Wednesday, June 29, 2005

I feel so bad, yet I feel so good...

Ok, so I just completely compromised my morals. But I also upheld my morals in a sick and twisted way. Let me explain:

I hate Wal-Mart. They are the world's largest corporation, with the largest profit, yet they still can't manage to pay their employees decent wages or offer them health insurance. They impose their moral beliefs upon their customers by censoring media products and by refusing to fill certain prescriptions (i.e. prescriptions for emergency contraception). Sure, they are a private company, and people can choose not to shot at Wal-Mart, but the way Wal-Mart makes money is by going into a small town, buying out all the local retail stores, and basically becomming the only shopping option. You can read more about Wal-Mart's evil doings at Wal-Mart Watch.

So...why am I ranting about Wal-Mart? Today I talked with someone who had bought a cheap bike from Wal-Mart while she was in Alaska for the summer. She used the bike until it broke (which wasn't that long), then took it back and got a full refund thanks to Wal-Mart's no questions asked 90-day return policy. Hmmmm. I've been looking for a bike. Hmmmm. There's a 24-hour Wal-Mart right across the street. So, you can put two and two together and figure out what happened. At 12:30 am I went to Wal-Mart and bought a bike for just under $60. The plan was to use it for the rest of the six weeks that I am here and then return it.

Ok, so I feel like I'm just on the dodgy side of the moral spectrum here. Am I right to feel a little skeevy? True, that is their policy, so I wouldn't be breaking any rules, just taking full advantage of the ones that are in place. And true, the bike may in fact break and I may in fact have a legitimate reason to take it back. But I still feel a little wrong, first because I purchased something from Wal-Mart (tonight I stepped foot inside Wal-Mart for the very first time), a company I wholeheartedly DO NOT support, and second because I feel like I'm cheating...someone? something? But what am I cheating? An organization that cheats the rest of the world?

So...I was wondering what everyone else thought. Am I psychotic for feeling guilty about doing this? Or am I a horribly immoral person for attempting to do this in the first place? If I can't sleep tonight because of it, I'll return the bike tomorrow unused. (Ok, maybe I'll ride it to work and then decide.) If I still bad about it in the long run, I can always just use the bike for the summer and say that the $60 was worth it and not go back for my refund...or hope the thing breaks.

I'm a nut, I'm a nut, I'm craaaaazy...

Oh, I'd like to add: This was somewhat an act of desperation. I'm getting a slight case of cabin fever here in suburban hell (or maybe it's agoraphobia?), and I want to be able to go places. I want to bike to work because it's only 3 miles away and I feel like driving is completely unneccessary (if two of us bike, the rest can all fit in one car and that's half the pollution--right now we need two cars). I want to bike to parks that are further away so I can run in new and exciting venues! I want to bike for extra exercise. I want a little bit of freedom and autonomy. So, when I found out I could get a bike, now, kind of free, I was a little drunk on excitement.

Also, I realize that my Wal-Mart woes aren't exactly the most pressing problems in the world right now. But my little dilema spawns some important moral discussions, like: is it ok to cheat something evil? is there such a thing as a victimless crime? does intent overshadow action?

I really just need to go to bed...

7 comments:

Rebecca Wirfs-Brock said...

I for one don't believe in cheating "the evil ones" out there. What goes around comes around. Your moral ideals should be higher than their's..that's why you might feel crappy about it. You may transact with someone you don't agree with on moral grounds, but don't stoop to their level. But if you do find yourself getting a cheap bike at Walmart, why not turn around at the end of the summer and donate it to a kid who needs a bike and can't afford it? That way your transaction with Walmart will have gone towards several good things (your freedom and ability to travel further distance and save on pollution + giving a kid something to ride). Score 2 for you.

Anat said...

Let me tell you a little about how Wal-Mart has transformed my neighborhood. Wal-Mart used to be this shitty looking store with brown siding and some of the letters hanging off the sign so that it was something like Wa...art. Inside you would find a little old lady that would give you a cart and chat about something or other. She always had stickers for the kids. Sometimes the little old lady would be replaced by a little old man, but the same idea was there. Then there would be three or four carts filled with stuff they were trying to get rid of. I remember once I bought an entrie collection of illustrated classics for kids from one of those carts. Wal-mart would be the place you would go to buy tacky christmas presents for your teachers and maybe some caramels. Actually we got a lot of stuff there. My shoes and clothes came from Wal-mart, and if not from there then from their cousin across the street, K-mart.

