Another Thanksgiving has come and passed. I took part in the football, food, and festivities (courtesy of some fellow graduate students who graciously hosted me in their home). During the night the conversation got sociological, as it so often does when alcohol and academics meet. I voiced an opinion that stores should be closed on Thanksgiving so that we, as Americans, can just enjoy one day free of needless consumption. The idea was rejected by a fellow student who argued that if people want to work on a holiday they should be able to, so as to make money to feed their families. While this is a valid argument, I countered that it is a paid day off (and if it is not a paid holiday in any workplace, it needs to immediately become one) and that I’m sure many workers would—if asked—prefer to stay at home rather than deal with the mobs of consumers.
My argument is not so much economic or personal, rather it is principled. As a country, nations have holidays to commemorate events. I recognize that the history of Thanksgiving itself might have its own dark undertones—take Slate’s humorous article (which is worth a full read) covering the holiday as if it happened in another country using the language of U.S. media:
The annual holiday, known as Thanksgiving, celebrates a mythologized moment of peace between America’s early foreign settlers and its native groups—a day that by Americans’ own admission preceded a near genocide of those groups. Despite its murky origins, the holiday remains a rare institution celebrated almost universally in this ethnically diverse society.
But I also recognize that the “event” in question can also be philosophical: taking one day out of the calendar to reflect on what you have (or have experienced) that makes you thankful can be useful. Thanksgiving could, in theory, be an introspective and cathartic holiday, prepping one for the New Year and its inevitable resolutions. Instead, Thanksgiving is (or maybe, was), a prelude to the mayhem of America’s unofficial holiday “Black Friday”. For a long time, stores would resist opening until 6:00 am on the Friday. Since the early 2000s, however, opening times have crept earlier and earlier (extreme capitalism anyone?) from 5:00am to 4:00am to 12:00am to, now, 6:00pm on actual Thanksgiving day. Its not that I don’t like material goods—I have a collection of football shirts—it is more that the connection between “national holiday” and “consumption” is troubling.
The website blackfridaydeathcount gives a running count of Black Friday deaths and injuries since 2006 and the casualty report is reminiscent of a small scale “third-world” insurgency: 9 dead and 102 injured over ten years. This year was no different, with shootings from sea to shining sea in Nevada, New Jersey, and Tennessee that left two dead and two injured. This doesn’t include those involved in a mass brawl at a California mall. Of course, it is the bottom line that matters and “Adobe Digital Index reported Friday that online shoppers had spent roughly $1.15 billion and were on track to spend close to $2 billion on Thanksgiving alone, an increase of 14 percent over last year, according to CNBC. The National Retail Federation expects holiday sales to increase 3.6 percent, to $655.8 billion, through November and December”. The deaths and violence are a small price to pay for sales increases.
Even though the economy might be helped by Black Friday, I can’t help but be repulsed at the violence and mayhem unleashed by consumers on the day after—and even day of—what is supposed to be an introspective holiday. Unfortunately, it is the same process I have seen in Turkey where national holidays have been slowly eroded so as to reduce people to the simple roles of “producer” and “consumer”, an argument I have made earlier. The scariest part is, Thanksgiving isn’t the only holiday under attack.
The “progressive” city of Bloomington, Indiana, recently renamed two long standing U.S. State and Federal Holidays. Columbus Day, celebrating the arrival of explorer Christopher Columbus to the Americas in 1492, was renamed “Fall Holiday” while Good Friday—a Christian holiday that marks Jesus Christ’s crucifixion—was renamed “Spring Holiday”. The renaming of a religious holiday is a fairly radical step, and one that is a part of the ongoing tend of global homogenization. Its part of the same trend of attacks on nationalism that spawned American Football player Colin Kaepernick’s protests, whose follower Mike Evans was recently criticized by an American sports anchor.
