After Black Friday

by on December 2, 2019 · 1 comment

in Under the Perfect Sun

By Jim Miller

Nowhere to go, nothing to acquire.  That’s the endgame.

As is the tradition in my house, we spent Black Friday in the desert wandering in search of Nothing.  It’s been both a way to escape the toxic insanity of the soul-crushing consumer frenzy that defines what we call the holidays and how we teach our kid that life is about people and experiences, not buying more shit.

This idea is by no means original to us but comes out of the post-Situationist ethos of folks like those who founded Adbusters and other proponents of Buy Nothing Day, the international protest against over-consumption that encourages us all to enjoy what they call:

[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!

Everything we buy has an impact on the environment. Buy Nothing Day highlights the environmental and ethical consequences of consumerism. The developed countries – only 20% of the world population – are consuming over 80% of the earth’s natural resources, causing a disproportionate level of environmental damage, and an unfair distribution of wealth.

As consumers we need to question the products we buy and challenge the companies who produce them. What are the true risks to the environment and developing countries? We all know recycling is OK for the environment, but consuming less is better and Buy Nothing Day is a great way to start.

Of course, it’s not original to them either as it can be traced, in its American form, back to Henry David Thoreau whose critiques of the consumer ethos serve as an amusing reminder of the absurdity of our mindless consumption to this day:

I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes . . . When I ask for a garment of a particular form, my tailoress tells me gravely, “They do not make them so now,” not emphasizing the “They” at all, as if she quoted an authority as impersonal as the Fates . . . We worship not the Graces, nor the Parcae, but Fashion. She spins and weaves and cuts with full authority. The head monkey at Paris puts on a traveller’s cap, and all the monkeys in America do the same

Yet we still follow the head monkey even as doing so is killing the natural world at a faster and faster pace. In fact, it is a disservice to monkeys to make that comparison as they are not at all fond of our form of heedless materialism, a futile chase after an idea of happiness that our purchases never deliver.  No, we are not monkeys, we are simply our empty selves. Running, always running after what we don’t know.

As Thoreau put it:

Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail . . . Simplify, simplify. Instead of three meals a day, if it be necessary eat but one; instead of a hundred dishes, five; and reduce other things in proportion.

But we love our multitasking, text checking, screen staring, working hard at creating more meaningless work because we are afraid to stop.  Simplicity and silence might just slow us down enough that we stop, look, and listen to something other than the canned music brought to us by our faceless masters.

If we summon the courage to stop, though, we might for once act deliberatively and discover what is underneath all the noise — the more essential facts of life that we forget are there.  To do that, Thoreau suggests, is to finally live:

[T]o front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.

Simple but still true, even as we watch the world race in the other direction, resigned to a variety of detachment that is beyond alienation.  But an old voice whispers to us, calls us to sit with the emptiness for a moment and be thankful for nothing other than the fact that we are alive, and all that is not life pales in comparison to this living, breathing moment.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

retired botanist December 2, 2019 at 2:43 pm

Sigh… you’d think that if a man could get so much right over a hundred years ago, we could get just a smidgeon of it right by now?
As Thoreau said, “What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?”
And now I’ll wait for the “Bah humbug” accusers… :-)

Kudos fro a great piece-


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