Thursday, December 13, 2012

Annual Nativity disputes and decorations thefts misrepresenting Christmas season

Last year at about this time I wrote Spare the Child for Christmas; which discussed several issues that impact children in a negative manner despite all the talk about this being a holiday that benefits children and enables them to have a good time and celebrate. This included discussion about how nativity scene disputes, theft of Christmas decorations, child labor and other issues that have been overlooked by the hype surrounding Christmas. It also included some suggestions about how the Freedom From Religion Foundation might be better off focusing part of their time on how child abuse escalates and leads to more violence later in life and how it is used by authoritarian religions to indoctrinate children.

Preventing Violence before it escalates is probably the most important aspect of that post but there are also other aspects that have been repeating themselves every year including the debates over the nativity scenes and routine thefts of Christmas decorations.

This year one of the most widely reported debates is taking place in Santa Monica; “Threatened by faith in Santa Monica” presents a common argument from the religious point of view. This is not always the way the atheists present themselves though; or at least not all atheists.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation which is routinely involved in these disputes presents a different point of view in at least two articles which I cited on the previous blog on this topic. Religious Holiday Displays on Public Property, and Peace on Earth. Rabbi Michael Gotlieb, who wrote the article about the Santa Monica debate is partly right about there being some angry atheist who want to eradicate religions but as Dan Barker from the FFRF indicates this is clearly not all atheists. One of the atheists that Michael Gotlieb sites is Sam Harris who has implied, in his book “The End of Faith,” that we should not tolerate intolerance and that we should consider the use of torture and even a preemptive strike with nuclear weapons. The vast majority of what Harris has written isn’t this extreme and he does make many good points but if, as he claims, we should be intolerant of intolerance how should that intolerance be expressed?

In most cases Sam Harris demonstrates with his writings that we should do so by debating the issues which is good but when he argues for the use of torture or preemptive strikes with nuclear weapons he is clearly making an argument that is no better than the religious extremists and Michael Gotlieb has a good point on this issue. However when Michael Gotlieb tries to imply that he is speaking about all atheists he is stereotyping; and this is misrepresenting the views of many atheists which is not uncommon when these debates occur.

Ideally it might help if they could find some common ground and agree on that while the resolve their differences on other issues. At some point I think that religious people will have to acknowledge the possibility that a God that remains silent while a large amount of misrepresenting is going on in his name may not be as benevolent as they chose to believe. If this hypothetical God did exist and he sent messages in the past then he shouldn’t have any problem sending messages now in a manner that is clear and that people understand and this would presumably help resolve these differences. But this doesn’t seem to be happening for one reason or another.

In the absence of a response from God people might want to focus on other issues, and if possible find some common ground.

One possible issue that some people might want to consider is the over commercialization of Christmas. At this time many people don’t even recognize this as a problem and presumably for now they won’t participate until they reconsider. But there are plenty of people in both the religious and the secular communities that do agree that Christmas is being over commercialized; and this is almost certainly a major contributing factor to another annual tradition during the Christmas season, the theft of an enormous amount of Christmas decorations.

A typical example of this and the way it is routinely presented by the corporate media or most popular “alternative media outlets” on the Huffington Post, LA Christmas Decorations Stolen: Over $1,000 Worth Stolen From South LA Lawn (VIDEO), states, “Grinches are real, and at least one just stole Christmas from a three-year-old in South LA.” The clear implication is that the thieves destroyed the Christmas for an innocent three year old girl; and there is of course some truth to this; but it does nothing to discuss the over commercializing of Christmas and how it might have impacted this theft. This story even cites an incident from last year that I mentioned in the previous post about this subject in Arizona; yet the Huffington post doesn’t even consider the possibility that by getting so angry about the stolen protests and putting up a large sign they are doing as much to destroy the spirit of Christmas as the thieves did.

Another story is about Mayor's Christmas decorations stolen; and his plans to “plans to replace the ornaments and buy a surveillance camera.” This has been done in the past and they have even portrayed the thieves as ruining children’s Christmas in the past. On one occasion a thief was caught on camera stealing a Christmas present that was bought buy a ten year old girl who saved up her own money to buy her own decoration to go with the other ones that her father bought and she considered it very important. This was played up much more at the time of TV on several different stations and they portrayed in a similar manner to the way the story reported on the Huffington post. They gave the little girl time to explain how she had worked really hard to save up sixty dollars to learn that hard work pays and that she should be able to learn a good work ethic and that when she works hard she will be rewarded, in this case by a Christmas decoration that was stolen by people that are despicable and should be treated with contempt as low life’s.

