From Head Shops To Whole Foods: The Rise And Fall Of Activist Entrepreneurs, by Joshua Clark Davis
While it is unlikely that I would have liked this book anyway, given the author’s strident bias and defective moral and political worldviews, I was struck by just how antithetical the approach of the author and myself are with regards to just about everything that is in this book. Just about everything this author finds praiseworthy, I find to be reprehensible and abominable, and just about everything this author is unhappy or irritated or negative about, I find to be praiseworthy. This is true both in large matters, such as our differing thoughts about leftist activism in general, as well as issues of the identity politics of the contemporary left, to small matters such as the author’s view towards co-option and gatekeeping, where the author views appropriation as a bad thing and I view it as a very good thing that demonstrates what is worthwhile about a given culture. There is virtually no area in which the author and I are in agreement. If the author said it was day, there would be a strong change that it would in fact be night, and what the author considers evil is quite generally a good thing. The result is that this book is basically worthless unless one is a fellow traveler to the author and others of his ilk. For everyone else, this book will be entirely worthless except to see how it is that leftists see their failed attempts at social entrepreneurship throughout the last few decades.
This book is about 250 pages long and seeks to discuss the parallel rise and fall of various leftist related entrepreneurs throughout the last few decades. The book begins with acknowledgements and a list of abbreviations as well as an introduction. After that the author discusses the origins and ideologies of activist businesses, which the author limits to a discussion of those whose viewpoints are left of center, ranging from immoral and anarchical leftists to Marxists and related practitioners or wicked and corrupt identity politics (1). After that the author looks at African American Bookstores and the goal of liberation through literacy, praising politically strident bookstores while condemning those which simply sought to make money through bookselling (2). This is followed by a look at the head shops and the battle over marijuana sales (3), a chapter which perhaps needs to be updated in the face of contemporary trends towards dispensaries. After that comes a discussion of the failed attempts at the feminist economic revolution, much of which failed because of the exploitation of women by feminist business owners (4). This is followed by a discussion of natural food stores and the perils of growth to the supposed ideological purity of such efforts (5). Finally, the book ends with a discussion of activist businesses in the twenty-first century as well as what the author wrongly views as the evils of appropriation (6), after which there is a conclusion, notes, and an index.
One of the many problematic aspects of this book is the way that the author views the political views of the executives of Whole Foods. A great deal of what is wrong with this book can be understood by the author’s highly hostile attitude towards libertarianism when compared with his praising of anarchical leftist thinking. One need only think of the different sides of the Spanish Civil War to realize that this author’s political viewpoint is conditioned by a high degree of favor for those who fought on the losing side of that conflict, as opposed to those who find themselves more closely aligned with the Right. The end result of this book is a tendency to praise the moral chaos of the 60’s and much of the 70s and to complain about the more orderly periods of the 80’s and 90’s. When black romance writers find themselves relatively popular despite their lack of political activism, the author frets about the success of such writers among mainstream audiences and how it failed to stop the decline of more strident and politically biased independent bookstores which failed to attain profitability because of the incompetence of their owners. Quite frankly, the fall of activist entrepreneurs is not a bad thing at all. The decline and fall of leftist activism is a benefit to society as a whole and its well-being. Might all aspects of the left fail so completely as the entrepreneurs discussed here.