The human species would not have survived without the instinct of acquisition. We are all descendants of people who got what they needed—alas, often at the expense of other people. But we also have an instinct of contentment, of being able to be satisfied with what we have, to be happy even if we do not have everything that we might want. Imagine Paiute Natives in the Mojave Desert in pre-Columbian times, living in a manner that was beyond frugal, just barely surviving. But the most successful Paiutes, with greatest evolutionary fitness, were those who felt that the land was beautiful and who loved their lives. They were the ones who did not give up, they were the survivors. It may not have occurred to them to spend time thinking about a Big Rock Candy Mountain with all of the things they could not have.
Modern civilization has given us conditions in which the ability to be satisfied with what we have has nearly been strangled. We want everything not just because we want everything but because other people will look down on us if we don’t have everything. Gone is the “Desiderata” of “Go placidly amidst the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence,” to be replaced with “Buy things you don’t want with money you don’t have to impress people you don’t like.” We all know this.
A writer named Colin Beavan decided to live for a year in a way that would produce no net impact upon carbon emissions. He describes his experience in his book No Impact Man. He found it was very difficult to have no impact, but quite easy to have less impact, on Earth’s resources. And he discovered, as have thousands of people who have sought a simpler and more spiritual life, that he was perfectly happy without many of the things that he had previously considered essential. He discovered that part of the reason we think that we need mountains of stuff is that advertisers, through every medium and all day, tell us that we need the stuff. In Beavan’s words, a summary of every advertisement would read, “You suck, but if you buy our product you won’t. Then everybody will love you.”
Today is Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, and the traditional beginning of the Christmas season, which has for modern society become a time of unrelenting advertisement. As Dave Barry said, “Once again, we come to the holiday season: a deeply religious time that each of us observes, in his own way, by going to the mall of his choice.”
Black Friday is a time when, just one day after giving thanks for what we already have, we are willing to claw over the bodies of other people in order to buy what we do not have.
Please join me in National Buy-Nothing Day. Consuming less (and on some days buying nothing) is the only thing that will free us from the overuse of energy which is bringing on global warming. No amount of energy efficiency can compensate for the simple fact that we use too much of everything.