While I am not about to let our nation’s retailers entirely off the hook for the commercialized shambles that has replaced the Christmas season, I am not about to pile all the blame at their doorsteps either. There is another guilty party in this theft of holiday joy; another accomplice to this grand spectacle of delusional mass consumption. It is, for lack of a better term, us.
What is the problem, then? Why are we, as a society, mired in this dysfunctional relationship with things? From what deep neurosis do we suffer that has conspicuous, compulsive consumption as one of its predominant symptoms? And when did the big-screen TV take over? How did they become the litmus test of American status? And why do so many people have to buy new ones every year when the Christmas shopping season begins? It all seems entwined somehow, the big-screens and Black Friday and CyberWeek, this orgy of retail abandon, which itself is starting to take on religious and cultural overtones.
Here is a nation with what in a person would be diagnosed as a deep and serious neurosis, compulsively trying to spend its way to even greater prosperity and happiness, while at the same time prattling on about “family values” and “tradition” and “our Judeo-Christian heritage.” There is either a serious disconnect here or I am missing something terribly obvious. I daresay this country’s philosophy owes at least as much to Adam Smith and Max Weber as it does to Moses or Jesus. Perhaps this is nothing more than a modern display of Calvin’s idea of prosperity as a sign of God’s favor. Perhaps this society is self-medicating, trying to ignore problems that seem to be intractable. Ironically, though, these actions only serve to make the problem worse. Energy consumption, resource depletion and conflict, economic and trade issues, national and regional security concerns, and oh-that-pesky-climate change are all exacerbated by buying and using shiny new electronic gizmos.
What, then? Is there another way, another moral compass to follow besides competition and capitalism? We know there is; whether we choose to follow it is another question. I could post a litany of quotes from Lao-Tzu to Lucretius to Leopold, all with the same basic message:
“Take a little, leave a little.”
Who wants to go first? That’s the real question.