Today the American culture celebrates the apex of consumerism. People have been camping out on strip-mall sidewalks for the privilege of purchasing consumer goods which will be obsolete by this time next year. I myself am feeling the tug of shiny gadgets. Large televisions, gaming consoles, computers, phones, etc. I like that kind of stuff. Luckily I realize that I don’t really use the shiny gadgets as much as in my imagination. Often I derive a great deal of pleasure in writing code on my tiny netbook. And who needs it, with a baby boy in the house?
I doubt any American needs to be told about the amazing levels of consumerism in our culture. I’d like to comment instead on how this consumerism has been tied to our national well-being. “Consumer confidence” is considered a crucial measure of the economy. In 2008 the Bush Administration and Democratic congress gave away free money to every tax-paying citizen in an attempt to “stimulate the economy.” The news media will breathlessly report the sales figures from this weekend in an attempt to determine if we are turning the corner on this recession. Black Friday is part of our national meta-narrative. If we can just come together and spend enough, we will all get through this.
And it is true, to an extent. Our economy is greatly based on the consumption of frivolous goods. It seems a foolish way to organize a society, yet here we are. Consumerism is patriotic and essential for national happiness, or so we are told. I wonder how well the shiny gadgets will serve us in times of real trouble (not just the meta-troubles of capitalism).
I am doing my best to not bow down to Mammon today. It is counter-cultural. And truth be told, I find it very difficult.