If you don’t live in North America and do not illuminate yourself with contemporary philosophical commentary, you may be unfamiliar with the most important cultural institution that Black Friday has become.
Some people may scoff at is as an expression of rampant consumerism, but others take it deadly seriously. No, not as deadly seriously as some Danish Cartoons, but, for a populace as complacent as the current US citizens have become, it seems to rate somewhere above voting, yet still below ‘getting your free Obama phone‘!
But, do not hang your head down in shame: Black Friday is not a sign of decadence or moral decay – though, it certainly looks it on the surface. To the contrary – it is a very, very good sign! (And, no, this is not a praise of Austrian economics, though, I am considering starting an online petition to deify von Mises. No, this is something much, much deeper!)
In our society – and, here, I speak about us ‘Westerners’ in general and us Western-urban-dwellers in particular – we are getting more and more out of touch with our natural roots. We have become so disconnected that our kids think that meat comes from a store shelf, when one needs money, it magically self-generates in an ATM machine and, (and this brought my father-in-law to tears of laughter when he over-heard it), while traveling and staying in a hotel, at least one kid asked: “Dad, where are we – in the real world?”
Some of us have begun to wonder whether the infantilization of the adult citizens, which is so defining of our era of the rise of the unsustainably large civil servant class, has done irreparable damage to the psyche of most of the Western citizenry. This would be a bad sign because, if one looks back in history, the larger and more entitled the civil servant class becomes, the closer the end of that civilization is. If the damage were so deep as to be beyond repair…
Which is precisely why Black Friday gives me such a hope for our society!
Please, indulge me in a tangential anecdote: recently, I have lost an aunt-in-law. We only got close in the last few years of her life, but, she was a true warrior!
Her husband (who had predeceased her by only a few years) was a most dashing General of the Canadian Army with movie-star looks and charisma by the bushel – and was one of my favourite in-laws. His ‘breaking-ice’ joke was:
Q: When does a General obey a Major’s every command?
A: When he is married to her!!!
And, indeed, my auntie was a true warrior! She may have been a General’s wife, and they may have received invitations to fancy parties addressed to ‘General and Mrs. …’, but, because of her competence and the resulting high profile in the Canadian military, they also got a lot of invitations to fancy parties addressed to ‘Major and Mr. …’! Being in charge of the food supply for all the UN Peacekeepers in Egypt during the Suez crisis was just one of her many, many accomplishments.
Due to their military duties, this wonderful couple never had kids – they sacrificed all, including their own procreation, to protect all of us. So, when she passed, we – the nieces and nephews – had to do our part in helping to close out their estate. It was not till then that I discovered the true depth and breadth of my auntie’s love of hunting for ‘deals’!
It was not about acquiring the actual stuff – once she received it, she would, as often as not, never even open the box or take stuff out of its packaging. It was all about the hunt: hunting for the highest quality stuff at the bestest possible deal!
This was no passive consumerism: if you had mentioned to her some obscure little region of Earth, no matter how remote or unknown, she would always know of the particular ‘stuff’ that could be bought there – and only there and nowhere else on Earth!!! Not only would she know what was available there, she would also know its health benefits, its particular cultural significance and its current market value, so you would know when you were getting a good deal on in!
And, at one time or another, she had probably bought some…
Once she had acquired it, she had no interest in the object itself, frequently donating large amounts of very high quality ‘stuff’ to charities. I know, because after she fell ill, I often served as her driver…
Her interest was in ‘The Hunt’!
In way, it reminded me of my great-grand-mother, who had lived through both WWI and WWII, and, who would compulsively save ‘everything’ – including empty boxes from sugar cubes which she would flatten and cram behind her credenza: saving them ‘for the next war’…
It was a different expression of the same instinct: my auntie was the hunter while my great grand-ma was the gatherer!
And, this is the same thing that triggers the Black Friday mania!
In my never-humble-opinion, the Black Friday phenomenon awakens our primal instincts as ‘hunter/gatherers’ on a deep, subconscious level. Pre -’culture’, pre-snobbery, pre-nature-isolation. But very, very human.
It proves to me that, regardless of the veneer we present to the world, somewhere, deep down inside, we still have the human survival instincts and they rule us more than we are willing to admit…perhaps even more than we are aware of.
In other words, this craziness we call Black Friday proves to me that however dormant or masked, our truly human instincts are still there, intact, lurking just beneath the surface. That, given the chance, these instincts will surface and permit humanity to survive whatever cultural upheaval is coming in the next few centuries.
It proves to me that we, Westerners, however out of touch we may think we are with our origins, are still true to our humanity! That, though our culture may soon be crushed beneath the entitlements of the civil servant class and conquered by the colonial ambitions of a particular religious minority, our progeny shall not perish with our culture!
Our survival strategies may be warped, but, deep inside, they do survive!
And that gives me great hope for our future!!!