Saturday, December 22, 2007

The REAL War against Christmas

Cal Thomas, more often than not, turns my stomach. Most of the time I heartily disagree with every argument he sets forth and object to the smarmy way he trots out his obnoxious rhetoric. Still, I read him almost every day if only to know what the other half thinks. It was quite a surprise to me then, that I found much to agree with in his most recent column. Readers might wish to ignore the inevitable partisan swipe at the left while contemplating the overall message behind it.

Passages such as these are firmly in keeping with arguments I've seen advanced by a multitude of lefty blogs.

Why has the acquisition of "more" produced so much less — less contentment, less happiness? When the income increases don't come fast enough to keep pace with the want increases and pleasure is not constant, many complain and moan about "hard times." Anyone who has not been through a Great Depression and a world war has no reason to whine.

Most of our demands are a response to marketing. We are assaulted with commercials and ads that assert our "need" for whatever it is they are trying to sell us. When our income is insufficient to meet those newly discovered wants, the spouse goes to work to help pay for them. The kids go into day care, or its equivalent — ever earlier pre-kindergarten. When these children display social malfunction, we find doctors to prescribe drugs to soothe their legitimate anxiety.

Though a conservative commentator would never put them in these terms, herein is the REAL War against Christmas. In its ideal incarnation, (and to his credit, Thomas points this out at the end of this column) the gifts we gave to other people would have some functional, practical appeal beyond the latest electronic toy or product with shelf life shorter than milk that either falls apart within months or becomes another long-term occupant of our garage or attic. Or, to broaden the scope of this line of thinking, how often have we gotten passive-aggression in wrapping paper, presents that conform to someone else's ideas and/or fantasies of what we ought to receive? If we don't spend our lives trying to keep up with the Jones, there's always someone out there more than willing to remind us of that fact.

Acquisition of possessions is the almost uniform litmus test of what constitutes success in this society. Yet, as it has been shown time and time again, through history and through modern day examples, success almost never equates to happiness. Furthermore, the more wealthy we are and the more stuff we acquire, the more unhappy we seem to become. If we strike it rich and buy a huge sprawling McMansion, we become so deadly afraid that we'll lose it all that we prefer to live behind fortified compounds, gated communities with security guards regulating the flow of traffic.

It doesn't really have to be this way. I'd expand Thomas' premise and state that, in future, the gifts we give ought to be given for their practical value, reflecting true unselfishness in the process. Recall O.Henry's short story "The Gift of the Magi". The presents given by both the husband and the wife are gestures of love, though in typical fashion, the author inserts an ironic twist at the end. He concludes by saying,

Here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.


Anonymous said...

That's a nice essay, CK.

As much as I hate saying it, of all the pundits on the right, I find Cal the least objectionable -- although his sanctimonious bilge on religion is right up there with the worst of them.



Fran said...

What Ten said!

I always remember that one time in 2004 I saw Cal Thomas and Mario Cuomo on TV.

Cal was ranting about how we have to control internet porn and so forth, that it is damaging our society.

And as only Mario Cuomo could do with his ability to say a few words with impact, he looks at Cal and says:

"Control it? It only exists because there is a huge appetite for it."

Cal was momentarily stunned into silence.