On Gift-Giving

Earlier this month, I wrote about how Hanukkah’s prominence was the plan of reformist rabbis, seeking to create a Jewish holiday to compete with Christmas just as Christmas was created to compete with pagan solstice festivals. In an ironic sense, this campaign has been both a success and a failure: although the cause of Hanukkah was eagerly taken up by marketers, it failed to dislodge Christmas from public consciousness and has simply contributed further to the commercialization of the holiday season.

And that commercialization is spreading and growing beyond all sanity. People have been injured in retail-outlet crushes before, but this year brought the crowning shame of holiday ugliness: a part-time Wal-Mart worker who was trampled to death by a frenzied mob of shoppers. By many accounts, people continued streaming into the store around the paramedics as they worked on the unfortunate man, and became angry and hostile when police closed the store down after the death.

But incidents like that one are just the most visible outbreaks of an attitude that’s taken wider root in our society, and that’s led to the current economic crisis: an attitude which holds that every person is entitled to every material luxury, regardless of their income, and that it’s perfectly all right to get deeper and deeper into debt to obtain them. To an extent, this attitude flows from the top – from a president who told Americans that the most important thing we could do after 9/11 was to go shopping, and a Congress that financed a ruinous foreign war on borrowed money. But it’s also partly intrinsic to capitalism, which by nature rewards greed and rapaciousness. When those tendencies grow out of control rather than being held in check, the result is the market collapse and financial meltdown we’re now living through.

All of these attitudes come from the same source, the view that happiness and satisfaction in life is secured through the accumulation of wealth and possessions. This belief is false, and I laid out an alternative in “Down to Earth“: an ethic of rich simplicity that takes joy in the ordinary pleasures of life, rather than grasping after luxuries.

What does this ethic have to say about gift-giving? I don’t think that it’s necessarily a bad thing. There’s nothing wrong in giving a person something that they need or can make use of (as I’ve said earlier, you can never have too many books). I think it’s better that it be small, however. Large and ostentatious gifts, feel too much like trying to buy the recipient’s affection, or else put them in the position of owing a debt they can’t pay back. But small gifts, especially if they’re handmade, are a genuine way of conveying, rather than attempting to purchase, good feelings toward those for whom we feel friendship and affection. (If you’re not a craftsperson, I also favor consumable gifts – soap, candles, wine or chocolate, for instance.)

But best of all is the idea of agreeing, with friends and family, to make donations to charity in each other’s name instead of exchanging gifts. After all, for most of us First World citizens, we don’t need these gifts: we are comfortable, well-fed and well-clothed and well-housed; we enjoy living standards that are inconceivable to most of humanity. There are places in the world that need assistance far more than most of us ever will, people for whom even a small gift – say, a mosquito net or a vaccination – could represent a genuine improvement in their life and not just a token of affection. If the real purpose of gift-giving is to create happiness for the recipient, acknowledging and addressing the world’s need would be a far worthier and more powerful way of doing so.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • TommyP

    You can never have too many books. I couldn’t agree more!

  • http://intrinsicallyknotted.wordpress.com Susan B.

    I like this philosophy, and the gifts I treasure the most are the ones that have been inexpensive, but handmade with love–a cookbook of family recipes that my mom put together for me, an afghan crocheted by my grandmother. I try to do the same in my own gift-giving, and since I’m artistically inclined it’s not too hard. I’ve knitted or crocheted scarves, blankets, and pillows, or made cookies of the kinds my friends like best. I’d rather give a gift that is personal and takes some of my time and effort, instead of something big and expensive that’s “made easy by 1-click shopping!”

  • nfpendleton

    I agree wholeheartedly. My wife on the other hand…not so much.

  • Adele

    The greatest gift of my holiday season is when my entire family – my parents, sister and brother’s families, cousins, aunts and uncles – all come together on Christmas to spend time together. Christmas, in the completely non-religious way my family celebrates it, was always my favorite holiday for this reason.

    Give books! Someone once said – I can’t remember who at the moment – once said something like “If I have a little money, I buy books. Then, if there is any left over, I buy food and clothing.” Sums up my values perfectly.

