I teach a junior high Sunday school class of fairly affluent kids. Sure our church has its share of money troubles, and we all need to look a lot closer than even inner-city Denver to find true poverty. But on the whole, these kids are rich. Anyone who is even seriously asked the question: “What do you want for Christmas?” is rich.
We live in a hugely affluent society. I qualify as the stereotypical poor college student and still managed to fly home for Thanksgiving. And after five years of working in financial aid on campus, I know that while dire situations arise for us as students, it is fairly seldom that money becomes an issue of life or death as it does for so many people in the world. Often when we are worried about money, we are worried about the quality of our lifestyle changing a little. We are worried about having to pick up some more shifts at work. We are usually not worried about being hungry.
And it is this general affluence that lies behind the strange little phenomenon of Buy Nothing Day. Started as an organized movement in 1997, Buy Nothing Day urges American and British consumers to actually buy nothing on the Friday after Thanksgiving. You know, the day that is supposedly the biggest shopping day of the year. The one with all the good sales.
It urges consumers to rage against the lie so prevalent at the onset of the holiday season that if we do not fork over at least a hundred dollars at Target for icicle lights before mid-December, we have obviously decided to robe ourselves in a warm blanket of humbug.
Buy Nothing Day works under the specific premise that Christmas equals money, and under the larger premise that our society equals money too. And the only way to attack that equation is to attack consumerism. Defenders of capitalism beware.
I will be the first to admit that the constant drive to get more stuff is alarming. Just because we are affluent people doesn’t mean we necessarily need every cool thing that is out there. Showing a video to my class about a Christmas gift delivery program for third world countries, we were all moved by images of a Nigerian boy utterly fascinated by his gift of a flashlight. The last time I got a flashlight for Christmas it was imbedded in my Glowworm. And so the prodding to look a little more charitably and a lot more sensibly about what we purchase and consume is a good and a moral one.
But the underlying theory behind Buy Nothing Day is a little scary. Sure we should be careful, but what the promoters of Buy Nothing Day promote is not responsible consumerism. They promote an overhauling of the capitalistic system that is driving not only our nation’s economy, but quite frankly the economy of most of the world. The driving philosophy for the true advocates of the buying of nothing would blame our economy as being responsible for the continued injustice that keeps people in economic bondage throughout the world, for the crippling debt that besieges much of the Third World, and as the catalyst for most political unrest and upheaval that scrolls across that little ticker on the bottom of MSNBC.
And to an extent, they are right. But without the consumerism that fuels our economy, and without that economy that fuels hundreds of outreach and development programs in the world abroad, the United States could not offer the strong arm of help and aid that it does. The anti-capitalists could have a point if we lived in a perfect world where people are not greedy and everybody lives in a fun little hovel of magic like the Gummy Bears did. But we don’t. We live in a world that is doomed to hierarchy. And the best thing we can do is to be responsible.
The solution is not to buy nothing. Capitalism is not the bane it seems fashionable to say it is. It is, in fact, the crutch upon which most of the world leans. And so, perhaps buy a little less. But buy. And be thankful for the opportunity.