Friday, December 05, 2008

What We Can Learn From the Wal-Mart Death

Ethicsdaily is running an op-ed I wrote about last week's death of Wal-Mart employe Jdimytai Damour. I'm posting the piece here with their permission.

By now we have all heard about the Wal-Mart employee in Long Island who was trampled to death in last week's Black Friday shopping stampede.

That employee was Jdimytai Damour. He was a temporary worker and had been employed by Wal-Mart for only a week. He was 34.

Mr. Damour's death reveals an underside to not only Black Friday and the whole Christmas shopping season, but to the way we buy, barter, trade and live more generally. Mr. Damour's death is a single, shocking glance at the incalcuable cost of always low prices.

Incalcuable because we don't really know how many more Jdimytai Damours have been trampled by the force of a disconnected trade system. My farming friends here in Vermont have a saying: "Know your farmer, love your farmer."

But the truth is most of us don't know who milked the cows today that we will drink from tomorrow. Nor do we know who cuts the cane for our sugar or picks the bananas for our lunchboxes or sews the shoes for our feet. We have no idea whether they are making a fair wage or—like Mr. Damour—being left exposed to the cruel forces of consumption.

So, in reality, we're a lot like the folks at the back of that Wal-Mart line. We have no idea who's up there ahead of us. We can't see who's being crushed by the weight of our wants. All we know is that there's a sale and the doors are now open.

In Jesus' day a grand tower in Jerusalem fell, crushing 18 people to death. There was a lot of talk about what happened and what it meant. Jesus interpreted it as a warning. He said: "Do you think those 18 were worse sinners than all the others of Jerusalem? No. But I tell you, unless you repent you will all perish just the same."

What happened in Long Island should come as a warning to us all. None of us is guiltier than anyone else. We're all implicated in this myth of no-consequence consumption.

It is time we repent, lest we all be crushed in the stampede.