Above Photo: Powhusku from Laramie, WY, USA
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Struggling to resist the lure of consumerism this holiday weekend? Be reminded of all the things of value you can’t get with cash or credit
While the US holiday of Thanksgiving indisputably stems from a celebration of the massacre of hundreds of Pequot Indian men, women and children, the origins of ‘Black Friday’ are much less clear. What is agreed is that retailers sought to take advantage of the Thursday holiday and draw people into shops for what, in a consumerist culture, is considered a civic duty: shopping.
After weeks of advertising beforehand, on the Friday following the food, family and football, hundreds of thousands of people are expected to descend on the shops, often risking life and limb for a bargain. In a globalised world, this once uniquely American phenomenon has now been exported. Today, from Russia to Ireland and Pakistan, we’re told that the answer to any problem is to buy stuff and what better day to do so than on Black Friday?
You may agree that you can’t consume your way to happiness but it’s worth acknowledging that the lure of Black Friday and Cyber Monday (created to allow online retailers to get in on the action) is hard to resist. So to help you, here is a list of things money can’t buy. Read it every time you feel the impulse to “add to basket”.
A sense of wonder: From trees to a smile, and even a gush of wind, so much around us can provide us with the feeling of the numinous; that we are in deep communion with life around us. You won’t find it racing round a shop, clutching on to an outfit that’s not in your size but was the only one left on a sad hanger.
Harmony with nature: Our policymakers still seem to think that climate change is “just an engineering problem” and that the only response needed is technological. But investment in geoengineering is no substitute for a change in our attitude towards the natural environment, from one of dominance to one of symbiosis. Our planet needs us as much as we need it, and from what we can tell, Mother Nature is no respecter of shopping malls.
Community: In the age of the web, our communities can be physical or virtual but they are no less important for helping us feeling rooted and connected. It takes a sense of your own worth to then be able to relate to other human beings who can hold you in community, with full knowledge and acceptance of all your light and all your shadow. That’s a work of trust and vulnerability, neither of which can be found in the ‘reduced to clear’ aisle.
Wisdom: If wisdom is knowing what to do and when to do it, it seems an even more precious commodity than the coltan in our smart phones. And if acquiring it requires that you first amass knowledge and understanding and the boldness to act, that’s clearly the work of a lifetime. You will be too busy doing the above to suffer from FOMO.
Activism: If the adage was once ‘sex sells’, now it seems that activism does too, as countless brands have tried to align themselves with modern movements such as BlackLivesMatter and the Women’s March. But try as they might, corporations are learning the hard way that they can’t buy their way to intersectional politics. Just ask Pepsi who took inspiration from protests to try and sell their product. This gif captures well what people made of that.
Fulfilment and contentment: Do you remember what it feels like, the day you sat still and thought of your life: “I am where I should be, doing what I should be doing”? Fulfilment and contentment are stubbornly difficult to acquire with an AmEx card, yet there are few feelings as satisfying as knowing you are nurturing the long-term sense of living a life of purpose, grace, kindness, love.
An end to poverty: Well, in some ways it can.Tax justice, for example, would close the loopholes and end the havens that allow corporations and the very rich to not pay their fair share. So what we’re saying is that an end to poverty will only be possible if we acknowledge first that it doesn’t just happen, or is the result of laziness or bad luck. Poverty is created. Money can’t buy that truth, neither can it hide it.
Freedom: Speaking about trust in the capitalist system, Yuval Noah Harari lamented how freedom had come to be seen as achievable only through economic growth. The writer and historian said: “You want equality, freedom, democracy, peace … it’s through economic growth. The answer to all the problems of humankind is, on the collective level, economic growth and on the personal level, it’s buying more stuff. Still the vast majority of the population, certainly in Europe and most of the world, believe in these stories, and if ever they stop believing in those stories, then the capitalist system will collapse.”
Avoiding the Black Friday crowds doesn’t have to be a sad affair. It’s an opportunity to practice your independence from the addictions of modernity; to nurture the feeling of sovereignty you get when you step back from mainstream culture and know that it has no hold on you. Relish it!