Borders as a Civilizational Godsend

Greg Nowell GN842 at CNSVAX.Albany.Edu
Fri Oct 23 08:52:17 PDT 1998

When I moved to Albany ten years ago there were no functional bookstores to speak of, save for the atrocious campus facility, and there were no cafes, either. I would throw my exams into the back of my Tercel, drive to Boston, and grade papers all day before returning.

In the past few years, much to my astonishment, multinational capital has decided to cater to my tastes. The Starbucks invasion brought with it not just Starbucks but a number of petty bourgeois competitors. The bookstores that were driven out of business by Borders and B&N were the kind of places that carried "How to do your taxes" under "Economics."

I don't know much about Borders' magazine collections. But for a start they carry Atlantic Monthly, the New Yorker, and the New York Review of Books, which already means that they are distributing things which were hard to find here but a few years ago. Getting "liberal" here is a progressive accomplishment.

There is a two step problem, here. List contributors, highly literate by disposition, have already jumped the primary hurdle to throwing off the shackles of narcotized consumption. The fact of the matter is that getting people to READ ANYTHING is already a progessive act. I mean, even getting them to read a gardening book. The very act engages cognitive functions and independence of initiative--how do I find out something--which are neutralized by the electronic media. Moreover, since these chains also provide some social nexus--cafes and entertainment which bring people together, oftentimes (round here) for leftie-touchie-feelie-Joni-Mitchell-wish-capitalism-were-nicer-songfests--they combat the terrible isolation of American consumerist culture.

So operating from a baseline which says: Literate people can't get the NLR and that's the why America is drifting right, then maybe Borders fails. Operating from a more general baseline, which says: America is drifting right because its sucking down narcotics (alcohol) and sugar/fat products in front of TV and not doing anything to stay self-motivated, the Borders is progressive. And it surely doesn't hurt that you can get Marx or Lenin if you want it, even if you can't get the NLR (which maybe you can). Indeed, may I point out, that even Scientific American's periodic articles on ecological problems constitute a "critique" and you won't find these everywhere.

So, on the whole, I think it has been a very positive development for suburban America. However, as for the workers, I think they stand a better chance of improving their wages in a Borders-type environment than they would in the one to three employee shops which sold ONLY gardening and Barny books. They are not MORE exploited than they were under the petty bourgeois bookstore owners, they are AS exploited. But the scale economies may actually position them to get better goodies, especially the all-important medical benefits (Figure these at $250/300 mo., or about $2/hr).

-- Gregory P. Nowell Associate Professor Department of Political Science, Milne 100 State University of New York 135 Western Ave. Albany, New York 12222

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