Leaving Amazon

“Even though it is indeed not true that success also justifies the evil deed and the reprehensible means, it is similarly out of the question to regard success as something that is ethically wholly neutral. It so happens that historical success creates the ground on which alone life can go on. The question remains as to whether it is ethically more responsible to go to war like Don Quixote against a new age or, conceding one’s defeat and freely consenting to it, finally to serve the new age. Success, after all, makes history, and the One who guides history always creates good from the bad over the head of the men who make history. It is a short circuit when the stickler for principle, thinking ahistorically and hence irresponsibly, simply ignores the ethical significance of success. It is good that for once we are forced to engage seriously the ethical problem of success. As long as the good is successful, we can afford the luxury of thinking of success as ethically irrelevant. But the problem arises once evil means bring about success.” 
~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, On Success

The other day, I had a negative experience with Amazon customer service. I had no prior problems with the company and so I hadn’t earlier given it much thought. But this recent experience left a bad taste in my mouth. I wasn’t dealt with honestly. It took me by surprise, as I didn’t expect such treatment. I’m used to customer service, in any business, treating me the customer as if I mattered. This has led me to question my use of Amazon and to think more carefully about what kind of company it is.

It’s not that I’ve been clueless and unaware of certain aspects of Amazon that are less than optimal, such as their refusal to pay local taxes and their practice of underselling brick-and-mortar bookstores for years at a profit loss. I’ve never liked these the anti-competitive tactics. It’s been sad what large businesses in general have done to small businesses, local economies, and once thriving downtowns. But Amazon has gone beyond the standard problems of big biz.

As I looked around, it became clear that many people have had difficulties with Amazon. With or without warning and explanation, Amazon takes actions that can be frustrating or even harmful. They regularly suspend accounts of third party sellers and, in many cases, this forces those sellers out of business because of how much Amazon’s platform dominates the online market. Customers can even get lifetime bans on making purchases or making comments. For some people, they’ve eliminated all Kindle ebooks from their accounts. There is little an individual can do. Getting a repeal or even just a fair response from a private bureaucracy can be challenging, assuming you can get a response at all. You can hire an arbitration company or something, although in many cases that isn’t successful either.

I’ve come to realize that Amazon isn’t a company I can depend upon and trust. Worse still, Jeff Bezos sounds like a psychopath. This wouldn’t be surprising, as studies have shown that psychopaths are common among corporate executives (one study showing that more than one in five, about the same percentage as found in the prison population); and others have noted that, if we take seriously corporate personhood, corporations fit the description of a psychopath. The way Amazon is run is more than a bit sociopathic with heavy leaning toward authoritarian-style Social Darwinism. Employees are treated like crap with one of the highest employee turnover rates.

Bezos is well known for publicly screaming at and demeaning people. He even has a highly disturbing evil laugh. He once bizarrely demanded that employees act with empathy or else they’d be fired, it not occurring him that such a demand was the complete opposite of empathy (his emotions mattering while the employees emotions not so much) Employees are encouraged to report on each other and that means they have to be constantly on the defense to protect themselves from anonymous complaints, sometimes without being told exactly what is the complaint. It’s a fairly common practice to receive an email from management or from Bezos himself with just a single word in it or just a question mark, apparently with the expectation that employees can read minds.

Working there would leave a normal person in a constant state of anxiety and paranoia, which is to say that to succeed in such an environment would require you to be extremely abnormal in the psychological sense. But that is the point. Bezos doesn’t want normal people working for him and because of how he dominates the online market he can demand almost anything he wants, burning through employees as if they are of little value. It’s a situation of severe inequality of power where employees have no leverage and have no union to turn to.

There is a large community of ex-employees that share horror stories. One guy a while back attempted suicide by jumping off one of Amazon’s buildings, after sending Bezos a scathing email. In the warehouses, employees are constantly monitored by a camera about every ten feet and are expected to work at high speed for long hours and for little pay and benefits. During a heat wave, employees were forced to continue working without air conditioning until they dropped from heat exhaustion and were carted away by a waiting ambulance. One employee talked about his hearing being damaged from the loud machinery, even with wearing ear protection, but the company doctor denied that it was work-related so that their insurance wouldn’t have to pay for it.

