Saturday, November 26, 2011

Rampant Consumerism Isn't the Answer

Black Friday is now officially over. The expanded celebration of materialist consumption has passed. The new expanded version included not just the 5 am routine but all night sales up to and including Thanksgiving Day.

Frenzied and often near riot conditions are now as commonplace at these sales as they are at team sporting events but do police step in to quell the unbridled fervor of the retail obsessed? No they do not. So while dissent and protest are met with both excessive force by police and condemnation by the media. Fanaticism in sports and shopping is not only welcomed but both cultivated and encouraged. Sports and shopping are "acceptable" ways to channel both energy and frustration providing another true "opiate of the masses."

And what about the big box store workers in this traditional melee? They are expected to work all night instead of having a relaxing holiday with friends and family. In this economy it is not prudent to go against the wishes of management to enjoy a personal celebration. Essentially this puts employees in a coercive situation where they either learn to tolerated working extended hour through the night or wind up with an endless amount of time with no work at all.

But in this dwindling economy retail therapy and wins for the home team just aren't able to fill the same void they used to. Stuff is no longer the powerful tranquilizer that it used to be. There have always been movements that call upon people to live more simply, to consume less and schmooze more. Those of us who have had the privilege to travel in the third world know that poorer people, those without purchasing power are by necessity forced to rearrange their priorities. That altered frame of mind happened here after  9/11. It was an awakening to the fact that many of the things we value most, yet take for granted, are not things at all. They are our friends and families, our communities, our creative and artistic expression, our taking on an active role in building a more equal and just society.

The most intense annual celebration of unrestrained consumerism is coming up in December. But purchasing everything in sight has nothing to do with commemorating the birth of a nice, Jewish boy who was born into poverty. Not only can our society no longer afford our culture of rampant materialism, it hasn't provided us anything more substantial than a transitory desire for objects and a big pile of ecologically devastating trash when they break or become obsolete.

When people who don't have shelter, we must provide it for them. The same applies to food and tending to the medical needs of all. Spending money on a lot of superfluous items can be a temporary high but isn't genuinely fulfilling. Like any other drug, it should be done sparingly and with discretion.