Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Missing Xmas Commercialism

Tibor R. Machan

Some lessons are learned at great expense and just how healthy Xmas commercialism is seems to be one of them.

For decades editorialists, pundits, and other commentators have implored us all to stop all this commercialism during Christmas holidays. The holidays have become too commercial! People just focus on purchasing goodies instead of on the spirituality of Christmas. And so on and so forth the relentless blather went on and on, year after year, even in the midst of the reports on how good or bad have been holiday retails sales. This hypocrisy could be hidden from the consciousness of a great many people for a good while but now it is no longer possible to disguise it.

Fact is, what is most missing from Christmas this year is, yes, the healthy commercialism that has been part of it over the last several decades. The absence of such healthy commercialism is having some disastrous impact on the lives of millions of people across not just America but the world. Because so many of us react to the current economic fiasco by imposing restraint on our commercial activities, millions of people are going to have to experience severe economic contraction in their lives. Minimum of gifts, modest dinners, limited travel, brief vacations and similar tightening of belts characterizes this year’s commercialism and everyone is quite understandably upset about it all. Maybe a few fanatics are pleased and even propound the doctrine of austerity. Some even urge the embrace at these times of the impending poverty for all too many people around the world. (It needs to be noted that even at the best of times there are folks who advocate self-denial, asceticism, a vow of poverty.)

But most sane people recognize at last that it is not a good thing for commerce to be leaving our midst. They realize that all that talk of the evils of commercialism tends to be just a lot of words and very few human beings really commit to abandoning the malls--or the Internet--for good! The decline of commerce is indeed lamented nationwide for its impact on millions whose livelihood came from a robust economy.

Not that there are no cautionary lessons from the current mess. Too many people went way over their actual, real budgetary limits and yielded to fantasies of riches that in time came a cropper. For some it was outright greed, the unwillingness to contain oneself and the reckless indulgence in acquiring that which one had no business to attempt to acquire. Like spoiled children whose parents refuse to say “no” when asked for more and more goodies even while the household budget is clearly being strained, millions of adults pursued their imagined limits instead of remaining within the limits of reason. (I have some personal history of my own that testifies to this fact.)

It is even arguable that the tendency of many people to go overboard with buying bigger and better and more fancy--in homes, cars, vacations, gadgets, furniture, clothing, and the rest--is related to the false ideal of austerity. Just as sexual promiscuity and debauchery are very probably related to teachings of unnatural sexual self-denial, so overindulgence in acquisition is likely related to a senseless profession of the virtue of poverty. Instead of a sensible middle way, of a prudent approach, too many religions and philosophies preach at us about how evil we are for having wants at all, for desiring to be well off, for wishing to enjoy a good measure of abundance. It is understandable that with such a state of mind many people would just cast caution to the wind and become reckless instead of prudent.

It is even possible that the current economic fiasco is largely due to the failure of the leadership in our culture--of writers, pundits, public philosophers, politicians and the rest--to counsel moderation instead of self-denial and sacrifice. When prospects seem promising it is not natural to accept this counsel and the temptation to overreach will not be resisted. Sensible caution, prudence instead of sacrifice, would, however, be something most people could live with, I submit.

During these times of involuntary self-denial maybe the lesson will be learned that healthy commercialism is no vice, nothing to chide. After all, part of Christmas includes the giving of gifts, not just the receiving of them. And both are very much dependent on commerce.

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