On top of all that, Jeff Bezos has become the poster boy of Friendly Fascism by hiding his company’s dark side. He is a wealthy and powerful man with proven ability to influence political outcomes. Using the pseudo-libertarian rhetoric of corporatism, Bezos likes to push the standard plutocratic worldview of school privatization, anti-labor organizing, tax cuts for the rich, tax avoidance/exemptions for big biz, etc. He has expanded his business through entering numerous new markets, by buying the Washington Post and Whole Foods, and by getting a highly lucrative contract with the CIA. Unsurprisingly, his acquired newspaper has used anonymous CIA sources and he kicked Wikileaks off Amazon’s servers.

Amazon was troubling enough in the past. But it feels like the company has moved into a new stage of dominance. That is why many people are once again talking about anti-trust laws, specifically in relation to Amazon. Trump has been threatening Bezos which makes for an interesting dynamic, two plutocrats challenging each other’s power. I guess we can count our blessings that at least the rich and powerful are somewhat divided at the moment. That often happens before major societal changes, if not reform then possibly revolution. Nick Hanauer, an early investor in Amazon, has since come to warn of the pitchforks coming for the plutocrats. One might note that the corruption and oppressiveness of big biz corporatism was a major reason for the American Revolution which, after the country’s founding, caused the founders to narrowly define corporations as being required by law to serve the public good.

I’ve done a lot of business with Amazon over the years. Maybe I shouldn’t have. I regret having recently bought a new Kindle. I didn’t realize how bad it was getting, but now my conscience is bothering me. I feel compelled to begin the process of separating from Amazon. I’ll look around for new companies to do business with. It won’t be easy. The first step is that I won’t buy any further content from Amazon. I presently cancelled my Amazon Prime membership and Audible membership. Maybe this means I’ll have to go back to reading physical books and become reacquainted with the local bookstores.

In the long term, this will be a good thing. I don’t want to personally participate in the further decline of America, as we head into a dystopian future. I’ve been told that I should vote with my dollars, which always seemed like an idiotic thing to say when plutocrats control so much of the world. It’s about impossible to avoid big biz these days. Still, I don’t like the feeling of being complicit in these problems. I suppose my small actions might mean little, but we each have to start somewhere. Thomas Paine, for example, took his first step toward revolution simply by writing a petition that by itself meant nothing for it had no hope of influencing the British Empire. Yet after losing his job over that incident, it eventually led Paine to meet Benjamin Franklin who invited him to the colonies.

So, let me take my first step toward wherever it will lead. I can hope that others will head in the same direction.

 

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16 thoughts on “Leaving Amazon

  1. I always find it fascinating about my posts as they relate to my blog gaining and losing followers. Almost immediately after this was posted, I had a total loss of two followers.

    I guess they must have been big fans of Amazon. Or else I made them feel guilty about their own consumer habits… not my intention. Otherwise, I’m not sure why this particular post would cause someone to stop following my blog, considering this fits into the kinds of topics I typically write about.

    It makes me curious about what motivates people. I actually wasn’t expecting this particular blog to cause a loss of followers, as it was mostly a personal statement of a decision I had made.

  2. On a related note, here is a quote giving voice to a world that once existed, back when Americans still remembered the original intent of the founders as it related to corporations:

    https://realdemocracyhistorycalendar.wordpress.com/2017/08/28/real-democracy-history-calendar-august-28-september-3/

    August 31, 1910 – Theodore Roosevelt “New Nationalism” Speech Delivered at the Dedication of the John Brown Memorial Park in Osawatomie, Kansas

    “The true friend of property, the true conservative, is he who insists that property shall be the servant and not the master of the commonwealth; who insists that the creature of man’s making shall be the servant and not the master of the man who made it. The citizens of the United States must effectively control the mighty commercial forces which they have called into being.

    “There can be no effective control of corporations while their political activity remains. To put an end to it will be neither a short nor an easy task, but it can be done.”

    http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/new-nationalism-speech/

    • This quote by TR gets at my mood lately. It’s not just Amazon. That is only the most recent thing that helped sharpen my thinking about all of this. Amazon makes absolutely clear the problems with present capitalism, showing the dystopian direction we are heading in.

      Some people would ask how can Amazon be bad when it seemingly does so much good for customers, at least many customers. That is why I mentioned Friendly Fascism. In many ways, even Nazism was friendly fascism and that is what made an inspiring figure like Hitler so dangerous.

