It's Black Friday. You know, that time of year where Americans wake up at 4am to buy things they don't need simply because we can. It has become a holiday in its own right. Don't get me wrong I love a good sale. Furthermore, I understand that it stimulates the economy, gives some people an opportunity to make some extra cash in overtime, and can be a lot of fun.
Nonetheless, what I find interesting about Black Friday is that its existence sums up the materialistic paradigm of the Western world quite nicely. Materialism is pervasive because it promises results. It's finite, clear, and the rules are fairly simple. It delivers on its promise and you can measure its boons. But when you really look at materialism and how it was inherited in the West you have to wonder how beneficial it is, or if it's worn out its welcome. What follows isn't an attack on corporations, money, capitalism, shopping, or Fridays. It's a brief exploration of the history of the ideology that fuels it all, and the effect its having on us culturally, spiritually and emotionally.
It's Aristotle's Fault
Let me preface this by saying I got no beef with Aristotle. We're cool or whatever, but we gotta go back to the beginning to understand this issue. Way back in the day (~360 BCE.) when Aristotle was still hanging around the marketplace teaching his students about argumentation and rhetoric the underpinnings of the materialist perspective was born. Aristotle thought that the closest way to get to the Gods was through reason, truth, rationality, and the pursuit of analytics.
He equated Truth with anything that was stable and unchanging. This included things like the heavens, mathematics, logic and men. Women on the other hand were seen as unstable because they change too much (monthly bleeding, labile moods, etc). Other things, that were later associated with women (and incidentally minorities), like intuition, emotion and nature, were also lumped into the unstable pile and regarded as "moving toward truth" but not quite truth itself. These things were supposed to strive toward Truth, but as things in and of themselves they were not to be trusted. There is no foundation with which to build civilization on these shifting things.
Aristotle's precepts about what Truth was became the predominant reality position in the Western world for the next 2000 years. Oh it evolved greatly in that span of time. After the classical Greeks were conquered and slaughtered by the Romans, the focus shifted to the birth and subsequent growth of Christianity in the Middle Ages, but only after the Romans orchestrated their own demise through an over focus on personal satisfaction, power and pleasure (sound familiar?)
By the early Middle Ages the Truth/Non-Truth binary conceptualized by Aristotle was pretty pervasive. Thus, truth became associated with the Christian notion of Godliness and piety. Early Scholastics (old-timey Christian theologians) furthered the dualism created by Aristotle and associated things like the heavens, celestial bodies, reason and stability as God-like and virtuous, and things like nature, change, emotion, women and the barbarians of the old world (such as tribes in Africa and Asia) as inherently sinful. The original precepts of love, understanding, and a love of all creatures espoused by Jesus were co-opted for dogma about how one reaches heaven.
Eventually the religious definition of truth fell out of favor and as the Middle Ages came to an end, so too did the reliance on what came to be known as superstitious religious beliefs. The Enlightenment brought many discoveries including the recognition that the world was not a flat disc and that you could indeed sail into the horizon without falling off. Additionally, it ushered in the replacement of God with Science. Before this God and spirit were still part of western ideology, even if Godliness was wrongly attributed to some things (reason, men, rationality and spirit) and not others (intuition, women, emotion and earth).
Science Wins, Fatality!
However as science and discovery became more popular so too did the equation of truth with the physical material world. That which can be trusted was only that which could be seen, felt, heard, smelled or tasted. Everything else was to be scrutinized and doubted. We can thank great thinkers like John Locke for his contribution to Aristotle's binary suppositions and for the creation of scientific materialism, which heralded many fascinating and important discoveries while at the same time sealing the proverbial coffin on the importance of the spiritual/emotional life as important.
In fact, skepticism and doubt replaced belief as virtuous human faculties (I think both are necessary). Of course there were still religious and spiritual people but the educated man (yes, man) was one who accepted in the doctrine of science, and with good reason; you could observe it working in the world and it could be tested. What good would emotion and intuition do you when gravity exhibits itself through testable measures?