    And I completely agree with EbonMuse – after a certain point, money can only do so much for us. Why not give it away, to people who can utilize it much better?

  • Cerus

    You tend to rail on capitalism a lot, I agree that how it is isn’t as good as it could be, but the system really isn’t the pure evil as you often make it out to be, and as far as socialism/communism goes, there’s a lot more suffering and evil that can come of a system designed to directly meddle with the welfare of a populace via the typically incompetent or malicious hand of a governing body than in one that ignores the welfare issue altogether and thusly tries to avoid the deleterious effects of regulation.

    That’s not to say I’m attached to capitalism in any way, it’s just that in researching the options presently available to humanity I’ve yet to find any serious merit in them so far as limiting true suffering and maximizing happiness, some of the systems promise such things, but history has shown us what becomes of them in practice, capitalism has done the world no great good, and quite some harm, but communism and socialism enacted by force have done the world very great harm.

    I think the optimal setting for a utopia would indeed be a pure socialism, but I don’t think we’re quite there morally and technologically to sustain it, though I welcome the day.

  • Cerus

    Add:
    I really agree with the protestation of extravagant and expensive gifts, I’ve never felt comfortable receiving such things, do you have any recommendations for humanist charities to donate to in another persons honor?

  • Peter N

    So, Ebonmuse, when do we get to buy YOUR book?

  • http://commonsenseatheism.com Luke

    You could buy somebody a goat.

  • Kevin Morgan

    What about all the “tips” we’re expected to give? I still don’t understand why I have to tip my mail man. He makes a good wage, has more days off than I do, and better benefits and health care. What about me? How come I don’t get tipped for my work?

    Now, my garbage collectors deserve-and get-a good tip. These guys really work their butts off for little money or appreciation.

    Also, as someone who doesn’t have children, it amazes me how much I’m “expected” to give to all my nieces and nephews. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no scrooge, I take care of the kids, but my wife always insists on giving much more than I feel is reasonable and affordable. It’s one thing for a parent to give a 12 year old a couple of hundred dollars (way overboard if you ask me…) but don’t ask me to!

    Sorry for the rant, it’s tough being an atheist with a xtian wife and family…

  • Brian

    I don’t think the problem is capitalism, as much as people’s vast inability to identify the important values in their lives. People all too often think that they can buy their happiness, or that they can buy someone else’s respect.

    I think capitalism is a great system; it serves to do what it purports to do: Individuals trade for one another’s goods and services. The problem is that people are often confused as to what they are buying or trading. It’s tough for me to fault capitalism for that confusion, as opposed to a rampant degeneration of non-materialistic values.

  • lpetrich

    President Bush himself wanted to encourage homeownership, no matter what the cost: White House Philosophy Stoked Mortgage Bonfire

    So he and his cronies went lax about regulation and pushed for getting rid of down payments and the like.

  • Alex Weaver

    I don’t think the problem is capitalism, as much as people’s vast inability to identify the important values in their lives. People all too often think that they can buy their happiness, or that they can buy someone else’s respect.

    I think capitalism is a great system; it serves to do what it purports to do: Individuals trade for one another’s goods and services. The problem is that people are often confused as to what they are buying or trading. It’s tough for me to fault capitalism for that confusion, as opposed to a rampant degeneration of non-materialistic values.

    The nature of capitalism is such that businesses that encourage this attitude in their consumers will tend to make more sales than those that do not, all other things being equal.

  • Polly

    Well, if I were to copy all the sections that I whole-heartedly agree with, with wild enthusiasm, I’d copy the entire post. So, I’ll just say RIGHT ON!

    There’s nothing wrong in giving a person something that they need or can make use of (as I’ve said earlier, you can never have too many books).

    So true, on both counts. If I see something that I know fits in with a friend’s interests and lifestyle, I’ll get it for them no matter the season. I bought one of my co-workers an ulu knife while in Alaska on my honeymoon, because it looked like something he would like. He got tons of use out of it.

    It’s the FORCED giving that I resent. It’s also the play on people’s guilt and gullibility to goad them into making purchases they have no Earthly reason to make.

