Activism

Buy Nothing

By Ryan McGreal
Published November 24, 2005

Celebrate Buy Nothing Day, Friday November 25, by ... buying nothing.

Several years ago, the mavericks at Adbusters came up with a cute idea to highlight the orgy of consumerism that starts after American Thanksgiving and leads right up to Christmas Eve (at 4:59 PM, when a fistfight breaks out over the last lazy susan on the shelf...).

Instead of participating in the carnage, citizens could register their opposition to consumerism by not buying anything for a day. Cleverly, they decided to call it Buy Nothing Day.

Even though Adbusters couldn't convince any TV networks to run their anti-ad, the idea took off. People in industrialized countries around the world participate.

It's even possible to find occasional mention of the event in the mainstream print media, in which some writers and editors still believe it's their job to educate citizens, not to entertain consumers.

Variations on a theme have emerged, including Buy Local Day (echoed by Jason Leach in his recent column, Scrooged), which recognizes that the problem is not buying stuff per se, but buying stuff from huge, globalized corporate entities that don't care about human rights or environmental protection.

In that vein, Raise the Hammer would like to interest you in these lovely Buy Nothing Day t-shirts and mugs, made by some very nice people in Malaysia who might have had to farm for a living if not for our sub-contractor's shiny, modern factory...

But seriously, see if you can go a whole day without buying anything. It's a lot harder than it sounds (and it sounds pretty hard).

If nothing else, it will help to raise your awareness of just how tightly we are woven into the economy and how important it is to be conscious of where and how you spend your money.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By Locke (registered) | Posted November 24, 2005 at 06:45:44

If you're interested in Buy Nothing Day, you might also be motivated to see a new movie, WAL-MART: The High Cost of Low Price .

A screening is taking place at 6:30PM at Melrose United Church in west Hamilton. Visit http://www.melroseunited.ca for details.

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By Judy (registered) | Posted November 25, 2005 at 01:38:58

So far, so good today...although I am planning on going to the movies today...does that count? Interesting that Buy Nothing Day comes the day after Thanksgiving, when most people in the U.S. are lounging around to wait out the effects of all that overconsumption of food...

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By sroberts (registered) - website | Posted November 28, 2005 at 07:07:49

Isn't Buy Nothing Day just an excuse for "socially-aware" individuals to procrastinate while simultaneously feeling good about themselves?

And Judy, Buy Nothing Day actually falls on Black Friday - named as it is since it's the day that most retailers finally find themselves in the black for that year. Black Friday in the US is a lot like Boxing Day here in Canada: door crashers, crazy deals, and other insanity. Most people consider it to be the official start of the Christmas shopping season.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 29, 2005 at 07:49:00

I've got a libertarian streak in me, so I'm sympathetic to it, but libertarianism fails as a political philosophy because it fails to account for two critical factors: corporate power and democracy.

Any political philosophy is an abstraction from actual politics; it's a map that purports to guide its followers through political events.

However, to be useful a map has to correspond to the territory. A map of Hamilton, for example, that didn't include the Escarpment would mislead anyone who tried to follow it.

Libertarianism is misleading because it purports to be about protecting individual liberties but ignores the many ways concentrated corporate power curtails individual liberties, leaves the consequences of its activities for others to deal with, and bends governments to its will, corrupting the legal and regulatory environment that makes it viable in the first place.

At the same time, democracy - or collective decision making - is a valid, widely used means for humans to cooperate and achieve certain desired goals as a group that would be difficult or impossible to achieve individually.

For example, a large majority of Canadians support the government's involvement in Kyoto because they recognize that we can achieve significant reductions in our greenhouse gas emissions collectively that the market, left to its own devices, cannot achieve.

We have decided that preserving the planet's ecology (and, by extension, its human carrying capacity) is more important than preserving a corporation's right to generate profits and externalize its costs.

For all its appeal, Libertarianism ignores one of the biggest sources of oppression even as it severely restricts people's ability to decide and act collectively.

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By sroberts (registered) - website | Posted November 29, 2005 at 09:17:53

Fair enough, Ryan. Libertarianism has a good idea but it can't work in an absolute sense. However, this country could use a lot of its influence in the House of Commons.

That being said, I don't recall saying anything about the Libertarian Party in my post. I thought we were talking about Buy Nothing Day?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 01, 2005 at 08:13:20

sroberts wrote, "I don't recall saying anything about the Libertarian Party in my post."

That's a fair question.

To be honest, when I read your comment, "Isn't Buy Nothing Day just an excuse for 'socially-aware' individuals to procrastinate while simultaneously feeling good about themselves?" and then followed your homepage link, I found myself thinking it was a fairly typical example of the disdain in which libertarians hold any attempt at personal action toward the public interest.

In Libertarian philosphy, there is no public interest except, to borrow Milton Friedman's phrase, "the consensus of the goals that the citizens severally serve."

I didn't respond directly to the question because it's a rhetorical tool that already provides its own response.

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