I know not all wildlife lovers will share my anti-capitalist, left-wing tendencies, which according to the Political Compass website are more pronounced than I had suspected. And I’m talking more left-wing than Hugo Chavez (I’m not sure how they worked that out!). But surely few would disagree that today’s reported scenes of stampedes and brawls in shops – caused by the recently imported American tradition of ‘Black Friday’ bargains – are the very antithesis of a grounded, fulfilled life that might be the hallmark of somebody in tune with nature and at ease in the world.
I reckon everyone’s been hoodwinked. Yes, some products are available cheaper than they would be on other days of the year. But the aim of the companies selling them is still to make money, not charity. You can be sure that the net profits of corporations indulging in discounting will be undented, if not enhanced by Black Friday. The only ‘success’ racked up today is the sale of things nobody really needed to some people who really, really didn’t need them, but who still often bought multiples of one household appliance – because they’re bargains, right, and who doesn’t want to run three coffee machines at once?
Our lords and masters tell us that shopping sprees help to prop up the economy and contribute to that ‘long term economic plan’ thingy – the one that no conservative MP is allowed to avoid mentioning at least seven times any time they speak in public. They’re usually too embarrassed to say it out loud, but greed is still reckoned to be A Good Thing. Success, in economic terms, is all about growth, and growth is all about consumption.
Given what we know about the destructive impacts of overconsumption, and the environmental costs and hazards of the plastic (not to mention the heavy metals in the average smart phone or tablet) from which so many modern products are moulded and in which they are packaged, conservation charities ought to disagree. Yet go to the homepage of nearly all of them and you’ll find the word ‘Shop’ hovering somewhere vaguely prominent at the top of the page.
Whilst I don’t dispute that the money made is put to good use, or that products sold by the likes of the RSPB are vastly more sustainable than the average, there’s a plausible theory that this inadvertent endorsement of the prevailing shopping-is-good, spend-and-do-your-bit narrative could do more harm than good, in the long term. I don’t know to what extent it is true, but it strikes a chord: commercialized conservation doesn’t sit well with me for reasons I find hard to describe. Fortunately, interesting work is being done in this area by projects like Common Cause : this, for example, is an excellent article that explains the phenomenon better than I can.
And what of Black Friday? On Twitter earlier in the week I came across the delightfully subversive alternative ‘Black Fly-Day’, created by American entomologists to celebrate the biting fly family Simulidae. I think it’s a marvelous idea, especially as these are insects of some note. Their bites can apparently be excruciating. According to Wikipedia, the golfer Ian Poulter once suffered so badly from a blackfly bite that he was forced to drop out of the French Open, and the species that bit him – Simulium posticatum, known as ‘The Blandford Fly’ – has had an ale named in its honour by Blandford-based Badger Beer. It’s brewed with an intriguing twist of ginger, said by local legend to ward off the fly’s attack.* Perhaps ‘putting ginger in food and drink that doesn’t usually have ginger in it’ could be a holiday tradition for ‘Black Fly-Day’: I’m looking forward to next November already!
* I realise I have ironically just made a product endorsement in an article that is vaguely condemnatory of the neo-liberal capitalist mindset. Living consistently in this world is not easy!