December 1, 2016: Frenzy, Part One

I hope you all had a good Thanksgiving holiday and had a chance to be festive and thankful with family, friends, and neighbors. For those not fortunate enough to be festive and have less to be thankful for, I hope this time of year is not too difficult to navigate and that life will get better.

This is also a dramatic time for many after the elections, when our attention was turned toward how we, not only as individuals but also as a collective nation, treat each other. While there was much rancor, the very fact that we had these fundamental questions  on our minds seems to me to be a good thing. Then, to my dismay, along came Black Friday.

The Burlington Free Press boasted of a 700 page Thanksgiving Day edition. About 95% of it was advertising supplements and about half of the remaining 5% was regular advertising. People were out Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday and Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday (or actually “in” for this one) in droves. An outsider might think there was a Constitutional requirement that we shop til we drop, even in this time of national uncertainty and anxiety. No need – other powers ensure that we dutifully go out and buy stuff. After all, it is what keeps a big portion of our economy going (we often hear in the papers and on the radio that consumer spending is about two thirds of our overall economy).

In the Biology course I teach at CCV I sometimes show a BBC documentary about the Amazon River ecosystem. One segment shows a pack of piranha stripping an injured fish down to its skeleton in a feeding frenzy that lasts but a few minutes. Here in the U.S. and Vermont and South Burlington, the frenzy lasts from Thanksgiving to “the holidays” – whether it is Christmas or Hanukah of Kwanza or Solstice or whatever you celebrate. Actually, let me take that back. The worst of the frenzy takes place during this period, but the frenzy of desiring and buying more than we could possibly need is a year round phenomenon.

So I offer this three part column to examine “The Frenzy.” Today we’ll do a little quiz just to get you thinking about how much you knowingly or unknowingly participate in this all-American sport. Next week let’s try some self- examination about how our material/consumer behavior makes us feel. And finally, our third installment will look at the larger social and environmental costs of our overconsumption.

Your Quiz

Here are a few questions to consider. Try to answer honestly – there are no right or wrong answers and no judgements (at least not from me – if you choose to do the quiz with family members or friends or co-workers, who am I to tell them whether to judge you or not? Just kidding.)

How many people are on your shopping list and why?

How much do you plan on spending on each? Why that predetermined amount? Will you get them something just to fulfill that perceived obligation even if it is something that doesn’t reflect their interests or what they mean to you?

Are you comfortable giving someone an experience or the chance to share time with you or do you feel obliged to give them a thing?

Do you consider making donations to worthy causes in someone’s name? Would you consult with that person to donate to what they really would appreciate?

Enjoy the quiz. Be mindful of your choices this season. And peace, love, and joy.