By Jason Miller
Bursting forth with renewed intensity, the â€œWar on Christmasâ€ is back in 2006. So just what does this alleged war against an impalpable enemy entail? Have â€œIslamofascistsâ€ captured and decapitated Santa Claus? Did a US-made IDF â€œsmart bombâ€ strike Bethlehem and obliterate baby Jesus as he lay in the manger? Did the Grinch go global with his nefarious thievery?
Actually, the answer can be found amongst the corporate mediaâ€™s nearly countless obfuscations and deceits.
Divisive, sophistic arguments crafted by â€œsageâ€ pundits and readily accepted by genuflecting readers admonish that secular forces are determined to eradicate Christmas and its celebrantsâ€™ joy with the zeal of a restaurateur exterminating cockroaches. What an ingenious way to divert attention from the ongoing genocide in Iraq and the gutting of our Constitution!
Christmas may not truly be under siege, but our corporate overlords have certainly discovered myriad ways to wield it as a psychological weapon and to administer it as an â€œopiate of the massesâ€.
While Christmas may only come once a year, the pernicious effects of the Consumerism it manifests to such a high degree are virtually omnipresent in a society premised on acquisitiveness. Consumerism is the tap root of the sprawling and gnarled tree of predatory Capitalism. Like an aberrant black walnut tree of gargantuan proportion, American Capitalism(1) exudes toxins that stunt or eradicate nearly every living thing attempting to grow within the circumference of its expansive root system.
As recently as 2004, major US retailers raked in a staggering $216.3 billion in November and December as each US consumer spent an average of $835.00 on holiday gifts(2).
Making the minimum monthly payment on just $1200.00 worth of credit card debt at an interest rate of 18% would take a mere 22 years to repay(3). Welcome to debt slavery!
What of Santa Claus and Rudolph? Despite Global Climate Change decimating their home at the North Pole, they are merrily leading Consumerismâ€™s charge toward humanitarian and ecological disaster. If Santaâ€™s scheme is to retire to a palatial estate in Miami, he can forget that. As the polar ice cap melts, most of Florida will be inundated.
While visions of sugar plums are dancing through the heads of many US Americans, Santaâ€™s real elves wallow in abject misery. 57% of the toys sold in the United States are imported from China, with Wal-Mart leading the way. In December of 2001 the National Labor Committee issued a report entitled Toys of Misery which profiled the working conditions in Chinese factories that produced Harry Potter and Barbie toys. Working 16 hours a day and seven days a week, young Chinese women received as little as 17 cents per hour to perform repetitive operations over 3,000 times per day. They languished in temperatures exceeding 100 degrees while breathing noxious fumes in improperly ventilated buildings(4).
Unfortunately for Chinese laborers, more recent reports indicate little improvement in their situation(5,6,7). Evidence compiled just last month demonstrates that suppliers for Wal-Mart, Hasbro, and Disney are still egregiously exploiting employees in Chinese toy factories. Even Dickens would have been shocked at the plight of these wretched souls.
Meanwhile many US Americans are adhering to their indoctrination by acquiring as many material possessions they possibly can. Oblivious to the human or environmental cost, they shop with the fervor of Christian zealots converting the â€œheathen aboriginalsâ€ of Turtle Island.
Global Issues (www.globalissues.org) has compiled some startling and appalling information concerning the diseased phenomenon of Consumerism:
â€œInequalities in consumption are stark. Globally, the 20% of the worldâ€™s people in the highest-income countries account for 86% of total private consumption expenditures â€” the poorest 20% a minuscule 1.3%.
More specifically, the richest fifth:
- Consume 45% of all meat and fish, the poorest fifth 5%
- Consume 58% of total energy, the poorest fifth less than 4%
- Have 74% of all telephone lines, the poorest fifth 1.5%
- Consume 84% of all paper, the poorest fifth 1.1%
- Own 87% of the worldâ€™s vehicle fleet, the poorest fifth less than 1%â€
Bear in mind that Global Issues derived these numbers from a United Nations report issued in 1998. However, World Bank data from 2003 reflected little improvement in the glaring disparities of consumption or in our shamefully misplaced priorities.
Anchoring Consumerism as it does, it is patently absurd to believe for a moment that Christmas is the least bit threatened. Consumerism is essential to those stalking the corridors of power in the United States. They need the â€œSeason to be Jollyâ€ to obscure the crimes they have committed (including offenses for which men were sentenced to hang at Nuremberg) and to ensure that the hoi polloi remains obedient.
No, Consumerism, and hence Christmas, are quite safe. They are essential components of the power structure spawning and protecting beasts like Bush and Cheney.
In his 1999 book, Global Problems and the Culture of Capitalism, Richard Robbins observed:
[T]he consumer revolution of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was caused in large part by a crisis in production; new technologies had resulted in production of more goods, but there were not enough people to buy them. Since production is such an essential part of the culture of capitalism, society quickly adapted to the crisis by convincing people to buy things, by altering basic institutions and even generating a new ideology of pleasure. The economic crisis of the late nineteenth century was solved, but at considerable expense to the environment in the additional waste that was created and resources that were consumed.
With respect to advertising, the deeply compelling psychological mechanism through which American Capitalists entice the masses to buy more and more of what they donâ€™t need, Robbins explained:
The goal of the advertisers was to aggressively shape consumer desires and create value in commodities by imbuing them with the power to transform the consumer into a more desirable person. ... In 1880, only $30 million was invested in advertising in the United States; by 1910, new businesses, such as oil, food, electricity and rubber, were spending $600 million, or 4 percent of the national income, on advertising. Today that figure has climbed to well over $120 billion in the United States and to over $250 billion worldwide.
