The four-day weekend that centered around “Black Friday” this year grossed nearly $52.4 billion in sales, as a herd of 226 million consumers spent their way toward a “Happy Holiday.” Robberies, assaults, shootings and a woman who pepper sprayed a group of shoppers at a Walmart in California seemed to be the norm across the country.
The crimes of the weekend were not the most horrifying part of this orgy of consumerism, but rather the images of shoppers camping out in front of malls and stores across the nation while Thanksgiving dinner was occurring at their homes.
I understand times are hard right now for many people, and the sales that stores were offering during the weekend after Thanksgiving allowed many shoppers to get gifts for others they normally would not be able to afford.
Therefore, it is difficult to blame the millions of people who spent Thanksgiving either shopping or waiting for stores to open.
In another sense, it is easy to blame the corporate masters who, like so many puppeteers, pull the strings of American consumers to bring them away from their homes and into stores.
But this blame is not applicable. In a purely pragmatic sense, who can blame the corporations and business owners who saw a sound financial opportunity to attract customers and get free media publicity in the process? If I was in their situation, I would do the same, and I think most other people would too.
We can laugh at the shoppers, feel disgusted by the crimes from that day, or point judgmental fingers at our economic superstructure for letting their stores open on Thanksgiving. If we all look into ourselves, I feel as though we would all admit that getting no presents on Christmas would be a disappointment.
The simplest answer that explains all variables is the best one, according to a philosophy principle called “Occam’s Razor.” While this principle is generally accurate, it can sometimes blind us from the complexity of an issue.
What is driving the current trend of materialist-consumerism in the modern world is not some apparatus of evil business owners trying to take over the world, or a fall in family values, or a trend of existential angst in the disenchantment of the world — it is the manner in which our economic system has forged the way we think of the world.
The capitalist mode of production is built on technological progression and economic wealth stemming from competition in an open marketplace. Essentially, the strength, wealth and success of a business, product or idea equals the amount of capital it is capable of acquiring.
Although the system has benefited our race with evolution toward modernity, American consumers forget that the Xbox we enjoy playing, the Chanel purse we want, or the iPhone we need are not made at the store. The vast majority of times, these products are made by people who experience more horror and misery in a day than most of us could fathom in a lifetime.
Children working in Apple’s or Nike’s sweatshops in China, or American parents who cannot spend Christmas with their kids because they need to work so they can have food to live another day, are examples of people who remain seductively hidden beneath the veneer that we call the “Season of Good Cheer.”
With the current economic downturn, perhaps all of us should take this time to reflect on the past century or so of the strengthened inculcation we have all experienced to buy more and spend more on “stuff.” Our fetish over “stuff” and wanting to have more than others has stripped our lives of everything that was once enduring and enchanting about human existence — family, love, art, nature and more.
While an Xbox will easily break and that special purse will go out of style soon, the power of a majestic landscape to move us or the happiness of being in the presence of a loved one will always endure.