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Abandoned shopping carts full of groceries at the Springhill, La., Walmart on Saturday.
via KSLA
Abandoned shopping carts full of groceries at the Springhill, La., Walmart on Saturday.

Symptoms of a perishing society

Culture

In a speech at Harvard in 1978, Alexander Solzhenitsyn said:

“There are telltale symptoms by which history gives warning to a threatened or perishing society. Such are, for instance, a decline of the arts or a lack of great statesmen. Indeed, sometimes the warnings are quite explicit and concrete. The center of your democracy and of your culture is left without electric power for a few hours only, and all of a sudden crowds of American citizens start looting and creating havoc. The smooth surface film must be very thin, then, the social system quite unstable and unhealthy. …”

Yet another “explicit and concrete” symptom occurred this past weekend at two Walmarts in Mansfield and Springhill, La. When a three-hour-long glitch in the EBT (electronic benefits transfer) system on Saturday disconnected cashiers at the stores from the federal food stamp database that keeps track of how much credit is left on individuals’ cards, shoppers looted the shelves in a frenzy. They were only stopped by the repair of the computer problem, at which point aisles became filled with stuffed shopping carts abandoned by disappointed would-be plunderers.

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A man named O.J. Evans, who caught some of the rampage on his cell phone, described the behavior of the Walmart patrons as a “natural human” reaction.

Let us add Mr. Evans’ comment to Mr. Solzhenitsyn’s list of “telltale symptoms by which history gives warning to a threatened or perishing society.” For there was a time when the behavior of the Walmart patrons would have been called outright theft, and sin. How many people think like this amateur videographer?

The wise will not dismiss what happened last Saturday night as an unfortunate fluke. If such is the way people behave in a country that is, for all its stresses, still creaking along tolerably well, what, pray tell, would happen if the EBT cards that track balances were to go offline in huge population centers simultaneously? And when it comes to that, what would happen if the entire house of cards of our national system of dependency were to come crashing down in an instant? Like the Russian prophet said to the Harvard class of 1978: “The smooth surface film must be very thin, then, the social system quite unstable and unhealthy. …”

Andrée Seu Peterson
Andrée Seu Peterson

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again. Follow Andrée on Twitter @Andreespeterson.

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