      The Nazis didn’t start off putting people into concentration camps. No, they first rebuilt the infrastructure, helped the economy to boom, put people back to work, modernized industry, etc. The average Nazi German still bought products from stores, still went on vacations, and much else, but slowly a creeping authoritarianism took hold. If full authoritarianism had forced itself on the population all at once, the German people would have fought back. Yet by the time most realized what was happening it was already too late.

      Of course, authoritarianism as it develops going into the future won’t look exactly like the authoritarianism of the past. That is almost always true. If it always looked the same, it would be easy to see coming and so easy to resist and prevent. The American founders weren’t certain about the future, but they were certain that corporations had to be carefully restrained by the public good in order to maintain a free society.

      We modern Americans have forgotten what the American Revolution was fought for. And more importantly, what was won.

    • Closer to home, take the Gilded Age. The Robber Barons had gained immense wealth and power, often with monopolies and always with politicians in their pockets. With this wealth and power, they were highly abusive to workers and anyone who got in their way. It wasn’t a free market, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t accomplish some good things for society. Many of those Robber Barons donated large sums of wealth to worthy causes.

      That doesn’t alter the fact of all the harm they caused in the process in getting that wealth. More importantly and fundamentally, the actions they took and the system they created contradicted the values and principles of the American Revolution, not something to be lightly dismissed. The complaint isn’t against their success but a demand for moral accounting of the externalized costs forced onto others.

      It’s not a debate about who gets to be more self-righteous. I don’t doubt that Bezos feels proud in his accomplishments and would respond with self-righteousness toward anyone who criticized his behaviors. And I wouldn’t judge him for his accomplishments, not taken alone. Many people feel proud and self-righteous for various accomplishments, just as many feel morally righteous for challenging injustice, but it’s not as if we are forced to choose between self-righteousness and moral righteousness.

      That misses the point. It’s just sad the harm humans can cause others. The greatest accomplishment is that which doesn’t come at the immense cost of others. Modern capitalism has many costs that often don’t get acknowledged. That in no way lessens the accomplishments. But if we want a sustainable society that is worthy of being sustained, we have a long way to go. We need to finish the fight that the revolutionary founders started.

    • It is sad. In the past, I had positive experiences with Amazon. But reading about some of what goes on with the company has soured my view.

      There is just too much crap in the world. I don’t want to be a part of it, to the extent that is possible. This is a small action in the big picture. It’s more for my own mental health.

      In recent years, I’ve been slowly disentangling myself from negative things. I’m a sensitive person and this kind of thing bothers me immensely. I need to find a way to disconnect from the toxicity in American society because it makes me feel and act in toxic ways.

      I don’t want to be part of the problem. And when all the crap overwhelms me, I feel like I’m part of the problem. It brings out the worse in me. I’m in the process of reassessing my life and the kind of person I want to be.

    • I would make one thing clear, though. I’m in no way telling anyone else what they should do. I did business with Amazon for many years. We all seek to balance the good and bad in our lives, as best as we know how and feel able. Finding balance isn’t an easy task in a world full of so much shittiness.

  3. There were a couple of comments I didn’t want to approve. They didn’t add much to the discussion. They would not have been a net positive to my blog. But I did want to partly respond to them. These comments represent part of the problem. Let me try to contain their negativity. Here is the first bit from the first comment:

    “Maybe because people find failure to survive deeply unattractive, and people with psychological purity dysfunctions driving them to make senselessly self-damaging decisions make healthy people want to edge away? Because you’re making a spectacle of choosing to fail at life?”

    This is a typical troll behavior. But I don’t know this person is actually a troll. It’s highly probable he believes this. Basically, his defense of Social Darwinism is to invoke Social Darwinism. Anyone who fails (or is claimed to have failed) according to Social Darwinism apparently has no right to criticize Social Darwinism. That is amusing. The childishness of this pseudo-logic is amusing. It’s good for a laugh, at the very least.

    When I see comments like this, I have to wonder if there is some projection going on. Does this person think of themselves as a failure? Or like so many Americans, are they living in frustration and fear? So many people turn against others when they are under stress (Amazon even encourages it). And that is the problem with Social Darwinism. It’s not humane and compassionate. It’s not democratic or even American. If the American Revolutionaries were here now, they’d start another revolution.

    This commenter knows nothing about me. It’s just odd that he assumes that people must be losers if they take a moral stance in defense of fairness and justice, empathy and compassion, free markets and democracy. In that case, the list of Social Darwinian failures includes a long list of famous people: Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Henry David Thoreau, Abraham Lincoln, Helen Keller, Mahatma Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King jr, etc; and I could include many more that are less familiar to Americans.

    As for me, I’m just a fairly average working class American. I have a job, pay my bills, and live my life. I’m not a member of the liberal class, not among the intellectual elite, not a social justice warrior, or anything similar. So why am I being dismissed? Is everyone who isn’t a plutocrat a failure of Social Darwinian? I guess you are one of the elite winners or else you’re a loser, with no middle ground. Does that mean we should only allow the Trumps and Bezos of the world to impregnate women in the hope of creating a Social Darwinian super race? I’m not quite following the logic here.

    That comment ends with a question:

    “Why don’t next you refuse to shop at supermarkets because of human rights abuses in the supply chain?”

    As I said, voting with one’s dollar is rather meaningless in an oligopoly. It’s looking to choose among a shelf full of superficially diverse products, almost all of which are made by maybe two or three transnational mega-corporations. And it’s consuming media from numerous sources that are owned by a handful of companies (even many local newspapers and small websites are owned and operated by major monied interests).

    That said, the point is that this is a personal decision about how to live my personal life. I’m not expecting to take down Amazon by taking my business elsewhere. As for my other buying habits, I rarely shop at non-local stores. One of the main grocery stores I shop at is a family-owned corner store. It’s the same family I rent from, their own home being a few blocks from mine. That family has been residents and business owners in the local community since the 19th century, consisting of at least several generations. The other grocery store I shop at is larger but also a local business. I once worked for them and they aren’t abusive, for damn sure not Social Darwinian.

    I do what I can. I’m not the leader of a revolution. I’m just someone who wants to be a good person and who tries my best to have positive contribution to the world around me, not to say I always succeed in this, but I would like to try to do better. It’s not a heroic act. These are small decisions in a big bad world. I understand.

    On to the second comment:

    “You realize 90%+ of the world’s societies would be even harder for you to cope with than America?”

    And 90%+ of the world’s societies are dealing with the continuing legacies of Western colonialism, CIA anti-democratic covert operations, proxy wars of the Cold War and War on Terror, military imperialism, Western-funded and trained terrorist groups, Western-supported oppressive regimes, neocon Manifest Destiny, neoliberal economic exploitation, inverted totalitarian corporatism, global plutocracy and oligarchy, etc. I know all about it. Apparently, I know more about it than do these commenters. If they weren’t so misinformed and disinformed, they’d understand my criticisms.

    “Most of them would have no tolerance for fragile eccentrics, and the few liberal countries which might show you more acceptance would exhibit precisely the liberal class values for which you have such a bitter envious anger complex.”

    Fragile eccentrics? What is that supposed to mean? When I look at public polling, my views are mostly in line with that of the majority of Americans. For example, most Americans don’t trust large corproations any more than they trust big government. Most Americans support stronger regulations and taxation on the wealthiest. Most Americans want a society that is fair and just. Anyone who thinks otherwise is mentally and morally aberrant.

    “I think you’re imagining the grass in greener anywhere else in spacetime because it’s easier than admitting you’d be too sensitive to handle real life anywhere.”

    I’m perfectly aware that there is shittiness all over the world. But we have to fight injustice and oppression where we find it based on where we live and where we can have our greatest impact. It’s by not supporting evil within my sphere of influence that I can lessen evil in the greater world. Amazon isn’t just an American business for it has global reach. It’s model of economic cannibalism might harm hundreds of millions of people around the world.

    “Buying books from Amazon is a joke compared to the moral compromises almost everyone else has to make to survive.”

    I’m not against survival. But your comment admits to the problem. A moral compromise represents a moral failure. If everyone throughout history always morally compromised, we’d still be living in a primitive society. It has been the continuous fight for freedom and justice that has helped the world progress. If you were at the beginning of the American Revolution, would you have stood before the outraged colonists preaching to them that their decision to not buy tea from the British East India Company was a joke and that they should just morally compromise in hope of merely surviving?

    “You’re like an invalid ex-friend I had once, who couldn’t tolerate sugar, alcohol, coffee, soda, tea, incense, phone calls, or television noise. Her moral standards were so picky she couldn’t find a Unitarian church nice enough for her. She had some reason she couldn’t do anything. Eventually she lost her housing.”

    In what way am I like an invalid? Was that your attempt at a clever insult? If your ex-friend really was an invalid, your attitude demonstrates that you are a heartless sociopath with a crippled soul. A moral invalid such as yourself would probably excel at Amazon, as you successfully attacked and eliminated your competition.

