As fate would have it, plus someone was paying me to drive them, I ended up at our local Sam's Club at the most inopportune of times: evening on a Saturday. It was a zoo and never going there at that time again. Now since I pay extra for a special membership, I can go in before the regular members and often that is when I go so most of the people there are pretty uniform, tribally speaking. There are sometimes people from Chinese restaurants buying half a ton of rice but everyone else looks a lot like me.
Last night? Well it was like a little United Nations in there. Along with some Amish, there were lots of mestizos, lots of Indian/Pakistani, lots of Southeast Asians (we have the largest Burmese population in America for some reason), quite a few East Asians. Lots of blacks, and some Muslims. Everyone was mostly polite to each other, other than the unnamed racial minority woman that strolled in front of my very full cart like she owned the place. People wore all sorts of different outfits and a bunch of different languages were being spoken in the same aisle, from Pennsylvania Dutch to Burmese to Spanish.
It got me thinking. The people in the store probably have nothing to do with people like the others in the store, even though this is not a very large city. But here we all were, going about our business peacefully. Maybe there is hope for us after all in a multicultural society in spite of the all the evidence to the contrary?
Then I realized something. What brought everyone together and kept the peace was not the natural result of multiculturalism, it was consumerism. Everyone was there to buy cheap stuff in bulk. My people had a whole flat bed cart of candy for a wedding. Some people had huge packs of paper towels. Others a mixture. But everyone was buying the cheap, plentiful stuff that makes America run.
Buying stuff gives you a dopamine hit and being in Sam's is almost an overload because there is so much stuff. Stuff and sportsball is what keeps us from killing each other. We buy lots of stuff and it wears out right away because it is cheap stuff made by 8 year old kids in Thailand so we get to buy it all over again in six months. My wife and I talked about this today, her mom has appliances that are decades and decades old, same appliances she had when I met my wife and they still work. Meanwhile we have to buy new appliances on a regular basis because they are such crap. I believe this is intentional. We stopped making stuff here and make it overseas and that is supposed to be good for the economy because we can buy crap so cheaply but now we all have to work at Wal-Mart and the stuff needs to be replaced every six months. I have a t-shirt from the Detroit Red Wings Stanley Cup win in 2002. That shirt is 17 years old, it could drive a car and almost vote. It is getting kind of ratty but I still wear it. New t-shirts? If they last a dozen wearings and washings you are lucky.
How can we buy the same stuff over and over again, and how is it possible to have so many stores plus online retailers? Easy, cheap and available credit. You can even buy items financed directly by the vendor on stuff like shoes and coats. If you need to make monthly payments on a pair of shoes, you need to shop for different shoes.
That raises an interesting question. What happens if that easy credit disappears and you can't buy stuff to distract you from what is going on? Another way of asking the same question, if all that unites a nation of 330 million people is buying cheap stuff and sportsball seasons, how stable can that nation be?
Answer: not at all.
This reminds me of one of George Carlin's most famous skits, before he became a self-righteous, unfunny and insufferable twit.
One nation, under stuff, with sales and promotions for all!
When the stuff trucks stop rolling, the natives are going to get restless.
Not exactly what the Founders had in mind.