If so, why? Because you think it shows your love? Because everybody else does it? Because it’s expected, even required? Because you like to have giant charges on your credit card that you barely pay off before the next cycle of gifting begins? Because you like to wade through stuff as, despite your better judgment, you rise off your duff to sneak another chocolate or cookie or eggnog?
A few years ago, my immediate family (me, sons Colin and Sean, Sean’s wife and kids) decided to wrap all presents in newspaper, rather than buy expensive paper. The next year, we decided to stop giving presents altogether. Maybe next year, we will agree to give presents, but only ones that we make by hand, or recycle, or are made from local materials by local artisans. Something not branded, not from corporate stores, not in the usual torrential consumer flood from resource extraction to landfill.
Imagine, for Christmas: rather than getting/giving presents, being present, right here, right now, in your body and in your heart — feeling the joy as the sun returns, smelling the resonant, memory-evoking odors of pine and pumpkin pie, loving those who are most familiar to you, and most trying — who teach you the most about yourself and how you react in stressful situations.
Imagine taking children out for a special occasion, each one, with you, just you, alone, being present with him or her, fully there, listening to what’s going on in their lives, pacing yourself to their rhythm, enjoying all their marvelous little quirks and demons . .
Imagine sitting, intent and at ease, with THE adult in your life who has given you (gifted you) with the most trouble. For me it was my father. Oh, how I struggled to even show up for Christmas! And when I did show up, how I struggled not to swear in front of him, or make off-color jokes, or insult his beloved church!
I imagine sitting with my Dad now, now during the first Christmas that he is gone from this life. And the funny thing is, I feel that he’s really gone, off on adventures he never allowed himself to even dream of, while embodied. All of us feel this, his awe and joy at being alive in the otherworld; his sense of adventure and discovery, unlocked.
My Dad was huge in my life story. I realize now that I was not huge in his! In fact, barely a footnote.
Here are two posts worth pondering during this pre-Christmas gift-buying mania:
December 18, 2012
By Greg Palast for Truthout.org
[New York, December 18, 2012] Even for New York, this was WEIRD. There were a half dozen Santa Clauses on Second Avenue getting a sermon from a Midwestern preacher who looks like a cross between televangelist Jerry Falwell and a white-haired Elvis.
The Santa Crew and their mini-skirted elves were on their way to get drunk (drunker?) with another thousand Santa impersonators at “SantaCon,” an annual gathering of St. Nicks. But they were willing to let the Reverend Billy attempt to save their souls.
Reverend Billy did not object to their plans for lubrication, but to their original Sin: collaborating with the Devil’s work known as “Christmas Shopping.”
Was this some kind of joke? Yes, and a brilliant one.
Reverend Billy, pastor of the Church of Stop Shopping, is the Stephen Colbert of American hyper-commercialism. For more than a decade, the Reverend has been bringing Americans the Good News that there is life after Wal-Mart.
“Repent and give up your iPod to the Lord! Steve Jobs is not the iSaviour!” The Santas, cracked up as, one by one, they got the joke.
Like Colbert, the Reverend is never seen out of costume nor out of character. In his reversed collar, bouffant hair-do, white pointy shoes and Elmer Gantry suit, he has, in fact, performed 200 for-real baptisms, as many marriages — and been arrested 70 times.
In May of this year, while preaching at the opening of the David Koch Theater in New York, the Reverend was seized by four unknown assailants and hustled into a black, unmarked car. (He soon found out these were Koch’s hired goons working with NYC police. So, It was back to jail until a judge with a sense of humor sentenced him to 20 minutes of preaching in front of the courthouse.)
Apparently, the Kochs did not repent.
Won’t the economy collapse if we don’t buy, buy, buy at Yuletide?
“This economy MUST collapse,” he said. Commercialism “makes us stupid” – and worse. Sitting in the front booth at the window of my favorite diner, his sermon was drawing a little crowd.
“Advertisements are THREATS.”
