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murrayYesterday we were thankful for the harvest, now we reward our year’s successes. I know how so many of you ladies get all warm and fuzzy inside, putting on your Christmassy sweaters, listening to Christmas music while driving to the mall with your sisters and besties to see it all decked out in decorations and festies, and feeling the contagious charge of cheerfulness in the air—that static electricity that is humanity’s happiness when rejoicing in the infinitely proliferating variety of the free enterprise market system. Freedom may mean the absence of restrictions, but liberty means a wide array of good options. And today they are all on sale! God bless ya. He does want us to be happy.

Conservatism treasures conservationism and market ‘capitalism’ but not mere consumerism. Life is often a choice of trade-offs and we aren’t supposed to be spendthrifts or misers, so how can an imaginative conservative be conscientious in his acquisitiveness here in postmodernity? How do we discern the kind of purchases that align with one’s conservative Christian humanism and have a touch of grace and the timeless art of the good life? You’ll surely want to ask someone whose taste is far more refined than mine. But let me point to ten hazy abstractions (and one bonus one for the ladies) that can be practically applied to myriad particular circumstances.

1) Permanence

This Christmastime, when you shop, consider buying things that will last forever. Contemplate making these purchases “the last one of these he’ll ever need” rather than “this might distract him for a while.” This philosophy of acquisition works well both for those who believe that the person with the most stuff at the end wins, because you’ll have a bunch of stuff that has weathered the test of time, but it also works well for those of us ascetics who believe that at the end of your travels, the only baggage you want is that which you can easily carry; and those things should be the best possible quality, worn in over the years, pregnant with personal attachment, bringing a wake of meaningful memories in their trail. If you do purchase mere distractions, please consider buying biodegradable ones or ones that can be passed on and on. Remember that plastic is the eternal rubbish.

2) Gifts and Presents

Be cognizant of and purchase both gifts and presents for your loved ones; a present is something you want them to have, a gift is something they want you to give them. And we should remember these distinctions when we practice the art of receiving presents and gifts from our loved ones. It seems there’s a tendency for folks to be ungrateful for the presents they receive and bitter that they didn’t get the gifts they want.

3) Oikophilia or Love of Home

Our job on this planet as conservators is to leave it better than we found it, so beware the products that were brought to the market by way of the road of destruction. One of the best ways to ensure that is to buy local products. There are also plenty of good reasons to buy from small rather large companies, but you probably already realize the threat that transnational megacorps pose to our social order. Brighten the corner of the world you live in.

4) Shopaholism

Enjoy ‘having’ more than ‘buying’. There are some of you (you know who you are and the rest of us can spot the holes in your pocketbooks where your money burned through to bust out) who just like to spend. The purchase is the point. Like the a needle, they need it more and more. This species of shopper is a close cousin to the emotive spender who thinks that the higher the price, the more highly it should be prized. –A fool and his money are soon parted. On the other hand, some of you are so cheap, you’d jump a gate to keep from wearing out a hinge, and you keep buying things that break. Get a good one once.

5) Kitsch and Emptiness

But these tendencies and quirks, dangerous dalliances though they are, are almost charming traits of the cheerful shopper. The ugliest and saddest side to rampant consumerism is not its tacky materialism (although kitsch may simply be distilled evil), it is its gluttonous insatiable appetite that is a fallacious attempt to fill a spiritual void. The hollow man becomes the stuffed man.

6) Value ‘Value’

Learn to be thrifty by ‘treasuring the find’, that is; value getting the best ‘value’ rather than merely the best ‘deal’ or lowest price. A gentleman wants to get what he pays for and he doesn’t want to overpay or underpay. Purchase permanence when the price is right.

7) Savings

Keynes’s paradox of thrift was wrong, after all. It turns out that it is a good idea to save and not to spend everything you make because that saved capital becomes then available to the most productive enterprisers in our economy to spur on profitability and create more jobs.

8) Debt

It’s not only stupid not to save and spend all you make, it’s even stupider to spend what you haven’t even yet made. Keynes’s disastrous prescription encouraged taking on debt to stimulate the economy. This is as disastrous for individuals as it is for countries. Debt is voluntary slavery, Adams, I think, said. But the way the neo-Keynesians keep monetizing debt by minting new money nowadays, the money we do save won’t be worth much for long anyway. You can’t take it with you and in the end we’re all dead, right?

9) Saving Redux

How much money would you have if you had merely the interest on all the money you’ve wasted? A penny saved is a penny earned, Poor Richards taught us. That is a swing of two pennies, people often fail to remember. Every dollar you spend, you’re down two dollars on the deal. The manufacturers, distributors, and sellers of another thing would like to remind you that what you spend on one thing, you cannot spend on another thing. Everyone benefits when you spend wisely.

