Black Friday

“The essence of hermeneutics, an art widely practiced in former times, consists in adding further analogies to the one already supplied by the symbol: in the first place subjective analogies produced at random by the patient, then objective analogies provided by the analyst out of his general knowledge. This procedure widens and enriches the initial symbol.”
Carl Jung, Collected Works, Vol. 7

“Every interpretation necessarily remains an ‘as-if.’ The ultimate core of meaning may be circumscribed, but not described.”
Carl Jung, Collected Works, Vol. 9


Our ecological position is actually very simple to understand; we just do not want to see it, do not want to hear about it, we pretend not to grasp it, and we insist we do not feel its despair. We have raised the denial of Limits to Growth, climate change and the sixth extinction to an art form. All the most powerful people are doing it.

magicalcongressIsn’t it interesting that this image pops into the collective mind right at the time the US congress is about to be populated by magical thinkers quick to deny climate change science?

The view I have shared in these posts over the last few years has included a type of archetypal analysis of the social mind. Just as a depth psychologist will look to a patient’s dreams to pick up clues to what the individual knows outside of their narrow ego awareness, so we can look to the ways in which our societies seek one thing consciously, yet leave clues as they do so about the larger questions of history and meaning those societies are dealing with. It is a working premise of mine that all cultures are deeply engaged in what scholars call the history of ideas. With one eye on mythological themes and another eye on the unfolding of history under the aegis of the Limits to Growth constraints, those who contemplate ecology are well equipped for such analytical activities.

This week the recent holiday comes in for some hermeneutic treatment. This type of analysis never reaches firm and final conclusions. It is in the spirit of playful creativity, finding insights by circling around and around an idea or symbol. It is an engagement with what things might mean for us.

This hermeneutic treatment is offered as a framework for introducing the next cognitively simple idea on which we can build an effective response to the ecological crisis. I am calling these boulders of simplicity. This is another bolder on which a mindfulness of ecological reality allows the contemplative to sit in some assurance that they actually know a little bit of what is really going on in the world. The more we learn to think like a mountain, the less tempted we are to fall for cognitive will-o-wisps pushed by the talking heads. It does not behoove us to hitch our star to some horseshit that is here today, gone tomorrow. We are looking for boulders easily able to weather the years.

Thanksgiving has traditionally been a time in which extended family gathered together to share a meal they cooked themselves. It is done in commemoration of the very important story to citizens of the United States in which the Native Americans’ generosity saved the first pilgrims from dying during the harsh winter in their new land.

There are so many things wrong with this, at least from the point of view of those whose job it is to keep the collective mind of the consumer society primed for consuming. It could be it is the most dangerous holiday: the one in which the contrast of values is greatest between classic Christianity influenced culture and the post World War public relations influenced culture. Let’s take it point by point. Extended family was targeted early in the mass marketing campaigns. You can sell more things to isolated nuclear families than to those who already have much of what they need by retaining multiple generations of goods. Cooking a meal together and then sharing the feast are not pastimes that should be encouraged because they can provide moments of happiness wholly unrelated to market place transactions. White pilgrims needing the help of Native Americans runs counter to our images of ourselves as the self-sufficient, self-made country. The Native Americans were repackaged as primitive savages to justify our land grab and besides, don’t they have way too much concern about ecology and walking lightly on the land to be modern anyway? They insist on such ridiculous things as water being more valuable than oil.

These are just the outer wrappings around the Thanksgiving holiday that threaten the consumer value system. These might have been manageable, in fact are. The one unforgivable feature of this particular holiday is the thanks-giving in Thanksgiving. Giving thanks for what one already has is the death knell to endless growth economics. To give thanks is to be in a place of psychological contentment. This is not acceptable to those who need to sell things.

And so Thanksgiving Thursday gained a parasite: Black Friday.

A tradition has grown in the land of consumerism. It started rather small and mostly unobtrusive, though it was a parasite from the beginning. First it was seen as an adjunct to the Thanksgiving holiday, a few bonus coupons and sales. Then the hours the stores would open on this special Friday were moved earlier and earlier. Lines forming at five in the morning became news worthy. The years went by and now many of the “best” bargains are made available at the stroke of midnight – the final capitulation to the instant gratification value system of consumerism.

This is how I would characterize the social phenomenon we have christened Black Friday: it is consumerism’s holy day. It is a special time set aside for obeisance to the first world gods of money and markets. The holy day breaks out of ordinary time in all the ways holy days usually do: there are special rites that change the time people do things (setting my alarm for 4 am to go shopping!); special markings granting boons from the gods (20% Off Today Only!); Dionysian danger to test the faithful (Shopper Crushed by Ecstatic Mob); participation in the nation’s most sacred sport, pushing shopping carts, and as a member of the largest national sport team each participant is granted the opportunity to give their all to beat the competition (Black Friday Sales up 17% this Year); if the magical rites are successfully carried out the gods will bestow their blessing on the coming new year (Retailers Report Consumer Confidence Restored!).

Do you begin to see how this hermeneutic analysis can aid us in orienting ourselves in our own time and within our own culture by locating things like this new secular holiday within the context of larger human experience?

Black Friday gets its name from the accounting profession. It marks the official opening of the holiday shopping season, which is when many retailers make the lion share of their profits and their accounting books move from being in the red to being in the black. That is the explanation of the name we use consciously, publicly. Those who designed the name for this special day, of course, did so with an equally powerful message for our unconscious minds following the standard dictates of the advertising profession.

Good Friday – Black Friday is the obvious linkage. I think very few of us have never made the connection, at least semi-consciously, but without some training in hermeneutics did not know what to make of it and quickly filed it in the interesting coincidences drawer and forgot about it.

Christ Friday. This god died to put an end to human sacrifice. This god endures pain and suffering for the greater good of the whole human family. This god dies to save the human race from the power of sin.

Its inversion is simple enough.

Shopping Friday. This god demands human sacrifice. This god offers instant gratification, or at least distraction and narcosis, to soothe the isolated individual. This god lives to ensnare the human race in compulsions and obsessions.

I suspect for most of us the cleverness is recognized, though semi-consciously. Good Friday is Christianity’s highest holy day, Black Friday is the Anti-Christ’s highest holy day: aka not giving to the least of these but glorying in the world trade of Babylon. People are dying in desperate poverty, poverty all too often exacerbated by first world foreign policy and crony capitalism controlled foreign aid. People are dying from wars, wars all too often exacerbated by first world rapacity in its need for oil and other industrialization resources. The Black Friday holiday represses all these truths, and others like them, behind a slick set of ad campaigns. It turns our attention from the needs of the world, to the needs the advertisers have created.

It is as if we needed to show all the world that we have raised another god above us, one that will take from the poor and give to the rich. This god is beholden to petroleum, cloaking itself in the black mantel of that toxic Dragon’s Blood. If the Good Friday Christ was the light of life rising in the golden dawn of a new day, this Black Friday Christ is the dark of death sinking in the leaden twilight of a violent night. One said “man does not live by bread alone,” the other insists he does. Like the contest between the ecologists and the economists, only one of them can be right. . . and time will tell.

Finding the meaning of human society in the act of shopping shrunk our souls, leaving us little more than robotic husks going through the motions, waiting for the axe to fall. A good dollop of mindfulness can see right through this whole set of fun house mirrors. A good dollop of compassion can playfully watch the whole cognitive house of cards built by the ad men come tumbling down.

This then is our next boulder of simplicity: There really is no way to justify the destruction of the biosphere for short term profits. It really is that simple.

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