Monday, December 01, 2008

Buy Nothing

"Why do they call it Black Friday?" somebody asked after a dharma talk at Silver City Zen Center this Saturday. Jeff said it had something to do with putting merchants in the black, as in black ink; the reason for the season being economic activity. I added another possible meaning: "it causes a Great Depression in your wallet!" Mike added, "Only if you participate."

The topic of Paul's dharma talk was the horrible incident at a Wal-Mart in Long Island. An employee there was trampled to death on Friday by shoppers who broke through the door at 5 AM, stomped over his body, and went on with their shopping. Also trampled was a pregnant woman, who is okay. When police shut down the store to investigate the crime, shoppers reacted with anger and continued to shop.

Human beings acting like starving, rooting hogs; and a man dead for no reason. Ho ho ho. Were they shopping for themselves, or shopping for others, fulfilling the implied duty to show your love and respect by purchasing merchandise? Were they using credit cards, overspending themselves into expensive debt and, financially, cutting into themselves? It is easy to put this down as a story about extreme human greed, but what about the anxieties and pressures that lay beneath the greed?

This happened the day after Thanksgiving, when some Americans observe an annual "Buy Nothing Day," a consumer protest against the commercialization of Christmas. This year, the context is one of economic malaise. We have only recently stopped whispering that another Great Depression may be afoot, with people around dinner tables remembering their grandparents who grew up in the Depression and thinking about a possible new season of prolonged hardship. Would we have to reconsider our lives, as the Depression generation did, and consider ways of living that involve sharing and cooperation, cutting back waste and unessential spending? Maybe, maybe not. I observe "Buy Nothing" day by keeping a skeptical frame of mind, not buying into any notion right away.

I am thankful for family, thankful that my son is growing up in a safe place surrounded by people who love him. My parents are driving across the country to spend Christmas with me and my family. To be present together, to drink coffee and rag on the politicians and say grace and tell stories together, is more significant than what's inside the gaily-wrapped boxes. If we had to skip the boxes altogether, we would still have the day.

Let us be chastened. Here is a heretical suggestion: I think that one Wal-Mart, just that one, should stay closed. Put a sign on the door explaining what happened. Maybe serve food to the poor from that location. Pay one employee to stand there with the Wal-Mart vest and greet shoppers with an unusual message: "Go home! Hug your kid!" Or just let shoppers go there, park, and find a locked door with a reminder about human priorities.


Kelly said...

I found the whole WalMart episode quite disturbing.

What a tragedy!

Algernon said...

The story continues to unfold, as several of the injured shoppers are trying to sue Wal-Mart for what happened and win themselves a little extra money for next Christmas.

I do not often write in Wal-Mart's defense, but blaming this incident on them is a bit of a stretch.

Algernon said...

Just had another thought. I suppose it could be worse: someone could try suing the deceased man's family, claiming that his body served as a dangerous obstruction once he fell to the ground.

No matter how cynical I feel, people still shock me sometimes.

Kelly said...

I don't really see how they can blame WalMart for what happened.

And what about the poor dead guy??! They should be thankful that they were only injured, not killed!!