Against Thanksgiving


By David Swanson

What the hell do I mean I’m against Thanksgiving? Can’t I find something worse to be against? How about famine, cholera, war, slavery, rape, murder, torture, environmental collapse, refugee crises, evil heartless lying scheming governments, oil spills, slick propaganda, mass incarceration, entrenched apathy, bigotry, greed, or sadism? Indeed, I’m certainly against all of those things and thousands of others, and more so than I am against Thanksgiving.

But the world’s problems are relevant to why I’m against Thanksgiving, and for two reasons. First, it seems indecent to be engaging in Thanksgiving in light of the world’s horrors. Second, doing so contributes to those horrors in a number of ways.

So why am I such an awful counterproductive drag? Sure, there are horrible things in the world, but is it too much to ask to take one day to appreciate some of the millions of wonderful things in the world? Isn’t that how we inspire ourselves and recharge ourselves? Shouldn’t we be thankful for those who recognize the world’s problems and work to solve them?

I’m not in a bad mood. I haven’t suffered some personal tragedy. Like every year, my personal life is wonderful in comparison with the fate of the earth, as long as I don’t count my offspring’s future as personal. I’m also not protesting the tradition of pretending the pilgrims behaved as friends toward the native people, or pretending there’s nothing wrong with this year’s Washington Redskins Thanksgiving football game, or devoting ourselves to carnivorous gluttony in preparation for contests of extreme consumerism. If there were a way to set those things aside and do Thanksgiving the right way, I’d be all for it. I don’t think there is.

While there are millions of wonderful things in the world, and millions of horrible things, we should not obscure the fact that the horrible things are winning. Species are dying, ecosystems collapsing, wars raging, the risk of nuclear apocalypse rising. Should we be sad, then; is that what I think would help? No, I really have no interest in the self-indulgence of pessimism or optimism. If you have to be cheerful in order to work for a better world, then be cheerful. If you have to be miserable to do it, then be miserable. But the existence of even one thing tragic in the world, much less tragedy dominant and triumphant, is enough reason not to have a holiday to thank an omnipotent benevolent fantasy. Doing so just contributes to the mad delusion that the earth, or for that matter a bit of it like Yemen, cannot be destroyed. Yes, it can be.

Oh, but we can be thankful for all the terrific people we know. We can have a humanist Thanksgiving.

No, we shouldn’t be thankful for such people. We should be thankful to them. We shouldn’t even be thankful to them. We should actually thank them, plain and simple. To thank is a verb, not an adjective, not a state of mind. Being thankful for various works of “god” or “fate” or “the spiritual oneness of things” or “something higher” or “the great mystery” or whatever you rename it not only strips people of the credit they deserve for good deeds they do, but also feeds the fantasy that all is right — which can take the form of denying looming apocalypse or the form of longing for apocalypse as the path to something magically better.

The notion that there is some being or thing out there that needs to be thanked further feeds into the general denial of death’s reality, the denial of responsibility for our own fate, the denial of our power to effect change. It supports the widespread belief in magical thinking, and the super-widespread admiration for the practice of blind obedience. All of this drives rightwing politics, which gives thankful people much less to be thankful for.

At the moment I’m particularly glad that peace activism seems to be increasing slightly, something I haven’t said in over a decade. But I don’t want to thank the universe for that. I want to try to understand its causes and then amplify them. I want to thank those working to make this happen. But I don’t want to adopt a mindset of thankfulness. I want to adopt a mindset of urgent struggle.

So, by all means, gather with family and friends and love them. By all means enjoy and appreciate the enjoyable and that worthy of appreciation. Maybe try to recall and regret the past and present of genocide. Maybe eat food that doesn’t so damage the world. Maybe take a big break from, rather than indulging in, consumerism. Maybe avoid brain-injuring entertainment from an entity that opposes protesting racism but takes money to promote militarism. And perhaps make an effort to not lose sight of the bigger picture, of the fact that weapons profiteers, “news” outlets, Russiagate fanatics, and bigots are pushing the chances of nuclear destruction higher every day, while climate-destruction profiteers work to exacerbate climactic chaos. If everyone showed enough grasp of reality to turn the day after Thanksgiving into a day of mass nonviolent action for survival, rather than a day of extreme materialism, I’d have no objection to Thanksgiving.


David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is director of and campaign coordinator for Swanson's books include War Is A Lie. He blogs at and He hosts Talk Nation Radio.He is a 2015, 2016, 2017 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee.