Make Your Choice… Or Not.

Dave Killion — October 16, 2010

As I entered my local grocery today for some milk and bread, the grocer pointed to ten shopping carts, all filled to overflowing, and asked me which one I wanted.  I wasn’t really looking for a cart of groceries, but he told me that I might as well pick, because everyone in Victoria was required to pay for one of these carts, and anyone who didn’t pay would be punished in accordance to how hard they resist.

I didn’t like the sound of that, so I took a look at the different carts.  I didn’t really have the time to root through all of them, so I couldn’t tell most of what they contained, but I saw one had a bunch of prime rib, lobster, and other high-end items.  I really didn’t want to spend my money on that, so I looked at the next cart, which appeared to be mostly fresh produce, which I like but couldn’t eat before it spoiled.  The other carts all had problems, too, what with either too much processed food, or not enough dairy, or diapers and other stuff I didn’t need.

I was running out of time, so I picked the cart that looked the most acceptable, even though it still didn’t look too good.  I told the grocer which cart I was going to take, and I saw him write down my choice as I went to get my cart and take it to the register.  Before I could wheel my buggy away, the grocer told me I had made a mistake.  Although I would have to pay for one of those carts, I didn’t necessarily get the one I preferred.  It turns out that every shopper who came in that day would get to select a cart, and the cart that was most frequently selected would be the one that all the store’s customers would get, even those who hadn’t even come in to choose.  It also turns out that each cart had a different price, but no one could know for sure what it was until after the carts had all been delivered.  The items would be delivered in the whatever manner the grocer thought was best, and it was a certainty that the cart would be altered, added to, and subtracted from without much say on my part.

I didn’t like the sound of this, and I was telling the grocer so, when some other folks who were waiting said that I had chosen to come to this particular grocery store of my own free will, and so I had given my tacit consent to the process.  They also assured me that this was the best way to decide what groceries were optimal for all of society, and if I didn’t like it, I should just go to a different grocery store.  But apparently all the groceries in Canada work the same way, so what’s the use in that?

Of course, none of the above happened.  In fact, my grocer is relentlessly pursuing ways to make me happier with his store than I’ve ever been.  But in just under five weeks, the City of Victoria is having a by-election, and citizens are invited to choose a replacement for outgoing Councillor Sonya Chandler.  There are currently eleven candidates, and if you live in Victoria, you are going to get one of them, and you are going to pay for it.  No matter what’s in the cart.

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