To explain, he noted that on the TV bolted on the wall above the cashier, a chat show host was talking about the gunman who killed 26 kids and teachers in Connecticut this past Friday. The killer was described as, “a loner, isolated.”
And what is our society’s proposed cure for painful isolation? The answer was in the news show’s Christmas ads: Buy stuff. The advertisers were telling us how to express love and how to measure the success of our few years on earth. But more sinister than convincing us to buy disposable sweatshop junk, was the subliminal threat, terrorizing us for failing to imitate the grinning guy in the commercial — odor-free, surrounded by loudly laughing models, fashionable according to a marketers’ idea of fashion, and marked with Nike’s swoosh logo.
[The Reverend doesn’t wear a cross – “just another logo.”]
“The ads are telling us that if we don’t surround ourselves with their stuff, we are loners, we’re oddities, freaks, unhappy, and, in fact, dangerous, to be avoided. Different, outside, not part of the party. This is violence masquerading as market democracy.”
So what, then, do we do for the holidays if we don’t follow the commands of the commercials?
“Commercials are signals from the wrong Christ. If you love someone, MAKE LOVE to them.”
But how do you put a hard-on under a tree?
“OK. Take them for a hike on the Appalachian Trail! YOU DON’T HAVE TO BUY TO GIVE!” The minister manqué raised his voice to the heavens — and had to be shushed by shoppers in the next booth.
The Reverend had a long list of alternatives to One-Click Christmas. (This is the perfect place for a commercial break, and Rev. Billy obliged without asking: “You could donate to Greg Palast’s Fund for a friend,” he said, “so each week they’d get a gift of real news.” Amen to that!! Click here: All donations tax-deductible.)
I took the Reverend’s message to my twins. They wanted to give their mom an iPad. That is, they wanted to use my credit card to buy an iPad on-line and have it shipped to her.
I said, “I really think she’d prefer something from the heart.”
This was met with retching sounds and disgusting suggestions involving buying beef hearts by the pound from the Halal butcher.
We settled on their taking Mom to a play she’ll like (and they swear in advance to hate). And, after only a few threat-tinged hints, they wrote up their own note to her rather than go down to CVS to buy a greeting card with a statement of affection written by one of Hallmark’s minimum-wage poets.
If you want to catch the Anti-Claus in action, the Reverend and his 35-voice Church of Stop Shopping Choir will be in that great cathedral of logos, Times Square, this Friday, December 21, 7pm, near the statue of Rev. Duffy. Get there before the arrest — or the Rapture (when your credit card limits are lifted up to heaven)–or, if you’re a Mayan, before the end of the World-Going-Out-of-Business sale.
Catch videos of the Reverend’s bits and busts at www.RevBilly.com.
And to all, a good night.
(Photos by Zach D. Roberts)
Time to Face the Facts: Our Level of Consumption Is Pathological
We’re suffering from a world-consuming epidemic of collective madness, rendered so normal by advertising and the media that we scarcely notice what has happened to us.
December 18, 2012
by George Monbiot
Photo Credit: © Subbotina Anna/Shutterstock.com
There’s nothing they need, nothing they don’t own already, nothing they even want. So you buy them a solar-powered waving queen; a belly button brush; a silver-plated ice cream tub holder; a “hilarious” inflatable zimmer frame; a confection of plastic and electronics called Terry the Swearing Turtle; or – and somehow I find this significant – a Scratch Off World wall map.
They seem amusing on the first day of Christmas, daft on the second, embarrassing on the third. By the twelfth they’re in landfill. For thirty seconds of dubious entertainment, or a hedonic stimulus that lasts no longer than a nicotine hit, we commission the use of materials whose impacts will ramify for generations.
Researching her film The Story of Stuff, Annie Leonard discovered that of the materials flowing through the consumer economy, only 1% remain in use six months after sale(1). Even the goods we might have expected to hold onto are soon condemned to destruction through either planned obsolescence (breaking quickly) or perceived obsolesence (becoming unfashionable).
