I don't know enough about both sides of the issues to join in on discussing whether "big box" retailers and chain stores are good or bad for America. I have a feeling it isn't as simple as good or bad. More likely they serve a real purpose, which is why they have flourished, and in doing so,they've caused some damage as well. I don't think "small and local" is inherently better than "big and national." But, as I said, I don't really know enough to make a judgement.
But one point did come up in a recent discussion that I think it worth pursuing. How in the world did we become such a consumer based culture to begin with? Perhaps the most important question to ask are not whether "big box" is bad, but whether our society's mindset of continual accumulation of stuff is the real problem. I'm not talking about buying food or essential clothing. I'm talking about all the other stuff we buy, almost daily. I've started being aware in my own life how much "stuff" enters the house in a week's time. Clothes, bedspread, sheets, shoes, books, magazines, deodorant, video games, DVD's, CD's, stuffed animal, pens, ice cream, cookies, milkshake, fast food, nail clippers, coffee, 1000 paper plates, storage containers, etc. The list goes on.
Of course, for most of the list I can argue we "need" the item. I don't want to go without deodorant (or let my sons, for that matter), and I'm sure coffee is essential to my mental health. But when did we get to the place that we simply expected all these things in our lives?
Our national pastime isn't baseball or Nascar, it's shopping. WalMart didn't happen in a vacuum. It filled a "need." Whether as a social outing in the mall, or at the computer, we spend a lot of time spending money. Why is that, and how did it happen?