At least that is how the traditional media presented this incident and generally treats others in the same manner. There was no consideration as to why this was happening and whether they were worrying to much about materialism. I actually do feel sorry for the children that have their decorations stolen and are really hurt by it, including the ten year old that lost the sixty dollar decoration that she worked for but not for the reasons that the media implies I should. I feel sorry for them because their parents are teaching them that they should value these shallow things so much without thinking about the consequences of obsession with commercialism.

It wasn’t always like this and for many families it still isn’t like this at all. There are many kids that have an enormous amount of fun playing with simple things like the boxes some of these gifts come in and many other things that don’t involve an enormous amount of hype. Kids aren’t born thinking that they need to have an enormous amount of Christmas decorations to have a good time; that is something that marketers do, often with the help of parents who get caught up in the hype. Thirty years ago kids used to play an enormous amount of games in the streets like kick the can which was a lot of fun for them without buying up all these toys. There might have been some justifiable concern about them playing in the street but that can be solved by simply moving it to a park; there I still no need for obsession with buying stuff. Back then this obsession had already begun to some degree but it wasn’t nearly a extreme. I remember an enormous amount of presents that broke down within a few months after Christmas in the seventies but at least they were still inexpensive presents; now they cost much more and people are expected to buy more of them.

I’m no more impressed with the thieves that steal these gifts than anyone else is but I think more thought should be put into why they do it and what kind of society would put so much emphasis on these relatively unimportant decorations. At least from a religious point of view some people might want to consider the prayer that includes the phrase, “and lead us not into temptation.” It may not be God that is leading them into temptation but the enormous amount of promotions surrounding Christmas clearly is leading a lot of people into temptation and God remains silent for one reason or another. Fortunately there are many religious people that still recognize this concept.

The coverage of this problem didn’t mention the Christmas special “The Little Drummer Boy;” or consider the possibility that the way we treat Christmas and surround it with hype might be excessive and miss the point of the season, at least from a Christian point of view that is what makes religion seem admirable to many people. Although I don’t agree with all aspects of religion I have to agree that this is much more rational than the version that is promoted by the enormous amount of hype encouraging people to buy as many presents as possible and decorations as well and consider this the purpose of Christmas. Generally they don’t say it is the purpose, since it sounds so shallow; instead they often come up with various types of spin; but I don’t think it is unreasonable to interpret it this way.

The story of the Little Drummer Boy wasn’t about commercialism at all; quite the opposite, yet it is hardly played anymore in the Christmas season relegated to Saturday morning this week when far fewer people will be watching it. It used to be on prime time every year and it may have been one of the few Christmas specials at that time that wasn’t about commercialism that ended with a song about how he had no gift to give, after living through tough times that are routinely under reported by the corporate media today. Most people, including most Christians probably don’t even remember it anymore. The ritual that many people have of donating to the Salvation Army at Christmas or perhaps serving dinner for the poor is also a way many people try to remind themselves that this is a time of year that they’re supposed to show that they care about society and that they will do their part to look out for the best interest of all.

The rest of the year many people do little or nothing of the kind; and even during the Christmas season they buy up an enormous amount of merchandise that was made in sweatshops that have conditions so horrible that the workers can’t possibly do a good job on their products and they’re generally made so that they start falling apart soon after people put a little wear and tear on them; which is what the oligarchies want since then we will have to buy things to replace them. Just a couple of weeks ago they reported that one of those sweatshops burned down in Bangladesh; a New York Times article, Lives Held Cheap in Bangladesh Sweatshops reports that 52 workers died in the fire and it portrays a bleak picture of the sweatshop conditions; but the real truth is almost certainly much worse. Democracy Now reported in “Bangladeshi Labor Activist Finds Burned Clothes with Wal-Mart Labels at Site of Deadly Factory Fire” reported that the death toll was actually over 120 and they covered more of the details even though they have much fewer resources to investigate these incidents than the New York Times but even they didn’t report on more than a fraction of the sweatshops that are making our products. The New York Times also gives people the impression that they’re getting “bargains” when they shop as well; but this isn’t true at all; by the time these cheap products get to the consumer there is an enormous amount of corporate bureaucratic expenses and profits added on so they get no savings; it is only the hype, advertising and lack of reporting on inconvenient facts that make it appear as if they do. The grass roots organizations that do try to report on this have much fewer resources than the corporate media but they often do a much better job reporting it, presumably because the corporate media is primarily interested in making profit and they get a large share of the profits made off of sweatshop labor by selling ads to the retailers and suppliers that profit off these human rights abuses.