But many of the products we buy, especially for Christmas, cannot become obsolescent. The term implies a loss of utility, but they had no utility in the first place. An electronic drum-machine t-shirt; a Darth Vader talking piggy bank; an ear-shaped i-phone case; an individual beer can chiller; an electronic wine breather; a sonic screwdriver remote control; bacon toothpaste; a dancing dog: no one is expected to use them, or even look at them, after Christmas Day. They are designed to elicit thanks, perhaps a snigger or two, and then be thrown away.
The fatuity of the products is matched by the profundity of the impacts. Rare materials, complex electronics, the energy needed for manufacture and transport are extracted and refined and combined into compounds of utter pointlessness. When you take account of the fossil fuels whose use we commission in other countries, manufacturing and consumption are responsible for more than half of our carbon dioxide production(2). We are screwing the planet to make solar-powered bath thermometers and desktop crazy golfers.
People in eastern Congo are massacred to facilitate smart phone upgrades of ever diminishing marginal utility(3). Forests are felled to make “personalised heart-shaped wooden cheese board sets”. Rivers are poisoned to manufacture talking fish. This is pathological consumption: a world-consuming epidemic of collective madness, rendered so normal by advertising and the media that we scarcely notice what has happened to us.
In 2007, the journalist Adam Welz records, 13 rhinos were killed by poachers in South Africa. This year, so far, 585 have been shot(4). No one is entirely sure why. But one answer is that very rich people in Vietnam are now sprinkling ground rhino horn on their food or snorting it like cocaine to display their wealth. It’s grotesque, but it scarcely differs from what almost everyone in industrialised nations is doing: trashing the living world through pointless consumption.
This boom has not happened by accident. Our lives have been corralled and shaped in order to encourage it. World trade rules force countries to participate in the festival of junk. Governments cut taxes, deregulate business, manipulate interest rates to stimulate spending. But seldom do the engineers of these policies stop and ask “spending on what?”. When every conceivable want and need has been met (among those who have disposable money), growth depends on selling the utterly useless. The solemnity of the state, its might and majesty, are harnessed to the task of delivering Terry the Swearing Turtle to our doors.
Grown men and women devote their lives to manufacturing and marketing this rubbish, and dissing the idea of living without it. “I always knit my gifts”, says a woman in a television ad for an electronics outlet. “Well you shouldn’t,” replies the narrator(5). An advertisement for Google’s latest tablet shows a father and son camping in the woods. Their enjoyment depends on the Nexus 7’s special features(6). The best things in life are free, but we’ve found a way of selling them to you.
The growth of inequality that has accompanied the consumer boom ensures that the rising economic tide no longer lifts all boats. In the US in 2010 a remarkable 93% of the growth in incomes accrued to the top 1% of the population(7). The old excuse, that we must trash the planet to help the poor, simply does not wash. For a few decades of extra enrichment for those who already possess more money than they know how to spend, the prospects of everyone else who will live on this earth are diminished.
So effectively have governments, the media and advertisers associated consumption with prosperity and happiness that to say these things is to expose yourself to opprobrium and ridicule. Witness last week’s Moral Maze programme, in which most of the panel lined up to decry the idea of consuming less, and to associate it, somehow, with authoritarianism(8). When the world goes mad, those who resist are denounced as lunatics.
Bake them a cake, write them a poem, give them a kiss, tell them a joke, but for god’s sake stop trashing the planet to tell someone you care. All it shows is that you don’t.
2. It’s 57%. See http://www.monbiot.com/2010/05/05/carbon-graveyard/
3. See the film Blood in the Mobile. http://bloodinthemobile.org/
7. Emmanuel Saez, 2nd March 2012. Striking it Richer: the Evolution of Top Incomes in the United States (Updated with 2009 and 2010 estimates).http://elsa.berkeley.edu/~saez/saez-UStopincomes-2010.pdf