The new normal foisted upon us by the coronavirus pandemic has fully exposed every fault line in American society. The retail apocalypse is here and the empty Sears at my local mall proves it. Of course, the carrion crow that is Amazon continues to feed off the leftovers.
Three years ago, I wrote glowingly about the necessity of online commerce. Some of that still holds true. As an asthmatic, I’m high risk for covid so I try to limit my in store shopping to essentials as much as possible. I spent thirty minutes in Pier 1 getting some plates and glasses in their going out of business sale (only the second time I’ve purchased from that store, yikes) and damn near had an anxiety attack. So yeah, if I run out of hair dye I’m ordering it online instead of going to Target, CVS, Ulta, and the beauty supply store trying to find some.
So about Amazon. I’m not naive. I know businesses don’t have values and that capitalism is an inherently inhumane system. It will always cost more money to keep people happy, healthy and thriving than it will to make money off their suffering. But some truly disturbing things have come to light about Amazon. Their labor practices now include exhausting their drivers so much that they get in fatal car wrecks; making workers continue a shift while walking around the dead body of one of their coworkers; and most recently, investing in companies only as a means to steal their IP and launch competing products. Last week, Amazon warehouse employees launched a walkout and called for a daylong boycott of the site. Jeff Bezos will testify before Congress next week because the DOJ is investigating the necessity of antitrust proceedings. This is the toxicity we support by subscribing to Prime, getting packages delivered daily and letting Alexa organize our lives.
A friend of mine posted about the IP issue on Facebook and was wondering if any of her friends had stopped using Amazon. Honestly, we should. Of course in practice, the answer is more complicated. I’ve been an Amazon customer since I was 13. I’d save up my allowance money so I could pay my mom let me use her credit card for used books and CDs. Later that turned into textbooks, Kindle e-books and MP3 albums. My use of Amazon picked up when I started working, and didn’t want to spend my few hours off in a crowded store looking for socks or whatever other random thing I needed.
I should boycott Amazon. I can get a Nook and buy e-books from Barnes & Noble. I can cancel my Prime subscription and download music from iTunes. But in the end, how much does that solve? Just because those other companies aren’t making headlines doesn’t mean that their labor practices are squeaky clean. And in some cases (Nook vs. Kindle) switching would mean getting an objectively worse product.
This is why living under capitalism is hard. It permeates your whole life and there are just too many issues to fix. Too many traps to avoid. Too many things to care about. ON some level, I understand why so many people just say f*ck it and live in willful ignorance. We can’t afford to do that though. 2020 has been an awakening. I hope that this moment of demanding accountability is actually the start of a real movement to change things.