The North American ethic takes root in a noble spur of personal freedom and liberty. Entrenched in an ambitious history that chronicles the break from Old World mentalities, the maple leaf encompasses within it, all the social, political and intellectual transformations of our past. Ideally, Canada is observed worldwide as a place of refuge for the individual thinker – a retreat of hope and equanimity, whereby ideas of liberalism and classlessness herald wide-open spaces that can afford the kind of lebensraum Europeans could only dream of. Yet this palatial outreach of New World thinking that once forged our nation’s Charter and the United States Declaration of Independence has since become a house of cards. So what happened to the great idea that was North America? Perhaps it was simply a case of: too fast too soon.
The hegemony of America’s 21st century corporate capitalism, (birthed from the ashes of the Second World War), gave rise to a new kind of social movement that now threatens the very necessity of Westernmost culture. Landscaping the hearts and minds of its citizens with empty billboards, ad campaigns, parking lots and shopping malls, the Western Hemisphere has since entered the age of multinational conglomerates and big box businesses. In the name of all things Americana, these commercial giants have displaced the true spirit of liberalism. Indoctrinated by the multibillion-dollar crusades that now run our daily lives, (from the cars that we drive, to the clothes we wear, to the food we eat), we, the individual, are no longer our own, rather an extension of the omnipresent brain of corporate commercialism. In a twisted turn of events, our strife for liberty has seen laissez-fair economics mutate into Frankenstein politics. In hindsight, it’s hard not to yearn for the simplicity of a life long since passed, a life that curated Old World austerities.
Ironically, it was the very interconnectedness and fundamental community ethics that made European and pilgrim society so successful. Farmers, shopkeepers and tradesmen, were in direct contact with customers, (often as friends and neighbors), while communal streets lined with small cafes and independent businesses supported complex social structures, reinforced by a collective belief in the value and worth of a commonwealth. This traditional school of thought promoted the notion that existing with less meant the enjoyment of more. With priority centered on family, friends, community, philosophy and nature, (the vanguard voices of our humanity), people therefore lived much more deeply, mindfully and joyfully. Despite the recent dislodgment of the European model by way of modern globalization, there yet remains an Old World sensibility in Europe that Canadians could greatly benefit from. Having abandoned holistic priorities for a consumer-based precedence of plastics and disposable goods, we, the North American consumer, no longer thinks of what we can do, rather, what can we get – appreciating and understanding the world only by what the world can offer us.
The reality of big box business does not concern the consumer. The consumer cares little for community and is unaware and apathetic to the impact individual choice and opinion has on the internal and external landscapes of our cities and towns, (which, unbeknownst to the consumer, directly reflects the inner quality of our lives). Lower pricing, convenience, greater variety, and larger quantities, is what drives the consumer, armed with the conviction that, more is more and bigger is better. However this misplaced confidence is one of the greatest oversights of the modern age. In fact, subservience to the big box business model has done nothing but create a deep kind of suffering in the lack of true substance and human connection. Mistakably, we the consumer, believe that because corporate chains like Target, Walmart and Superstore offer consistency when it comes to experience and environment, as well as more competitive price points and variety, we are in better control of our own lives, able to ascertain the best (perceived) deals. However in reality, when we adhere to big box businesses, we perpetuate our own cycle of internal, (communal) suffering, giving more power over to the oligarchy of corporate commercialism that ultimately destroys our communities, runs our governments, influences legislation and dictates our lives to the benefit of their own personal bank accounts. In Truth, there is nothing more enslaving than a self-serving corporate agenda that cares little for democracy and even less for the people. On the other hand, real empowerment comes from true ownership of our own lives by way of our communities and ourselves.
Consciously choosing to shop local and support smaller, independent business, sees a renewed sense of personal freedom. Communal integration, customer service and knowledge, reflect our most basic intuitions. While big box businesses work hard to convince us of their job-creation, economic stimulus and community investment, by lifting the lid to expose the underbelly of the true reality, we immediately observe how the corporate agenda transforms our parks into parking lots, drives wages downward (perpetuating family poverty), marginalizes local shops out of business by displaced sales and places encumbering municipal costs on local government. All the while culture gives way to endless suburban sprawl where the pulse of the community is ultimately lost. Conversely, key studies conducted in August 2012 by Civic Economics in Salt Lake City Utah, found that locally owned stores create a wider range of benefits for the local economy and that small businesses donate roughly twice as much per employee to charitable organizations than their large business counterparts. Furthermore the studies also revealed that big box business reduces a community’s level of social capital, (as measured by voter turnout and the amount of active community organizations). Not to mention the plethora of ethical issues concerning outsourcing overseas, whose big box business factories see underpaid workers laboring for long hours in poor conditions, handling hazardous chemicals without appropriate protection, many of whom are children, twelve years and younger. But that’s a whole other ball of wax.
In conclusion, the need to sustain and support our communities as a life source for our ultimate peace and happiness is absolutely vital. In doing so, we are spurred into action – championing a new kind of social movement that calls for the return of our food, our clothes, our bodies and mind. Amidst the fray, we realign ourselves with fresh priorities and ethics that support social welfare by endorsing the rights and freedoms of the individual rather than the rights and freedoms of the multinationals. So let’s bring back the culture of the depanneur that celebrates social interaction, empathy and compassion within the orbit of a thriving community. Let’s opt for quality over quantity and spend a little bit more time and money to cultivate our wellbeing. Already we are seeing the effects of this impetus. The rising demand for natural, organic, fair-trade and local products demonstrates a shift in our collective thinking that will in turn, shape the social and political landscapes of tomorrow. Although big-box stores have their unfortunate place in consumerism, we are reminded of the reality of their presence, and the worth and value in small retailers and local shops. It is up to us, not just as consumers, but as providers and champions of freedom, to provide our communities with the kind of support they need to survive. Sometimes we just have to look a little more deeply, to find where the real bargain truly is.
- Elizabeth Cucnik