The geography of selfishness: Regional interest in Black Friday
Conservative commentators are too slavish to big business interests, leaving only liberal retards to criticize Black Friday. But lacking the richness of moral intuitions that conservatives tap into, they struggle and fail to pinpoint the essential corruption of the holiday.
It is not about "consumerism," as people have been buying things since forever, especially before a gift-giving holiday. As detailed here, the recent change is in the social nature of the shopping experience. In the good old days, it was communal -- the warm experience of each Christmas shopper amplified the warm experience of the others. You could tell that others felt the Christmas spirit while out choosing gifts for other people, and that recognition of togetherness within your community made you feel elevated yourself.
And because you were shopping for other people, you didn't have very specific items in mind, as you do when you shop for yourself. So if you saw someone else with a particular gift, you didn't think, "The son of a bitch beat me to it!" because you didn't have a cut-and-dried list of targets to hunt down.
Now, though, Black Friday couldn't give off a stronger odor of It's All About Me. Not only are people indulging in DOORBUSTER sales for themselves, and buying things for others as a fig leaf, but their interactions with other shoppers has become a zero-sum game. I'd rather call it a melee than a mob -- with a mob, there's a superorganic groupiness, and some degree of unity of purpose and action among the individuals (toppling a statue, burning the enemy's buildings, etc.).
The Black Friday shoppers are more like Third World looters after some NGO drops off a load of gubmint cheese. Anybody else's warm experience causes me anxiety -- those bastards must have gotten their hands on the good shit already! In fact, maybe I'll just ambush them in the next aisle over and jack that big screen TV right out of their shopping cart. There is no stickiness among individuals, or even within rival teams of individuals, but rather a Hobbesian "war of all against all".
Levels of fellow-feeling vary drastically around the world, with more cohesive societies springing up along what the historian Peter Turchin calls "meta-ethnic frontiers" -- where there's a faultline between two peoples who differ in way of life, language, religion, even genetic ancestry. (See his book War and Peace and War.) For instance, the increasingly cohesive citizens of the Roman Republic had felt pressure from the expansion of the dominant Celts toward the Mediterranean.
More atomistic societies, then, are found where inter-ethnic pressure has been lower, such as the core of an empire. For example, southern Italy after the fall of Rome has been periodically raided and settled by various groups, but nothing like a relentless advance of an outside group that isn't going to just go away and needs to be confronted in collective fashion. And that part of the world is famous for its devil-take-the-hindmost culture.
To explore these questions in the American context, I'd ideally like to find regional data on consumer spending for Black Friday, maybe as a departure from their ordinary amount of spending, and compared to their annual income. Lacking that, I'll just look at how much of a region's overall Google search traffic comes from people looking for "black friday". If someone is self-centered enough to plan out their Black Friday looting spree, they're going to want to know the low-down on what stores are open when, and what deals they're offering.
If the meta-ethnic frontier idea is right, then Black Friday should be a worse problem back East, where they haven't been plagued by Indian raids for hundreds of years, and should be less of a problem out West, where the frontier was only closed in 1890.
I've split the maps into two time periods to see if there's been any major change over time. The first is January 2004 through December 2007, and the second is January 2008 through December 2011. Both state-level and metro-level maps are shown.
At either the state or metro level, there's a striking east-west split, with less interest shown in the Plains and Mountain states, and even the parts of the West coast that have not been recently colonized by atomistic Easterners. It's not a liberal-conservative thing, as the Deep South is just as bad as the Bos-Wash corridor, and Texas is just as bad as the socialistic Old Northwest. The map also shows that internal racial diversity has little to do with it; it's more about where there have been pronounced Us vs. Them faultlines.
Just look at how mellow California appears compared to either the red or blue states back East, even though it's super-liberal and particularly during the mid-2000s was overrun with non-whites. In all the reporting and videos I've seen on Black Friday mayhem, California has only come up a couple times. Most of it came from the East Coast through the Midwest and Texas.
Basically the same picture of regional differences, just with everybody getting more into it than before. It's not due to the recession, but a continuation of the steady rise in Black Friday chaos since around 1993. The Plains states are still not as bad as the band from the Midwest through Texas, but they're much closer than before. The Mountain states are more reliably cohesive over both time periods. California is still not as bad as the Bos-Wash states overall, although the Los Angeles and New York metro areas are about the same.
The other thing about the second time period is that this is when online shopping for Black Friday has become incredibly popular, unlike the mid-2000s. That's probably why the Fargo and Sioux Falls metro areas look worse than L.A. or New York, whereas in the first period they didn't show up on the map at all. I'd therefore put more weight on the first pair of maps.
Overall the meta-ethnic frontier effect appears to pan out. If this were a journal article, maybe I'd quantify how much Indian pressure the various metro areas have faced in the past 200 years, and compare that to the Google search indexes. But what the hell, it's only a blog post, and the pattern is clear enough from visual inspection.
So, there's one thing I'm very thankful for -- leaving the East coast for the Mountain states. As bad as it may feel out here, I remember that it's abysmal back East. The lasting effect of frontier togetherness may even be great enough to cure Eastern transplants, to some degree, of their atomization and antipathy. Seattle, San Francisco, L.A., and San Diego are too corrupted by now to be healthily incorporated into whatever Mountain-Plains region emerges as the new place to be. But they're like patients who only recently received the prognosis of terminal illness, where back East most major metro areas are already-rotting corpses.