"THE customer is always right." Most of us have had this mantra parroted at us one time or another, especially those of us who have worked in the service industry.
It’s a phrase that, to me, has always carried sinister undertones. It reduces those of us on the business end of consumerism to witless automatons, designed only to complete economic transactions to the customer’s greatest satisfaction.
No matter whether you might have expertise that could grant the customer even greater satisfaction — not if it clashes with the customer’s ego. Just shut up, smile and get the sale done. This is the philosophy we instil in our workers.
However, with the introduction of new immunization cards, the provincial government has developed for people who are fully immunized, I fear that the psycho-social fallout of the "customer is always right" phrase and attitude will be shown to be even more malignant.
In our society, we tend to conflate our ability to carry out consumerism with freedom and autonomy. To a certain extent, our consumerist choices are a cornerstone around which we craft our identity.
Many of our conversations revolve around critiquing the goods, services and media products that we interact with. As such, in a consumerist-centred culture, the labourers who help provide us with these interactions are reduced in how society perceives them. When you are the consumer, you are the citizen with all the rights, whereas the labourer is simply the sieve your freedom funnels through.
This, despite the fact that most of us spend, on average, 40 hours a week being labourers ourselves. This aspect of our identity is encouraged to be sequestered by the wayside, a distasteful alter ego, the less said about it the better.
This is a toxic reality in many ways, not the least of which is that it limits the solidarity with our fellow labourers in the workplace, since we see ourselves foremost as a consumer.
But now, enter the immunization card, and we see the toxicity could reach a new level. These cards could conceivably be used by business owners who want to see proof of vaccination before letting customers shop without a mask. They might be used by event organizers to prevent the non-immunized from being potential disease vectors at large, crowded events. They might be used by governments in other jurisdictions to ensure vaccination before allowing us to travel there.
One does not need to go far on social media to find the anti-vaxxers howling about this perceived curtailing of their rights, often drawing unironic parallels to Stalinist Russia or Nazi Germany. Any reasonable person can see that such a juxtaposition is absurd, so what drives them to such hyperbole?
Perhaps it is partially this consumerist culture that we have allowed to fester. These people have such a sense of entitlement, they feel that their fundamental identity is being compromised by these limitations.
We see this in their utter disregard for the rights of others, in their bid to be allowed to go out and spend their time and dollars however they please. People working in a shop have their right to health, yet the people opposing immunization cards clearly feel that their right to shop unimpeded supersedes the right of workers, since they, after all, are the paying customers.
Or, if a neighbouring state wants proof of vaccination before you visit there in order to protect their citizens, well, what right do they have to deny us coming to spend our vacations dollars there?
The centring of the individualist consumer in our culture has poisoned the minds of many, to the point where they are failing to recognize the right to health and autonomy in others.
Even with doctors and scientists almost entirely united in their expert prescription for how we can beat this pandemic, these people strut about confidently, patching together their contrarian opinion with whatever scraps of disinformation they can find, fully self-assured that they have pieced together a coherent narrative.
Perhaps this is an opportunity to reflect on whether it is time for this culture to change, and if we really want to keep telling people that all they need to be right is a few bucks in their pocket to spend.
Alex Passey is the Winnipeg-based author of the sci-fi introspective Mirror’s Edge.