It’s times like these that I revel in the impetuosity of my youth. While I have my share of worries in the coming months over how well our nation will weather the current storms, I can’t help but enjoy the sudden rush of analyzation that results from an entire economy halting in its tracks with the realization that we have collectively made a series of giant, throbbing mistakes. It’s harder to criticize when things are going well. Nobody wants to play Negative Nancy, and the one guy that does is probably an asshole (for proof, see Michael Moore).
At the turning point for a recession, however, there’s a magical period of time where everyone gets to participate in the collective outrage. We become momentarily unified as we all point fingers in the same direction, and the rare-chance to humiliate the super-rich avails itself as we pretend that they actually give a rat’s ass about what the average citizen thinks. As reality sets in and the truth of the matter becomes more complicated than just ‘greedy men are greedy’ with each new failing corporation, an awkward moment ensues when people realize that they haven’t a damn clue what they’re talking about. They search for the nearest person they can trust to understand and solve these problems for them, all the while mumbling vague curses under their breath.
This might sound like a trite and arrogant comparison, but this is very similar to the experience I have with customers at work. In many cases, a customer will slam a laptop on the counter and pronounce very loudly, “Fix this worthless piece of shit”, and before I’ve said anything they’ve already scowled and turned their back to me. Disregarding the fact that half the time the problems they’re having are simple user error, a long series of questions immediately spring to my mind that I wish I could ask the people that come to me with this kind of attitude, and these questions resonate deeply with my regard for many of today’s complaints about the government and the economy.
The foremost question that comes to my mind, however, is this: If it’s a piece of shit, why did you buy it? (or, If he’s a piece of shit, why did you elect him?)
Customers rarely, rarely bother to research the products they buy. They expect the store to fully inform them of anything they might ever need to know, though I would estimate that less than 1 in 10 people read a single word on the contracts they sign in this store (fun fact: my store does not cover damage caused by acts of terrorism or hurricanes). Similarly, it seems to me that many voters really haven’t a clue about the kind of person they’re voting for, particularly when it comes to local and state-level politics. State and local government has at least as much impact on any given person’s daily life as the federal government, but voter turnouts for off-year elections are significantly lower than presidential elections, and people are significantly more likely just to go with their party when it comes to choosing governors, mayors, senators, and congressmen. At least, that’s the trend I’ve noticed, however unsubstantiated it might be.
I’ll be honest – I am not saint in this regard, though it’s something I’m working to improve. As of right now, I don’t know who the mayor of Ithaca is. I don’t know who the governor of New York is, since Spitzer resigned. I don’t know who the second senator of New York is. I am completely clueless, yet that doesn’t stop me from getting pissed off when some new bullshit law gets through in New York, even though I have exercised none of my rights as a citizen to make sure I know who’s doing what and how it’s being done. The customers I deal with, likewise, have in some cases spent thousands of dollars without ever considering what it is they’re truly buying, going solely off the word of one salesman whose job it is to ensure they spend as much money as possible. I would love to think these were actions born simply of trust and faith in the goodness of mankind, but the reality is that people are just lazy.
Until things stop working, of course. Then, self-righteous indignation and disgust-filled anger rouse them to action after-the-fact. Kind of like the current economic situation.
I would be fine with this whole process if people learned something from these situations. People make mistakes and overlook important details – we’re human, it happens. In some cases, people do learn – but most of the time, the conversation only ends because they’ve run out of excuses and complaints to keep it going. Likewise, my fear with the current situation is that people haven’t actually grasped why things are the way they are, beyond this vague idea that Bush really didn’t do so hot. Most people do not appear to have made any tangible connection between their own actions, and the overall state of the economy. These problems couldn’t possibly be related to the fact that Americans have been living economically unsustainable lives – no, it must be entirely the fault of a small group of faceless CEOs, wholly disconnected from the average citizen.
That’s not to say that corporate bullshit and political manhandling isn’t at play. There’s no doubt about that. Yet, have we ever expected anything different? Why do we feign surprise? For eons, jokes have been made about the endless greed and blatant corruption of America’s power players, but the notion that we have no part in these sins is false. We elect them, we buy their products, we hold stock in their companies, and we take loans from their banks. We are responsible for each dollar we spend and each vote we cast. And it’s not as if these are our only assets, either. Freedom of speech and whatnot, you know?
The kind of customers I’ve mentioned, however, would prefer to continue within the status quo. They don’t want to be bothered with the messy details. They don’t care about the whys and the hows and the ifs. Instead, they will hope that they can conjure enough wildly exaggerated excuses to convince themselves and others that their situation is most certainly not their fault, and that immediate compensation is the only fair solution to their problems. Sometimes my managers cave in to those sorts of customers, though thankfully not too often. But what happens when these people take that same attitude to the government, and the government doesn’t even have the compensation they’re demanding? What will they do without a large, anonymous body to blame their problems on and demand solutions from?