The Ethics Of… The Pure Idiocy of Coles’ Little Shop

This fortnight I had one of those moments where I flat-out could not come up with a topic for this blog. And so, as is tradition in these situations, I outsourced the problem to the brains-trust at Facebook. In addition to the 5 totally original and super clever people who suggested ‘The Ethics Of stealing ideas off facebook’, I got enough good topics to cover the next 10 months. Success! But which one to choose? So many good, deep, thought-provoking questions to address, how to decide between them?

This this shit popped up and the choice made itself.

See, I know from time to time on this blog I get a bit too far up my own arse and it all goes a bit serious. And after the last few weeks of covering ‘politicising a tragedy’, ‘cultural appropriation’, and a two-parter on China’s social credit scheme and the need to resist power grabs, I feel like I’m due a break to brings things back down to earth. Which for me, means taking it out on something that makes me mighty pissed off, despite it not actually being that important.

Despite the fact that I’ve never actually done any articles on environmental topics on here (yet), I am pretty heavily involved in the environmental management field – worked in it for about a decade now and have taken heart that certain campaigns such as Plastic Free July have started to take off into the mainstream. My home state of Victoria for example, just banned single-use plastic bags from retailers, helping to eliminate the seriously scary issue of plastic waste in our waterways.

Coles is one of the Big Four supermarket retailers in Australia, and they have done an admirable job of embracing this bag-ban, despite quite a lot of people bitching about it.

Then, a few weeks later and right in the middle of Plastic Free July, they released a series of tiny plastic collectables, free for every $30 spent. Tiny plastic collectables modelled on brands they sell. Like tiny, solid-plastic effigies of Milo tins.

Oh, and they each come wrapped in their own tiny little single-use plastic wrapper, presumably to keep the plastic fresh, or something.

Gentle reader, I would like to use this situation to discuss the issue of perspective. Because while yes, it is true, this is not the biggest deal in the world compared to, say, climate change, modern slavery, class warfare, or any of the many excellent topics suggested by my Facebook friends, there is something about this specific, tiny situation that provokes a very pure reaction from me. And that reaction is as follows:

Explain this. Explain this to me. Explain to me how, right after following through on a plastic bag ban a solid decade in the making, very explicitly intended to cut down on an environmental evil of ecosystem-ending proportions (NOT an exaggeration), the people who are involved in the running of a massively successful national supermarket chain, sat down and seriously decided that manufacturing and giving away purposeless plastic toys no one asked for was a good idea?

A human being wrote this. A living, talking, self-aware human being, who is probably pretty smart and considers themselves a professional, sat down and wrote this. Without snapping and trying to burn the office down. This is pure, unadulterated intellectual failure right here. Primo stuff.

And yet, as much as that decision alone makes me question whether Coles is in the hands of a bunch of utter loons, it is one of the better decisions in this entire mess. Why? Because there was at least a very clear – if blindingly unjustified – reason for this give-away: those tiny non-functional, absolutely worthless plastic toys have become incredibly popular.

As in, people went right ahead and set up a black market in the fucking things almost immediately, attracting thousands of participants and re-selling a full set of the things for $999.00.

Just to clarify on this – these things are non-functional. They do not contain tiny amounts of the advertised products, which at least would have some function. They are not valuable in either their materials or their scarcity, nor do they represent something someone could realistically get emotionally invested in, like a band. Or Jesus.

Either the best of the worse action figure of all time, depending on whether they found a way to pull the fishes/loaves thing off.

And here we have people paying significant amounts of real money to own them. Coles might be brazenly hypocritical and more than a little oblivious in this story, but the fact that their customers have found a way of massively overshadowing that stupidity truly is remarkable.

For god/s’ sake, they’re not even fun. It’s a tiny fake bottle of washing liquid for fucks sake. Even a McDonalds happy meal is at least a toy, even if it is intended for humans whose under-developed brains put them on intellectual par with a pig.

Kids: they aren’t smart yet.

Now given the fairly minor nature of this topic, it likely seems a bit ironic that I want to I would like to use this situation to discuss ‘perspective’ – after all, I said myself that these stupid things aren’t that big a deal in the grand scheme of things. But here’s the thing: bitter experience (and a whole lot of tertiary study) has taught me that big, world-shaking topics like climate change are incredibly complex issues, with no simple answers – in fact, simple answers have a tendency of making the whole thing worse. Ethics are very relevant, but also very messy on those topics because of this complexity – a good solution requires context, reliable decision-making frameworks and a hell of a lot of work.

This Little Store bullshit on the other hand, couldn’t be any simpler: it’s stupid, it’s wasteful, it’s harmful to the environment, and it’s entirely unnecessary.

And yet people still made/distributed/collected them.

When I say this is an issue of perspective, I mean that we were given EVERY opportunity to recognise this for the idiotic idea it was, and yet we went ahead and did it anyway. Amazingly, this is even worse than all the people I bitch about on public transport, clogging up the doors and making people late for work purely because they’d rather not pay attention – helping in that situation would at least require some effort on the dickheads’ part. But this? This is us actively contributing to a problem we all know very clearly exists, all for the joy of owning an item that will somehow lose its novelty even faster than a Beanie Baby, and make you look just as fucking stupid in the aftermath.

Image result for beanie babies collector

I’m going to cut this article off right here before it descends into an endless stream of swearing, so here’s your take away message for this fortnight: DON’T DO THIS STUPID SHIT. Turn your brains on people! Just because it’s free doesn’t mean you should take it! Stop letting stupid shit happen to you, and above all, stop buying into it and attaching value to things that do not have any.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go listen to some Tailor Swift. It’s either that or go burn down a supermarket and at this point I could very easily be talked into changing my mind.

The irony is, I stand a way higher chance of getting arrested for something like this than any serious political activity.

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