Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Shame of Long Island

From Newsday comes this sad story:

Jdimytai Damour of Jamaica, Queens, was pushed to the ground by the 2,000-plus crowd just before 5 a.m. as management was preparing to open the store, which is located across from the main Green Acres Mall building. Hundreds stepped over, around and on the 34-year-old worker as they rushed into the store.

"Nobody was trying to help him," said shopper Nakea Augustine, who was in the line. "They were rushing in the store, rushing, rushing, rushing."

Was this just a case of the "madness of crowds", or was something else at work here?

Social critic Morris Berman, in his book Dark Ages America, devotes a few pages to the lack of community in the United States. After providing several examples from personal experience, Berman writes, "It is not merely that these vignettes reflect how callous much of American life is; what is so striking is that this behavior is largely unconscious, not perceived as callous by those engaging in it."

Several paragraphs later, Berman describes "an incident that occurred here in early 2003, in which a man was shot at a gas station and those present had no reaction. The store videotape shows these witnesses not fearful, but completely indifferent, as the body lay bleeding on the pavement. One man actually drove up, inserted the gas pump into the tank, briefly looked over at the body, finished pumping the gas, paid for the purchase, and drove off."

Berman mentions the last episode of Seinfeld, wherein Jerry and the gang are arrested for violating a Good Samaritan law. Berman quotes Jerry's lawyer telling him, "You don't have to help anybody! That's what this country is all about!"

To be fair, I don't believe this is just an American pathology. After all, death by stampede is a frequent occurrence in Mecca during the annual hajj, examples here and here. But it is sickening nonetheless that a man should die needlessly from being trampled by a crowd of people who were so intent on buying stuff because it was on sale.

I am reminded of a line from the movie Aliens, wherein Sigourney Weaver's Ellen Ripley responds to the callous denials of the greedy villain Carter Burke by comparing him to the alien creatures that are besieging them.

"You know Burke, I don't know which species is worse. You don't see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage."

10 comments:

tseyu said...

Thank you for opening a dialog on this event, which shapes the mold of the stinking, hot, rapacious underbelly of what has gone so deeply amuck with the corporate-government in this country… "Stuff"
on paper for the rich; “stuff” made of metal and plastic for the less fortunate, but, as Robert McFadden and Angela Macropoulos report on today’s Toronto Star.com, even as the masses grabbed their shares off Wall Street through the year, other masses pressed and bowed and finally broke through the glass doors of a brick-and-mortar at 4:55 a.m. yesterday, simply marching over Mr. Jdimytai Damour, a 34 year old temporary worker, until shoes and boots trampling over his body left him dead [the exact cause of death is not yet published by a medical examiner]. To be sure, there are “reports” by “witnesses” who saw the horror, but we can be every bit as confident there are men and women of every size and shape who did not make it home before throwing into trash bins the Nike Cross-Trainers and the Crocs Bistros that reached deep into soft gut tissue or ground rib against sternum amidst the general dull roar and the overarching single scream.

The particular details of this event need to be imagined. In this case, Mr. Idimytai Damour’s deeply humane soul needs to be brought into full relief against that grinding throng; the guilt and the shame of 2,000 plus people need to be examined before the horror of a nation…because there is a great dissimilarity between this incident [and others like it in recent years] and the two in Mecca that you mention, Tommy. In both of those incidents, the throngs were moving toward something they believed in so deeply that (as we have, sadly, learned through this decade) they were prepared to sacrifice lives to carry forth their mission. In this incident, it was not spiritual conviction but totally self-interested greed that killed that good man…not so much as the common good of two or more people working for a united cause. This was a case of “each to his/her own”: fearing that the person in front or in back of him/her would claim whatever in the store “rightfully” belonged to that one person in line. Avarice killed Mr. Damour. Avarice to the power of 2000. Avarice on the part of the store who knew the crowd was dangerous and did not hire appropriate crowd-control. Avarice that reopened the store rather than leave it closed as a memorial to a man who died a horrible, needless death. Avarice not unlike that occurring all across the country yesterday.

Within 24 days of showing the world that America can work together in new and positive, progressive, potentially world-changing ways, we have ripped open our bowels in front of the world to expose the true diet of lust for the quick fix we feed ourselves. We are all remiss if we do not take the time necessary to reflect on what this incident means about our cultural values, our community values, our personal values, ourselves as members of the human family.

tina FCD said...

We all know it was greed, plain and simple. I do not think this only happens in America either.

Tommy said...

Thanks for visiting Tseyu. As an atheist, sometimes I wish Christmas really was just a religious holiday celebrated by Christians in church.

