One of the biggest issues facing humanity is it’s growing obsession with the material; it’s insensible desire to consume. Most people are vaguely aware of the phenomenon but what is it really? What is this need to have and have and have.
What is it that has created such a ridiculous income disparity and keeps the elite’s party planners working million dollar budgets? Or turned black friday into a black weekend? What keeps walk-in-closets filled and made therapy shopping an actual thing?
Why do we die our hair, wax our eyebrows, and shave nearly our entire bodies? When did abs become an accessory and exercise a chore? What sells tanning beds, styles and gym memberships? Why is body image even something to be insecure about…?
“In many ways, children’s only role in our society is that of consumer.”
We race to be better than or like the rest, but there is no finish line in sight. There can be end when our success is measured relative to our competitors, and in it there can be found no peace of mind or contentment. It is a race that will never end.
It’s something we’re all aware of and yet how is it something we have such a difficult time escaping? Why has materialism come to dominate?
We will turn to its genesis for the answer.
A Society of Things
At least in terms of the United States, building modern consumer culture proved to be unbelievable successful. Two factors came together to create a perfect storm. Foremost being the American emphasis on socio-political equality and equal opportunity. The second being an empirically inspired decline in religious gratification.
“The things we own, end up owning us.” –Tyler Durden
Propagandists heralded it as a millstone in human history, the American Dream, for the first time in western civilization anyone could climb the social ladder with nothing but hard work. This newfound ‘equality under god’ (and law) removed institutionalized class barriers and a hierarchy based solely on wealth began.
The ‘myth of equal opportunity’ and economic mobility became so established in the American psyche, ones ability to accrue wealth came to be seen as directly representative of their inherent ability and even their value as a person. The roots of materialism were sown as possessions began to replace religion as the dominant source meaning and motivation.
Through the decades the efforts of the socio-economic elite and a notably polarizing encounter with communism, the status quo was preserved and the myth persisted long after it had become stunningly obvious it was indeed a myth. During the cold war, nationalism became equated with capitalism and the consumerist rhetoric became the norm. Even among the more informed, the American Dream was far from myth.
Yet even even as we transition away from the Cold War mentality and witness continued revelations of economic inequality and the illusion of opportunity, materialism remains firmly rooted in our psyche.
“It was the perfect storm of industrial empiricism which set the stage for the material revolution but it was its spawn driving against ship and shore.”
Even as it becomes strikingly obvious ones economic position is a more a product of circumstance than ability, with no alternative, we still cling to materialism even as it satisfies less and less.
Constructing the Consumer
It was the perfect storm of industrial empiricism which set the stage for the material revolution but it was its spawn driving against ship and shore. Marketing has always had the most destructive potential. Correctly called propaganda, it just escapes the same criticisms of its political brother on the shoulders of capitalism’s seemingly free market.
Prior to the industrial revolution there was no advertising industry, no marketing studies. It was the unbelievable explosion of supply which drove early capitalists to begin advertising their wares. As supply exceeded demand, so began the process of manufacturing demand and literally creating consumers. The child becoming the most concerning of all. In many ways, children’s sole role in our society is that of consumer.
We commonly hear of marketing professionals trying to sell lifestyle, not a product. These ‘lifestyle brands’ are essentially selling identity. Not only are they constructing it artificially, but their then saying you need something to even be complete or adequate. See Materialism’s Mantra’s.
And people complain about insecurity…
Contemplating the material phenomenon will help erode its influence. Understanding is essential to breaking down any of those illusions built on erroneous perception. See The Self-Symbol for a discussion of the illusion metaphor.
In a society whose identity is becoming defined by its relationships to the other, the solution is the joy of experience. Seek what brings enjoyment regardless of ability. Don’t do, to be the best. Don’t have to have the most. Don’t do or have to become anything. Do because in that moment you can escape the barrage of martialism, worry and insecurity. And maybe, just maybe, it will pull at your spirit a little less the next time.
We see this from the world over. Everyones felt it. Whether its the musician jamming to himself, at one with strings and scale. The Yogi so focused, completely unaware of the next, more flexible. The dancer twirling, eyes closed, head-phones blasting. The lonely skateboarder in the street long after the suns set. The woodsman, in tune with the rhythm of the woods, the sun and self.
Even the guy in the beamer. In the moment, one with the rubber on asphalt, needing nothing but the pull of G’s and the connection of body, car and road. If thats why he has it, truly has it, how can it be materialist.
It’s always why you do, why you have, not the mere act. Consider it carefully in yourself. See Intellectual Materialism.