Sunday, December 24, 2006

God Make You Mighty, Gentlemen

I vividly recall traversing the threshold from mainland China into Hong Kong and its environs, because it was as though we slammed into this wall of Christmas. The scarcity of the holiday in the former is hardly surprising -- even setting their wariness of globalization aside, this is after all a country that requires you to renounce faith in God for membership in its sole political party -- but you hit a free-market economy and whoop, there it is.

I had a similar experience around the same time last year, as I returned to the States from another trip overseas to find the airport decked out in full Christmas regalia as early as November fourth. (I also narrowly avoided stepping into a pile of human excrement sitting in the middle of my departure gate, which I observed lying unattended for no less than a full half-hour before I boarded my next flight -- as startling a "welcome home" as I've ever received.)

The season is so relentlessly cheerful that it's hard for contrarians like me to avoid using it as an excuse to brood on all the things missing from our lives.

A lot of people complain that our emotional attachment to the holiday is simply something that was manufactured by advertising agencies. Well, yeah -- but a lot of our attachments are manufactured. In fact, that's what I do for a living -- economically speaking, I create fictional constructs that you develop an emotional attachment to in order to encourage you to continue buying my product. (Of course, artistically speaking, it's somewhat more complicated than that.) But surely that doesn't diminish the validity of the emotion. So what's the sin? That the attachments were created by Big Evil Corporations, rather than struggling artists? If that's the case, God forbid I should ever achieve anything like success.

"But it's such a commercial holiday!" people cry. Well, yeah, but that's obviously not going to be a big barrier to somebody like me. I love capitalism, its hyperactive desire to entertain, its breathless, scizophrenic attempts to capture your attention. The economy booms around Christmastime. "But what about the little guy?" This is when private charity peaks. (Of course, the little guy desperately needs more, not to mention more often -- my point is simply that the season doesn't *damage* us economically.)

"Remember that Jesus is the reason for the season!" cry Christians. Well, we all recognize that for the bullshit argument it is, surely? There's no historical basis for Jesus of Nazareth having been born around this time of year -- it was a co-opting of a number of pagan festivals, which, I'm sure, cannibalized the traditions preceding them, as well. "But what about other winter festivals, like Hannukah, or Kwanzaa?" Oog. I can't speak for the Jews -- whose dates aren't determined by the Gregorian calendar -- but Kwanzaa was invented in 1966 by a Marxist who claimed that Jesus was psychotic. Then people start calling me a racist, and then I curl up into a fetal position and start rocking.

It hardly matters though, does it? After all, they're all made-up holidays, at least in terms of the time of year that they take place. The reason we have a winter festival is because we all get so fucking depressed that we need a socially acceptable excuse to get recklessly drunk and start frantically groping each other beneath exotic vegetation. And that, I can get behind.


Just got back from seeing Santa Man, another zinger of a one-man show from the prolific Rik Reppe. I know this is a backhanded compliment, but it's the most enjoyable holiday show in recent memory. It follows the same predictable arc that so many Christmas stories do -- cantankerous individual discovers holiday cheer through the spirit of charity -- with the significant twist that this story is a true one; Rik, depressed over an impending divorce, set out on a road trip across America last year to hand out toys to Katrina victims.

Towards the beginning of the show, as he was talking about things like snowball fights and road music, I found myself thinking: "His strength as a storyteller is his ability to attach profound significance to events most of us wouldn't consider twice." But no, that's wrong, and I quickly corrected myself. His strength as a storyteller is the fact that he's a man of action, that he aggressively pursues his stories, rather than passively allowing them to happen to him. After all, while most of us (okay, me) were sitting at home feeling sorry for ourselves, he hopped in his car and actually did something beneficial to somebody else.

In an enjoyable twist, the nature of the show became an interactive one, as Rik and his cronies over at Liberal Media Elite conducted a toy drive in conjunction with the performance, which he'll be taking out to kids who lost their parents in the Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid in Worthington. It's a swell cause, and one that contributes a level of immediacy to his storytelling. Highly recommended, if it wasn't obvious already, and it gets the phil low stamp of approval(TM).


What is libertarianism about? It seems like I've asked that question in every post since I started this thing, and come up with a different answer every time. (To paraphrase an old joke, put five libertarians in a room together and you'll get six opinions.) But it's a worthwhile question: what is it all about?

It's not about greed, or selfishness (contrary to popular opinion, or what Ayn Rand and her acolytes may assert) -- at least, not for me; it's about the power of choice, and assuming personal responsibility for those choices.

Christmas is an emotional time, and it's easy to lash out at the world around you: to blame corporations, or government, or Christians, or secularists, or the idiots who put up nativity scenes, or the idiots who vandalize them. But libertarianism demands that you take responsibility: that you take responsibility for your Christmas. The season can be about whatever you choose it to be: about greed, or compassion, or Jesus, or family, or alcohol. (The best Christmas, I imagine, would be one that managed to combine all of the above.)

So, rather than dishing out yet another saccharine "Merry Christmas!", allow me to articulate a truly libertarian holiday sentiment:

(clears throat)

"I hope that you choose to have a Merry Christmas, and that you choose to share that spirit with those around you."

Amen, brothers and sisters. And to all a good night.

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