Shopping With a Mob Mentality

Though Black Friday 2020 is now history, the question still remains if the frenzy is good, bad or indifferent (and anyone who saw the outlet parking lots on that day and over that weekend knows what I mean). Please don’t mistake this article as an indictment of businesses – I love and encourage business. It’s more of a psychological discussion of the shopping mindset.

I regularly get reader emails saying that they don’t get the idea of gift giving for the sake of gift giving. Many of them make reference to Black Friday. Several readers say that people should give gifts simply because they want to; not because they have to.

The popularity of the day-after-Thanksgiving shopping phenomenon seems to be nothing more than mob psychology (albeit benign) fueled by relentless media bombardment. For some, it’s not really about enjoying the exchange of gifts. It’s more of a frenetic buying spree for its own sake. It’s like the herd acting in unison: “Everyone else is doing it!” Sadly we’ve been seeing a lot of that lately.

Again: Don’t get me wrong: I love commerce and trade, and I admire all entrepreneurs, including those in retail. And that goes double for the brave businesspeople who operate stores here in our seasonal resort. But I stopped exchanging gifts a long time ago, not because I’m against it, but simply because my loved ones and I already have what we need. In fact, I regularly buy gifts for friends throughout the year. But if I still did Christmas shopping, I wouldn’t go out with the mobs. I’d try to thoughtfully select things throughout the year, in as much peace and quiet as possible. Of course, Christmas shopping in a busy store can be festive and fun, and if traffic jams and flying elbows are part of your season, then go for it.

On one level, it’s surprising to see this compulsion for holiday shopping escalate in our current era of anti-business sentiment and strident anti-capitalism – the most profound since the founding of the United States. It seems to me like a contradiction when people mob the malls and the stores to enjoy the fruits of the very capitalism they vilify.

But there might be an explanation. As kids, many of us were raised to relate to others in terms of “the group.” Most parents motivate their children with things like, “Don’t do that. Nobody will like you.” Schools educate kids in groups; thinking in a classroom format rather than thinking for themselves as individuals. “What others think of me” is an ever-present trend in our culture. And one example of this is Black Friday, where people gather together in packs – often camping out in the middle of the night – to engage in a compulsive frenzy. Sure, there are always those who buck the trends, but the trends are still there.

A compulsion refers to something done for the express purpose (conscious or not) of reducing anxiety. The degree to which one succumbs to that is the degree to which one has replaced positive values with the instant gratification of feeling less anxious.

Maybe on some level people sense that on our current course, material prosperity and economic growth are fading away, and the holiday rush is one last (sometimes unaffordable) way to “get it while you can.” That’s just conjecture, but to many people, the obligation to think objectively or critically is burdensome.

No, I’m not the Grinch, and I love the holidays and shopping as much as anybody, especially with all the unique retailers here at the beach. But I also believe that the false security of living by and for the mob erases the importance of personal responsibility. Can the excitement of holiday shopping include rational thinking and spending within our means? I’m not sure, but I want to believe that it can.



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