Christmas, Consumerism and Confusion: some thoughts from Perspectiva
A typically thoughtful blog from Perspectiva's Jonathan Rowson on the tumult of questions, equivocations and raw sentiments than run through our heads and hearts at Christmas. An excerpt below:
My main feeling about Christmas is that we should feel more confused about it than we are. The challenge at Christmas is to gain clarity about our lives and societies by experiencing our confusion as object rather than subject– to have our Christmas confusion, rather than be had by it.
This kind of approach to complexity is not new. Physicist and Philosopher Nihls Bohr said that “If quantum mechanics hasn’t profoundly shocked you, you haven’t understood it yet.” In a similar spirit with reference to the world as a whole, the American writer Irene Peter said “Today, if you are not confused, you are not thinking clearly.”
The first thing to notice is that Christmas is the season of shallow critique. We lament the commercialisation around us as if it were a seasonal problem, but lurking inside the wrapped presents, juicy puddings and roasted birds there are deeper questions about ethical drift and the social logic of our entire economic model...
...What would it take for Christmas reflection to go beyond the personal and become a time when we collectively imagined an entirely different world, beyond consumerism? This is no small ask, because as the think tank Theos indicated in a thoughtful report on The Politics of Christmas a few years ago and through subsequent polling research, most people do not really understand the Christmas story; details for instance about homelessness and the refugee experience, and my favourite — the wise men getting lost and turning up late.
Moreover, most people see Christmas as a time to turn away from politics and towards home. Theos summarised their findings on public attitudes to Christmas in 2012 as follows: “The message is clear: domesticity and charity yes, religion and leisure maybe, politics and economics no.”
Why might that be?
Christmas seems to give permission to escape from responsibility towards the external world. The main thing we want from Christmas is for the world to stop for a while. And yet it doesn’t really stop, as we know, and it rarely goes to plan. Even so, that is tacit cultural agreement – let’s pretend this time of year is different.