“Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.”
~ George Bernard Shaw
I love lazy Saturday mornings; I sit sipping aromatic coffee and scroll through my Facebook page, reading friends (and friends of friends) pages. This morning, on the FB page for Books & Books, there is a link to an article about the closing of an independent bookstore in Knoxville, TN. It is an interesting article, even to those of us not in that industry. But the wider cultural and economic repercussions are more subtle but potentially far more devastating. One of the women commented that we are selling our country’s soul to the lowest bidder. In my head, I replied, “In every possible industry.” And we do it willingly. We join the wholesale members’ only clubs that offer deep discounts on meat, computers and liquor. We pay an annual fee and feel exclusive. But, in doing so, our locally owned businesses fade away. Most of the time we don’t even notice it. And the BIG BOX model is universal. The local funeral home that has the name of a local family name on the cemetery is no longer locally owned, some national corporation has gobbled up burying us. It’s big money. Need your car repaired? Tires R Us, Muffler Maniac and Transmission Terminal or whatever “chain” car repair place may be your only option. And somehow, we have come to believe that in the “standardization” and “uniformity” we are guaranteed a certain level of quality. I agree, we are…..but it is quality at the “lowest common denominator”. These are people working at a low wage without any control (or much pride). It is just a job. What do they really care about packing your groceries and if they bang up your pears or smash your bread? While Michael’s Crafts has a bevy of cool and amazing stuff….the locally owned quilt shop employs local people and keeps their money local. Even in medicine, lots of doctors and practices buy into and get bought out by the notion that aggregate negotiation and purchasing power means we have more power. But their is a dilutional effect and a homogenization to this mentality and behavior.
It also means we lose our autonomy.
I am an American. I believe in my personal liberties. I will fight for them and protect them. And liberty starts on the most fundamental level. I want to the freedom to read what I want…and I may think I widen my options by having Amazon and Kindle; I can download ANY title I want, right? Guess what? You can’t! You can only download what those vendors permit. And there in lies the first loss of liberty. I was recently in San Francisco and visited three locally own Indie bookstores…..in fact, I shopped at more Indie retailers than corporate owned retailers…..and there is a WORLD of choices in literature and poetry and magazine not available in the BIG BOXES. It happens in medicine, too. Your insurance company tells you what medications you can use…even what doctors you can see. And we swallow this: we accept our gilded cages. We pick only from within the BIG BOX and convince ourselves that the discounts and savings mean….mean what? More money in OUR pockets? Bullshit. It means more money in THEIR pockets. It is a variant on the taxation without representation. They make profits on our buying behaviors by manipulating us into buying stuff they already own, made by factories they also own, by workers they practically enslave by holding them hostage with their health insurance.. And we buy it cuz’ it’s 50% off!! We really are stupid! Cattle. Sheeple.
I want to spend my $10 at the local owned used bookstore. I will likely drop an extra $15 on some cards made by local photographers that the store sells. I will buy my birdseed at my LOCAL Wild Birds Unlimited and NOT Lowe’s. I will buy my fresh baked batard of sesame bread at Uppercrust and while there get a container of chevre. I will shop at my Fresh Market. I know it is a chain, but it is an alternative to BIG BOX Publix that regularly “discontinues” items and products that I use that they decide are seasonal. And Publix seels me “fresh donuts” made “fresh” down in Lakeland and packed up in cardboard boxes and shipped to the fancy bakery departments only to be “reheated” and frosted by the part-time employee wearing a hair net. And that pisses me off, because if I am gonna take the hit of eating a donut, damnit…it better be a freshly made, kick-ass donuts fried THIS MORNING! I buy my bottle of wine at Dorn’s instead of at the grocery or BIG BOX liquor store. I will go to my local farmers’ market today and get veggies and what-nots. I will go to my local quilt shop to look for fabric and skip Jo-Ann’s. Why? Because at each of those places I know someone in that store actually made the decision to stock their store with the items I am getting to purchase. They wanted to offer that item to me….because they thought it was cool or pretty or practical or yummy.. There is an intimacy and a connectivity when we buy local. that goes beyond the money we spend.
Shopping local and being loyal to the independent vendors means more than helping them stay in business. It means we protect our own rights to self-determine and self-govern. If we let BIG BOX tell us what to read by only selling what THEY want us to read; if we only listen to BIG BOX radio then we only get payola playlists and miss the plethora of indie music, then we accept the limitations THEY place on our thinking and desires. And make no mistake….the BIG BOX mentality is invested deeply everywhere, not just in retail or business. Conformity makes us easier to manipulate and control. America was once a country of misfits, rebels, revolutionaries, agitators and basic pain-in-the-ass non-conformists. This whole thing started because a bunch of people just didn’t want to be told what they had to believe, worship or do. And in that regard, I am a real American. Don’t tread on me. Don’t tell me how to worship. Don’t tell me how to eat. Don’t burn my books (or prevent my access to them). Don’t quiet my shouts or my protests. Don’t tell me how many kids I can have or force me to have them. Don’t tell me who I can love. Don’t think you get control over my body: I can refuse medical care and allow myself to die naturally. I don’t want a government, a BIG BOX or a government enslaved to the BIG BOX telling what to do. THAT is the meaning of LIBERTY.