Plumb Lines

March 20, 2009

Deli Politics

Filed under: Uncategorized — Keith Staples @ 2:43 pm

Yesterday a friend of mine humorously complained about her interaction with a certain employee of a local deli. This employee is an older gentleman who invariably asks her why she is wasting her time buying such a simple meal from him instead of cooking it herself. “I’m like, dude,” she said with a laugh “Do you want to make the sale or not? Isn’t that what you’re here for?”

This is a concrete–if trivial–example of how a market society can erode community and so create moral weakness. It happens that my friend (an exceptionally friendly and accommodating person) doesn’t much mind the man’s question. But behind her very mild annoyance and perplexity there is the ingrained understanding that sellers should always mind their business (i.e. selling at a profit) and mind only their business (i.e. inquiring not at all about buyers’ lives and motives except, perhaps, with a view to promoting more buying).

We expect that most of the day, as we choose and act, nobody will hold us accountable to common standards of reasonableness or virtue, and so these common standards tend to appear thinner and more abstract. When almost none of our decisions are public, that is, when none of them are openly subject to judgment, they become literally idiotic. They will be bad decisions, because not made within a community of moral deliberation.

-Keith Staples


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