May 27, 2004

Just barely defending theoretical anti-WM activists

Kevin responded in the comments to a previous post where I defended the legitimacy (not the correctness) of anti-WM activists in response to a post of his.

This isn't a very good debate, because Kevin and I completely agree in every practical way: that the activists are wrong, and likely do not actually represent the interests of the residents of Vermont, but only those who value small-town Vermontiness over economic well-being.

But we do have some low-level theoretical disagreement. Kevin feels that the activism is patronizing and that, at base, those wanting to get governments to ban Wal-Mart feel that citizens of Vermont are dumb. (Again, I do in fact believe this to be the case: If it were actually measured, I think most Vermonters to be strongly in favor of having a Wal-Mart to shop at, and that the NTHP and most activists basically want to treat them as props and characters in a theme-park vision of Vermont.)

However, I can also imagine actual towns in Vermont where close to all residents would prefer to preserve their current way of life. (That is, small towns, small shops, other intangibles; I've been calling this stuff "Vermontiness"; maybe there's a Ben & Jerry's flavor that connotes this.) In such cases, I can see community and local activism to ban Wal-Mart as legitimate and conducted in good faith. (Wrong, nonetheless, but legitimate.)

Kevin feels that in such a community, the community standards should be enforced without government. Social mechanisms such as shame, guilt, honor, etc. should be used. He argues that in a community where most individuals do in fact prefer Vermontiness to Wal-Mart, each individual's commitment plus the aforementioned social mechanisms will ensure that the Wal-Mart would not be able to stay in business because no-one work or shop there. In a small community, of course, these social mechanisms can be effective at enforcing the community standards.

Now, if such a community existed, Wal-Mart would never open there, because they would see that they would go out of business, so there'd be no point in banning them. But activists may (and do) believe they live in such a community, while Wal-Mart believes (probably correctly, since they have money on the line) the community is actually full of people who would much prefer to work/shop at a Wal-Mart.

In such a situation, activists would be using local government as the mechanism for enforcing community behavior. I think it's wrong, but in this situation, it would be a good-faith effort to prevent: paving over a field; construction of an ugly building; having to stand outside in the cold in protesting in front of the Wal-Mart to inform and shame the shoppers; maybe some local merchants getting scared and leaving, maybe resulting in temporary inconvenience until they come back after the Wal-Mart shuts down; an eyesore left behind after the Wal-Mart went out of business.

Anyway, my point is pretty weak: I just want to say that it is not necessarily the case that anti-WM activists (and the NTHP) thinks people don't know what's good for them, and that it is possible to conceive a good-faith, non-patronizing, rights-respecting, preservationist, anti-WM activism. In the real world, that's not what we have.

Posted by gkanapathy on May, 27 2004 at 01:00 AM