Knowing my interests (and famous bad attitude), many friends sent me this article in Jacobin, “The Meaning of Black Friday.” I like the detailing of the history of the name (first as a day of pandemonium, then as a perfunctory shopping day, and now as both combined), but I think the other comparisons are a little over-intellectualized. But it’s still interesting to think about how Thanksgiving and Christmas are now essentially the same holiday, except that one is for adults and the other is for children:
So in response to duty — to the alleged abandon disguised as duty — Black Friday has developed as the sly alternative. The activity is, by its very nature, as anti-Thanksgiving as you could get. Thanksgiving is, after all, a subject, even an abject celebration, in which one acknowledges submission to the whims of a distant God. Its role is in part to balance out Christmas and the practice of giving to children, in which non-reciprocity is celebrated: the child receives gifts without any expectation of reciprocal action on its part. The child’s role is simply to be. As adults we take our joy from that — Christmas Day without children is worthless and sad.
The last line makes me laugh, because as a purposely child-free adult, Christmas is so much better without children around, grabbing things and throwing paper and entirely bypassing the specialness of the occasion. For me, one of the best things about Christmas is that people stop giving a shit about work for a week or two, and start to fully appreciate things sent to them in the mail—thus a combination of two of my favorite activities: doing things that have nothing to do with one’s job, and writing/sending letters—both of which are normally lost in our empty capitalist Hunger-Games culture.
On this Thanksgiving eve: Robert Jensen on why we should replace the current holiday with a national day of atonement and fasting: “No Thanks For Thanksgiving“. Jensen writes, “It’s now routine—even among conservative commentators—to describe the United States as an empire, so long as everyone understands we are an inherently benevolent one. Because all our history contradicts that claim, history must be twisted and tortured to serve the purposes of the powerful.” He goes on:
Simply put: Thanksgiving is the day when the dominant white culture (and, sadly, most of the rest of the non-white but non-indigenous population) celebrates the beginning of a genocide that was, in fact, blessed by the men we hold up as our heroic founding fathers.
The first president, George Washington, in 1783 said he preferred buying Indians’ land rather than driving them off it because that was like driving “wild beasts” from the forest. He compared Indians to wolves, “both being beasts of prey, tho’ they differ in shape.”
Thomas Jefferson—president #3 and author of the Declaration of Independence, which refers to Indians as the “merciless Indian Savages”—was known to romanticize Indians and their culture, but that didn’t stop him in 1807 from writing to his secretary of war that in a coming conflict with certain tribes, “[W]e shall destroy all of them.”
I tend to agree with Bob here, although I still have a big dinner/lunch, with turkey and ham and pie and all the usual accoutrements. I also like that the holiday marks the end of the harvest; now it’s time to prepare for winter, which used to mean—and now still sort of means—winding down and not caring as much about our jobs, taking stock of the year, and spending time with friends and family. Once it gets cold out, who wants to do any work?
Additionally, it’s difficult for me not to support any mechanism for reminding people about natural rhythms and repeating cycles; unlike Hallmark holidays like Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving corresponds to the changing of seasons, and includes local plants and animals (food webs, remember those?). I’ve been trying to grow pumpkins since August, and if I had any to pick at this point, you can be sure it would be something I would celebrate as publicly as possible.
I know that Bob would resist this kind of thinking, writing in a similar article five years before the one linked: “The argument that we can ignore the collective cultural definition of Thanksgiving and create our own meaning in private has always struck me as odd. This commitment to Thanksgiving puts these left/radical critics in the position of internalizing one of the central messages promoted by the ideologues of capitalism—that individual behavior in private is more important than collective action in public.”
But not caring about work is (or should be) a collective action. Plus, I applaud any excuse to pull kids out of school.
“I am very fond, myself, of the writers who came out of the Middle West round about the beginning of the First World War. All the stale literary guidebook phrases aside, the honest ruggedness; the ‘pioneering vitality’, the ‘earthy humour’, the ‘undying folk tradition’, etcetera,—the hicktown radicals and iconoclasts, the sports journalists, the contributors to Reedy’s Mirror, the drinking, noisy Chicago preachers and atheists and ballad singers and shabby professional men, did bring something rough and good into the language that was dying on its feet, and not on its own feet, either.” – Dylan Thomas
“All political and economic arrangements are not worth it, that precisely the most gifted spirits should be permitted, or even obliged, to manage them: such a waste of spirit is really worse than an extremity. These are and remain fields of work for the lesser heads, and other than lesser heads should not be at the service of this workshop: it were better to let the machine go to pieces again.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
Here’s a good (and short) interview with Derrick Jensen about his writing process and about how he maintains his energy in all his activism and projects. The first question is somewhat trite, but the rest of the interview is insightful. My favorite part was about how he saves his convincing for his writing, so that he doesn’t have to do it all day with friends:
Also, I don’t have any friends in my life with whom I have to revisit Civilization is Bad 101 every time I open my mouth. None of my friends are human supremacists. None of my friends likes this culture. I can’t fight this culture and my friends too. It’s so great to be able to call up a friend and cry with them about how horrible it is what this culture is doing to the planet. And it’s great to be able to call up a friend and say, “Yay! The stock market went down 300 points today!”
I recently attended a talk by Bob Jensen (no relation) here in Austin, titled “Capitalism and Christianity: A Tale of Two Cults,” and one question during the Q&A was about what to tell relatives at Thanksgiving when they challenge one’s unconventional ideas (like, you know, that unlimited growth on a finite planet is unsustainable). Bob’s advice was to not eat with people who can’t even entertain alternatives to their viewpoints (and also not to celebrate Thanksgiving in the first place, but cultures are set in their ways).
Should we have friends who are like-minded, or is it good to have some friends who challenge one’s ideas in constructive ways? I definitely have friends in both categories, but I will say that at times having “debates,” as fun or idea-honing as they may be, can just be exhausting. There’s so much to do, and no time for unnecessary quarrels. Do you think poisoning the water supply is a bad idea? If so, then on some level we’re on the same team. I may not want to have a meal or a beer with you, though. I think that’s a good line to draw.