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Monday, November 27, 2006

Is it just me...? (Part 2)

Thanks to Maggi for the link (hereby demonstrating the endlessly recursive nature of the internet...). She's also written thoughtfully on Buy Nothing Day.

A few more thoughts have arisen since Friday.

First off, by my final comments, it might be taken that things are alright here in the UK. I do firmly believe that things are different here in the UK, but not necessarily much better. It might be that the US has a more virulent or fully-progressed form of affluenza, or however you might diagnose the disease. There is a different attitude here towards trade and commercial success: it doesn't seem to be held as an unalloyed good, to be promoted and protected at all times regardless of the social cost; I submit the popularity of limited trading hours on Sundays as exhibit 'A'.

But that said, I do not mean to say that the British have somehow got it figured out and perfect; much of the difference is more a matter of quantity than quality. Of course, one would look in vain for a nation that has 'got it figured out', although I suspect that this sort of shopping-mania is largely (if not exclusively) Western and first world. Again, not that two-thirds world nations are more inherently virtuous (naive, more like it), just that they are limited in this vice.

Secondly, I ought to say this: my concern about this is a concern for peoples' souls. What I mean is that shopping -- like eating, alcohol, sex, and so forth -- can be a genuinely pleasurable activity, or it can be pathological: unbalanced and dominating one's life. My sense is that -- at least in America, about which I am most competent to speak -- our shopping/ consumption is quite out of balance. It both reflects and extends genuine pathology, a twisting of our souls (our spiritual, social, relational, emotional heart).

Part of the solution is in restoring these activities to a proper role in our lives: I am a firm believer that, for example, overeating is not best addressed by fasting, but by proper eating. I think that efforts such as 'Buy Nothing Day' (=Black Friday in America) are laudable and to be strongly supported. But I don't think that it is the only answer (nor do I think that those behind it think so, either). It raises awareness, it calls attention to the nature of the problem. But I think the long term solution lies in a constellation of practices such as learning contentment, such as finding entertainment in non-commercial venues, such as re-invigorating social and familial activities, such as forming proper attachments to things (which are meaningful or memor-saturated) in a way that cannot be done on a large scale -- which would naturally limit accumulation, and so on.

And lest my talk about a 'soul', above, be construed in an individualistic way, as if this is just a matter of certain people needing to get themselves right, but the system is fine (or beyond consideration), let me say that I am talking as much about our national 'soul', the collective way that we form ourselves as people, and our system is the dominant aspect of that (inasmuch as people are formed by a system). This isn't meant to exempt individuals from their own agency, either -- I've gestured elsewhere about the deep mystery of human agency -- but it is to recognize the deep complexity of the reality of human agency, which is both formed and forming, acted upon and acting.

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