Sage Steele Again Tells It Like It Is. There Should be a Small Amount of Decorum in Social Protest So as Not To Cloud The Issue. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.breitbart.com/sports/2016/11/15/friendly-fire-espn-analyst-rips-mike-evans-trump-anthem-protest/
Mr. Evans Cuts a Lonely Figure During His Veteran’s Day Protest. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.breitbart.com/sports/2016/11/15/friendly-fire-espn-analyst-rips-mike-evans-trump-anthem-protest/
It is part of the same trend where students at Brown University tore down American flags ahead of Veteran’s Day (another holiday under attack) amid similar denigrations of the flag at American University. Last year, even at my own university, I argued with a student who threw an American flag on the floor in a classroom. As I picked it up off the floor, he told me that the flag “symbolized racism and oppression”, among other things. Obviously no country’s history is clean, but such essentialist generalizing of—and disrespect for—the flag is worrisome in a world that is (ironically) becoming more and more fragmented in the face of creeping homogenization. As a citizen of two countries I can see that nationalism has its positives and negatives, yet others don’t seem to see it that way.
The effect of this kind of rudderless society might, unfortunately, be dangerous. A story from the BBC, detailing a young British man who left to fight with ISIS/ISIL/DAESH in Syria, is indicative of the crisis in Western Society. Twenty-year old Rasheed Salah Benyahia left Birmingham for Syria to fight for the so-called Islamic State. BBC explains how ISIS’ recruiting works:
Through a simple them-and-us narrative. Stand with me, we shall be strong. That rhetoric, wrapped up in religious quotes stripped of their time and original meaning, was doing the rounds online. Young people, inevitably curious and not hearing the answers they wanted at home, were looking for solutions. Some became obsessed with the hyper-violence that the IS social media machine began pumping out to the internet.
The key part of this is that “young people” were “not hearing the answers they wanted at home [and] were looking for solutions”. In a West obsessed with extreme capitalism—to the point where people fight over shopping and where national holidays and national flags are continually disrespected and denigrated—people look for other sources of identity. The world is a dangerous and alienating place at times, and if individual and collective identities are completely erased it will lead to a search for identity elsewhere. The violent jihadists of ISIS/ISIS/DAESH are currently capitalizing on this dangerous trend in the West; the fact that the majority of their recruits know nothing of Islam shows that it isn’t necessarily an “Islam vs. the West” fight. Rather, it is just a magnet for those who feel marginalized by a global society that can offer no alternative to global homogenization in the name of corporate interests.
If we want to stop the spread of jihadist elements like these—and other opponents of “Western civilization”—we must realize that we need not live in a completely homogenous world. Fidel Castro, the revolutionary communist and former leader of Cuba, just died on 26 November 2016, aged 90. He had traded his military fatigues for an Adidas tracksuit, and if that isn’t a sign of capitalism overcoming communism, I don’t know what is.
From Military Fatigues . . . Image Courtesy Of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2634816/King-Castro-How-Fidel-lived-life-luxury-Cuba-complete-luxury-island-turtle-farm.html
. . . And Cigars . . . Image Courtesy Of: http://www.unfinishedman.com/cohiba-cigars-a-legend-thanks-to-fidel-castro/
. . . To An Adidas Tracksuit? Image Courtesy Of: http://www.repubblica.it/esteri/2016/04/20/news/per_fidel_castro_un_discorso_d_addio_presto_avro_90_anni_arriva_il_turno_di_tutti_-138010349/
And this interview with young Cubans, who support an opening with the United States, also tells part of the story. They say that they welcome investment but also “don’t want a lot of McDonald’s and Starbucks”. That’s the point that we need to realize. The world does not have to be one homogenous consumerist blob, characterized by McDonald’s and Wal-Mart and Starbucks and who knows what else. The world would be better off if countries could pursue their own interests, free from international meddling, and develop their own indigenous forms of capitalism. That would be the true globalism. Sadly, the recent attacks on national identity and perversion of national holidays in both the United States and Turkey tell me that we are still a long way off from that kind of world.