It’s that time of the year again: a time to be broker than usual as you run around buying trinkets, tickets, and pies to enunciate to family members, both close and estranged, that you are totally a human worthy of their love. Can we stop this, please? That’s the sentiment behind Buy-Nothing Day, a holiday coined by the Canadian Artist Ted Dave in 1992 and championed by long-time leftist/anarchist art publication Adbusters. Cut up your credit cards. Push a shopping cart full of nothing. Scream into the void of your savings account.
I first learned about nothing day as an early 20s college student, and since that time anticipate the energy around it every year. While Buy-Nothing Day is in part a direct response to the grotesque spectacle of conspicuous consumption on Black Friday, it’s message and purpose is really intended to be broader than that. It is also a day to celebrate your right to exist and be loved without taking into account your performance as an economic agent, to remember that you matter outside of and beyond your purchasing power.
Buy-Nothing Day also has increasing relevance as a day to reflect on your own vulnerability in a world with finite resources. In this highly interconnected world, can you go a day without buying anything? Hygiene products, groceries, gas? As a holiday, it is in some sense comparable to the Jewish practice of Shabbat, the day on which Jewish people are prohibited from working (including the work of turning on electric lights). Both reveal the degree to which a modern human, without access to the economic labor of others or the resources extracted by them, have little chance at surviving. In a capitalist society, over-working and over-consuming are tied together. Activities that fall somewhere in between are often perceived as valueless.
Some of us are already failing at the spirit of this day (I write to you over a cup of coffee purchased with digital dollars, stored in a temporary mug that’s headed to the landfill sometime this week, I’d bet). But we also know that the scale of corporate consumption and resource use, as well as corporate pollution, is the chief source of our current environmental woes. And we know that even as our total consumption goes up, the gap between those that can consume at Western levels and those that cannot grows greater every year.
Oo, depressing! Luckily, there’s hope. Budget deficits, the loss of jobs, the aging of infrastructure, and the pricing out of basic medical services and education–these trends increasing poverty and environmental degradation can’t continue forever without major social collapse. (And now that more than half the world resides in cities, rather than rural agricultural communities, that collapse is likely to occur in an urban place) So after celebrating Buy Nothing Day, consider participating in its more extreme sister movement, the Extinction Rebellions currently sweeping Western cities. Happy holidays! And be safe out there in the Anthropocene.