Archive for First World Problems

On trendy pseudo-responsibility and its commodification

Posted in Capitalism, USA with tags , , on June 11, 2016 by Z

A few days ago, my girlfriend came home with a story.  She had stopped at a place called “Sweetgreen” (one word) on her way home from work.  Apparently, “Sweetgreen” (one word) is some kind of salad and yogurt place for the hip and health-conscious urban sophisticate consumer with adequate disposable income.  Fond of salad and yogurt, particularly when one or both happen to contain bacon (I don’t know if they did in this particular case), she placed an order.  Based on her description, it seems the clerk was an unduly alert and enthusiastic young lady with a penchant for upward inflection at the ends of her sentences, the sort of customer service professional my girlfriend has been forced to work with in the past and often describes as “wretched.”  (She’s not known for patience in the face of annoyance).  Her order was prepared with the usual “this isn’t fast food but it is fast food but it isn’t fast food” efficiency no doubt familiar to patrons of “Sweetgreen” (one word).  The funny part came next: she opened her wallet to pay – and was informed by the clerk that “Sweetgreen” (one word) doesn’t accept cash.  Uh, why?  Apparently (according to the clerk) because cash is not sustainable.  But, the clerk noted, you can pay with apple pay on your smartphone!  Or a credit card, if you still use those things (come on, they don’t even have apps for those!)

Wow.  “Sweetgreen” (one word) doesn’t take cash because cash is not sustainable.  Apparently, paper money is doomed to destroy the environment, but the massive coal and nuclear powered energy infrastructure necessary to maintain the elaborate electronic payment systems “Sweetgreen” (one word) prefers are somehow sustainable and will save us all.  It’s remarkable how many people seem to be convinced that electricity comes from some kind of magical green-friendly no place, like a happy meadow where gumdrops grow from the sunflowers.  Even if we had 100% wind and solar tomorrow, the maintenance of physical infrastructure like copper wire (mining, smelting) and the rubber to cover it (chemicals galore!) would still probably be less sustainable than simple paper bills, which come from trees that can, if I’m not mistaken, grow back.  (And we haven’t even touched on the level of pollution, social chaos and even armed conflict endemic to many regions of Africa where a large share of the rare earth metals needed to make devices like smartphones are mined, or the worker suicide plagued factories in China and Southeast Asia where they’re assembled!)  There’s also the issue that those most likely to lack smartphones and credit/debit cards are of course the poor, who are therefore likely not able to patronize “Sweetgreen” (one word), but no one seems too worried about that.

What then, is the reason for this compulsive attachment of poorly thought out pseudo-responsibility to acts of consumerism?  Is it simply a marketing tactic, begun (probably) by Starbucks, and now necessary for all others to avoid being outcompeted via the logic of capitalism?  Slavoj Zizek suggests a more complex picture.  I might think we could call it quits here, but “Sweetgreen” (one word) is doing something a little different from the more familiar cultural capitalism Zizek describes.  They aren’t just offering some kind of one-for-one personal moral redemption for the individual consumer; they’re actually making an unambiguously authoritarian decree.  It isn’t “buy one of our salads and we’ll do something nice for the less fortunate,” it’s “engage with us on these terms or be cast into the outer darkness, you enemy of sustainability!”  That the poor are de facto excluded from the ethical light of “Sweetgreen” (one word) may be taken as especially instructive; this is a form of class-ignorant yuppie slacktivism.  It’s doubly slacktivist in that not only does the business carry out your slacktivism for you, it tells you what the issue is and has already done obviously lazy and totally inadequate research in order to identify it.  It is both smug and lazy on your behalf, bestowing upon you a sense of righteousness at the expense of the excluded unwashed.  Ah, bourgeois virtue!  Of course, it’s also quite possible that it’s just a cynical marketing ploy existing only because the management prefers electronic payment for totally selfish reasons and grabbed at the first eco-friendly sounding excuse within reach.  But then, that’s arguably also a bourgeois virtue.

A Brief Personal Note Concerning the Boston Marathon Attack

Posted in News, USA with tags , , on April 18, 2013 by Z
I had intended to write something concerning the passing of a great leader (Hugo Chavez) and a remarkably poor one (Margaret Thatcher), but recent events have taken me in a different direction.  As I am both a Bostonian and a hospital security worker, I’ve decided to offer this brief commentary concerning the recent attack.  I will not go on about heroism or candlelight vigils; that’s what social media and the evening news are for.  I’m not going to offer any thoughts about the political context or implications – other like minded blogs are already on the case and doing just fine.  I instead feel compelled to write about one very specific incident.  Here we go:
As a night and weekend worker, I had only been awake for about an hour when the first device detonated.  Soon after that, the call went out from my department for anyone available to come into work to help out.  I was happy to do so.  I was happy to sit in traffic for almost and hour and a half, as I had to cross the marathon route to make it in to work.  Once there, I was happy to help enforce the elevated level of security required (we did not go to full lockdown, as some of the larger hospitals in Boston did, as we received fewer patients from the attack).  I was happy to question and clear visitors, I was happy to check vulnerable exits and potential targets again and again.  I was happy to help EMS bring patients into the Emergency Department as the ambulance crews grew progressively more tired throughout the day.  I was happy to see that the investigators from the Boston Police and FBI were able to do their jobs and leave in a timely manner.  I was less happy to open the morgue so that our patient transport people could bring a body into it, but at least it wasn’t the body of an attack victim.  I was happy to stay late.  Fine.  All part of the job; no big deal.
In the middle of all of the anxiety and confusion in our filled-to-capacity Emergency Department was the one person I was not happy about.  A mother had brought her son in because, essentially, he drank himself stupid.  I was obliged several times to help him walk while simultaneously ensuring that his pants did not fall down so he could reach the restroom.  I did this to try and save time for his nurse, who had other patients with actual problems.  The kid himself wasn’t so bad, but his mother was absolutely intolerable.  Her constant complaints about waiting and in particular about seeing other patients tended to more closely than her son pissed me off to no end.  She could have let the kid sleep it off at home instead of taking up a bed that could’ve gone to someone actually sick or injured.  She could have at least acknowledged that doctors trying to pull shrapnel out of people’s limbs might not give a shit that she was tired of waiting.  When she started looking at our long suffering charge nurse and TAPPING HER FUCKING WATCH it was all I could do to keep quiet.  What absurd, self-centered world view permits this kind of crap?  It’s doubly revolting when you consider that it’s overwhelmingly likely that this woman voted for either Bush or Obama – meaning she has backed a pro-war candidate of some stripe, offering implicit support for high civilian casualty drone strikes – and compounded that by recommitting to this kind of myopic selfish bullshit on the very same day her city suffers a similar attack!  There was a runner in the room next door being issued crutches while this woman tapped her designer watch because her voluntarily intoxicated but otherwise healthy son wasn’t the center of attention.  It is, of course, very unlikely that she’ll read this, but just in case: Hey, asshole!  PEOPLE ARE DYING.  YOUR FIRST WORLD PROBLEMS MEAN JACK SHIT.  FUCKING GET OVER IT.  Sorry for the rant, all.  I’ll try to get back to the usual stuff next time.  Maybe it’s time for another round of political cartoons or something.