This isn’t taken into consideration when thinking about the thefts of decorations any more than it is taken into consideration when reporting on the Black Friday riots which I reported on in Count Down to Annual Black Friday Riots and Why no discussion on preventing black Friday Riots? In those blogs I reported on how we have an enormous amount of research available to better understand these incidents and why they happen and that more could be done if we wanted to and that these things could and should be prevented.

Those Blogs discussed how advertising to children contributes to their obsession with buying merchandise and not scrutinizing the process that brings these products to them or whether they improve their quality of life. These conclusions are backed up by many studies cited in those blogs done by Child psychologists’ media researchers, sociologists and other researchers that have little or no access to the corporate media. The same psychological manipulation clearly would apply to the obsession with buying or stealing all these Christmas decorations. This manipulation operates on some of the same principles as a cult does trying to indoctrinate or market to children while they’re to young to learn how they’re being manipulated and it interferes with their learning skills, as the research I cited in the previous blogs clearly indicated.

Our economic system relies on an enormous amount of marketing that is very effective at trying to convince everyone that they should want as much merchandise as they can get their hands on even if it doesn’t do much if anything to improve the quality of life; and at the same time it tries to suppress wages as much as possible so that the vast majority of the people won’t have as much money to buy all these products. This creates an enormous amount of hype and excitement about Christmas and it makes it much clearer that this holiday, at least when it comes to materialism, is designed to benefit only those with the money to pay for it and when those without money “want stuff,” as Bill O’Reilly puts it they have to do without or resort to unethical means to obtain them. The difference is that when they steal it they do so in a manner that is quickly recognized as stealing and we call it what it is. When the people that control the economic system steal they use more sophisticated methods to do so and we try to pretend it isn’t stealing. If more people were receiving a good shot at jobs that paid fair wages they would be much less likely and if there wasn’t so much hype about Christmas and materialism they wouldn’t think that the best way to improve their life involves buying more an more stuff even when it doesn’t do any damn good.

This should be considered even more important when you think about all the other problems we have in this world including the devastation that is escalating as a result of pollutions, which includes Climate Change as I tried to indicate in Environmental Apocalypse. The escalating amount of damage being done by environmental destruction should be much more important than this obsession with buying an enormous amount of products that are overpriced and many of which will fall apart due to the deteriorations of the manufacturing quality that results with the desire to cut profits and increase the amount of money they make when we buy their merchandise much more often than we have to.

This obsession with commercialism is a major contributing factor to environmental destruction. It may not be as damaging as the amount of damage that is done by the oil and energy companies but they require a lot of transporting of good and they go along with a lot of other activities that do. And on top of that there are many other issues that should be more important than “shopping till you drop,” for crap.

As I said before there are plenty of people in both the religious and the secular organizations that are opposed to this excessive commercialism but in many cases they’re more concerned with arguing with each other over nativity scenes. The people promoting excessive commercialism have much more financing and access to some of the most effective psychologists and marketing researchers available so they have an enormous advantage. These psychologists aren’t studying psychology to help people deal with their problems in the most effective manner possible; instead they do so in order to understand how to manipulate people in the most effective manner possible.

Fortunately there are also many psychologists or other researchers that have been studying to expose these tactics but they don’t have as much access to the media as the corporations do; for the most part they don’t have any access to the airwaves except, perhaps a few low profile alternative media outlets. Instead they rely more on the grass roots level and alternative media outlets on the internet or community groups. If they could do more to work with religious groups they might have an enormous amount of progress. Susan Linn and others have already indicated that they would be open to doing so if they have the opportunity. In the mean time it would help if both these groups gained more momentum even if they don’t work together but this obsession with commercialism is clearly doing much more harm than good and we need to rely much more on alternative media outlets when possible to get information about this and many other subjects at least until we have major media reform.

Many of the highest profile pundits might ridicule this if they heard the argument and when they hear similar arguments that is exactly what they do; but if people allow themselves to be drawn into this spin then they may as well put their heads in the sand; because the Christmas season that is portrayed as the “most wonderful time of the year” isn’t so wonderful for most people any more than the rest of the year is and many of those people have to do the work to make it so wonderful for the small percentage of the population that actually receives benefits from the enormous amount of effort that goes into creating all this “stuff” that “people want” comes at a much higher price than most people are willing to acknowledge and that price will escalate unless people get their heads out of the sand.

For what it’s worth the story about ostriches hiding their heads in the sand is just a myth; they don’t actually do it.

Humans, on the other hand, …… well ……. You figure it out.

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