There has been a lot of talk about
greed on Wall Street in recent months, but the greed of Black Friday
shoppers in the United States takes some beating. Wall Street barons
may have done some wicked things, but have they, individually or en
masse, physically trampled anyone to death?
That is what some main street New
Yorkers managed to do last Friday in their frenzy to bag bargains at
a Wal-Mart store on a day designated the “start of the
holiday-shopping season” — once known as Christmas shopping.
Before rushing ahead with “the moral
of this story is” observations, let’s pause to take in exactly
what kind of death 34-year-old shop worker Jdimytai Damour died. A
shrieking mob of fellow human beings burst through the front doors of
the store, knocked him down onto the linoleum tiles and streamed
right over him and around him, injuring him and robbing him of air.
He was a hefty man, 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds, but he died of
It is an horrific death. Imagine the
shock and terror of being hit and enveloped by that tsunami of solid
flesh, pounding feet and frenzied voices — your last conscious image
of the human race.
It is an image we should not banish too
quickly from our minds: human nature, blind and brutish when in the
grip of some base passion.
In this case the deadly sin was
covetousness, stoked by retailers and media working in cahoots,
suggests the New York Times, to make Black Friday, when retailers'
accounts move out of the red and into the black, “a broad cultural
event” when, a decade ago, it was barely in the top 10 shopping
days of the year.
But there are other vices that erode
human dignity and other sectors manufacturing opportunities for
indulging them. People who would not go within a mile of shopping
mall on sale day might gorge themselves on expensive food, drink
themselves senseless or immerse themselves in the filth of
pornography. There are many ways of losing self-control and any one
of them can lead to tragedy, if not death.
So, when it comes to allocating blame
for last Friday’s fatality it is necessary to go beyond Wal-Mart
and its inadequate security; beyond the media and its greed for
advertising; beyond Wall Street, which must be guilty somehow; oh,
and beyond George Bush, who seems to be responsible for everything
bad in America right now.
We even have to go beyond that bloated
monster, the consumer society, which has been getting a well-deserved
drubbing this week. We need to think about the virtue of temperance
and why some people seem to have it while others don’t.
A couple of weeks ago a British
Benedictine monk and media personality, Abbot Christopher Jamison,
gave a clue to the answer. Having saturated Western culture with
material goods, consumerism is now taking over cultural goods such as
music, and even “moral purpose”, he said. He cited the example of
a section of Nike’s website called Addicts Gallery, in which
runners talk about sport as their “higher purpose”. “Even our
souls are now consumerised and marketing is taking over not only our
material imagination but also our spiritual imagination,” the Abbot
He seemed to blame “business” for
this, but could he not just as easily blamed his own profession?
After all, people whose souls are reasonably full of spiritual things
will not have much room for consumerist claptrap; it might tempt them
occasionally but they will usually be able to resist. However, people
need specialised help to keep their souls tuned to genuine
spirituality and their behaviour virtuous — the sort of help clergy
are meant to give but so often do not.
Good on Abbot Jamison for his call to
celebrate temperance during Advent, because he must realise that it
means a lot of unglamorous work for him and his colleagues.
Nature abhors a vacuum. If people have
nothing higher to fill their imaginations and get them out of bed in
the morning than a super-discounted 42-inch flat screen television —
or, for the Wall Street crowd, a luxury yacht and a subtropical
retreat — that is what they will go after. The death of Jdimytai
Damour shows where that spiritual poverty leads. It is not the only
sign, of course, but it is a compelling one, and a call to action for
all those who value the transcendent dimension of the human being.
Carolyn Moynihan is Deputy Editor