And the Corporatocracy has received a tremendous bang for its advertising buck, as evidenced by more statistics provided by Global Issues:
World consumption has expanded at an unprecedented pace over the 20th century, with private and public consumption expenditures reaching $24 trillion in 1998, twice the level of 1975 and six times that of 1950. In 1900 real consumption expenditure was barely $1.5 trillion.
Given the horrendous fallout from Americaâ€™s extraordinarily avaricious behavior, perhaps a â€œWar on Christmasâ€, and hence Consumerism, wouldnâ€™t be such a calamity after all. But rather than launching a belligerent attack so typical of the United States, what we really need is a non-violent spiritual struggle to establish a meaningful observance of the birth of Christ.
Some view Jesus Christ as a god, some a man, and others a myth. Yet regardless of which concept one embraces, the moral teachings attributed to Christ rank at or near the peak of humanityâ€™s ethical evolution. Devoting a day to commemorate him certainly makes sense when one considers some of the other historical figures whom we celebrate.
While it is impossible to be 100% certain, it is extremely unlikely that Christ would find much virtue in the perversion that Christmas has become. I suspect he would demand answers to at least four questions:
1. Why is so much emphasis placed on materialism on a day honoring an individual who devoted himself to the poor and down-trodden?
2. What are we teaching our children by showering them with virtually everything they want (and then some) while 10 million people starve to death each day?
3. Why do we further enslave ourselves to amoral corporations by taking on mountains of debt to buy more of their products for which we have no real need, thus contributing to their ongoing rape of humanity and the Earth?
4. Why do we devote only one of 365 days to â€œpeace on Earth and good will toward menâ€?
How would one respond to such challenges?
I have been addressing them head on for the last several years and have no intention of ceasing to toil. For me it has been a slow, steady, and humbling progression. Little by little I have been divesting myself from complicity in the multitude of crimes against humanity perpetrated by those atop the pyramid of American Capitalism.
Striving each day to remain free from the addictive, deleterious, and exploitative products of the alcohol, tobacco, soft drink, and pornography industries, I practice a number of the principles of the Twelve Step program along with an eclectic set of moral values I have cobbled together over the course of my spiritual journey, including many of those espoused and modeled by Christ.
Of course I fall down at times, but I am quick to get back up, take responsibility, and make amends. It goes without saying that as a human being I can embody but a percentage of my ideals. Yet I have found that the more vigorously I apply myself, the greater that percentage becomes. Obviously there is a point of diminishing returns in terms of exerting effort. Once I reach that leveling point, I lower my intensity.
Over the last few months, I have stepped up my recycling efforts significantly.
Embracing a somewhat ascetic lifestyle, it is a rare occasion when I buy something simply because I want it.
I have boycotted Wal-Mart for over two years now, paying substantially more for groceries and other necessities than when I shopped there regularly.
I generally shun corporate chains and frequent stores owned by small entrepreneurs or local companies as often as possible.
Rather than taking a second job that would help fuel the engine of rapacious Capitalism, I do volunteer work with homeless shelters. Besides giving my spare time and energy to help the domestic victims of Americaâ€™s ruthless socioeconomic system, I also donate what little money I can afford and buy my clothes from a thrift store that subsidizes the City Union Mission, Kansas Cityâ€™s largest organization servicing homeless human beings.
This Christmas, I have asked friends and family members who typically give me gifts to do so in the form of money so that I can give even more to the deeply impoverished. I have also chosen to incur no debt in purchasing gifts.
During the 2006 holiday season, I am purging yet another ugly aspect of Consumerism from my being. My effort will involve defying years of inculcation by a society that puts a substantial premium on money, violence and crushing the competition.
For as long as I can remember, I have been an avid supporter of the Kansas City Chiefs, an NFL football team. Yet as a strident domestic critic of American Capitalism and as a person dedicated to a path of spiritual development, I have determined that my time, emotional energy, and intellectual efforts are wasted when I devote them to supporting corporate entities which generate billions of dollars for a handful of wealthy elites or their pampered employees who receive millions of dollars to play a game.
Reflecting on the extent of domestic and world poverty, I have come to view my relatively modest collection of Chiefs apparel and memorabilia as sinfully large. Besides selling these items and contributing the proceeds to worthy causes, I will make a conscious transition from rabid NFL fan to casual observer.
Like the gradual yet steady forces of erosion, appreciable numbers of individuals pursuing moral paths can significantly mitigate the damage rendered by Consumerism. And it is possible for one to pursue such a course without dropping off the grid, self-destructing, or going to the extreme of someone like Diogenes.
So in the spirit of my proposed alternative to â€œChristmas as we know itâ€, hereâ€™s hoping that Santa and Rudolph do retire to Florida.
Before itâ€™s too lateâ€¦.
End Notes and Suggested Reading:
(1) American Capitalism is a malignancy that permeates our economic, social, and political systems and institutions. This untreated cancer ravaging the body of civilization is spreading like an unchecked conflagration in a munitions factory. Feudalism didnâ€™t die; it simply evolved. Corporatism, Consumerism, wage slavery, debt slavery, free trade agreements, deregulation, and privatization condemn most of the global population to varying degrees of slavery, serfdom or indentured servitude.