Black Friday Musings of an ex-Raging Materialist
You know, it's weird to try to come to terms with how I realize now I've always had the underpinnings of an oppositional and rebellious soul, yet I somehow didn't question anything for so long (?!). I always knew that things felt off - I mean, my serial adultery within my serial monogamy should have been my first clue that I wasn't ever meant to 'fit in'... but I was never shown that I was allowed to stand out. I guess that's how the machine continues to turn, right? By not "allowing us to 'go rogue'".
I began to question things somewhere around my first rock-bottom (or what I was certain was rock bottom back then that I look at now and think, "Wow..things weren't really so bad.". It began with raging, gut-wrenching bravery that appeared to the rest of the world as subtle defiance.... and when the subtle defiance didn't kill me it was the heavy-handed dose of courage that put wind in my sails to keep going. Somewhere along the way, I got high on standing out from the crowd. Ya, sure, it was lonely sometimes - but the views went on for miles when there weren't crowds of people in the way. Since those first early steps of brazen sense-of-self I've continued down a path of growth and death and re-birth and growth and death again. Never fully conscious of the cycles but looking back now they were glaringly present.
Live, learn, ache, die, repeat.
Just two years ago I blindly 'celebrated' expat Thanksgiving while being displaced in eastern Europe. We explained to our non-North American friends loosely what the traditions were and even more loosely where they came from. But it was around the same time that the internet became flooded with social justice activists and heated conversations around the genocide and colonialism and inequality... followed up with Canada's recent shadows of residential schools being dug up from decades of dark silence - and the reality hit me harder than any turkey coma could. This holiday was bulls*it and we should really be speaking openly about the darkness rather than masking it with store-bought stuffing and cranberry sauce.
It's not that we can't have the turkey dinner, guys. But let's have random turkey dinner on, like, September 10th... just because.... rather than going to pretty remarkable lengths to paint this surrealistic version of how things went down back then. Let's just call a spade a spade, stare into our shadows for a second, and do better. That's all.
Can we please just have the uncomfortable conversations? Because that's what it took for me to have the light shed on truth I wasn't otherwise aware of. That's all.
And after feeling particularly heated yesterday about all the Thanksgiving posts and the fact that we need to all be having conversations about the uncomfortable truths, I was even more bewildered with today's Black Friday flood of posts. For what it's worth, there's nothing sanctimonious or holier-than-thou in these reflections: I used to be a RAGING materialist.
My whole life, love came and went in the form of gifts. That's largely all I knew - if you love me, you give me things. When I love you back, I bend over backwards to make sure you're lauded and lavished with stuff. It's not healthy, but it's a love language for a reason: it's easy to get our brains high on things.
I knew Black Friday deals were a thing. I don't normally enjoy mass humanity - let alone crowds in chaos tumbling over each other for a 70% off TV - so Black Friday was never my thing.... but I was fairly neither here nor there about it. This year, though, things are different for me in a big way - a culmination of all my splintered Selves and dark truths spilling out and staring back at me from puddles and shards at my feet.
I have worked so. fuxking. hard. to overcome my genetic hard-writing to be turned on by stuff. and, I mean, stuff is fine if it's not masking uncomfortable feelings... we all need stuff... but the question becomes, how much stuff do we actually need? and at what cost does that stuff come?
I can't help but think of Jasmin Huber, the founder of WeDress Collective - an European clothing rental platform. She's a brazen warrior in her space, a badass entrepreneur committed to educating the world about the dangerous social and environmental impact of 'fast fashion' - a term I'd never even heard of (and something I was absolutely blindly buying into). The less something costs the more needs to be produced, and blind excessive consumption is coming at costs far beyond the few dollars westerners spend. It's easy to ignore the problem when it's not seen on our own shores (which isn't to say it doesn't exist, but Canadian and American labour laws and basic human rights are a long stretch from Cambodia or Bangladesh.)
Can we just take a moment to reflect on the dark truths?
Look. I don't have the answers. And I'm not on some morally high-ground as some virtuous ethical leader.... I'm only just learning. Literally only just learning. I may not buy into Black Friday but the two suitcases I moved with are, admittedly, filled with fashion the planet was raped to create. I haven't spent much money on clothes since my first major materialistic-overhaul about a decade ago.... but in learning from Jasmin I realized the impacts of my choices. Today, I'm beginning to fiddle around with the idea of conscious clothing ethically and lovingly made by locals - yet the costs are 10x what I would pay at H&M and that stings as well. I'm still figuring this out. But back to Black Friday.
I follow exclusively conscious / aware brands + accounts online. I couldn't believe how flooded my feed was today with "deals". It felt weirdly misaligned and I needed to sit with my distaste. What bothered me so much about this? It feels grimy and incongruent.
Black Friday. A commerce phenomenon with total disregard for conscious consumption or ethical consumerism. Propagating excess at the cost of psychological warfare that arises from hyper-spending. It's not-so-known origins? Back in the 1950's, Philadelphia hosted an annual army vs navy football game. The game drove in tons of tourists. The larger crowds sparked major sales as retailers attempted to capitalise on the influx. Amid the chaos, shoplifting was rampant. Local law enforcement dreaded working that day, calling it "Black Friday". The term was further solidified as retailers would move their annual profits "into the black" by the end of the year.
And then, the brain. We are genetically programmed to seek out great "deals".... but with over 70% of Black Friday spending being on Xmas gifts, it's one consumerist nightmare feeding the next. As I sit here deconstructing materialism and the neurochemical highs we're addicted to getting when we buy, it all makes perfect sense - we're not chasing the 70% off television, we're in hot pursuit of the narcotic dose of pleasure chemicals in our brain that come as a result of spending less, getting more, and feeding that bottomless ego troll.
Unfortunately, financial instability as a result of excessive consumerism is one of the key imprisonments we face in this life. Mental health suffers in the long run. Social and environmental ethics go out the window as low prices drive down working wages and production conditions. I can't even begin to tell you about the heartbreaking reality of fast fashion I learned about from an Austrian tech founder of a clothing rental platform.
.... Yet nothing says health + wellbeing like senseless mass production and debilitating consequences of financial ruin. 👏
When I ask my conscious, aware friends / brands why the Black Friday push? "It works." they respond. - but aren't we fuelling the problem, then?? Shouldn't we be collectively pushing back in the spirit of ethics and wellness?
Here's 5 Ways To Make A More-Ethical Black Friday Impact (while still enjoying the high of a sale):
1. Spend Consciously. Ask yourself, "Is this a want or a need?".
"Am I purchasing this to nourish myself, or numb feelings I don't want to feel?"
2. Reflect on the Why. "Am I buying this with the intention of showing it off to others online?"
"Would I feel the same way about this purchase if I didn't post a picture of it?"
"Which of my neural pleasure pathways is this purchase feeding?"
- here are some free alternatives: