Potlatch World

by | Dec 2, 2011 | General Ruminations

What’s all this sudden interest in technology and energy use?  It’s not really sudden.  I just don’t feel like writing about literature for awhile.  See post for 11/17.  So why not write about baking bread, or the Argentine tango, or the joys of riding fixed-gear bicycles?  Lots of things I could say on those topics.  Instead, this depressing meditation on our childish preoccupation with flashy toys.

What set me off most recently was the people down the street.  Red-blooded Americans, they are poster children for the notion that if we decrease our dependence on fossil fuels, the terrorists have won.  They have a motorboat the size of the Titanic, though the nearest piece of water big enough to float it in is fifty miles away.  To get it there, they have the obligatory big-block crew-cab monster truck.  Also a ginormous SUV and various quads and dirt bikes.  Even the kids have gas-powered kiddie trucks.  Their flat-screen TV is the size of Montana.  Their outdoor Christmas display can be seen from outer space.

Friday morning after Thanksgiving there they were, setting up the 15’ inflatable illuminated Santa.  I’d somehow managed to forgot about him.  This year there’s a Santa Junior as well.  He’s only 8’ tall.  The number of lights has approximately doubled.  So far I cannot read a book, in my own house, by the glow.  Not quite.


What am I?  A grinch?


In 1884 the US government made the Northwest American Indian custom of potlatch punishable by a prison term of two to six months.  Potlatch was seen as wasteful, heathen, and essentially uncivilised.

Potlatch was a gift-giving festival.  A wealthy clan would hold a feast at which they would give away much of the surplus they’d accumulated over the past year.  It was a formalized way, on the one hand, of demonstrating your own clan’s great wealth.  Typical gifts would be preserved foods, manufactured articles, and slaves.  Potlatch could get quite competitive.  In its most extreme form, brand-new and perfectly useful items would be ceremonially destroyed.

The ban on potlatch was repealed in 1951, mostly as it proved to be unenforceable.  I am unaware that anyone ever pointed out that it was also tremendously hypocritical.

There are lots of ways we flaunt our wealth by throwing it away.  Edible gold cake decorations, for example: straight down the toilet.  But mostly what we do is burn things up.

The anti-grinch squad can see where I’m going here.  How can I possibly think of depriving little kids of the joys of Christmas?