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The Populist Illusion of Amazon

07.23.2014

The Amazonian notion is that the consumers are the ones making the choices. This belies the fact that Amazon heavily and constantly manipulates the market. Asked to choose between a five dollar toaster and a ten dollar toaster of the exact same type, most people will choose the cheaper toaster. This is especially true if the former comes with free shipping. How can they offer us two deals at once?! Internet Age egalitarianism turns out to be just old school capitalism. This is not choice, it’s coercion.

Amazon’s primary tactic is to artificially drive down the price of an item (selling at a loss, cutting deals with other companies) and along the way make it increasingly easy to buy and keep buying. For modern consumers, the more comfortably one can make a purchase, and the more that purchase is advertised to them in terms of the ‘deal’, the more likely one is to buy–and buy more (and, in turn, throw away–and simply get another at your doorstep in two days! Free shipping!). Any choice that might have been involved as pertains to quality or provenance has been obfuscated by the simplest choice: pain or pleasure? Work or leisure?

The consumer class created out of the Internet Age is perhaps the laziest, most shallow on record. Whatever we can find that doesn’t cost us any money (so we won’t have to work to pay for it), that doesn’t make us wait (so we won’t have to become annoyed/allow time for personal reflection), that doesn’t proscribe that we handle it carelessly (so we won’t have to care), or, indeed, that doesn’t ask us to pay for its real value… is the thing for us.

It is a fantasy world, and it’s pervading many markets outside (at least for now) the purview of Amazon. Did you really think that eighty-nine-cents-a-pound chicken was actual, quality meat? Not something raised in a huge, rancid warehouse full of shit and half-dead birds? Fast food happy meals? Sweat-shop clothing? Chinese-manufactured electronics?

In the world of politics and social movements, many of us are savvy enough to know that so-called populist candidates attempt to manipulate the populace instead of promoting it. They do it through fearmongering and empty-promising, which is exactly how Amazon does it. The fear of paying more of your hard-earned money for the same goods. The promise that these goods will always remain at a low price and/or that they will remain the same quality goods.

For the most part, the American public, American politics, even the American judiciary, have bought into this. In the recent lawsuit against Apple and its alleged collusion with the publishing industry, the idea that lower prices are good for the consumer, and that the consumer qualifies everything (both fallacious points), won the day for Amazon. For those congressmen and women in districts with dot-com companies, a similar ethos prevails. The web was built on it. Free stuff. There’s an entire generation only a few years younger than myself (with many my own age sucked in) whose seeming raison d’être is to acquire free stuff—an end in itself.

Which goes a long way as to explaining not only why we are suddenly so culturally and socially shallow-minded, but also why we have so much trash. Physical trash—in our landfills and oceans and atmosphere and basements and garages and alleyways and slums—and virtual trash—in our heads.

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