a limited number of those mutually exclusive choices (“scarcity”), the most effective way to maximize one’s choices is to take away those of another. Yet the more choices one already has, the more power one has to maximize future choices; the fewer choices one starts with, the harder it is to avoid loosing one’s choices to others.
“Whoever has more resources is far more likely to win a contest, thus giving her even more resources for the next contest, and so on until the opponent is utterly vanquished or someone steps in to stop the competition.” [FN22]
*15 One of the upshots of our particular brand of competitive capitalism is that it is not marked by fair competition. People do not start out on the same starting line; some start miles ahead of others. Yet, we still see ourselves as in competition with each member of society for “scarce” resources. As a result, we have strong structural disincentives from trying to rearrange our institutions so that individuals may at least start from similar points. Included here is the point made above: that we are unwilling to help those far below for fear that others, in closer proximity to us, will surpass us. Furthermore, this point helps to explain why it is so difficult for our system to arrive at a more equitable distribution, or for the winners of one generation to be the losers of another. Generally, those on the bottom in one generation will be on the bottom the next, at least without the intervention of an extraordinary amount of luck. [FN23] While it is true that certain segments of the population are able to better their condition through slow and steady improvements across generations, they are still doing so (for the most part) at the expense not of those above them, but of those below them. Hence: “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”
( FN23: Some might bristle at the suggestion that it is only luck which separates the “haves” from the “have-nots,” preferring to believe that with a little hard work and ‘gumption,’ anyone can become a millionaire. This belief is patently flawed. There are plenty of examples of individuals who make it big without a significant amount of intelligence or business acumen. While there is an even greater number of examples of people of intelligence well above the norm, and the appropriate applicative ability, who nevertheless languish in poverty simply because they never get the genuine opportunity to apply themselves to personal improvement. In fact, this “work ethic solution” is so counter-empirical that I would venture to claim that it is a prime example of radical self-deception in the face of what is perceived to be an intractable problem. As Curran somewhat derisively put this position:
Capitalism’s generation of poverty motivates us. It inculcates life’s hard lessons, sustains institutions, and supports principles. Thus, we believe that poverty can be avoided, that hard work and determination will always benefit the poor, and that wealth will reward them and poverty will discipline them. Poverty, we well know, can be defeated by every able individual in this, the world’s richest, most democratic and open nation.
Supra note 7, at 1034. Just as Job’s friends denied reality in claiming that only the evil are punished and the good are always rewarded, adherents to this false belief are denying reality in claiming essentially that everyone who deserves to be rich will be. )
Source: Loyola Poverty Law Journal, Spring, 1999, SOCIAL STRUCTURE AND RESPONSIBILITY, Kenneth Ehrenberg
American society tends to think of life in terms of a competitive sport.
When you rule life as a competitive sport and accept greed as the essential bottom-line for “self-improvement” (which is the free capital way, where goods and wealth signify status) or greed even motivating basic survival (which again is the free capital way of interpreting history as certain gene sets winning out over others through that essential greed) is when you disqualify life as relationships, whether between humans or humans and nature in general. The rules of good sportsmanship are just a way of making the irrational sound reasonable. Such as 18th and 19th century warfare where good sportsmanship was qualified as lining up leagues of men in proper rows and marching them into battle, hordes dropping as guns felled them from a distance. Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon” illustrates this insanity, as does Kurosawa’s “Ran”.
Our systems tend to define self-esteem on free capital values. Ehrenberg notes the importance of self-esteem and sees it as an alternative system from one that is competition-based.
As a concept, self-esteem is extremely useful for those trying to understand why people act as they do. As a reality, the importance of high self-esteem simply cannot be overstated. It might be thought of as the sine qua non of the healthy personality. It suggests a respect for and faith in ourselves that is not easily shaken, an abiding and deep-seated acceptance of our own worth. Ideally, self-esteem is not only high but unconditional; it does not depend on approval from others, and it does not crumble even when we do things that we later regret. It is a core, a foundation upon which life is constructed. [FN36]
Given this importance, it is a wonder we do not do more to build a robust sense of self-esteem in our educational system.
Source: Loyola Poverty Law Journal, Spring, 1999, SOCIAL STRUCTURE AND RESPONSIBILITY, Kenneth Ehrenberg
Now, this ends up sounding as if self-esteem and individuality is to a certain extent based on an isolationist sort of greed where the rest of the community be damned, one’s own goals are paramount. But this isn’t the case, because the type of self-esteem Enrenberg is writing about is found with the support of the community and the person finding their place in giving to the community. And a reason it’s hard to come by is that our communities do not support this.
