Friday, November 24, 2017

Resisting the Siren Song on Black Friday

On this day after Thanksgiving, with our stomachs still full of yesterday’s feasts, we will be pounded by the siren song of unabashed consumerism. This should be distinguished from a consumption of what we need to survive or even that which will make us happy. Consumption is necessary for survival, consumerism is not. Indeed, this is a particularly vicious consumerism that will draw our very identities into question only to supply a manufactured – and inevitably costly – replacement.

Buying Into Myths of Inadequate Lives

We will be told that our lives cannot be happy unless we have the newest bells and whistles of technologies with ever shorter shelf lives. This guarantees an ongoing downward spiral of consumption of goods manufactured from rare metals and toxic plastics at great cost to the Earth. 

We will be told that people will not love us unless we demonstrate our love with the consumer goods we have been assured will win their hearts and insure their ongoing affection toward us. We will be told our social gatherings will be unbearably dull without sugar and fat laden food and beverages we will purchase for people who will arrive wearing the latest mass-produced “fashions” and gaudy jewels pitched through the smarmiest of names and sentimental ads. 

They will come wreaking of bottled scents bearing exotic names we are told will transport us from our pedestrian lives. And they will drive the latest earth-destroying vehicles we are told will convey our status and reflect our fondest childhood wishes to our gatherings .

Ironically, many of us will purchase all these commodities to commemorate the birth of a Christ-child born into poverty whose most memorable teaching began “Blessed are the poor…”  

Many of us will gladly respond to the siren song on this Black Friday. Indeed, before the last food from our Thanksgiving feast was stored in freezer bags and dishes were washed and put away last night, the local consumerist cheerleading masquerading as news was already reporting that people were beating down the doors of big box stores. Live coverage showed shoppers frantically sprinting down store aisles to join the feeding frenzies around bins of goods temporarily marked down to prices slightly above the cost of production plus a modest profit.

You see, they’ve figured out the game. The know those marked down goods in inevitably limited supplies won’t last. Indeed, they are merely the lure ultimately designed to insure bait and switch sales to higher priced goods once the mark downs run out and well trained consumers feel they cannot leave the stores empty-handed.

And thus the Oracle of the gods of consumerism was very clear last night: You, too, should join the throngs – Do it NOW!

Our senses of inadequacy and vulnerability have been carefully cultured by a skillful consumer advertising industry and a hypercompetitive society which proclaims to be meritocratic but in fact is largely stacked against the vast majority in favor of the privileged few. Those senses of inadequacy will be pimped this day with a vengeance resulting in a mindless orgy of acquisitiveness.

But it is a drivenness doomed to disappointment. The truth is that there will never be enough material goods in this world, no matter how new, improved or remarkable, to fill the holes in our souls, those places where gratitude for lives of plenty, relationships with the Other(s) and awareness of the good creation we share should rightly reside.

Giving Something of Value

So, why not part company with the herd and do something countercultural this day? Why not celebrate Buy Nothing Day instead?

Why not spend the day mindfully considering the things you might actually need rather than be pimped into confusing needs with wants artificially cultivated by consumerist advertising? Why not consider giving things that actually mean something this year – your time and your undivided attentiveness?  Why not put the damned cellphone away (yes, your addiction really can wait) and be fully present with the Other(s)? Why not give yourself the gift of downtime, time spent alone to sort your thoughts and feelings, time spent outside, becoming newly aware of the natural world that you pass through each day unnoticed which waits patiently to impress you with her wonders?

If you must give material goods to show your affection (and a truly thoughtful gift – as opposed to guilt-driven consumerist purchases – is often appreciated), why not give something you’ve made, grown, created? How much more valuable is a gift that actually embodies your life capital as opposed to the artificial currency in your pocket?

And if you feel you simply cannot spare the time and energy to do that (a real warning sign about both your time management skills and the quality of your life), consider that there are 363 other days a year (minus Black Friday and Christmas Day) to carefully and thoughtfully consider what you wish to buy. 

Corporations may be worried about their bottom line on Black Friday, hoping to meet the insatiable demands of stockholders for ever greater dividends even among profitable companies. But the stock clerks, checkout agents, waiters and management of these establishments work year-round - many of them working without ongoing guarantees of full-time hours and the salaries and benefits that go with them. All of them benefit from your business year-round.  Take the time, money and life energies that you’d spend in an orgy of ruthless hypercompetitiveness on Black Friday and spread it out across the year.

On this day after Thanksgiving, I wish you well. I am grateful for your reading my thoughts and for those of you who will actually consider them. And I close with thoughts from a Buddhist tradition which has long recognized the dangers of materialism and attachment:

May all beings everywhere be happy and free,
and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life
contribute in some way
to that happiness and to that freedom for all.

 - Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu Sanskrit prayer of blessing for the world 

Harry Scott Coverston
Orlando, Florida

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things worth considering do not come in sound bites.

For what does G-d require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your G-d? (Micah 6:8, Hebrew Scriptures)

 © Harry Coverston 2017


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