Welcome to the Monolith

The experience must be universal:  You have such a miserable experience with a [fill in the blank]  (airline, software company, rent-a-car company, credit card provider, bank, automobile manufacturer, etc., etc.) that you vow never to use that company again, only to have a nearly identical experience with the company you switch to.


You’re forced to wonder if they don’t copy each others’ “worst practices” rather than their competitors’ best.


The deception lies in the word “competitors.”   While it’s true that companies compete, their means of competition is not what we’re taught in school, but something that has more to do with a common lowest denominator:  The best solution is the cheapest, the most oblivious to consumers’ real needs, that they can get away with.


What does “freedom of choice” or the “letting the marketplace decide” mean when the logic of corporate profit dictates that the best solution is one that allows the largest difference between corporate cost and consumer price?


How little space can you put between seats in an airplane?  How long will customers tolerate being put on hold?  How many defects can you build into a vehicle to guarantee to insure high profits to the parts division?   How exorbitant can you make the fees if a person is thirty seconds late sending in their credit card payment?   The list is endless.  Each of us probably has our own vision of Hell that involves needing to deal with a customer service department.


But we nevertheless bask in the false sun of limitless choice.  No heinous government overlord tells us what me must wear or eat or who we must vote for.  We are free to choose.  Sometimes the choice is even real; occasionally there’s a real difference between alternatives.  More often, though, our only choice is the label on the package.   The product — and the  horrible feeling of being cheated, of getting less for our money than the work we did to earn it — is the same.


Welcome to the monolith!  Get your doctor to proscribe anti-anxiety or anti-depressant drug if it bothers you.  There are plenty to choose from!

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Essays on creativity, community, social change, and the search for meaning