Christmas is coming down
'Tis the season to be moaning.
- Common Cents
It seems a rule of modern society that Christmas has become a time for general whinging. Although the premature appearance of festive goods in the shops in autumn is indeed annoying, almost as bad are the premature moans of ‘I saw Christmas decorations in my local store, and it is was still the middle of July!’ – anecdotes that become less funny and less observant each year.
Then there are complaints that Christmas has become stripped of its Christian content, a mere festival of rampant commercialism. Yes, well done. Clap, clap. Very well spotted. On top of this we are issued with grim statistics about how bad Yuletide is for people living on their own – especially males – who are more likely than at any other point in the calendar to top themselves.
In addition there are ‘anti-capitalists’ who have become accustomed to telling us that we should buy nothing for December 25, to spurn our vacuous culture of consumerism that does not enrich our lives but only impoverishes our bank accounts. Then there are people like myself, moaning about how other people are moaning. Jesus Christ! ‘Tis a season to be jolly? Hardly.
The anti-capitalist message is the one that has grown most noticeable of recent. Ten years ago the US-based campaign group Adbusters launched their own ‘Buy Nothing Day’, exhorting us in the West to spend 24 hours without purchasing a single item. 1 December saw us witness another campaign from this usual mixture of anti-capitalists, environmentalists, church campaigners and peace activists encouraging us to ‘$PEND A DAY WITHOUT $PENDING’. Their crusade is partly environmental – producing and buying stuff is bad for the health of our planet; part puritanical – materialism is bad for us and does not make us happy; and part commonsensical – we are building up a massive mountain of personal debt that will one day become our undoing.
I consider myself a fully paid-up libertarian capitalist, who believes that free-trade and an absence of governmental control is the best path for our general happiness. However, consumerism – the philosophy that says that shopping can make us content and is the best way of defining ourselves – is a bankrupt notion. It is easy to caricature ‘Buy Nothing Day’ as a modern form of Scroogism, but the fact remains that too many of us are in debt. Too many erroneously adhere to the notion of comfort spending, the idea that buying things will make us happy, when it makes us merely poorer and more disgruntled in the long term. Too many also see giving presents as a substitute for giving affection, with the more expensive the gift indicating a greater degree of guilt and not telling your friends and family that you love them.
Yes, ‘anti-capitalists’ can be quite a tiresome, miserable lot, and it would be regrettable if we got to the stage where bearing gifts of any description would be perceived as taboo. But our current, vulgarian semi-coercive state of affairs, where bigger is seen as better, is hardly something to applaud either.
- Always the quiet ones
The arrest of Urslaan Khan, a 21-year-old Manchester University student charged with trying to join a terror group fighting the US-led forces in Iraq, has apparently baffled friends and family. ‘I am a Muslim living in this country and I know what the media is like’, says a fellow Manchester student. ‘We do not know yet what is happening to Urlaan…. We have to wait. This could all be a lie.’
We should always be wary of those who blame ‘media bias’ for everything. For instance, whenever a hardcore minority of Cardiff City fans starts attacking people and generally indulging in mayhem and violence, their supporters tend to point the finger at the ‘biased English media’. This ignores the fact that Cardiff fans (along with Stoke) are disproportionately more inclined towards hooliganism.
Similarly, it’s all very well to accuse the British media for its ‘institutional Islamophobia’ or whatever, but it too ignores the reality that British Muslims have been known to carry out both successful and failed suicide bombings. Like Cardiff hooligans, we are of course talking about a small minority, but a minority that does exist.
To fend off accusations of both Islamophobia and Cymruphobia, may I at this point issue the customary caveat that I do have Muslim friends (and am on record on this site as quite an Islamophile) and that I have met extremely pleasant Cardiff City supporters. But just as Cardiff’s worst elements have ‘coined’ some of my fellow-Brentford pals on the head, pissed in their gardens and smashed up their cars, so people like Richard Reid or the British suicide bombers in Israel are not fictional characters invented by hacks in London.
- We never saw it coming
When people are arrested in these circumstances, we always hear the familiar cry: ‘but he was such a nice, quiet amusing boy. We never thought he’d get mixed up in this.’ We do not know yet whether the charges facing Khan are legitimate, but other cases seem to justify the old saying you should always look out for the quiet ones. I’m sure ‘toughman’ David Blunkett would be delighted to enshrine this philosophy in law: arrest all timid, nice, polite people who love their family and help their neighbours.
These kinds of stories remind me of a very bad taste (but funny) Onion article about a couple whose son kills himself: ‘We saw it coming a mile away’ his father told reporters. ‘Adrian was profoundly depressed and had lost all self-confidence and self-esteem…. He was convinced that nobody in the world loved him at all, or even cared if he lived or died. He’d frequently call himself names like “shithead” and “worthless”, and he was always telling us how we’d be better off without him. It was a textbook case.’ (1)
Patrick West is the author of Conspicuous Compassion: Why Sometimes it Really is Cruel to be Kind, Civitas, 2004. Buy this book from Amazon (UK).
(1) Parents of a suicide victim saw it coming a mile away, The Onion, 10 September 1998
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