Wednesday, February 18, 2009

On Crass Commercialism

I have been losing patience with complaints about triviality of holidays. As far as I can tell, the prime argument against holidays is the crass commercialism doctrine. I guess the point is that people feel manipulated by the suggestion that they buy a presents for a given occasion. Everybody resents feeling manipulated by the combine, right?

Crass commercialism is Opportunity Maximization. You don't need to be told what or how to celebrate. But homo sapiens sapiens, especially puritan descended Americans, can be a dour lot. Sometimes we need to be given permission. So Hallmark made an excuse for me to buy people expensive chocolate? Horrors. Even cheap chocolate. Mmm.
At the very least, it's hard to find cards for Lupercalia.

You can celebrate Lupercalia instead of Valentine's Day, if you'd like. I encourage it, anyway. And my word is as good as gold with any supernatural law issuing authority you can imagine. Any excuse to celebrate is a good excuse. And the nice thing about the information revolution is that we can make our own cards, now.

But the nice thing about Opportunity Maximization is that other people are also celebrating. Or at least expecting to celebrate. This is "game theory." They're game to have fun at the same time you are. None of my co-workers get excited about Winter Solstice, but many get excited about Christmas. They don't know, or I imagine care, that I venerate Santa Clause far more than J.C. But we can celebrate Christmas together. And celebration is of limited functionality alone.

Crass commercialism also provides the implements to celebrate. Candy Hearts! Nothing makes chocolate taste better than being molded in the shape of a heart or a rabbit.
This is function of the limbic system of our brain. I can't explain the complicated neuroscience behind it. But to borrow a trick from Neil Gaiman and Capitalize Every Word in a Phrase: Everything Tastes Better With Meaning Attached. The crass commercialization allows us to celebrate more effectively. It is the institutionalization of joy*.

The thing that can make holidays really unpleasant is our expectations of them. Also, our families, but some people enjoy that part of it. Nothing hurts more than seeing a celebration of something you don't really have, whether it be romance or family or togetherness.

The solution for this is largely ambition and game theory (as outlined above). Be willing to celebrate. Find someone to celebrate with. Just asking usually helps. It's hard for people to do that, though. So if you have company to celebrate with, then offer. It's kind. In kindergarten, we gave Valentines to everybody. Try it again, except with golden apples this time.

At the heart of the matter, celebration is the elevation of the trivial. Triviality is the essence of joy. If you complain about crass commercialism, it seems you are complaining about joy. Allowing triviality expands your horizons, and allows you to take pleasure beyond the boundaries that a celebration has been given.

Hail Eris!

*Which is certainly better than the institutionalization of other things, like marriage. Institutionalization is generally Bad. Institutionalization of joy is Good.

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