Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Lessons at the Deli
Freemarketeers and other mythologists allege belief in the essential goodness of humanity. This goodness will, if unchecked by government interference, lead us into a golden age the glories of which even Pericles could hardly have dreamed. CEOs ignore mine-safety regulations, the argument goes, because Uncle Sam is too intrusive. One wonders why corporations are so keen on legislation that protects them from, say, class action lawsuits, but presumably those intrusive laws are meant to protect corporations from those other intrusive laws and from the aforementioned essential goodness.

This illusion of benevolent all-in-this-togetherism could almost convince someone who's never actually seen or interacted with people for any length of time. Anecdotes abound, from hypocritical naughtiness to willful and fullblown destructiveness. But if you really want to see the most basic breakdown of the essentially good human, then get thee to a deli.

During a recent venture to the purveyor of sliced meats, I found that the Arbiter of Order was AWOL. The ingenious disgorger of printed numbers, that comforting dispenser of sequence, was on the fritz, and the "Now Serving" sign behind the slicers showed an ominous double zero, like the twin barrels of a shotgun, or maybe a pair of evil nostrils.

Chaos reigned. A dozen adults or more, most of whom likely have jobs and know how to drive, were utterly stymied by their inability to find their place in the grand scheme of pastrami and olive loaf. I saw good-humored smiles and bashful shrugs as we all respectfully struggled to place our respective orders, but the influx of new and equally numberless patrons outpaced the exit, so we accelerated toward our innumerable dooms.

After several minutes I grew more interested in observing the throng than in participating in it, but no one watches a riot from within its boundaries. If you're inside it, you're a part of it. I gloried in the madness, the animal abandon of the moment, until at last I shouldered my way to the counter, where I demanded my half-pound of shaven maple ham before fighting backward through the revelers and to the calm on the other side.

Or the illusion of calm.

In the wake of the Sago mine disaster we're hearing questions about accountability. Granted, we're talking small-scale accountability as it pertains to this particular tragedy, but to my surprise, the name of the Anointed Son is even being bandied about, owing to his cheerful advocacy and diligent paring down of mining regulations. It's hard to imagine the press making these kinds of connections a year ago, when they were so busy worrying about the then forthcoming and tasteless inauguration ceremony. But that was then and this is now, and 12 dead miners garner greater public sympathy than does an empty headed lame duck potentate and an international mining coalition.

There's been a strong push for across-the-board deregulation for decades, starting most famously with St. Reagan, hallowed be His name. But the wedge of corporate self-checking didn't vanish with poppa Bush's ouster, nor has it dulled during Dubya's dubious tenure. Corporations won't be happy until their loyal and handsomely-compensated congressional employees have permanently insulated them from accountability re: ignored safety regulations, abhorrent employment practices, expensive and inadequate health care, and everything else.

I can't trust that the guy who just showed up won't shove me aside to order his Brauschweiger, but I'm supposed to trust an unaccountable chemical manufacturer to dispose of its waste in a safe and responsible manner?

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