David Wittman’s (aka DJ Dave) popular video, “Whole Foods Parking Lot,” is a hilarious send-up of some of the apparent moral contradictions of participants in today’s postmodern counter-culture. It’s a counter-culture only in the sense that it has more to do with the checkout counter than it does any challenge to the culture at large. Hell, it is the culture at large.
Hey, but we’re human, all too human. As Jon Stewart and many others hope, gentle laughs at our frailties might be more therapeutic than rabid condemnations. At least a couple of wags believe the words “human,” “humor,” and “humility” share a common root in an Indo-European term for humus, a rotting pile of vegetable matter. One rotting pile of vegetables ought to be careful about putting itself above another rotting pile of vegetables, if you get my drift. By the way, fellow humi, don’t confuse this humus with mashed chickpeas – hummus – you can also encounter at Whole Foods.
In any case, many ideologues and moral demagogues have discovered the hard way that it can be a long, painful fall from a high horse.
Having lived in Austin, Whole Foods’ birthplace, for many years, I’ve long noted an entertaining difference between the parking lot behavior and in-store behavior of some customers. Safe behind their tinted windows and already tense from the traffic that delayed their arrival, they can be impatient and vicious parking space hounds. Then, upon entering the store, their faces take on a certain Deepak Chopra glow. You know what I mean: the healthy, peaceful, smiling visages of all the world’s self-help authors we see in thousands of book jacket photos.
As Bill Maher says, I tease the self-help gurus. I have to admit, though, that I like their faux-enlightenment poses better than the stone-faced, lonely and gloomy countenances of today’s fashion models. I’ve never figured out this fashion ad fad. “Wear Calvin Klein jeans and you’ll look miserable.” How does that sell a pair of pants?
We all play different roles in different circumstances. It’s not because we’re hypocritical. It’s because of the way our brains work and because of our different experiences. At home, a father might be patient, empathetic, loving and nurturant. At work, the same man might be a cold, petty tyrant. George Lakoff has written extensively about this.
When it comes to progressive and conservative worldviews, we are all biconceptuals. You may live by progressive values in most areas of your life, but if you see Rambo movies and understand them, you have a passive conservative worldview allowing you to make sense of them. Or you may be a conservative, but if you appreciated The Cosby Show, you were using a passive progressive worldview. Movies and television aside, what we are really interested in are active biconceptuals–people who use one moral system in one area and the other moral system in another area of their political thinking.
Biconceptualism makes sense from the perspective of the brain and the mechanism of neural computation. The progressive and conservative worldviews are mutually exclusive. But in a human brain, both can exist side by side, each neurally inhibiting the other and structuring different areas of experience. It is hardly unnatural-or unusual-to be fiscally conservative and socially progressive, or to support a liberal domestic policy and a conservative foreign policy, or to have a conservative view of the market and a progressive view of civil liberties.
Lakoff points out point that conservatives do a much better job of evoking the authoritarian part of biconceptuals’ brains than progressives do activating the egalitarian part. How can we do a better job?
By analogy, we need to take the in-store Whole Foods morality into the parking lot. It’s not too simplistic to suggest that parking lot light poles be hung with hip, catchy banners extolling the anti-animal cruelty and healthy foods mottos we see throughout the store. The presence of a few happy people in the parking lot would also help (“the audience for your enlightened self is here”). Fuck-you finger flipping might turn into Buddhist mudras for peace and compassion.
To complete the analogy, we need to activate the progressive morality of folks who currently behave conservatively in the parking lot of the political sphere. This means having the courage to hang our banners on the light poles and speak up for our values.
Democrats, sadly, are in the habit of trying to win conservatives by acting like them. “Okay,” we say. “We can be just as selfish and dangerous in the parking lot as you are. Now will you vote for us?” We don’t win, and we don’t advance our values.
It’s time we got real in the Whole Foods parking lot.