    Capitalism is the great ponzi scheme of modern civilization. We have to keep growing the economy and keep expanding otherwise we collapse. But, no matter what, we eventually will exhaust our resources, our consumer base, or, possibly, even our technological progress.

    Just think if all those 3rd world peasants ever manage to break free from the 1st world-sponsored and supported dictators and actually demand some share in the wealth of their lands. Inflation through the roof.

    As a resident of the 1st world, I can say that I’m all set. I REALLY don’t need anything else.

    Even now, we’re selling a lot of the same old appliances in beautified format. Who the hell needs a burnished bronze whisk? I’ve seen gardening tools that it would be a sin to put into the mud.

    Ever see some fat-fuck on a $2,000 mountain bike? That’s the kind of stupid shit you get when capitalism runs out of ideas. :D

  • Christopher

    I think the optimal setting for a utopia would indeed be a pure socialism, but I don’t think we’re quite there morally and technologically to sustain it, though I welcome the day.

    Sorry, but I don’t see a utopia of any kind in the cards for us – the closest we could ever get to it is complete self-autonomy (it has problems of it’s own, but you are free of all social obligations).

    As for the gifts, I don’t really see a problem with getting anything extravagant for some one you appreciate – but I just don’t see the point in doing so as I’m a man of simlper tastes (as are most of my associates). Just get folks like me a book, a gun or some chocolates and we’re ready for a holiday small game hunt (my dogs love a little quail or rabbit every now and then); followed up by curling up next to the fire with some candy and good read (anything by Neitzsche or Stirner in my case).

    Keep the holiday in any way that suits you!

  • Alex Weaver

    My agreement is somewhat qualified; if I had that money to spare I can see myself spending multiple thousands annually on exotic culinary mushrooms and being made significantly happier by it. That’s the major exception, though.

  • prase

    Brian,

    I don’t think the problem is capitalism, as much as people’s vast inability to identify the important values in their lives. … The problem is that people are often confused as to what they are buying or trading. It’s tough for me to fault capitalism for that confusion, as opposed to a rampant degeneration of non-materialistic values.

    The system can be changed, people’s inherent traits hardly so. Therefore I would rather blame capitalism.

    I am not sure what to think about “rampant degeneration of non-materialistic values” – if this comprises the decline of faith and bigotry among other things, I wouldn’t find it all too bad. Nevertheless, if there really is something wrong with people’s values, don’t you thing it could be at least partially a consequence of capitalism?

  • Polly

    @Christopher,

    Just get folks like me a book, a gun or some chocolates

    You read my letter to Santa!
    Huh. Most people don’t associate bookishness (or a sweet tooth for that matter) with guns. They’re always shocked when I tell them I sleep with a rifle right under my bed and buckshot in the lampstand drawers.

  • Curtis

    Honest capitalism is great. If you produce what people want, you make money. If you produce something lots of people want a lot, you get filthy rich. It’s a great incentive to make other people happy.

    As for commercialization, I have no idea what you are talking about. I trust adults to make their own decisions. Most people make decision different than I would but that’s fine by me. If you want to buy cheap things at WalMart, that’s OK. If you want to donate money to charity, that’s great. You do what you want and I do what I want. As long you don’t hurt anyone, I approve.

  • Christopher

    Huh. Most people don’t associate bookishness (or a sweet tooth for that matter) with guns. They’re always shocked when I tell them I sleep with a rifle right under my bed and buckshot in the lampstand drawers.

    Yeah, lots of people think that you’re a wimp if you like chocolates and books – that you should eschew these things to be macho. But I say one can be macho and appreciate a good book or snack on some Godivas by the fire: my associates know of my unusual tastes but don’t question my masculinity when they see my armory!

    BTW, I prefer keeping a glock next to my bed instead of a rife – it’s more readily accessable in the case of an emergency. Have a happy and safe holiday!

  • Alex Weaver

    Honest capitalism is great. If you produce what people want, you make money. If you produce something lots of people want a lot, you get filthy rich. It’s a great incentive to make other people happy.