10) Luxury

That is not say that we should entirely avoid big luxuries if we are wealthy or little luxuries if we are poor. Ludwig von Mises wrote, “Every advance first comes into being as the luxury of a few rich people, only to become, after a time, the indispensable necessity taken for granted by everyone. Luxury consumption provides industry with the stimulus to discover and introduce new things.”

11) Grace

Finally, let me make a plea for what might seem counterintuitive; superfluities and frivolities. These are not only distinctly human, they are vital especially when considering the proper presents and gifts to purchase for the fairer sex of the species. Not only do they need to be reminded that they are cherished and that you’re with them forever, they need sweet little nothings all along the way.

And don’t forget to contribute to the private charities that so often combat the damage done by government charities.

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4 replies to this post
  1. Sage advice, but I’ve two hesitations. Buy local? What about Christmas handicrafts made by 3rd World Christian churches, or 3rd World poor, that feed them, educate their children and put colour in our homes? By extension, what of Ghanaian chocolates (the world’s finest) and so on? I work in such places, see the quality of their goods and the gratitude in their faces. Perhaps I’ll tell them to go hungry because shipping their embroidered tablecloths home increases global warming.

    And is kitsch really evil, or merely kitsch? It’s hard to think of my grandma’s plastic Pieta as evil, even if it did glow in the dark! And despite it, she was a fine schoolteacher and a well-informed and tasteful art historian. Your definition, sir, warrants rethinking.

  2. I appreciate that perspective, Mr. Masty, and I find much agreement in it. My comment about kitsch maybe being evil is a little tongue in cheek. I was ruminating risibly the other day on Hermann Broch’s exquisite essay ‘Evil in the Value-System of Art’. : “it becomes the mission of kitsch as an esthetic phenomenon to be the representative of the ethically evil. . . . The essence of kitsch is the confusion of the ethical and esthetic categories; kitsch wants to produce not the “good” but the “beautiful.” . . The maker of kitsch does not create inferior art, he is not an incompetent or a bungler, he cannot be evaluated by esthetic standards; rather, he is ethically depraved, a criminal willing radical evil.”

    Also, the great Czech modernist, Milan Kundera has thought thoroughly and written keenly exposing Kitsch. But he is so careful to conceal any consideration from a perspective that could be labeled religious or, heaven forbid, conservative, I’d really like to read what one of our leading thinkers from the church see as Kundera’s blind spots. And I am always eager to read what leading esthetes think of Roger Scruton’s scrutiny of kitsch. I thought Father Longenecker’s TIC article yesterday on kitsch comparing Wyeth with Kinkade was brilliant.

    But, Mr. Masty, where I agree with you entirely, as I wrote yesterday; the only rub is, the only thing that nags my mind about his full on assault on Kinkade is simply this: lots of well-meaning masses heard along the way somewhere that this artist, Kinkade, was trying to say something deep about loving Christ and coming home and that these were paintings that tried to somehow call men back to Christ, and these masses thought they were beautiful and they never heard nor read all our haughty highbrow bickering about aesthetics and mastering art forms, but who just thought it was pretty and bought it because they thought it spruced up the home. -Put a warm smile on the wall.

    I think of the vacuous buzz conjured up in soundbites by image makers and marketers used to promote almost everything in pop culture and for that matter in nearly every modern art museum where the walls are slathered in talentless emotional gestures on canvas and think, even Kinkade is better than most of that.

    But, in a very numinous way, perhaps, these gaudy, God-awful paintings, still capture the heart of their owners, and each day, perhaps numerous times a day as they pass by them, these paintings which seem like vandalism to us, the desecration of sacred aesthetic norms, and the further kitschification of our collective tastes, strike a chord in the soul of the Christian–perhaps far better Christians than myself (though that’s no great accomplishment) and give them a reminder and a touch of grace that cannot be measured.

  3. Good Mr Moore: Indeed. I cannot abide kitsch, but like CS Lewis saying that different religions peer at God through clearer or dustier lenses, the less educated love schlock for the same reasons that you or I love great art. No doubt the manufacturer of kitsch is soullessly cranking out a commercial product while Mozart and Giotto are moved by the Music of the Spheres, but from a consumer’s perspective, Christian or not, each gratifies the aesthetic sense according to one’s capacity. Yes? Somewhere I recall Chesterton defending kitsch, but Heaven knows where I’d find it again. For the record, I love all Wyeths starting with NC, while Kinkade has always sent me reeling for the air-sickness bag! It could be that there, but for the grace of God, my artist mother and my teachers, go I.

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