Peace on earth; goodwill toward men. Those words may not apply if you were shopping for basketball shoes this season. Last Friday, the world witnessed a round of outrageous news reports of desperate shoppers attacking one another. The spate of riots and stabbings surrounded the release of the latest special edition Air Jordan athletic shoes.
In Georgia, a mob of hundreds lined up, beginning at midnight, waiting for the shopping mall to open at 8 a.m. But they got tired of waiting, so a number of them simply broke into the mall.
Police found that one woman had left two small children, ages 5 and 1, unattended in her car while she vied with the mob for shoes. Remember the old TV jingle: “Like Mike, if I could be like Mike?” Apparently some people take that maxim so seriously they are willing to resort to child endangerment.
In Houston, a man who bought a pair of Air Jordans was beaten and a female companion stabbed. After the brutal assault, his attackers carefully removed and made off with his shoes.
Oh, tidings of comfort and joy.
One of the worst of these stories came out of Burlington, N.J., where a herd of bedeviled sneaker seekers stampeded a shopping center as soon as the doors opened at 6:30 a.m. One hundred people converged on a Foot Locker, where there were only eight pair in stock. Frenzy ensued. Two men reportedly brought guns to the scene and threatened to “spray the whole line” with bullets if they didn’t come away with a pair of sneakers.
There were similar stories in malls and shopping centers around the country. It’s become a phenomenon. Call it retail rage or merchandise madness.
These days, aggressive shoppers will do anything to gain an edge on the competition. For those who are shy about pumping lead into fellow shoppers, pepper spray is the latest innovation. On Friday, somebody attacked a crowd with the stuff in Seattle. The same thing happened in South Florida.
This problem isn’t limited to the U.S. In merry London, retail rage turned deadly as shoppers rushed to return gifts and hound for post-Christmas deals. A group of south side thugs chased down and knifed a teenager outside a Foot Locker store on busy Oxford Street. They stuck him with a long blade and left him to bleed to death in view of throngs of shoppers. Many children witnessed the murder. Investigators believe the violence had something to do with a dispute over athletic shoes.
About five hours later, another young man was stabbed by a trio of attackers outside a London Nike store, not far from the location of the first stabbing. At this crime scene, reporters discovered a pile of bloodied clothes next to a pair of brand new Nike trainers.
I confess I am as mystified as I am troubled by this behavior. There are circumstances under which I can imagine myself resorting to force or violence — if, say, I were trying to stop someone who was beating a child, or assaulting a woman. But there are no circumstances under which I could imagine myself attacking someone because he had a pair of shoes I wanted.
What’s with all the craziness over shoes? For some, it’s about status. For most, it’s simply about money. Apparently, there is no shortage of people willing to pay up to $500 on eBay for $180 “limited edition” shoes, which probably only cost about $10 to make in some Asian factory.
Can these shoes really be worth $500? They say expensive shoes won’t make you jump any higher or run any faster. In this case I disagree. I know I’d set a personal record if I had someone bearing down on me with a knife when I went to buy a pair of running shoes.
Take my advice: If you are in the market for a pair of basketball shoes this season, consider ordering them online.
Blame Human Nature
If you place much hope in the nature of man, retail riots and sneaker stabbings might be cause for despair. It’s hard to keep faith in man’s innate goodness when the world is full of people committing sneaker slaughter in the first degree.
But if you accept that human nature is flawed, then stories like these simply confirm man’s need to be governed. As James Madison put it, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” In other words: Folks are messed up.
As we enter the election year, we are often confronted with the many shortcomings of our political system. We face a paradox: People are messed up, and, therefore, need governing. However, people must run the government; therefore the governing process itself is also messed up.
But if you ever find yourself wondering if we could simply do without politics, just think of the bloodstained patrons at your local Foot Locker. Somebody has to keep the mob in check. Hobbes’s Leviathan looks like a cuddly teddy bear next to the beast of anarchy.
Politics is ugly because it reflects, even as it checks, human nature.
This article originally appeared in the International Business Times and is reprinted here with permission. Follow Nathan on Twitter @nathanharden