Truth works a lot like architecture—from the ground up. When people lie, it undermines the usefulness of language itself; it makes you doubt the veracity and therefore validity of everything you are told thereafter. The really insidious lies aren't even the boldfaced ones—the mere denials of fact—it’s the slight obfuscations of truth that do the most damage.
It’s using this tactic that the agents of capitalism have not only turned our language against us, but have slowly altered the ways in which we interact with one another. Espousing business models that portray them as approachable paragons of likability in an effort to woo clientele, corporate chains have in the meantime fundamentally changed what we expect in the way of common civility from one another as individuals.
Just this morning, I spent five minutes fighting off a rage-stroke listening to one of my bosses talking about “integrity.” With every word, it became increasingly obvious that he had not only absolutely no understanding of the definition of integrity, but, more frighteningly, had no concept of why it was important (only that people obviously seem to think it is). Let that irony just sink in for a few moments.
The first anecdote comes up when people ask me why I quit my old job after five years. To make a long story short, in response to my bafflement about dubious orders from regional HQ, The Boss merely chuckled and said, “Well, yeah, but ‘integrity’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘honesty’…”
The way we do business in this country has social implications far beyond merely butchering language for one’s own interests. In the eternal struggle to provide the ultimate customer service, chain retailers have dehumanized their employees to the point that it has begun to affect the way we interact as people.
While workers in the service industry are held accountable (by way of job security) to perpetually maintain an air of helpful professionalism, there is no such accountability for patrons of those businesses. We’ve all seen the folks I’m referring to, and without necessarily starting a class war I’d like to point out the apparent inverse relationship between affluence and hospitality in social (especially retail) settings. I’ve met plenty of wonderful rich people and a vast selection of unbearable impoverished shitbirds, but the trend is undeniable, and Santa Fe’s economic disparity provides an ideal sampling ground.
If the bastions of capitalism will not abandon the manipulative, totally untrue sales tactic that “The Customer Is Always Right,” we have to find ways of addressing this issue ourselves as a community. Local businesses have the option of banning unpleasant patrons, but larger chains will not close their doors to anyone, no matter how boorish. Would that change if there was a social penalty for behaving like a toddler past puberty?
What if someone started, say, a blog, soliciting every story of every horrible thing locals witnessed as employees or patrons of any establishment that won’t 86 an asshole? What if you (and more importantly the people exhibiting truly insufferable behaviors) could see a permanent and detailed record of that lady who calls your store angrily two minutes after you open to demand you do her shopping for her and have it waiting at the register? Or that guy who spends five minutes chastising a minimum-wage barista for decisions made by people who with one paycheck could pay off her entire student loan? What if they knew there was someone watching, and they might read about themselves? Think they’d hesitate next time?
Miljen Aljinovic grew up in the shadow of these hills and now makes things from words and sound. Send him your examples of assholery at firstname.lastname@example.org