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Tis the season to go shopping.
Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
November 20, 2003
"The cultivation and expansion of needs is the antithesis of wisdom. It is also the antithesis of freedom and peace." — E.F. Schumacher
The season of gluttony is upon us. The time of year when North Americans kick consumption into high gear in the name of "god" and "country," we revel in ritualized over consumption as a way of coming together to give thanks for whatever "we" have to be thankful for. Somehow a cultural tradition of counting blessings has morphed into the capitalist kick off for an annual feeding frenzy.
As soon as we are done dancing with the dead, and Halloween costumes and customs are tucked away, the mood changes with the weather. This is the time when toy and diamond commercials begin to dominate the airwaves, Santa begins to push his considerable weight around, and pilgrims start haunting supermarkets offering the latest in Butterball technology
A national holiday, Thanksgiving comes complete with pointless parades and religious ceremony. Hands joined around the sacrificial turkey, and prayers of future favor, are just two elements of this ritual gathering of families and feasting. Envisioned as sentimental sediment that would hold the nation together in times of crisis and division. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt each took personal interest in institutionalizing the original Hallmark holiday.
Personally, I have a lot to be thankful for. First and foremost I am thankful I am not a turkey, free range or otherwise. Funny thing is, I'm thankful everyday that I'm not a turkey. And I certainly don't need a government-sanctioned event to do so. In fact, none of my rituals require anything other than the freedom to engage them at times of my choosing. For example, every time I find organic vegetables at the market I am thankful for bounty received. It's that easy.
Second on my list is how thankful I am to have the luxury of confronting the manic consumption that comes with reckless abundance. How many people can say that? When an individual is worried about where his or her next meal is coming from, consuming too much is hardly at issue. Every time I see a homeless man or woman begging for change I am thankful for the options available to me. Sadly as a culture we don't appreciate what we have until we no longer have it. The pursuit of excess will be the downfall of western civilization, as the needs of steady state consumer society, run up against the biological reality of diminishing returns.
I wonder how many people living on the street are there due to their inability to keep up with consumer debt?
Over consumption should no longer be glamorized with images of Rockwellian sentimentality and false altruism. It's not a mistake that Thanksgiving begins the official Christmas season. Macy's Department Store made sure of it when they hosted the first Christmas Day Parade on Thanksgiving 1924. A month of consumer indulgence is signaled with the appearance of Santa at the end of the parade.
Needing people to enroll in the ritualized consumption, the national media has named the day after thanksgiving "The Busiest Shopping Day of the Year." And like Pavlovian sheep, people dutifully respond with arms extended and credit cards gladly offered. Meanwhile our nation goes deeper in debt, failing to understand the cost of borrowing from the future. Under such circumstances, the term "Shop till you drop" takes on sinister connotations.
I, like millions of others, refuse to comply with the corporate brainwashing, and on November 28th, will actively participate in International Buy Nothing Day instead. Recognizing over consumption creates long-term ecological problems not accounted for in economic forecasts, culture jammers are spreading a message of restraint in the face of reckless abandon. And not a moment too soon.
Buy Nothing Day is a time for personal reflection and moving beyond the ritual of seasonal consumption cycles based entirely in the false promise of prosperity. Instead of spending the day lost in a herd of crazed consumers doing the retail migration thing, this is the day to consider the environmental impacts of our cultural imperative to consume natural resources at an ever-increasing rate.
I'll be spending November 28, 2003 not spending. In the spirit of giving I invite everyone to experience the joy of saying no if only for a day.
Who knows, it just might catch on.