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To Dare to Do It The Road to the Middle Class: A Manifesto

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The Amazon Public Wish List

by Christopher Chantrill
December 25, 2004 at 7:00 pm

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ON THE DAY after Christmas, when Americans in their tens of thousands are happily returning unwanted Christmas presents, I am afraid that it is my duty to report that there is disquieting news from the on-line shopping front.  I learned purely by chance of this unhappy development, one that I had not heard reported previously in the mainstream media or indeed any other, more reputable, media outlet.  And I was shocked.

A young acquaintance told me that Amazon now allows you to publish your Amazon Wish List to the world.  If your friends and admirers are wondering what to buy you for your birthday, they can save themselves a lot of trouble by going to Amazon.com, entering your name or your e-mail address and checking your Wish List.

Many of us have grudgingly accepted the idea of gift registries for weddings and even for babies.  There was in the old days a solemn bourgeois gravitas about the department store wedding registry, and indeed a definite social utility to the rationalization and systemization of the harrowing business of choosing gifts for newly-weds, that is, if we pass over in silence that the wedding gift problem was created by the department store phenomenon in the first place.  In the old days, there wasn’t much that you could give a newly wedded couple.  But when the first miracle occurred on 34th Street (the opening of Macy’s, not the later, hyped up affair) a whole world of choice opened up to the human race.  Women learned that they could gift each other without limit, and so they did.

Now Amazon has extended the sensible and practical gift registry concept beyond all bounds, encouraging rampant and unnecessary advertisement of needs, wants, and wishes online.  With just a couple of clicks, you can publish your Wish List for all the world to see.  How crass!  How horribly dirty!  How incredibly low!

But it’s worse than that.

Up to now, we American shoppers could at least hide our shameful little lusts away in the back of our minds, reasonably safe from the prying eyes and ears of judgmental liberals.  An American man was required to advertise his choice in career, his choice of tailor, his taste in whisky, his house, and of course, his taste in women, but not much more.   But now everything has changed.  Now a man will be judged by the taste he displays in his Wish List.  It’s just another darn thing that the modern man, pushed and shoved and pummeled as he is already, would rather not have to do.

The menace of an Amazon public Wish List is that it threatens to expose the universal banality of our tiresome little appetites.  We are all so boringly alike; we want what everyone else wants.  Take a look at Amazon’s top seller lists.  The top-selling book this hour is Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (pre-order); the top selling jewelry item is a Genuine Amethyst Peridot Citrine Crystal Chip Bracelet (for $3.99!); the top selling electronics item is a Philips DVP642 DivX-Certified Progressive-Scan DVD Player.  What do you think?  I agree; there’s no other word for it: Boring!

If I were to have a public Wish List, it would have to be more about me than about what I want: it would advertise what I thought that someone like me ought to want, not what I really want.  I’d be like the insufferable college professor who feels the need not just to be the world genius on the Duke of Wellington’s opposition to the Reform Bill but an expert on wine and a sophisticated art connoisseur as well.

Of course, you may say that I’ve missed the point entirely.  The real problem with Amazon’s new wheeze, you’ll say, is that they will use America’s Wish List in their marketing, figuring out how to market new products to us based upon the contents of our Wishes.  You’re wrong, of course.  A bigger danger is that Amazon’s Director of World Domination will be able to call up Scholastic Books any time of the day or night and ask the Harry Potter account executive how much it would be worth to know how many copies of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince are backed up in Pre-order.

Could Amazon’s public Wish List bring the end of civilization as we know it?  It could, but somehow I can’t get too exercised about it.  You see, I don’t plan to use the Amazon public Wish List.  Not because I don’t want other people to know how boring I am, but for a mean-spirited, selfish reason.  I’d rather go out and buy stuff myself.  And anyway, I buy my on-line books at BarnesandNoble.com.  On Amazon, you have to pay sales tax on orders shipped to Washington State.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

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Chappies

“But I saw a man yesterday who knows a fellow who had it from a chappie that said that Urquhart had been dipping himself a bit recklessly off the deep end.”  —Freddy Arbuthnot
Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison


Civil Society

“Civil Society”—a complex welter of intermediate institutions, including businesses, voluntary associations, educational institutions, clubs, unions, media, charities, and churches—builds, in turn, on the family, the primary instrument by which people are socialized into their culture and given the skills that allow them to live in broader society and through which the values and knowledge of that society are transmitted across the generations.
Francis Fukuyama, Trust


Hugo on Genius

“Tear down theory, poetic systems... No more rules, no more models... Genius conjures up rather than learns... ” —Victor Hugo
César Graña, Bohemian versus Bourgeois


Education

“We have met with families in which for weeks together, not an article of sustenance but potatoes had been used; yet for every child the hard-earned sum was provided to send them to school.”
E. G. West, Education and the State


Faith & Purpose

“When we began first to preach these things, the people appeared as awakened from the sleep of ages—they seemed to see for the first time that they were responsible beings, and that a refusal to use the means appointed was a damning sin.”
Finke, Stark, The Churching of America, 1776-1990


Conversion

“When we received Christ,” Phil added, “all of a sudden we now had a rule book to go by, and when we had problems the preacher was right there to give us the answers.”
James M. Ault, Jr., Spirit and Flesh


Postmodernism

A writer who says that there are no truths, or that all truth is ’merely relative’, is asking you not to believe him. So don’t.
Roger Scruton, Modern Philosophy


Faith and Politics

As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the principal focus of her interventions in the public arena is the protection and promotion of the dignity of the person, and she is thereby consciously drawing particular attention to principles which are not negotiable... [1.] protection of life in all its stages, from the first moment of conception until natural death; [2.] recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family... [3.] the protection of the right of parents to educate their children.
Pope Benedict XVI, Speech to European Peoples Party, 2006


China and Christianity

At first, we thought [the power of the West] was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity.
David Aikman, Jesus in Beijing


Religion, Property, and Family

But the only religions that have survived are those which support property and the family. Thus the outlook for communism, which is both anti-property and anti-family, (and also anti-religion), is not promising.
F.A. Hayek, The Fatal Conceit


Conservatism

Conservatism is the philosophy of society. Its ethic is fraternity and its characteristic is authority — the non-coercive social persuasion which operates in a family or a community. It says ‘we should...’.
Danny Kruger, On Fraternity


US Life in 1842

Families helped each other putting up homes and barns. Together, they built churches, schools, and common civic buildings. They collaborated to build roads and bridges. They took pride in being free persons, independent, and self-reliant; but the texture of their lives was cooperative and fraternal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism


presented by Christopher Chantrill

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