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Thursday, March 30, 2023

On Thanksgiving, it is custom to sit at the table with those you feel most connected to in your life and be grateful for the simple things. When we sit down at that dinner table, surrounded by good food and better company, we remind ourselves to be thankful for the little things: a good meal, our health and togetherness. As soon as the meal is complete, another great American tradition begins: Black Friday shopping.

In stark contrast to our humble Thanksgiving, Black Friday is a true American holiday. Americans all over the country put down their napkins, hug and kiss their family members goodbye and then push them out of the way so they can race them to the local Best Buy to save $7 on a sub-par television set. The thrill of the kill is found searching around for stores, getting that good find and delivering that final, fatal blow at the register. Consumerist predators fight each other in lines, trampling people (sometimes fatally) trying to find a good deal/prey to feast upon. It seems that, within a matter of minutes, all of the lessons we learned on Thanksgiving about humility and respect are thrown away and replaced by the savage, greedy tradition known as Black Friday.

After a weekend of recovery, the cycle continues. This past Monday was Cyber Monday, a day when online retail outlets provide extreme discounts to consumers. Essentially, it’s a virtual Black Friday. While the thrill of the kill is reduced to a virtual interface, there’s still that desire to spend tons of money and engage in the “consume, consume, consume” mentality. Today is Giving Tuesday, a day when we are supposed to use self-reflection to recognize the things we take for granted and are grateful for and use that to inspire us to make generous donations to various charitable organizations. Like Thanksgiving and Black Friday, it’s hard to ignore the blatant hypocrisy we find on these back-to-back days.

These four potentially traumatic events all happen within six days of each other. Thankfully, we get the weekend off. Regardless, we’re not saying there’s anything wrong (necessarily) with being a consumer. We all need things to survive. We all want things to make our lives easier and more enjoyable. So long as nobody is oppressed in the production process (child labor, unfair wages to employees, exploited locals for materials, etc.) it’s perfectly fine to consume. The issue we have with this is the encouragement of blatantly gluttonous consumerism superimposed over a background of “family values” and humility. We’re not really setting a good example for our young ones when we talk out of both ends of our mouths like this. There’s something weird and darkly ironic in telling them to be “grateful for what you have” and at the same time “wake up, Wal-Mart opens in three hours, and we need to get in line to grab a new gaming system that will be irrelevant in four years.”

Moreover, remember that when you engage in this process, you’re not actually doing as much good as you think. While donating to hospitals and local charities may do some good in your community, if on Monday you’re e-purchasing some “Made in Taiwan” toy that a child lost a finger making for you and on Tuesday donating to a charity that tries to fight such horrific practices overseas, recognize that you’re not actually doing any good in the world. As we said in an editorial earlier this year, “It is fundamentally immoral to use consumerism as a way to remedy the problems that consumerism itself perpetuates.”

With Christmas coming, we once again face this hypocrisy: The weird divide of being told it’s the “season of giving” to those who have less than us, while also being forced to purchase gifts that further increase the divide among our society. Hopefully we can use this as an opportunity to better our shopping habits and as a way to remedy that “Great American Hypocrisy.”

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