Saturday, December 09, 2006

Christmas Obscenities

The whole idea of gift-giving at Christmas has never made sense to me.

The holiday that ostensibly celebrates ultimate sacrifice has become a celebration of consumerism -- a hideous orgy of spending, mostly by those for those who don't need much of anything.

And, each year, the binge becomes more bizarre.

The rich must have it particularly difficult. After all, what do you give someone who (literally) has everything?

That meaningless question is answered each year by high-end retailers like Neiman-Marcus in their annual catalog, a place where "shame" never appears (but should.)

Some of this year's more offensive offerings include two luxury "pet homes" from Italian designer Marco Morosini, whoever he is. Their ad boasts, "It is crafted of poplar and has an interior rug and coordinating wallpaper," facts I am sure would not comfort one of our dogs.

But these "homes" aren't about dogs. They are about people. And to prevent the horror that someone else in their gated communities might end up with the same obscenity, Neiman's soothes the soulless with this assurance, "Our exclusive editions are limited to only ten of each style, and each will be numbered and signed by the designer." The price tags? $5,000 and $7,000, respectively, depending on whether Fido wants an Italian leather chair.

I often wonder if it ever occurs to the rich and bored that the average cost of maintaining a homeless animal in a shelter is just a few dollars a day. I wonder if they know, or care, that 70,000 dogs and cats are born every day in the U.S. -- that's 50 an hour, or that the number of stray cats and dogs living in the U.S. exceeds 70 million, and far more than that in the Third World, or that number of animals in the U.S. that die each year from cruelty, neglect, and exploitation is about 30 million. I wonder if it ever crosses their minds that the $7,000 spent on a single pampered pet could spay and neuter 300 dogs and cats and eliminate literally millions of births that will only result in cruel, lingering deaths?

The other Neiman-Marcus gemcrack that begs to be flogged (and so I will) is found on their web page under the heading of "Indulge Them!" which at gives N-M an "A" for accurate description and an "F" for care, compassion, and concern. It is a one foot tall Lalique crystal Buddha for only $11,850.00, plus shipping. This offering is, at best, ironic and sadly amusing, if only because one of the Noble Truths of Buddhism is that the origination of all suffering is the desire for more, the passion for those things that bring passing enjoyment here and there -- things like $12,000 statues of a symbol that none who buy will remotely understand.

Perhaps the Paris Hilton "wanna-be's" of the world would be moved to donate that $12,000 if they only knew that 852 million people -- about 13 percent of the world population -- do not have enough food each day to sustain a healthy life.

Perhaps they would conclude, as did a recent U.N. report that "It is a shame on humanity that in a world that is richer than ever before, six million children die of malnutrition and related illnesses before they reach the age of five."

Or perhaps knowing that 25,000 people will starve to death in our world today, and tomorrow, and the next day, might cause them to use the Neiman-Marcus catalog for its highest and best use -- to clean up the dog poop of their precious pet.

And, if the Neiman-Marcus crowd is really that into Buddhism they would be well-served to read the Dali Lama's formula for happiness, which interestingly has nothing to do with showering one's self or others with expensive trinkets, but rather, with this admonition . . .

“ . . . our greatest joy should come when we are motivated by concern for
others ... In our concern for others, we worry less about ourselves. When we worry less about ourselves, the experience of our own suffering is less intense.”

Can you imagine the difference in our world if we rejected the material during this season, called "gift-giving" what it is -- a bad habit engendered through guilt and pride via advertising, and instead donated the money spent on gifts to those in real need? The $300 billion to be spent on Christmas in the United States this year would go a long way to eradicate the worldwide homeless animal epidemic and begin to solve the embarrassing tragedy of world hunger.

I can't really imagine it, but I like to try.



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