You’ve pulled the Christmas Cracker and there’s a message instead of a joke, plus there’s a party game, so read on…
I want to be somewhere in the middle regarding Christmas. I want to have a foot in both camps and sit right on the fence, provided a pillow is available for my undercarriage, thank you. In one camp, there are the hangry, zealous consumer connoisseurs, with skid mark burns on their credit cards from swiping fast and furiously. They’ll stand up for the rights to a mid-winter festival; stand ready with wads of cash to throw at it while casting a curt nod to the comfortable Pagan God called capitalism. This camp will purchase everything requested on the wish lists of loved ones for a quieter life, and add a few extra to keep up with the Jones’s, raising a toast to celebrate the holy birth of status anxiety. Gloria in Excelsis.
In the other camp is Mr and Mrs Bar-Humbug, exercising their self-righteous practice of ‘nourishment’ over ‘pleasure’, glaring down disapprovingly over the likes of the former family, purchasing say, a hoverboard for their dog, viewing this as one of the many dreadful examples of indulgence and excessiveness. This camp bashes home the message about the dangers of consumerism, sometimes it seems a little smugly, from those fortunate to be living in the more affluent quarters of society, but in fact, both live on the extreme ends of the same pole; each equally lacking something, one through indulgence and the other, abstinence, with neither party able to satiate their desires.
To anyone sitting, straddled on a fence, and like me, with a foot in either camp on some issue, perhaps different ones to those mentioned above, maybe Epicurus can help. He was a Greek philosopher, sometimes misunderstood as being a hedonist if hastily reading about his pursuit of pure pleasure. He believed that great excesses of anything in life led to great dissatisfaction. I will add to that, giving my own interpretation and borrowing a biblical phrase: Once your cup starts overflowing with pure enjoyment, the pleasure gained in the ensuing overspill- brimming over, thereafter- cannot be heightened. It will be of the same magnitude in sensation, only it will be lost, wasted, and this over indulgence, according to Epicurus, could cause negativity. Pleasure is compromised and from what I’ve read, he had no time for that.
The point of satiation will be different for everyone, naturally. If you have to go all out, consume to the brim perhaps, as your absolute limit? Epicurus’s emphasis’s were in fact, on the pleasures of the mind rather than physical features, so conversely, make your point about the negative impact of consumerism -as that may well be your source of ‘enjoyment’- but if you go on and on, and on, it doesn’t make your voice or argument ever more potent, and you’ll be wading in your own dissatisfaction. And you’ll be spoiling not just your Christmas, but those around you- who may have a different interpretation.
‘Epicurus advocated living in such a way as to derive the greatest amount of pleasure possible during one’s lifetime, yet doing so moderately in order to avoid the suffering incurred by overindulgence in such pleasure.’
So I’ve decided I won’t be turning my nose up if someone wants to buy something that may seem on the surface, outlandish. That person will have to ask themselves the question, ‘when is it enough?’ And like me, there are so many out there, who have quietly made huge donations to charity, without needing to tell the world, and so should enjoy pleasure without guilt. Consuming is now being treated as a dirty word, as if it’s sleeping with sin, sans God. However, denying the chance for some to enjoy the pleasures of Christmas seems to me, an overflow of mean-spiritedness.
So, to infinity? No, just to the brim, I say, but not beyond.