About five years ago Wal-mart abandoned its shitty store and instead opened a SUPER WALMART across the street from my elementary school in what used to be an Indian burial ground and an abandoned rock quarry. The first ten times I went in there it gave me the willies. This store is like a modern day castle, only stretched out for acres and acres on one floor, with a parking lot the size of a fair sized lake. It combines everything you would ever want to buy (within a certain limitation of taste) under one roof. Groceries, clothes, toys, gardening, pharmacy, entertainment, shoes, arts and crafts, and guns make up the main departments. People come in from i'm sure a wide radius of countryside to visit our SUPER WALMART. My parents go there at least twice a week. Actually my mom shops for groceries at three or four locations, getting the best price for everything, having a mental inventory of the running prices of groceries around town. I still get a lot of my clothes from the SUPER WALMART, including an $8 watch that I replace every year. I don't know if this story really has a point but I guess the point is that Wal-mart allows my family and all our hillbilly neighbors to win at the neverending game we call spending money. It is by no means the cheapest place to buy things, but it is by far the largest conglomeration of cheap things in one place. It will always be the place where I buy my $8 watches and my $6 bras and $1 bags of caramels. Because getting cheap stuff makes us feel like we're winners. Me and my hillbilly friends.

Anat said...

I think the point that I was meaning to come to is that just like your mom taught you to have a social consciousness, my mom taught me how to find bargains. Getting the cheepest price for things isn't just a silly momentary satisfaction. It makes me feel like I'm being responsible about my life. And I'm sure millions of middle class americans feel the same way. Wal-mart and places like it allow people to save their money on day to day things so that they can have enough for when they actually need to buy something important. Evaluating the costs to society for these places to exist is almost impossible. Boycotting them is futile. The fact is that they are a suburban american institution and they are here to stay.

Anonymous said...

Does Wal-Mart sell Segways?

Jordan said...

Not the last word on Wal-Mart, but another word:

For anyone that read my mom's comment, it's obvious that I inherited a good portion of my moral sensibility from her. Thanks Mom. When I solicited comments I really hoped that I would get one from her. I think she's right about donating the bike. I can think of several places around here that could use it. The only problem with that idea is...I would hate for someone to get hurt on my bike because it breaks. (A serious possibility...I'm scared going down hills because I feel like the thing will disintigrate right under me.) It's ok if I get hurt because I'm using it at my own risk, but...

Back to Wal-Mart. My mom and Anat both bring up a good point: my resolution to boycott Wal-Mart is both hypocritical (I purchase products from many other companies that have un-ethical practices: Nike, for example) and futile. I don't think it's wrong for people to want to buy inexpensive things at Wal-Mart; some people can't afford to do otherwise. My problem with Wal-Mart isn't that they offer inexpensive items, but it's that they sacrifice ethics to do so.

Wal-Mart doesn't even always offer the lowest prices. They fool people with scams such as this: they will offer an item that is ridiculously cheap (I think they call it a bluelight special), such as a microwave for $10. People will go look at the $10 microwave, think "Oh, this is all right, but it doesn't have very many features and I bet I could get a better one." Now that they are in the microwave section, they take a look at the other microwaves nearby. Wal-Mart has intentionally marked up the prices of all the other microwaves, selling them for much more than they are worth. But the customer won't notice because he thinks "Hey, if I could get a microwave like that for $10, then this $70 microwave must be AMAZING!", when really, the $70 microwave is only has a $40 market value.

But anyway...now I'm pulling an Anat and I'm forgetting what I wanted to say. I don't agree with Wal-Mart's business practices. I don't want to be unethical, but if I were to boycott every unethical corporation I would probably be naked and hungry. I don't know what the solution to this is, but when I find one I'll let you know.

Jordan said...

Oh yeah...and if Wal-Mart sold Segways I would never see the light of day again. I would spend all my time riding around the gargantuan store (an entire city block! or rather...an entire suburban block, which is bigger...) on it. That would be amazing.

Anonymous said...

I think that you should only take the bike back if it breaks. don't stoop to their level man!

plus, I have made a walmart purchase: a body pillow. I couldn't find one anywhere else! *hangs head in shame*

--Kayanna