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."