Oh god. Christmas is coming over the horizon like an enemy battleship. Already my electronic mailbox is filling with illiteracies from people who want me to buy stuff for the relatives I haven't got or don't like. Every trope they use to induce me to spend money is as old as the hills I live on, but obviously they still work.
As always the truth lurks in the language. I have for example just discovered that one of those colossal warehouses belonging to the online retailer Amazon, where every transaction is a source of few more cents for the world's richest man, subsistence wages for his hirelings and tat for you and me, is officially called - wait for it now, you'll enjoy this, are you ready? - a Fulfilment Centre. Isn't that lovely? (Only of course they spell it with a double ll, that being the American way.)
No doubt they would argue the name is justified by it being a place where orders are fulfilled, but the word fulfilment carries a freight of meaning far beyond a mere commercial contract. Anyone who claims to have achieved fulfilment is expressing a quasi-religious sense of spiritual gratification. He is also, almost certainly, lying.
For fulfilment is and always has been a myth, a religious myth, and a highly profitable one, here on this unsatisfactory earth. Every religion offers it in some form or another. All that differs is the name: bliss, heaven, nirvana, being one with god, harps, angels, trumpets, perfect love and all the other undeliverables promised, inevitably, post mortem.
Of course, to qualify for this fulfilment you have to pay up pre-mortem in the form of allegiance to some cult or other, thus delivering power and wealth - and even, dare we say it, a touch of fulfilment - to those who run the cult. That's how it was, is now and ever shall be, world without end, amen. A con job. And one that has now been adopted in its entirety by commerce. Amazon is a leading church in the cult of acquisition, and its warehouse is its cathedral, where fulfilment is promised and disappointment delivered. Behold the 21st century faith of the west.
Though the faith is now more or less global thanks to the internet. It has, for example, swept through China. After decades of officially getting their fulfilment from the State, in the form of brutal repression accompanied by equally brutal propaganda, the Chinese have now joined with gusto into the business of fulfilment through acquisition.
Lacking the deeply religious festival of Christmas to foster retail spending, the ever-resourceful Chinese have simply invented events to open the wallets and disseminate tat, primary among which is the 11th day of the 11th month that they have christened Singles Day because of all the ones. On the Chinese equivalent of Amazon, the sales this Singles Day just gone totalled $30 billion in 24 hours. Woo hoo for fulfilment.
And we are doing our bit down here in the South Pacific. "Hi Joe," begins a presumptuous email from Trade Me (note how even the name of the organisation entangles commerce with a sense of self - I buy therefore I am.) "Want to enjoy your Christmas shopping this year?"
The implications of which are enough to make your innards shrivel. In a mere eight words Trade Me assumes that:
a. I buy presents for other people but that
b. I dislike doing so, thereby suggesting not only that
c. I take no pleasure from pleasing those close to me and that
d. The gifts are insincerely given, but also that
e. I am a puppet of social convention who is
f. Merely playing the part of being a lover and a giver of gifts.
And that's just the first sentence.
"There's only seven weeks to go," the author (ha) continues, "but we've got everything you need right here." (Oh have you now?) "To get you started, we've hand-picked a bunch of awesome prezzy ideas …"
Where do I start with this stuff? With the idea that if they've "hand-picked" a present then I rather obviously haven't, which flies in the face of the nature of present-giving? Or perhaps with the shop-worn use of awesome, a word which has strayed so far from its original meaning that it has become effectively comic - though it still, you will note, carries an undertone of religious wonder? Or with the simple impertinence of addressing my august 61-year-old self with the infantile abbreviation "prezzy"?
It is all enough to make you weep and run for the hills with the dog till the enemy battleship sinks back out of sight. Oh god.