    My moral standards aren’t all that picky. I don’t like evil. But beyond that, I keep my options open. I’m not looking for perfection. I’m just not a fan of lesser evil voting or lesser evil buying that inevitably leads to greater evil. But if you like evil, then you should stand by your principles of evil. Each to their own.

    • Price gouging is small in the big picture. But indicates larger patterns. It’s similar to why working class revolutionaries like Paine didn’t just fight the British Empire but also fought American profiteers. This is a class war that has been continuous for centuries.

      I can’t see how this can end well, if we continue on this same path. The number of smaller businesses decrease as the large corporations grow larger. It’s like how the big banks had to be bailed out because they were too big to fail. But the smaller community banks were small enough to fail and so weren’t bailed out. As failed banks were swallowed up, this caused the big banks to grow even bigger. If the problem was the banks were too big, then their growing larger means the problem got worse.

      Eventually, there will be only a few mega-corporations and mega-banks remaining in a global oligopoly. That would be more power held by those plutocrats than has ever been amassed by any authoritarian regime in history. These powerful ruling elite (yes, they are ruling elites who fund and dominate the political system) don’t care about democracy, free markets, etc. It’s all about wealth and power.

      They think they are untouchable. Bezos has his sights on controlling as much of the economy around the world as possible. If we let him, he’d gladly become the main market platform through which nearly every business had to operate.

      Many corporations are already more wealthy and powerful than many small countries. What is to stop some plutocrat or alliance of plutocrats from becoming more powerful than the US government? What happens when even the entire military-industrial complex has been privatized and we suddenly find that a corporation has the military power to take over countries?

      I’m talking about the logical extension of how our economic and political system has been developing over the past century. Who would want to live in that world? And if we don’t want to live in that world, why are we helping to create it by our complicity, cynicism, and apathy?

    • I can be easily swayed by a pessimistic outlook. There is no doubt that the global order and biosphere has been pushed about as far as it can go.

      I’m constantly amazed that our ruling elites can be so immensely stupid as to be psychotically disconnected from reality and so self-destructive as to be suicidal. It’s like their attitude is that, if they can’t have it all, then no one can have it. It’s like parents who kill their entire families because they can’t or don’t want to imagine their families living without them.

      This part from the article stood out to me:

      “Elite wealth monopolies mean that they are buffered from the most “detrimental effects of the environmental collapse until much later than the Commoners”, allowing them to “continue ‘business as usual’ despite the impending catastrophe.” The same mechanism, they argue, could explain how “historical collapses were allowed to occur by elites who appear to be oblivious to the catastrophic trajectory (most clearly apparent in the Roman and Mayan cases).””

  4. THE TRUE COST OF AMAZON REVEALED

    A September 2016 report from economic analysis firm Civic Economics says that Amazon online sales — in 2015 alone — accounted for a loss of more than $1.2 billion of revenue to state and local governments. The report also estimates that in just one year Amazon sales displaced the equivalent of 39,000 retail storefronts and 220,000 retail jobs.

    That lost revenue would have funded public works, public safety, and public education.

    Amazon and Empty Storefronts: The Fiscal and Land Use Impact of Online Retail” was commissioned by the American Booksellers Association. The report concludes that despite the convenience Amazon provides, Americans may not yet “comprehend the nature of the trade-offs to come.”

    ADDITIONAL READING
    How Amazon’s Tightening Grip on the Economy is Stifling Competition, Eroding Jobs and Threatening Communities
    View earlier 2016 Civic Economics Report

    • He does own Washington Post. And as I recall, that was the publication that ran almost hourly hit pieces against Sanders before a debate he had with Clinton. Bezos also had a deal with CIA to do some tech work that coincided with him buying the Washington Post. Unsurprisingly, the ‘journalists’ working for him have used anonymous CIA informants in articles. It implies that Bezos CIA deal involved more than just tech work, as the CIA’s payment more than paid for his purchase of the Washington Post. How convenient!

    • I’ve been writing and reading reviews on Amazon for at least a decade. I’ve seen many reviews where it was obvious that the reviewer didn’t read the book. I’ve seen some review sections filled with such fake reviews. But until this incident, I’ve never seen them remove so many reviews. They don’t defend other authors against negative reviews in the way they’ve done with Hillary Clinton. Amazon’s official explanation rings hollow.

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