Thursday, May 2, 2013

Ponderings on 7-Eleven, Tesco-Express, State Power and Human Nature

It's a well known, and somewhat unfortunate feature of human nature that causes otherwise relaxed and reasonable people to go berserk when faced with a yellow light about to turn red.  But, today I found myself having similar thoughts whilst attempting to shop at a Tesco-Lotus Express just down the street from my low-income housing.

A large group of children and parents, who were obviously members of Thailand's disenfranchised poorer classes were shopping in my way.  These people looked healthy, well fed and were dressed decently enough, but they clearly were enjoying their outing.  The children were running around and happily chasing each other, the parents were squeezing the last of the mangoes.

Just outside the door a group of security guards were drinking large bottles of beer and yelling happily.  As the doors are censor operated, they were open more often than not and allowed the squaking voices to be heard, clearly, from one part of the store to the other.

Several shoppers were fighting over the remains of the days produce and a subway police officer was enjoying the airconditioning and and smiley strangely at me.

I wanted to buy cat litter as Tesco sells 100% bentonite cat litter...but they were out.  I wanted to buy bananas...but they were out.  I looked through a few long dead  attempts at salad, but the fear of hepatitis A just wouldn't subside.  I decided that a loaf of bread, yogurt and some cookies would be enough until I have a chance to get a proper meal.

It wasn't until I tried to buy these items that I decided I had enough and this line of thinking began.  A woman, looking a bit frazzled ran to cut in front of me.  Two others were paying bills, and then after a few minutes of this the slum family pushed me out of the way and took over.  I calmly set my basket down and left the dark, green and noisy wiles of Tesco-Express and wandered over to their huge and bright competitor, 7-Eleven.

Fresh fruit, salads and a bakery!  As well as an efficient process at ensuring something close to 'first come, first served'.  Clean, orderly and professional.

Now, what does any of this have to do with politics?  Dear reader, it has everything to do with politics.

What causes one location to be orderly and the other, neighbouring location to be utter chaos; a cross between the worst of a state run provisional shop, and a vision of hell itself?

Is it the system itself?  Does the managerial policy of Tesco-Express cause normal, nice people to charge for the check-out line like so many beasts of opportunity?  Or, is it the people themselves who are drawn to the promise of lower prices? What causes the other location to have walkable hallways and people shopping like...people?

In sociological terms, is it the structure (the company, its policies, the rules and regulations and the corporate environment) or is it the agency (the employees, the customers, me) that is to blame?

Can a state exist with the people in a state of nature, digging and clawing for ripe vegetables and pushing others aside?  Or is the question better framed as one where the cause of the poor experience was due to the conditions caused by the company itself?  Who is to blame?  What is the solution?

Does the stronger corporate policy of 7-Eleven create the atmosphere?  If so, can we extrapolate that people do better under a strong system with set-practices.  Or is it a stronger policy, administration or governance structures that has that affect.

Or perhaps my experience was entirely based on my own emotion at that moment and the entire line of thinking is hopelessly flawed.  But, does that not just take us off the cliff of nihilism?  Moreover, extrapolating a general theory of the state from a metaphor of two shopping centres is of course problematic.

My best guess is that the main reason such chaos occurs in one, but not the other is due to better management.  But, that does not tell us what would happen if the structure was absent and people were left to their own devices.  Public choice theory might indicate that one will survive and the other will fail due to the choice of the consumer, but that doesn't seem to be happening in this case. Nor does it necessarily ensure that the consumer will make 'the right choice' (my own preference or opt for the chaos.

All I know for sure is that I'm happy to be back home and sitting in my own little socialist empire with my happy communist cats

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