    As for commercialization, I have no idea what you are talking about. I trust adults to make their own decisions. Most people make decision different than I would but that’s fine by me. If you want to buy cheap things at WalMart, that’s OK. If you want to donate money to charity, that’s great. You do what you want and I do what I want. As long you don’t hurt anyone, I approve.

    Define “hurting anyone.” How direct does the harm have to be before it “counts?”

    BTW, I prefer keeping a glock next to my bed instead of a rife – it’s more readily accessable in the case of an emergency.

    Though equally useless if loaded with buckshot.

  • Alex Weaver

    We’ve done something similar this year, incidentally; since we’re still recovering from finals, we bought toys for the children we know, and bags of food under Food for Families via their grocery store partnership in the names of adult family members. I was a bit annoyed to learn that the Salvation Army is one of the indirect recipients of that aid, though since it’s in the form of nonperishable food rather than cash it’s probably not doing too much harm. Does anyone have more information on Food for Families, though, just out of curiosity?

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    BTW, I prefer keeping a glock next to my bed instead of a rife

    I guess one penis extension is as good as another.

  • Brian

    @ Alex Weaver

    What does that have to do with gift-giving, though? Polly mentioned above about forced gift-giving. “Forced” is the polar opposite about what capitalism is about. The reason we are FORCED into giving gifts is because that is what is seen as morally acceptable—giving to others. But how can being FORCED to do anything yield any kind of moral acceptability? The problem is that we are giving gifts for the wrong reasons (guilt, pressure, etc). I don’t see how the imposition of guilt on people is attributable to capitalism’s failure. In a capitalist system, if you don’t need something, you don’t have to buy it. I’d say that’s easier said than done when a family member is pressuring you to buy (for example) a gift for a sibling. That pressure, in my opinion, does not stem from capitalism.

    What I mean by “rampant degeneration of non-materialistic values” is that people increasingly place importance in material objects, rather than reason, knowledge, family, friends, etc. I didn’t mean a reduction in metaphysical materialism. Sorry if that created any confusion. I should have been clearer.

    @ prase

    I prefer to allocate blame where it belongs. If they are “inherent” traits in people, then those traits should be present in ANY system. How then would capitalism be to blame?

    You could say that capitalism exacerbates those inherent traits, but again, the problem would be in the traits that those people have. Only those people can change those traits. I hardly think that the system should be changed (or blamed) because of individual faults.

  • Alex Weaver

    What does that have to do with gift-giving, though? Polly mentioned above about forced gift-giving. “Forced” is the polar opposite about what capitalism is about. The reason we are FORCED into giving gifts is because that is what is seen as morally acceptable—giving to others. But how can being FORCED to do anything yield any kind of moral acceptability? The problem is that we are giving gifts for the wrong reasons (guilt, pressure, etc). I don’t see how the imposition of guilt on people is attributable to capitalism’s failure. In a capitalist system, if you don’t need something, you don’t have to buy it. I’d say that’s easier said than done when a family member is pressuring you to buy (for example) a gift for a sibling. That pressure, in my opinion, does not stem from capitalism.

    In a capitalist system, a business that is able to convince people that they “need” to buy things from it, whether or not they actually need or want those things, via advertising, will be more financially successful than one that does not. The sum of that advertising tends to have a substantial influence on social expectations. What part of this do you take issue with?

  • Curtis

    Alex,

    Who are you to judge what people want or need? As long as a company is honest about their product, people should buy whatever stuff they want. Selling ColdEaze is morally bankrupt because it does not work as advertized. Selling tooth paste that whitens teeth or a Pet Rock is wonderful because millions of people want them. I do not care for either but I do not pretend to be the supreme arbiter of taste and value. I trust people to spend their money on what best for them.

  • prase

    You could say that capitalism exacerbates those inherent traits, but again, the problem would be in the traits that those people have. Only those people can change those traits. I hardly think that the system should be changed (or blamed) because of individual faults.

    Why do you think so? If these traits are present in majority of people, are we entitled to call them individual faults? Is it rational to demand the people to change their behaviour when the social order encourages and rewards this behaviour?

    I am not much fond of criticising consumerism since I think people are not that much different from what they were in the past, only we have become richer. But if there is something unpleasant in the society, something I disagree with, I will tend to try to find some remedy. And it’s more realistic, in my opinion, to improve the social system than to remake the people.

    On the other hand, one has to push on both fronts. The best social system cannot work when applied to a society of uneducated savages, while the best individual qualities can be diminished when the society favours stupidity. Capitalism is not bad in comparison to most other systems ever tried, but I don’t believe that it’s optimal and unimprovable.

  • Alex Weaver

    Who are you to judge what people want or need?

    Who are you to judge what I am suited to be the judge of? (I assume the point about this line of argument has been made).

    As long as a company is honest about their product, people should buy whatever stuff they want. Selling ColdEaze is morally bankrupt because it does not work as advertized. Selling tooth paste that whitens teeth or a Pet Rock is wonderful because millions of people want them. I do not care for either but I do not pretend to be the supreme arbiter of taste and value.

    How exactly is it less honest to say that ColdEaze will actually prevent cold symptoms, than to, say, imply that flashy cars and big screen TVs will induce happiness, a general sense of success in life, and/or the attention of attractive members of the opposite sex?

    I trust people to spend their money on what best for them.

    Then perhaps you’d be interested in this bridge I’m selling?

  • Cerus

    I think the real sticking point is that changing the system can cause a LOT of potential suffering, where as educating people on how not to fall for such scams and false hope has no negatives.

  • Brian

    @ prase

    We can absolutely call them faults (if, of course, we can establish that they really are faults). Why? A presence in the majority says nothing. Catholicism is a belief held by the majority in the United States—does that make it right?

    @ Alex Weaver

    The advertisements would prove unsuccessful if consumers examined the values that were actually important to them. Consumers buy into the idea that they need things (a new tv, a new car, etc.) because many of them don’t realize that what they have right in front of them is sufficient enough.

    Societal norms influence what people sell and what people buy. Thus, I take issue in your causal sequence. If societal norms (created directly by individuals’ values) dictate that gift-giving is an important value, then you HAVE to expect that people will capitalize on that to make a profit. If our norms were different, i.e. spending time with family and friends was the norm, then I guarantee you’d notice different advertisement strategies.

    If individual values are modified by the capitalist system, then if the owner of every company chooses to advertise products differently, then your claim sounds to me like you would expect to see a change at the individual level. But WHO would choose to make the decision to change that advertisement strategy? The individual and his/her values!

    Societal expectations influence what is produced. Advertisements reflect societal expectations. Societal expectations are derived from individual expectations. Individual expectations are derived from individual values.

    The whole idea of capitalism is to sell products that will make you money. Why sell products contrary to what the individual wants?

  • Leum

    Societal expectations influence what is produced. Advertisements reflect societal expectations. Societal expectations are derived from individual expectations. Individual expectations are derived from individual values.

    Individual values are derived from societal values and expectations. Some things aren’t linear, and causality in human societies is a two-way street (really more like an infinite-street intersection).

    Also, advertisements work on a sub-conscious level as well as a conscious one, so internal reflection isn’t always enough to dispel the affects. Numerous studies have shown that even annoying ads end up being successful; people remember the product, not the annoyance.

  • Brian

    Leum, individuals are the ones who create and nurture those values. Society itself has no values—it’s the individuals in it who have the values. So societal “values” must come from individuals.

    I’m aware of the studies on advertisement. I agree internal reflection isn’t enough, but it’s a good start. Without reflection, then you do not know what to change or to look at more closely.

  • prase

    We can absolutely call them faults (if, of course, we can establish that they really are faults). Why? A presence in the majority says nothing.

    Of course presence in the majority does not exclude anything from possibility being clasified as a fault, but I don’t agree that it says nothing. At least it can give you some idea of what can one rationally demand.

    For example, most people are uncapable of making paintings comparable to works of Michelangelo or Rubens. We can probably agree that the world would be better if ordinary people had this capability, but that does not mean that its lack is a fault.

    Concerning Catholicism, if someone’s faith is a result of religious upbringing and life in a dominantly religious society, I would not call it fault. Or at least not his individual fault.

