Wednesday, December 18, 2019

#352 / Getting Guidance From The Grocery Store

Online, the article is titled, "The Grocery Store Where Produce Meets Politics." In the hard copy version, The New Yorker calls this article, "Bounty Hunters." The article is in the November 25, 2019, edition of the magazine, which has a weird picture of a Thanksgiving Turkey on the cover:

I have written in this blog about "Sports As Metaphor." This article, by Alexandra Schwartz, seems to posit "Grocery As Metaphor." The Park Slope Food Co-op, which is the subject of The New Yorker article, has 17,000+ working members. That means that they actually work in the store. According to Schwartz (and I am definitely prepared to believe her) the Park Slope Food Co-op is "the biggest food cooperative run on member labor in the country, and, most likely, the world."

One comment in the article that I particularly enjoyed was from a former member, who said that the Food Co-op was "a user-friendly way of experiencing the pitfalls of communism." Drive it before you buy, I guess! This analysis did come from a "former" member.

A more positive statement about the food co-op follows. This is Joe Holtz speaking. He is identified as the "keeper of the Co-op's institutional memory," and talks about how the Co-op got started: 

"We had a good, robust discussion of all the different models of co-ops that we knew and what we thought we should do and what problems we were trying to address,” Holtz said. “But also, if I could jump around for a minute, the bigger picture is ‘Why do we want to start a co-op?’ For me, I felt that the whole idea of American culture being all about individual success—not that I didn’t think that individual success was legitimate, but I thought that our society was too focussed on it, and not focussed enough on community success, and community institutions.”

This final observation rings true to me. Individual success is, certainly, a "legitimate" goal, but are we, in the end, "focused enough on community success, and community institutions?"

I tend to think not. 

Looks like there is a grocery store, in Brooklyn, that can give us some guidance!

Image Credits:
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  1. A book I'm currently reading on this very topic (of individual ethics vs group ethics, or "cultural psychology") is Jonathan Haidt's "The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion" (Vintage 2012). For a lot of westerner rationalists, Haidt argues, moral choices are made based primarily on autonomy (liberty) and equity (fairness): in various experiments, we literally perceive (and analyze) objects, not backgrounds; we describe who we are as individuals, whereas people in many Asian and African cultures (for ex) will identify themselves based their relationships with others, and make decisions using a more holistic calculus. To learn about alternative values (like community and connections, or putting the good of the group above one's own), we have to look to other cultures...or maybe the occasional Brooklyn grocery store. :->

    1. Of course, there're some dark sides to a more communitarian ethics, too. The biggest problem, according to Haidt, is that people get locked into one ethical system, one way of privileging rights or morals, and fail to benefit from (or even tolerate/consider) alternative systems. If we can't see that what we have in common is greater than, more important than, the cultural overlays that divide us, we might be in deep trouble indeed.


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