Miller is a local author, professor at San Diego City College and vice president for the American Federation of Teachers, Local 1931. He lives in Golden Hill.
With inflation and the economic insecurity that accompanies it high, millions of American workers are experiencing anxiety as we head into the holiday season. Every single day one turns on the TV or surveys other media, it is impossible not to be bombarded with a barrage of advertising urging us all to shop ‘til we drop.
This ritual has come to define us as much or more as Thanksgiving, Christmas or any other holiday. Black Friday, with its frequently violent mobs of frenzied consumers trampling each other for deals on the latest “must have” items, is a bit of grim Americana that serves to underscore what we like to think of as the excesses of our mindless consumerism. But sadly, these transgressions are simply lightning flashes that illuminate a greater darkness: We are consuming ourselves to death.
In a world where millions go to bed hungry, many of them children, North American overconsumption is a grotesque spectacle. This ongoing orgy of materialism is killing the planet, plain and simple. We need to stop.
As if the catastrophic problems that follow from the severe economic inequality and environmental crises we are facing were not enough, the religion of consumption has turned our lives into living deaths. The magic system of advertising promises to deliver the tangible in the intangible: It whispers to us that love, happiness, pleasure, respect and even identity itself can be purchased on the market.
Our lives are dominated by an industry whose sole purpose is to create false desires, to proliferate artificial wants.
We know the promise of consumerism is not true, yet we fall for it again and again, wandering miserably or, worse yet, in an affectless fashion through the mall or on Amazon in search of the totems that will deliver us from our lives of quiet desperation. We surrender to a system of social relations ruled by the commodities.
Hence, the real tragedy of Black Friday is not the handful of violently deranged bargain seekers who make the news but the hordes of unsung zombies who tramp through the parking lots or zip through virtual space in search of salvation.
Nobody has to make us do this because we are beyond alienation. To be alienated, one must feel a separation from the world, but for many of us today the world as constructed by market forces has colonized our inner space so thoroughly that we confuse it with nature.
To address this, folks who founded Adbusters and other proponents of Buy Nothing Day, the international protest against overconsumption, encourage us all to enjoy what they describe as “a day where you challenge yourself, your family and friends to switch off from shopping and tune into life. The rules are simple — for 24 hours you will detox from shopping and anyone can take part provided they spend a day without spending!”
Buy Nothing Day’s backers say, “Everything we buy has an impact on the environment. Buy Nothing Day highlights the environmental and ethical consequences of consumerism.”
That’s why I found it refreshing to see that the monks at Deer Park Monastery in Escondido were planning on replacing Black Friday with “Make Brown Friday” in reference to the color of their robes, which are a symbol of moderation and simplicity.
As they put it on their website, “On Black Friday, the day after the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, but also promoted in other countries, many people flock to stores for holiday sales, sometimes pushing and shoving one another to buy the latest electronic gadget or toy. This rush to spend money is often depicted as a sign of a healthy economy and as an example of holiday spirit. But focusing so much energy and attention on consuming can also water seeds of craving, anger and anxiety, leaving shoppers feeling empty despite having a carload of gifts to put under the tree.”
In doing this, the monks with their Buddhist lesson about the dangers of “unmindful consumption” are in line with Henry David Thoreau who, in “Walden,” implored us to “simplify” to “suck the marrow out of life.” So, when the urge to surrender to the insane demands of consumer culture strike, perhaps we should listen to the monks, stop, and just be.
It won’t cost you a thing.