  • Brian

    Prase, society did not start out as religious. Individual people propagated the beliefs.

    Sorry to be unclear—I meant that beliefs held by a majority says nothing concerning the nature of those beliefs. If a large number of individuals hold a belief, that does not mean in the slightest that those beliefs are rational.

    So when I say that we can “call them faults,” we can do so by examining the (ir)rationality behind them. Just because they are held by society as acceptable, does not implicate those beliefs as rational.

    A majority-held belief can be rational or irrational. Rather than looking at the number of people who hold those beliefs, I think we should examine the actual beliefs themselves. Upon doing so, then we can certainly call those beliefs faults (if again, we can establish them as such).

  • Alex Weaver

    The advertisements would prove unsuccessful if consumers examined the values that were actually important to them. Consumers buy into the idea that they need things (a new tv, a new car, etc.) because many of them don’t realize that what they have right in front of them is sufficient enough.

    Societal norms influence what people sell and what people buy. Thus, I take issue in your causal sequence. If societal norms (created directly by individuals’ values) dictate that gift-giving is an important value, then you HAVE to expect that people will capitalize on that to make a profit. If our norms were different, i.e. spending time with family and friends was the norm, then I guarantee you’d notice different advertisement strategies.

    If individual values are modified by the capitalist system, then if the owner of every company chooses to advertise products differently, then your claim sounds to me like you would expect to see a change at the individual level. But WHO would choose to make the decision to change that advertisement strategy? The individual and his/her values!

    Societal expectations influence what is produced. Advertisements reflect societal expectations. Societal expectations are derived from individual expectations. Individual expectations are derived from individual values.

    The whole idea of capitalism is to sell products that will make you money. Why sell products contrary to what the individual wants?

    This entire line of argument is premised on a set of assumptions about how most people actually make decisions which simply do not hold in the real world. Unfortunately, like most people reasoning more or less correctly from Weapons-Grade Wrong premises, you don’t seem to be aware of these assumptions or the tenuousness of your position if they are not treated as given. (I don’t know yet whether you share the further premise of most people who think this way that subjecting their preconceptions and assumptions to critical examination is somehow a betrayal of their identity/group/culture/WTFE but wouldn’t be surprised). This is the root of your problem and until you’re willing to seriously examine your premises in an empirical manner, as well as a “logical on paper” manner, productive dialogue is probably impossible.

  • Alex Weaver

    (Incidentally, it’s also logically analogous to the “abstinence-only sex education” paradigm, and fails for most of the same reasons).

  • Brian

    Alex Weaver,

    If that’s so, and productive dialog is your intention, then point out the inconsistencies of the premises. I’m more than willing to hear them.

    The abstinence only sex-education program isn’t even near analogous. The failure of that paradigm is that it does not focus on altering behavioral skills, but rather emotional and cognitive constructs. Focusing on emotion and cognition alone is not enough and never will be. Further, I don’t see anyone who remotely suggested that it would (hell, the research doesn’t even support it).

    I never concluded that people should settle for inward reflection in order for their problems to be fixed. Rather, that reflection is a good step to actual awareness and action. I don’t deny that people make decisions based on societal norms. I deny that those norms are independent of individual cognition and action. If you want to change the norms then you must start with the individuals.

    Also, people in a capitalist system would not try to convince people that they need things (like a bigger tv, a more powerful computer, etc.) unless individuals already held a value that indicated such. Advertisers target individual values, but more than that, they target a large conglomeration of individuals and their values. They target the majority. When individuals start to change their preferences such that the majority does so, the advertisements change (in presentation, type of product sold, etc.)

    If, for example, atheists were a majority in this country, then don’t you think the advertisements would change to reflect those new individual preferences?

  • prase

    If a large number of individuals hold a belief, that does not mean in the slightest that those beliefs are rational.

    I have never said that it does. I have said that people can’t be considered guilty of sharing beliefs whose falsity they have very little real chance to discover. And if majority of the society shares some belief, it’s a good indicator that the chances for finding the truth are quite small.

