This Friday just past I travelled from Somerset to London and back, in order to have dinner with two very good friends, one of whom is only occasionally in the UK due to being based in Oman by his employers. At the same time, I was able to witness that unrestrained outpouring of consumerist fervour known for many years in the US as ‘Black Friday’, the day after Thankgiving, but now, over the past three years, torn from its cultural moorings and foisted upon an unsuspecting, but nevertheless apparently willing, British public, to further swell the coffers of Big Business and reinforce the modern philosophy of Consumption as the Way to True Happiness.
I’m sorry – do I sound biased? Well, I am. Police were called to stores across the country in response to surging crowds and brawls over heavily-discounted goods. Three arrests were made at a Tesco store in the Manchester area, and Police were called to four others, as well as dozens of other locations around the country, with many big city stores opening at midnight to satisfy bargain-hunters.
Due to the situation I was in on Friday, I had to keep my smartphone on throughout the day. Roughly every five minutes I received an email exhorting me to attend the cathedral of consumerism in order to take advantage of Black Friday deals offered by everyone from all the major high street retailers (I wonder how they got my fairly-new email address) to my gym chain, to life coaches, to IT specialists, to almost anyone you can think of. I counted over thirty in all, and I’m not someone who circulates my email address widely. Smartphones of those who do must have been literally melting.
What has all of this ugliness to say to those of us who have chosen to stand outside, or even just to question, the headlong rush towards consumerism?
Firstly, we need to recognise that drastic and radical decisions and action are now no longer a luxury, a cause for curiosity, but essential if we are going to avoid the assumption that we are part of the ‘herd’ of tabloid-reading, soap-opera and reality-television watching sheep to whom the future of our (UK) democracy is terrifyingly being entrusted when our next General Election rolls around next year. We have become, in the UK, a nation fully signed up to the philosophy that ever-increasing ‘prosperity’ (measured solely in quantity of goods owned) achieved by ever-increasing consumption, ever-increasing dissatisfaction underwritten by ever more strident advertising picking at the bones of our discontent, is the only viable economic way forward. We have learned nothing from recent or less recent economic ‘crashes’ and the major policies of all political parties are focused solely and exclusively on getting us back on the consumerist bandwagon as quickly as they possibly can. After all, they say, what possible alternative happiness could there be?
However, this gets worse. Consumerism is not only untenable economically, it blights us spiritually as well. Those of us who have chosen to concentrate on our Gods, or on the Spirits of place and ancestry , will not need to be told this. Consumerism is a cancer eating at the heart not only of secular society, but is fundamentally incompatible with spirituality.
This cancer is subtle too. Witness the ‘Pagan artist’ stealing images from well-established figures and claiming them as his own on his Facebook page – and continuing to receive orders for copies from fellow ‘Pagans’ well after he had been called out for his theft of intellectual property. ‘Pagans’ want ‘stuff’, status symbols, ephemera, as much, it seems as the Masses want a 50″ television at a knock-down price. (People of principle, please note the commas around the word ‘Pagan’ before you send me your comments accusing me of generalisation).
Not just as people of the Gods and the Land, but also as people of principle, it is time for us to stand up and publicly set ourselves apart from this nonsense. Private conviction is no longer enough, and will not help halt the slide into Consumerist Hell on which we are now, as a society, set.
Do you have enough ‘stuff’? Is it time to look at just how deeply the roots of this attitude have sunk into our lives?