Lighten our Darkness…

Following on from the more depressing aspects of Christmas (or at least its materialistic / commercial version), I see articles like this one on the phenomenon of Black Friday. I am astounded how some people can be so bestial as to be fighting over television sets and other consumer goods being sold at special prices on this day.

Indeed we see the worst of human nature, which we might be tempted to associate with race or social background. Perhaps that is so to an extent, but white people were also involved in the scuffles.

What makes this happen? There are various theories of psychology that are used by traders and advertisers. Many of us have a system of priorities in life and adjust them according to our financial means. We think about what we need, what we would like as “icing on the cake” and above all what we can afford. The question of money or lack of it often brings us to say “no”, deny ourselves and decide to desist definitively or wait. For some very expensive things like houses and cars, we have to contract debts, which is fine if we are sure of being able to pay them back. For other things, we just have to save up and decide on our priorities.

The commercial and advertising world want it their way, for us to forget our needs and means, and to buy their product without thinking about it. We exist for their business. We live in a world where they peddle their wares by every means possible, using psychology to overcome our normal big-picture instincts of managing our money and needs. Modern advertising by bill boards, television, telephone, spam, etc. is profoundly immoral and a violation of every human right.

Some of us see through it all and resist. Others are ensnared into behaving as they want them to do – spending more money and no matter whether it can be afforded or not. We exist for their business, and they will hound us until we buy. The retail trade seems to have used the ritual and religious instincts we humans used to have, and they have us worship at their “altars”. Christmas starts in October in the supermarkets, and that is followed by the January Sales (I buy my January sails on E-Bay! 🙂 ) and St Valentine. To this is added Black Friday.

I translate marketing stuff all the time, and this has given me a tremendous insight into their cynicism (modern meaning) and callous disregard for the “consumer”. A pseudo ritual makes people lower their prudence (knowing how much they have in the bank and what has to be kept back for paying the utility bills, etc.) and feel permitted to having a spending spree. Lowered prices would give this justification for buying more stuff.

Another one of our base instincts is our sense of competition and being hunter-gatherers. We do this in supermarkets, comparing prices and the quality we are looking for in products. We are made to think we are beating the retailer by getting an expensive product for a lower price. We have only to ask the question – What’s in it for them? Briefly, they are destocking and getting rid of what will shortly become obsolete. They make a big buck in a very short time, so they can afford narrowed profit margins. I don’t know too much about it, so I won’t go into it.

What I have found so astounding as a result of the marketing manipulation is the scene of people fighting over television sets and other pieces of electronic equipment. We are brought to think of dogs fighting over a scrap of meat. We are made to feel like winners as we snap up the “bargains”. This instinct is combined with our emotions around Christmas and “making it up” with the family.

Advent is certainly a time to resist the marketers and advertisers, thinking about what we really need in life, what we can afford, and perhaps even the satisfaction of buying something because it came from our own initiative and not from outside pressure. We can take on the challenge of resisting the advertising and marketing propaganda, and have pride in buying only what we need and can afford.

Especially at this time of year, it is a good idea to make a shopping list as we go through the fridge and kitchen cupboards. We then get the stuff and keep up our guard against the manipulation, spending as little time as possible in the shop. Perhaps, such a mentality is less difficult for someone already prejudiced against social conformity and the prevailing order. The so-called “growth” can’t go on forever. We need to reflect on our own mortality and yearn for a higher world than this one.

As I mentioned in my last article on Christmas, there are lights in the darkness. In history there are the saints, and in our own experience there are good people with whom we can emphasise. The world is dark, but there are lights that are worth more than silver and gold, or the glitter and noise of the “reign of quantity” as René Guénon expressed it. Let us turn our minds and hearts to the great prophecies of Advent, so that we can seek the essential, and truly celebrate Christmas in the fulness of time.

Perhaps a few ideas. For buying Christmas presents, decide on a reasonable budget and think of the kind of things that are most useful and meaningful. Then go and look for them and resist the manipulation. Go to those shops and internet sites knowing what you want and don’t give in to any pressure. Don’t be afraid to leave a shop empty-handed if you haven’t found what you are looking for or if the price is too high.

We can stop being “consumers” and can begin to be human beings with dignity and rights. We can buy and sell, but on equal terms, and we must insist on this. We will be helped by God and the Angels in our spiritual warfare against the powers of darkness in high places – and the glitzy sales men and women. Not all that glitters is gold.

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5 Responses to Lighten our Darkness…

  1. Patricius says:

    Christmass is so touchy in many families. None dare buy things that are useful or needful for fear that they might hint at something. For example, I was very tempted to buy my mother a new ironing board, something highly useful, but that might “ruin” Christmass for some obscure reason. And insofar as one “wants” anything, nobody gets what they want and to want anything is morally dubious. The Grinch summed it up when he said that most Christmass presents ended up at his dumping ground. It’s very difficult to keep the line between family sensitivities and one’s own feelings this time of year.

    I didn’t even know what Black Friday was until this week. My father and I had decided to go Christmass shopping at Bluewater Shopping Centre this morning but we saw none of the bestiality on BBC news. I bought myself a new jumper in Charles Tyrwhitt with 15% off.

    • Something I found with my wife, you don’t give utility things! Giving a vacuum cleaner tells her the house is too dirty! Last time I was in England, I bought her some soap and told her she needed it because she was very dirty! She laughed and that particular bomb was defused. Articles of clothing are sensitive as is jewellery, as are tools for men (those repairs on the house need to be done). All the wanting the most but pretending to expect nothing is just hypocrisy. My wife and I decide what we are going to spend (what we earn goes into the same account) and we get our own presents (something for the boat or an article of sailing clothing for example for me, a bottle of eau de Cologne for her for example), and supplement them with something little as a “surprise”.

      It is a delicate exercise of judging characters and sensitivities, a real minefield.

  2. ed pacht says:

    Feast of the Nativity – superb!!!!
    Secular Christmas – Bah, Humbug!

    • Easier said than done. As I said before, I think my best Christmas was at seminary in something like 1991 if I remember rightly. There was something very genuine about us seminarians, all missing our families and friends at home but giving ourselves to the splendour of the liturgy with Matins, Midnight Mass and everything. There were plenty of goodies in the refectory too!

  3. Just a short 20 years ago the term “black friday” did not exist outside the lexicon of people who worked in retail in the USA. It was an insider term (a term of derision) for the unofficial beginning of the Christmas shopping scene. It meant the start of longer hours, bigger crowds, disheveled stock, and the dreaded inventory. As a retail industry survivor (Lord & Taylor back when it was still Lord & Taylor), I am bewildered at how some marketer took this seemingly unmarketable term, branded it into an international household term, and created an unofficial holiday out of it. The meaning of the term was completely inverted from an industry negative to a consumerist “positive.”

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