I should stop right there. Just writing the phrase “Black Friday Deal on Meditation” is so deeply ironic and condemning that it should be the entire blog post. So anyway, here is the Black Friday deal on Meditation – just click here and you can get a deal on my next workshop in Providence. Black Friday brings up many things in this culture, mostly a form of self-defeating judgment and self-flagellation that does little to interrupt the mad consumerism. But is it really all that bad?
Leading up to Thanksgiving and Black Friday you can find any number of articles, structured blogs and sheer rants on how the drive to buy and consume is destroying the meaning of the holiday. It really hasn’t. The meaning of the holiday has just adopted a modern application. Thanksgiving has always been about a celebration of abundance and expression of gratitude for making it through tough times. Every culture has some sort of celebration like it, some have several. They are tied to harvests and season changes. They celebrate family, not because family is so close knit and valued, but because family used to play a much different role in life. Family was the people you worked closest with. We married to form alliances and to strengthen business opportunities and had children to help share the work and to continue growing what we had started. Not until the industrial revolution did our work and family lives become separate and the whole idea of family as a source of love and emotional support evolve.
In America, our industry has transformed from creation to consumerism. There is nothing bad about that. It may not be philosophically ideal or elegant, but it is a reality. We are consumers and we excel in providing and consuming within the service industry. That our holidays are an expression of who we are should come as no surprise. The real surprise is why we are one of the few cultures to deem our present reality so awful and unacceptable – so worthy of punishment. Much of that stems from the bizarre duality that we are trying to live with, that of wanting to be supermen (or women) on all fronts of life rather than just be average people who are good at living their own lives. Each life that is lived should be a matter of choice that is consciously made. If you choose a life of material success, if material goods and money hold a place for what you value in your life – then so be it. Use them in that way. If you have chosen a life in which the value money and materialism is a placeholder for does not include emotions, then recognize it and honor it. Neither side should be trying to force the other into adopting their means of living.
But there is a peculiar thing that happens within us that scientists suspect is hardwired in our DNA when presented with lives that are outside of our own. We believe that whatever group we belong to is the best. Everyone else is wrong and we are right. It is why there is more recognition that working in focus groups to try and solve social problems is a self-defeating approach. Communitarianism will always exceed the most outrageous behavior of elitism because at the core of the community is the shared belief that only your people know what is good and are the best.
Which then brings up the question of how do you evolve culture in a way that community is inclusive of all so that no one is deemed worthy of being trounced on or abused? That is a huge part of what Kwame McKenzie’s work in Social Capital and Mental Health looked at. Social Capital is the concept of how we our worth is perceived as individuals (or marginalized communities) by a broader community. In America, our take on promoting Social Capital for marginalized communities has been to try and normalize differences. In Europe, the pendulum is beginning to swing to recognizing that our differences are important, can’t be normalized but that shared values and activities can increase Social Capital perceptions. In other words, you will never understand my experience as being someone with a mobility issue and most people will, by default, place me in a category of less value (as a candidate for jobs, influence or potential relationship), but if you discover that you and I share the same activity and interest – then suddenly, the balance begins to tip the other way. The emphasis is not on my having a right to do or go the same places you can because society should provide a means for me to minimize my difference, but that I share with you a portion of your life interest and values and society can then create opportunities for us to share what we have in common.
This approach to Social Capital does not deny the power of group identification, but instead incorporates it to increase social welfare. You still get to be the best and part of the best group, but your group begins to get a little bit bigger. Someday, it just might get big enough to include the whole world.
Let’s take Thanksgiving for example. Thanksgiving, in America, is defined by its excess in food and shopping. The crux of the day, the Thanksgiving dinner, is when it is expected that you eat more than you should of foods you probably would avoid any other time in life. It is also a time when there is a high interest in volunteering at soup kitchens etc. because “everyone should have a Thanksgiving dinner.” However, the plan slightly backfires. Rather than being a unifying and equalizing act that joins us together in a larger community, it serves to separate us even more. Ask anyone who is dependent on a community Thanksgiving dinner how they pick the one they go to and you will get an interesting education about how the worth of the dinner is defined. It is not in the food or the sharing or the Thanksgiving – it is in the ability to eat to excess should you want to. In other words, what is the defining factor of the community dinner is not the shared food, but the shared availability of excess. The homeless will turn away from a dinner if they know they are limited to 2 pieces of turkey. It is not because they have a sense of entitlement or are not hungry, but they have keyed into which of the dinners actually include them in the broader spectrum of American community, and which will keep them trapped in a horrific marginalized category. It is also why food pantries try to suggest brand label foods rather than generics. The generics may be just as good, but they isolate people further from the general populace.
One of the failures of modern spiritual movements has been an emphasis on unconditional love. First off, unconditional love comes with a terrifying responsibility (which I will get into sometime later). Secondly, rather than being equalizing and welcoming; it shuts people off and shunts them into isolation. Why? To truly love unconditionally is a high spiritual goal, but it immobilizes any communication or compassion. Unconditional love means that no one is different from anyone in anyway at any time. Unconditional love doesn’t mean that your differences are accepted, it means that they are deemed so unimportant as to be nonexistent. It is based on a very core set of values about life that have no room for any deviation or momentary distress. You cannot form care for a person if you love them unconditionally. It is a very high spiritual value, but there has to be a very real, human spiritual love that is conditional in order for anything to get done. Unconditional love can be what powers your experience of living, but not your action or efficacy. To love one’s neighbor as you love yourself requires conditions.
Right or wrong, like it or not, excess and branding is a part of the fabric of American community on a large scale. Is it important to change this? Why of course – I think so, and so does the community I belong to – because we are right (because it is my community). Some people would think elsewise. Is the solution to allow excess and branding for all? Or is it to bring the expectation for consumption and branding down a few notches across the board to make it accessible to everyone? The opinion on that will depend on who you ask.
The real solution is to look beyond what requires a placeholder to what is held in actuality. Right there the playing field is leveled. When money is removed from the equation, what then defines our broader society? Football? Not really. Baseball? No. There hasn’t been much work done on defining the values of the modern American society that is separate from consumerism. While consumerism is a defining characteristic of the society, it is a value placeholder. Understanding the value beneath is where we can begin to look at what we hold worthy of social capital. Or is there anything underneath?
Such questions on a Black Friday.
The battle rope came in (not purchased with a black Friday deal but I did get free shipping), so I am going to toss it around a bit and refocus on my day.
The Mad Kitten is ticked because I spaced and forgot to get the treats she likes. Now there is an example of simple definition of value. Does she love me unconditionally? I say not. If she did, she wouldn’t be some damn vindictive just because I forgot the kitty crack.
Oh yes, I am almost successfully out of my semi-retirement now as a poet and performer as well. This means the love and words site is back and a new video will be released by Christmas. Ironic, isn’t it?