My musings on different political topics relevant to America today.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Black Friday

A few black fridays ago I recall posting that it couldn't be more Ironic that black friday came the day after Thanksgiving.  I said that the most thankful day was followed by the most selfish.  I saw the stories, as many others did, of individuals being run over and killed during the black friday onslaught, and naturally was aghast and disgusted by what I read.  Reading those stories further confirmed to me how horrible and selfish people are.  Indeed, being a privileged outsider to such ritualistic festivities allowed me to look down on black friday shoppers with contempt, and elevate myself above them.  Yet the more I think about it, the more I realize how simplistic and pompous my thought and attitudes were.

Its natural and easy to judge behavior that one does not understand.  Since I was born into a prosperous family, I never understood why anyone went out on Black Friday and raced around like wild bandits for a sale.  Its seemed the only explanation was sheer greed.  However one day while at work it dawned on me, "what if all those people are no more selfish than you?"  I had met people here and there that went out on black friday to buy stuff on sale, and they seemed like average people, not greedy monsters.

Thinking about it, I put myself into their shoes and thought why they would go shopping on black friday.  Christmas was just around the corner, so naturally most people needed to buy presents for their friends and family.  The holidays can put a big strain on the family budget, especially for family's on modest incomes.  Extreme sales take place on black friday, so naturally many fathers and mothers and families shopped on black friday, hoping to get a great bargain on a gift that would normally be out of their price range.  They shopped not for themselves, but for those they cared about deeply.  In many cases, shopping on black friday was not a case of extreme selfishness, but of extreme selflessness.

When I analyzed it in the light of their likely motivations, the behavior became more reasonable.  The wholesale judging of black friday shopping was no longer reasonable or desirable to me.  Yet, what to do about all the terrible accidents that took place?  How does one reconcile that with the apparently more altruistic motivations?  Well, first, its not entirely altruistically motivated.  There is a tribal element to the whole thing.  People are competing with others to get grand bargains for the people they care about.  Therefore those outside their tribe, their family, their friends, are less valuable to them than those inside.

However I would like to counter, how different is that from behavior we have all exhibited?  How many times have you seen someone on the side of the road begging, and did nothing?  Indeed, once I was driving by and I saw someone laying down shaking on the side of the road, possibly having seizures, but I did not stop for him, I drove on.  Likewise when many saw someone run over from a distance, they probably did nothing, thinking, like I did, that someone's has called an ambulance, someone has done something, just not me.  I have things I have to do.  That person could be dangerous.
Pictures and anecdotal stories are deceptive things.
Be careful not to generalize off of them.

Finally I would like to point out that while those events are sensationalized on black friday, how often do freak events happen on just a regular basis?  How often during Christmas shopping do people get into terrible incidents that could have been prevented?  Unfortunately I could not find reliable statistics that broke down injuries by month or even better by day, but if there is a rise in the injury rate on black friday, I would say that most likely has to do with crowded conditions in most cases versus particularly ruthless and uncaring behavior.  As I explained above, the black friday shopper, on average, is no more selfish than your non-black friday shopper.

Indeed the main characteristic that seems likely to distinguish the black friday shopper from the non-black friday shopper is as I said above less concisely, income.  The non-black friday shopper simply has better financial security, therefore can buy the presents they want for those they love without having to resort to shopping on black friday.  In economics jargon, black friday is a form of price discrimination.  They know that those that don't have to won't bother with black friday shopping. Thus stores charge higher prices for those with a higher willingness to pay, then cut their prices on black friday (this applies to other sales as well) to sell to those with a lower willingness to pay.  In this way a store can maximize revenue better than if they were to just sell at one price.

The main point of all this is that there is often more to something than meets the eye.  Behavior that is alien to our own situation can often seem barbaric, but when one puts yourself in their shoes, often it turns out their behavior is not much different from your own.  This is not to say that all morality is relative.  I am not saying that at all.  There are black friday shoppers that are greedy and unthankful, just as their are shoppers that in general that are greedy and unthankful.  What I am saying is that its easy to misread people's actions from the outside, therefore we should not be quick to judge.  As is said in James 1:19 in the Bible, My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.

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