    Moreover, what we are speaking about are not only beliefs, but also values. Values can be wrong, but I have problems understanding what is a(n) “(ir)rational value”. Rationality tells us how to reach the desired ends, but not how to choose them.

    To give an example, I don’t see it as his individual fault when Isaac Newton was a devout Christian. Nor would I condemn a tribesman from New Guinea for cannibalism when it is common practice in his tribe. This I say in spite of seeing Christian belief as irrational and cannibalism as totally unacceptable and wrong. That the society didn’t start as religious (or cannibalistic) has no importance – it was already so when the respective people were born.

    Anyway, we got quite far from original topic in this discussion.

  • Brian

    But a person who commits a crime out of ignorance is still wrong. If, for example, you did not know that stealing was wrong, but you stole, then your actions are still wrong—even if you’d never be convinced of the action’s moral unacceptability.

    I agree that majority-held beliefs occasionally mask the truth, but (and I know you didn’t say it) it’s still no excuse for irrationality. Newton can discover the fundamental theory of calculus, but cannot contemplate the origins of god? I don’t think so. Maybe he found it unnecessary, maybe he was pressured by society not to. Nevertheless, it was newton’s decision to give in to irrationality. Those irrational beliefs are still irrational, no matter what the circumstances.

    Also, rationality most certainly helps us choose the means to reach ends. If I lay landmines in my yard to protect my family from intruders, or if I set up a security system for the same reason, then my ends would be rational: protecting my family. One of those means, however, is not rational.

  • http://the-now-life.livejournal.com Sam

    I completely agree with you, Brian. Society is the formation of people, and thus a formation of those people’s values. Over time, these people have created what has come to be known as capitalism. Their attitudes have made capitalism into what it has become, and now the feeling of obligatory gifts (such as having to exchange gifts with a sibling) is a societal norm.

    It would be strange for me (though I wouldn’t much care) being 19 and waking up Christmas morning without gifts from my family. Though I wouldn’t mind, the idea of there being no gifts would be extraordinary, for the norm says that people give gifts on Christmas. Further, had I not purchased gifts for my family, I would have appeared cheap, or thoughtless. Why though does this have to be? Why can’t I simply tell my family that I love them, respect them, and simply want their presence for Christmas? It’s because it’s not typical. Family members EXPECT to receive gifts on Christmas and feel disease at not receiving any.

    These values, though fostered by capitalistic advertising, ultimately derive from individual mentalities. These mentalities can be traced back to those (whoever they are) responsible for the outburst of capitalism. Though capitalism’s presence further embeds the idea of extravagant gift giving in our minds (i.e. brand name perfume), these endeavors are put forth based on what consumer feedback says is profitable. The advertisements appeal to what past consumer purchases have told them. If a commercial for Paris Hilton perfume attracted millions of people to the store each year to purchase some for their family members, then I can assure you that these advertisers would be conditioned to present that commercial each year to receive their reward (many customers). However, even though it would be unwise for them to discontinue the commercial, or to instead advertise spending time with one’s family rather than spending money on their perfume, it may not considerably change the amount of people who purchase the perfume. If every advertiser decided to sponsor a message encouraging family togetherness–without advertising their product in any way, I don’t think it would be reasonable to conclude that viewers would decide not to purchase gifts for their family. It’s simply expected. It’s a norm in our society, and societal values must change before we see a change in capitalism (if it is needed).

    Society is defined as an organized group of PERSONS associated together for religious, benevolent, cultural, scientific, political, patriotic, or other purposes. People is what fuels society, and society fuels capitalism. One can argue that capitalism should be changed–and I’m not saying whether it should or shouldn’t–but who is going to change capitalism? A PERSON, with their own individual values! In order for this to happen, individuals must be reached and their attitudes changed. Individuals come first.

  • Alex Weaver

    Brian: I think I misunderstood your argument, then – I parsed it as “if people chose not to make decisions in ways that advertising and other attempts at emotional manipulation affect, then there wouldn’t be a problem,” hence the reference to abstinence-only sex-ed. My mistake. x.x

  • Brian

    Alex,

    I appreciate the good debate. It’s my mistake, too, if my argument were not clear enough.