On Thanksgiving night, I ventured to my local Walmart for the Black Friday deals. You know, the Black Friday deals that started before Friday. I had no intention of buying anything that night, but a few friends and I just wanted to see what the fuss was all about.
The store was a complete madhouse, as I found myself struggling to navigate just a single aisle; and I wasn’t even throwing picture frames to try and claim a cheap coffee maker like the showdown that happened in the store that night.
While I think that waiting outside of a Target for six hours in the cold just to save a few bucks is a bit ridiculous, I applaud those
Black Friday shoppers who spend days meticulously scanning the Internet and newspapers searching for the best deals.
Why? Because these people are the reason American capitalism is the success story that it is. That’s right, I’m talking about the American capitalist system that is currently under attack.
It is under attack by those of the left wing, who think mandating that we purchase health insurance is somehow constitutional, rather than letting individuals make their own decisions.
Most notably, as of right now, capitalism is under attack by the Occupy Wall Street crowd that seems to think capitalism sucks; all while they sleep in their fancy camping tents and spend their days Tweeting on their iPads.
My thinking is, if you don’t like capitalism, then don’t go out and buy presents for your family and friends this Christmas season. Think about it. I don’t agree with the Democratic Party platform, so I don’t vote for Democratic candidates. I don’t like the University of Virginia, so I didn’t apply to that school.
Nobody forced me to do any of those things. Additionally, nobody is forcing anybody to buy goods in this economic system that we have. Quite frankly, it’s kind of hypocritical to attack capitalism but then go shopping for the latest trends or gadgets.
Capitalism is the reason we have so many goods and services available to us in America, and that is no more apparent than during the holiday shopping season. People don’t like that corporations are profit-driven because they somehow exploit people.
But what else, besides the ability to make money, drives innovation? Did Steve Jobs invent the iPod because he feared college students were too bored riding the bus to campus each day without it? Does Balfour sell class rings on our campus so that the stakeholders can feel all warm inside when Virginia Tech students get their rings at Ring Dance?
Of course not. They do these things because they want to make a profit. But it is because of that profit seeking that we now have iPods and our proud ring tradition. Corporations are not inherently evil. However, if you think they are, you can certainly choose not to shop at the likes of Walmart, Target or Best Buy.
Capitalism isn’t an unfair system either. What’s unfair is the fact that we have thieves who drive up the cost of goods, and that we have protesters in Zucotti Park who think their ability to count to 99 means they’re true economists.
If you disagree with capitalism, then nobody is making you participate in our consumerist society during the holidays. I, for one, will be milking the Christmas season for all it’s worth, buying presents for my family and friends. And that will make me a benefactor of … wait for it … consumer capitalism.
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.