The sad truth is that our economy depends on Christmas being the orgy in commercialism that it is. Regrettably, even my family and I get sucked into it. My wife recently charged on her credit card a Louis Vuitton bag at Macy's that cost almost $1,200. Her sister, you see, had bought a designer bag that cost $1,600. A lot of people in this world don't even earn the equivalent of that in a year!

Cat Lady said...

These are really good points here and something I've been thinking about lately.

The depression has hit Iceland really bad and my country is bankrupt. There will be a revolution here by February. Trend forecasters say it hit Iceland first and what's happening here will happen in the rest of the World by spring next year.

Greed brings out the worst in most of us. Let this depression be a lesson for us which we can pass to our future generations.

That man's death is symbolic of what has become of Western Society.

tina FCD said...

Tommy! That's a lot for a handbag! Wow! I freak out if I have to pay 15.00 for a purse.

Andrea said...

Ummm, yeah...I wasn't going to say anything, but holy shit. Not for a split second would I ever consider dropping that much cash on one fucking purse. I have my handy old messenger bag, and if I look like a bum with it, hell if I care.

I used to feel obligated to buy gifts for every last person I knew, but fortunately I dropped that pointlessness years ago.

Tseyu, I applaud your comment.

Stardust said...

"It is not merely that these vignettes reflect how callous much of American life is; what is so striking is that this behavior is largely unconscious, not perceived as callous by those engaging in it."

We see so many of these incidences, but the Good Samaritan stories are rarely, if ever shown in the news media. In our neighborhood a couple months ago, my husband and I were heading out to go to a BBQ at a friend's house. Right in front of us an accident happened. We saw the whole thing, and so did the whole line of cars behind us and some behind the one woman's car. We ALL stopped at the side of the road and the drivers all got out and went to see if both people were okay, and we stayed to give witness accounts of the accident. There are similar things that happen all the time. People helping other people. The news media only shows the looting, the mob action like what happened on Long Island which is despicable.

Much of American life is "unconscious". On a news station here in Chicagoland, a video was shown of people stampeding into a large electronics superstore and showed people falling down, BUT also people stopping to help those who had fallen. This tape was made the same morning of the Long Island tragedy. So, is it location? Social status of customers?

I think the retailers are largely to blame for these terrible things. To offer such extreme deals on limited quantities of items and opening at insanely early hours of the morning is only asking for problems. All corporations care about is the profit, and the bigger the company the more price games that are played.

We stay out of stores this time of year. I order some things online. Giving is very limited in our family. It is being together that is most important. Most people forget that.

And think about this. Most of those people who horde the material goods, and stampede to greedily grab up those items would say they are Christians. Most of the people who buy hundreds and even thousands of dollars of crap are Christians. If there was a Jesus, and if he could see he would be wearily shaking his head.

Tommy said...

Most of the people who buy hundreds and even thousands of dollars of crap are Christians.

Yeah, but they're not true Christians! :-)

tseyu said...

Thanks, Tommy. And Kudos, Stardust, for stopping to help, and for writing about it to spread some good news.
Speaking of Good News, here's a Recovering Southern Baptist's take on Christianity: what happened after the crucifixion is of no importance because Jewish writers of the time used embellishment as a way to establish the importance of their subject (and for several other reasons).
But consider the possibility that what came of the life of this strange little man, Jesus of Nazarath, what survived his death, what "rose again" was actually the idea of agape love...love of one's fellow human beings that gives even to the death. Rather radical for the time. Of course, that idea got pretty well corrupted by Augustine and the establishment of the Catholic Church. But if Jesus did come back to earth today, I think he would say something like, "You idiots! You weren't supposed to worship me. That's the coward's way out. You were supposed to copy me, to do as I did, to break bread with people unlike yourselves, people who don't smell good and are sick and who need urgent care. You got the whole thing backwards! I was the Christ, the Messiah, all right, and no ordinary prophet. I didn't just tell you; I showed you how to do it. And still you FUBARed. I'm converting to Islam."
That's just my take...

Aquaria said...

My wife recently charged on her credit card a Louis Vuitton bag at Macy's that cost almost $1,200. Her sister, you see, had bought a designer bag that cost $1,600.

Peasants, I swear...


Just kidding.

On a serious note, $1500 for a handbag is NOTHING.

Three years ago, the only attractive handbag I could find in Neiman's was a classic "quilted" Chanel that was $2100. It was about the size of a trade paperback, and indeed beautiful. Just not $2100 beautiful.