Black Friday and Overconsumption

Black Friday - image by

I recently mentioned that I’m getting rid of a lot of book in the process of trying to simplify things in my life. One of the realizations I’ve had from this process is that I don’t find I have the need to go shopping nearly as much. When I am more consciously reflecting on the things that bring real value into my life, there are far fewer things I actually need.

Buy Nothing Day is a movement that I’ve taught about in my Philosophy for Living course before. The campaign urges people to buy nothing on Black Friday, in a sort of protest against commercialized overconsumption. Check out one of their more infamous ads here:

Books like One Nation Under Goods detail the addiction to shopping Americans have, and others like The Story of Stuff explain the tremendous environmental impact that this addiction has on the planet. That’s an interesting topic on itself, but one I’d like to save for another day. What I’m most interested in is a comment I ran across on an article about Buy Nothing Day, which I should note, has been unfortunately recently rebranded as Occupy Christmas

I’ve edited out the beginning and end, which is mostly a rant, but left everything else unedited. Take a minute to read through it:

Black Friday is something great… For the poor persons of the USA. The article is not even relevant to a good idea, but has a observation of someone that never had to live without food or electricity for a month. If those “Occupy” , Anonymous hacks try to block a door on Black Friday. No police will be called just a few ambulances for those who blocked the doors at first.

Black friday is the middle to poverty class, Christmas Shopping day. People save money the entire month — Will evenly buy `just enough food to save for Black Friday.

I don’t like Black friday because its way to many people, its ass to elbow… I can’t even really afford it, either… I don’t like a lot of people — I like nice and quiet for that is why I am often on at late hours. I have many friends that do the whole Black Friday and if I showed them this… They probably say the same thing — Those Occupy people that think they can stand in the way would be tossed aside and trampled on, if not beat to hell.

Black Friday is a good thing for MANY people that can not afford Xmas shopping. I know many in here probably never have the problem with buying stuff in that median of days to Xmas, but middle to poverty class do… Especially when they have families to take care of. I tried to argue with the fact that… People don’t realize how tough it is when you live pay check to pay check. They think poverty is a myth as they have their computer set up to pay bills and never had to buy anything with lose change.

From GOOD Blog

The entire idea behind Buy Nothing Day and the blog entry this comment was posted on is that overconsumption is bad on many levels – most notably that we spend money we don’t really have on “things” instead of doing more important things like actually spending time with the people for whom we’re buying presents.

Clearly, the commenter doesn’t get this – they are skimping on food and time with their family so they can buy gifts, and goes so far as to physically threaten anyone that would attempt to stand in their way. They argue that Black Friday is good for the “poverty class.” Yet, the very concept behind Black Friday is most harmful to those who can’t afford to make these types of purchases. The overzealous advertising creates a sense of “need” so strong that people will eat less to save money, leave their homes and possibly even families, and go stand in line in freezing weather so they can buy stuff. 

Let me say now that I know there are some things going on sale that would be considered “needs” in our day and age, but I’ve been out on Black Friday before just to experience what was happening, and I can say confidently that at least the very large majority of shopping that’s taking place has nothing to do with needs. Our culture focuses heavily on the newest gadgets and latest deals.

And I’ve been caught up in that cycle myself, but honestly – what are we giving up to have these things?

One criticism of Buy Nothing Day is that it doesn’t offer a “bigger picture.” Sure, we can buy nothing on one day, but there will be things that we truly need to buy. How do we address those things? Once we’re ready for that, then perhaps we can start thinking about things like Shift Your Shopping campaigns. I say one thing at a time though.

Do you think you can resist buying anything on Black Friday?

On this Thanksgiving Day, which might more appropriately be called “Black Friday Eve”, I leave you with these thoughts:

  • Will you be shopping on Black Friday?
  • What will you be shopping for?
  • Why are you buying these things?
  • Could you do without them?
  • Are there other things you could do with the time you’d be standing in line or shopping?

Black Friday: Rethink the Season

You may also like: