Live Well Do Good

Reflecting on Consumption

Brandon Sun, November 21, 2011 - David McConkey

The Occupy Wall Street protest may be fading. But there is an opportunity this Friday for anyone to reflect on the issues raised by the Occupy protesters.

At first largely ignored, Occupy Wall Street (and elsewhere) has transformed the public conversation. Even those who criticize the protesters refer to the issues the Occupiers highlighted, like jobs, inequality, bailouts for the rich, and the consumer society.

The Occupiers are like many protesters, trailblazers, and whistleblowers: they raise the issues that should be addressed but we would rather ignore. Even long after their ideas become mainstream, we often still view protesters as annoying, impractical, or possibly dangerous.

Think of those who protested more than a century ago against slavery or for the right of women to vote. Doesn’t something like a picture of disruptive radicals come to mind?
 
But just as those voices were needed years ago to draw attention to unsettling issues, those voices are also needed today. It is not just Greece or Italy that is unsustainable. So too are many other aspects of our world: from inequality of wealth and opportunity to resource consumption that is beyond the limits of the planet.

And while the Occupy protests have made an impression on the current narrative, their lasting influence may be even more far reaching. The discussions (and whatever else was going on in those tents!) could become the inspiration and incubator for this generation’s new ideas for society, business, technology, the arts, whatever.

The unconventional is an important part of progress. The Occupy movement could have an impact like the “Whole Earth Catalog” and LSD had on Steve Jobs in his pre-Apple days in the 1970s.

But what about this Friday?

This Friday is Buy Nothing Day, which was first promoted by Adbusters magazine in the early 1990s. (This Vancouver-based publication is also the originator of Occupy Wall Street, calling for the protest in its July issue.)

Buy Nothing Day is marked on the Friday after American Thanksgiving; in 2011, this Friday. In the U.S., it is the start of the Christmas season and the busiest shopping day of the year. (Think of Boxing Day in Canada.) For retailers, it is the good “Black Friday,” when they go into the “black.”
 
Another day in the shopping cycle is “Cyber Monday,” which is the following Monday. This is now the busiest day for online purchasing. After perusing products, consumers place their actual orders on the Internet on Monday when they are back at work.

Buy Nothing Day can be a break from this hectic consumerism. It can be a day to reflect on our shopping decisions and also on our commercialized world. Adbusters points out that we are bombarded by literally thousands of marketing messages every day. This theme is explored in Morgan Spurlock’s recent movie The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. (On Amazon.com.)

What we buy impacts the world’s people, communities, and environment. Money is an important part of how we engage as local / global citizens: as consumers, borrowers, savers, investors, donors, and organization members.

Buy Nothing Day can be a meaningful respite. We can consider how we might purchase items that, for example, are fair trade or environmentally sound, or support a local business or charity. We also can consider how our buying affects us overall. Taking a break from shopping can be a chance to start the decluttering of our spaces, our minds, our lives.

And while it has been around for two decades, Buy Nothing Day could well be coming into its own right now.

We are in a time of anxiety about who we are and what we buy. While some in the world are dealing with too much stuff in their lives, others do not have enough resources to actually live.

We are searching – personally and globally – for just that right mix of sustenance, satisfaction, and sustainability.

These concerns have been put into sharp focus by the recent economic turmoil of the 2008 financial meltdown, the recession, and the global debt crises.

Take a look at the new genre of popular TV shows that capture this current zeitgeist. Among them are HoardersStorage Wars, and Consumed. (Respectively, in two-word reviews: simply depressing, strangely addictive, and surprisingly uplifting!)

While they entertain us, these programs invite us to ask: When does a bounty of stuff become a river of crap?

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See also:

Tomorrow, Buy Nothing

Learning to Step Lightly

Youth May Soon Lead Change

The 4-Hour Workweek - Review

Live Well, Do Good