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The New Opiate
Will Bassett

Driving to school this morning, I was stopped at a red light when I saw something quite disturbing. A sign on the corner said DO NOT GIVE MONEY TO PANHANDLERS. When I looked past the sign, in the distance I saw a billboard enticing people to give money to a huge cell phone company. That's right, we shouldn't give money to the "have-nots" who really need it. Instead, we should give it to the "haves" that run multi-billion dollar corporations. Am I the only one who feels this is direct proof of the disintegration of our culture?

Our biggest cultural celebration as a whole is Christmas. It is a holiday based on religious meaning, but it has also been assigned a new meaning: consumerism. This is the busiest shopping period of the year, when businesses make a lot of money. Now, I have no problem with giving gifts as a representation of love, but it has gone too far. Every year, there is some hot new product that every kid wants. If a child does not get that gift and all their friends do, that child will feel miserable. No parent wants their child to feel that way, so parents go out of their way to get the hot new toy. I don't have any children, but I'm sure it feels wonderful to see a child's eyes light up on Christmas when they get their presents. But what is the cost? We are training our children at a young age to be consumers, and that material things equal happiness.

I don't want to get down on Christmas; there are many wonderful things about it. The real root of the problem is in our American society. We love to consume, and we don't like to give anything back. When people were concerned about terrorists, our president told us to keep shopping. That was the real solution, we were told. Shopping: the new opiate for the masses. And we are hooked. We don't just buy things either, we buy BIG things. I mean, do people really need to drive SUVs or watch TVs the size of an SUV's windshield?

Not only do we like big things, but it has to be the right things as well. You better make sure your clothes were bought from the correct store and that they are currently in fashion this year. This has really led to the evaporation of our cultural and individual meanings. Our society heavily depends on external symbols to define people. Instead of people finding identity through what is inside of them self, they use things like clothing and hairstyles to do it. With the right clothes you can identify yourself as jock, skater, preppy, hip-hop, or whatever other clique you prefer. It sounds like high school, but look at people in public place; it applies everywhere. Defining yourself through symbols is natural, but it is unnatural when people just flock towards some prefabricated image that they want for themselves. And all they are really doing is becoming a walking advertisement for some corporation. For a society that prides itself on the importance of the individual, we sure do encourage conformity.

I don't know how to change our society from its greedy, selfish, consuming ways. I like my possessions, and I have a lot of unnecessary ones (I probably don't need four guitars). All I can say is to look inside you for identity, not outside. Before you buy a new car, ask yourself if you really need it. It may make you feel happy for a while, but how long will it be before you want to buy another new one? Are you buying that shirt because you like it, or because of how you think people will perceive you if you wear it? Are you dating someone because you truly love them, or because they make you feel better about yourself? Just remember that there are far more important things in life than possessions.

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