More importantly, scientific discovery illustrated that we were progressing, that we were going somewhere. And its discoveries were massive. As scientific discoveries became the name of the game from the 17th-21st centuries the reliance on the material world to provide solutions to human beings' most pervasive problems (particularly the "problem" of death) became central to the way of life in the West. Science could cure disease, peer into space, and make daily life more simple. It's dignities were sung throughout the land but its atrocities are often downplayed (atomic bomb anyone?)
Materialism's Epic Fail
As reliance on the material world strengthened so too did anxiety about death. If there's nothing beyond what one can observe with the senses, what does that mean for the soul, the spirit? What does that mean happens when the physical body dies? We quelled these questions with more materialism; more stuff (money, cars, gadgets, clothes, houses, phones, TVs, etc.)
We have faith in the material to make things better, and thus more money is spent on the production of goods, technological research and material products. Through this process the Materialist paradigm became the heavyweight champion of the world, throwing its weight around every economically undeveloped country it could get its hands on.
Matters of the spirit were retained for some in religious ideology but not as a heart-centered practice. For many in the West, religion and spirituality are pipe dreams for the delusional, the superstitious, or the uneducated and were abandoned for the God of science and apparent progress. However, the inheritance of materialism has left many millions of people depressed, despondent and scrambling for meaning. We're told the more you have the better you'll feel.
We measure our worth in dollars rather than spirit. We count our blessings based on how much is in our bank accounts as opposed to the amount of love we have for our fellow human beings. We wake up at 4am to buy big screen T.Vs rather than feed a hungry child or help a homeless woman find the medication she needs.
It's because we have been taught that the things of the world are the truth. They sustain us, they make life better, they don't change (until the next model comes out) and we can rely on them because they appear solid and real. We trust them because for a moment they mimic satisfaction and they're much easier (and faster) to get than love or spiritual fulfillment (which is what we really want). They show us that we're going somewhere, that we're moving up, improving, that we are somebody dammit. For a brief moment they produce excitement, satisfaction and contentment. Until the shine wears off and we need another one.
However, The connection we've severed to the emotional and spiritual world has come at a great cost. Aristotle's ideas still infiltrate our lives and we don't trust our inner voice, our spiritual insights, or our emotions because we've been told they can't be trusted, they aren't reliable, verifiable and tangible. Science can't measure it or tweak it. You can't touch them. They don't have temporal space and others can't see them.
As a result we cultivate skepticism and doubt as virtues, closing down the possibility of that which we can't measure. We've marginalized whole cultures based on their reliance on "silly superstition"; stolen their lands, enslaved their people and reformed their governments because we want to elevate them to our level. We want to help them achieve "progress". We want them to feel the thrill of a new car, a big house and the miracles of medical science (just as log as they don't take it from us).
Back to Black
So, when you consider the history of the materialistic paradigm in relation to Black Friday, the phrase takes on a whole new meaning. I'm not at all judging anyone who participates, for many it's an excuse to spend some time with loved ones, which is a hot commodity in the modern world (you gotta work...a lot, to participate fully in materialism). I am only providing a perspective that we don't talk about very much. It's pervasive in almost everything we do as a culture.
So if you haven't guessed, this post has nothing to do with Black Friday. If you went out and spent $2000 on that new flat screen, rock on, (and incidentally when are you inviting me over to watch a movie?)
It's more about how we approach life in general. We continue to reinforce and strengthen our reliance on the material world, while neglecting the interior world of our selves. We play the game because that's what the game is, and we have families to feed, bills to pay, and toys we want to play with - there's nothing wrong with that.
I get it, if your interior world could provide you with a crystal clear 42" HD LED SmartTV screen you'd be up in there all the time. But I promise what it can provide you with will last you longer than that T.V., provided you don't buy what Aristotle is still selling. I mean dude's been dead for a while now. Seems to me we need a new theme song.