Perhaps of prime importance will be revamping a sense of individual uniqueness and worth. Individualism has not been the cause of our ills. Rather it has been the increasing sacrifices of our individual spheres to economic and social pressures which has contributed to the internalization of “intentional competition.” While it may appear, with a casual glance at our society, there is a surplus of cacophonous calls for individual rights (at least this is the complaint of some right-leaning Congress members), there is such a loud call, and it is so conflicted, precisely because of the incursions of society (hence the misplaced call for individual responsibility among many politicians). That is, many of the rights which we feel are protected by government or Constitution in our society, are given up “by choice” when we go to earn a livelihood, or in order to get our needs met if we are impoverished. We have conditioned the exercise of our rights so that they are in opposition to the ways in which our needs are met by this society. Free speech rights are sacrificed at work; reproductive rights are sacrificed for welfare; dignity and integrity *21 are sacrificed for an education. [FN33]
The basis of any possible revitalization of society must begin with a revitalization of the individual. At first that might sound like an empty platitude. It cannot be necessary to revitalize the value of the individual – a fundamental tenet in our society. However, it is this value which is being lost in our society as it is presently constructed. To value the individual cannot simply mean to protect a limited sphere of rights against government incursion, while leaving these rights, and other central aspects of our personalities, open to the interference of and determination by non-governmental outside influences. To be an individual implies a certain uniqueness that these limited rights protections cannot capture. To be certain, these protected rights are exercised in somewhat different ways by different people. However, this range of choices in how to exercise one’s rights is constantly shrinking on two sides. On the one side our options for exercising these rights are shrinking as a result of government’s failure to prohibit other outside sources from placing limits on our range of choices. On the other side our options are limited by advertising, and other forces of market socialization which seek to convince us that a particular choice or set of choices is in our own best interest.
Ehrenberg ends in saying,
Furthermore, competition as it manifests itself in our capitalistic system has lead to particular economic and social woes which capitalism, because of its very nature, is unable to combat. Therefore we have the responsibility to temper our competitive social institutions with other systems which correct for the disadvantages and inculcate a robust sense of individuality, not dependent upon relative social position. This is not to argue for the complete casting off of all of our present social edifices and economic systems. Rather, it is to note the importance of building social systems which will generate a recognition of our responsibilities toward each other. If we are secure in our own selves with who we are and where we are going, we will be much more likely to desire that security in others. This, in turn, will give rise to a sense of social responsibility which does not infringe upon anyone’s individuality, and yet will ensure that every individual’s needs are met.
Source: Loyola Poverty Law Journal, Spring, 1999, SOCIAL STRUCTURE AND RESPONSIBILITY, Kenneth Ehrenberg
Our communities are competition-based and education is set up to regulate children according to its current creed and definitions as to who are winners and who are losers. From A to Z, in its process of grading, of rewards, of punishments, what is prioritized as having educational value, it is set to feed an ill system rather than honestly benefit a child and provide them a sense of their own special place in the community.
And we’re told that this is preparing a child for the “real world”.
I know I’ve been told this often enough by people who question homeschooling and our fairly eclectic way of homeschooling.
When I look at the above story on the free-for-all over the ibooks, I know I would have eliminated myself early on as a “competitor” because I would not have seen the value in hand-to-hand combat over a computer. I also would not have subjected my child to it. Just as the other night at the “Stand with Cindy” vigil, I had also thoughts of protecting my child to consider, and didn’t permit him to stand curbside. Everything looked great and things were upbeat but my seven-year-old, going down the sidewalk, walks inside me so that if someone comes up off the curb I’ve a chance to shove him out of the way. I had my same thoughts at the vigil, stand him to the rear. I wanted him to experience the community of the people at the vigil, but I also didn’t know if some nut might not decide to clip a few people, I had that concern.
I view myself as offering my child these same protections when I don’t subject him to an educational system that is set up to do nothing but defeat the majority of children. Nor do I see it as depriving him of some essential training ground for “real life”, not when I don’t think of school as “real life” training but a preparation for a competition-based game that eschews individual dignity and a real sense of community. That isn’t any kind of a “real life”.
Several weeks ago I was a little astonished at a couple of remarks made to me at the benefit for the oak tree which was also my husband’s birthday party. An old friend who I rarely see, a photographer, upon leaving, came to me and said she had been watching our son, watching him dance, and she had been at the point of tears because she had never seen a child so free and spontaneous. And then another individual, a DJ/musician who I didn’t even know, came up and said so that’s your son, and I said yes, and he said he was a very free-spirited child and was going to be a great artist. I said I knew yes he was free-spirited, and he was, yes, an artist. The man said, you have to protect that, a lot of people don’t see that as a good thing, they crush it. I said yes, I realized that. And he was adamant, he said again, you have to protect that, don’t let the system crush it. And I replied that’s one reason we were homeschooling, so it wouldn’t be crushed. And he seemed finally to be somewhat relieved. Several others said similar things to my husband, watching H.o.p. spontaneously regroup objects into sculptures. It’s just what he does. He sees a group of objects and in his mind he sees where the man or robot is and he matter-of-factly goes over and regroups to form the sculpture.
In fact, almost all artists, actors and musicians we know, from the time we decided to homeschool H.o.p., have expressed nothing but relief and have only been supportive. Maybe that’s because those who think alternatively, who thought alternatively as youths, were not only undervalued by the system but experienced the fight to keep self-esteem in a system that is geared to defeat alternative thinkers from the beginning, and defeat children who learn in different ways and different speeds with ostracizing labels, report cards and grade levels.
My son deserves more.
We all deserve more than to be viewed as units motivated only by greed, rewarded by greed, competition the only driving force. Life is relationships. Relationships with nature. Relationships with people. It’s not just school. It’s not just a job. It’s relationships and should be about respect and balance in those relationships, discerning the intricacies of our connections and the broad reach of cause and effect. And not in the “A smile brightens everyone’s day” bank’s way of teaching, “Give a smile to get an investor”.
True self-respect is difficult in the culture and systems that presently overwhelm us. And we are in need of it, desperately. In need of it and in need of bolstering it rather than feeding the competition game that is a flashy, fake respect and self-respect which people accept as their authority.
It is not “real life”. It is what we’ve been educated to believe is “real life”.
That it is “real life” is one of the first of the lies that needs to go.