Last week’s Black Friday sales turned out to be an unexpected source of hilarity. A company that makes popular women’s clothes had an insane turnout at one of its Lahore stores, and as is wont to happen when many Punjabi women congregate in a competitive space, the Lawn Attack went down. The Lawn Attack, to the (happily) uninitiated, is what I like to call the fisticuffs that ensue when you tell a woman who has stood in a line for three hours that the lawn she’s been queuing for is sold out. So she tries to grab one from someone else, that someone shoves her, is pushed back and so forth, and the entire situation unravels into a glorious brawl worthy of a saloon in the wild west. It’s almost street theatre, and I can’t say I haven’t watched that video and considered my own plan of attack were I ever to find myself in a clothing store, clutching my selected items for dear life as some rabid woman tries to snatch them from me. I’d certainly not lumberously throw myself around, that’s for certain. Perhaps a sharp kick to the shins and, if I could manage to use one arm, some move involving hair pulling.

Of course, I am viewing all of this from the most excellent vantage point of not caring. Clothes have not inspired me with greed, and the ones that do are usually so expensive that I can only look at them, which is just as well because that means more money for books. You could say my vice is rather more self-righteous, ergo my smugness, but it is one I am grateful to have, and don’t really see it as a vice at all. I wish more people bought books instead of clothes. Even if you only read half of them it would be all right, because at least you would have them and even presence will prompt action sometimes. Cicero knew what he was about when he remarked how “a room without books is like a body without a soul”. But I digress.

It is unfortunate that things inspire such flights of reason in people. It’s not just women brawling over clothes. All over the world men and women have been inspired to violence by things, be it tickets to a concert, a new Apple gadget or whatever the Object-To-Have is at that time. It’s obviously a throwback to how humans have operated throughout time—early man was probably bashing his fellow Neanderthal’s head in over a particularly shiny and sharp rock. Humans are naturally competitive and we are programmed to appreciate beautiful things— even babies prefer symmetrical faces—so it isn’t surprising how capitalism and its resulting consumerism has taken hold of societies with such ease. The entire structure of economics is based on needs, but consumerism is based largely on wants. You need groceries, but you want a new phone. In the absence of primeval, do-or-die survival needs, the possession of things, or wants, replaces the value of survival with high social prestige. The man with the shiny, sharp rock will have a better chance at everything because it gives him an edge (see what I did there?) over the others in terms of hunting and perhaps also with the ladies. The person with the new outfit or gadget or car now has that edge.

There’s also just plain covetousness, fanned by clever advertisement. You don’t need ten new outfits but you really, really want them. I have several copies of ‘Lolita’ not because I need to read it with a new cover each time, but because I love the book and am greedy for beautiful new covers of it. The iPad is my favourite example of how marketing vanquished us all. A tablet is not a computer and it is not a phone. We have both of those. Who on earth would need a tablet? All of us, that’s who. We’ve been successfully convinced by marketing and advertisement that we really need another contraption in our lives so we can play games, read books, watch television on. Only we already do that on our phones and televisions and Kindles. It boggles the mind! It defies reason! And yet there are two in my otherwise-Luddite house alone!

The path to nirvana and to freedom, whether it is the Buddhists telling you or Rumi, is to free yourself from want. All spirituality is predicated on this, including mainstream religion. The Quran repeatedly reminds us that everything we have is from Allah, and so the cult of possession is meaningless. One is simply a recipient, and ideally, a medium through which one passes on this largesse. Heaps of books are being written by people around the world about scaling back, tidying up, living small. The living small movement is catching on in the West—people are selling their apartments and electronics to move into tiny cabins on wheels. And by tiny I really do mean the size of our average bathroom. They say they are happier than ever. Feng Shui, the art of arranging furniture and objects in one’s home to maximize the flow of positive energy, abhors clutter. Clutter generates negative energy, which is probably why one feels anxious at the sight of a room in complete disorder. Stuff weighs us down. One is either dusting it, locking it up, saving it from the vagaries of weather and small children or pretending it’s worthless so nobody tries to steal it. My grandmother used to be reluctant to go out, because then ‘the house would be alone’. Clothes or car, books or paintings, no object should be more important than you, as a human, enriching your life with adventure and amazing experiences. Particularly ones that don’t involve punching someone over a half-off shirt.