The International Writers Magazine: Lifestyles - From Our Archives
Is materialism here to stay?
It seems the humanity is enthralled by materialistic objects in the contemporary world. The likes of Rousseau and Nietzsche were right when they warned us that humanity will fall into a materialistic hole where acquiring property and possessions has become our main purpose in life.Yet only a small number of people ever stop and wonder why acquiring possessions has become such a huge aspect of our lives and is it really necessary to spend our lives working like slaves at monotonous jobs just to buy that new car or a designer coat?
There are a number of reasons why materialism has become a part of our lives. Nietzsche argued that after the majority of humanity stopped believing in God, we lost a sense of meaning in life. While during religious periods success was measured by how loyal you were to God, after Darwin’s Theory of Evolution our lives had no obvious purpose anymore, thus we invented a new resolution for ourselves- to own as many expensive objects as possible and measure by comparing our materialistic worth against other individuals.
However having no obvious purpose in life was not enough to turn us into greedy individuals ready to step over and destroy other individuals in order to get that promotion which will get you that house on a hill. It was undoubtedly the media and advertising campaigns that hijacked our minds and ways of thinking and persuaded us that an expensive car will give you all the powers you want and that designer shirt will have women fall for you irresistibly. Finally, it was argued that striving for materialistic success will provide humanity with the Holy Grail- happiness. Unsurprisingly, the media and advertisement were wrong. Whether the media and corporations purposely told us lies is questionable, but the society has fallen for it and our civilization is suffering more than ever now. The rise in anti-depressant prescriptions, the rise in suicides, the rise of stress and anxiety among the population proves that humanity as a whole has become much unhappier than we have before the materialistic boom appeared.
One may argue that there are other factors which contribute to the decline of happiness, for example the dissatisfaction at work and relationship problems, yet it is hard to argue that the main worry of the average citizen is how much money he has in his bank account. As we continue to strive for an increase of materialistic properties, psychological studies have shown that consumer mentality does not guarantee long term happiness. It is more like a drug fix, a short term high which eventually dies down and the individual is back to feeling how he did before the purchase. To find true happiness within ourselves, psychology suggests doing what we really enjoy and what we feel is worthwhile doing.
Unfortunately for many people it is hard to find such occupations, with many office type monotonous jobs offering higher wages than writing a novel for example. How many of us remember ourselves as children full of dreams and creative ambitions yet these dreams have been squashed by the society telling its citizens to enter into a business monopoly game. Even a magical celebration like Christmas has become another opportunity for companies to turn it into a consumer holiday. In the contemporary world where the number and variety of products in the market is vast, it is hard to blame the humanity for distorting what we really need and we simply want. It was Herbert Marcuse, a Frankfurt School philosopher who came up with the concept of “false consciousness” in which he argued humanity does not really know what we need and what we want anymore. The examples of the false consciousness are everywhere to see. For example, is the latest iPhone a necessity which provides us with aspects required for survival or is it simply an overpriced possession required for individuals to boast about it to their peers. The answer should be straightforward.
Plato once said “an unexamined life is not worth living”. Unfortunately humanity as a whole has stopped questioning the important things in life like where are we heading as a civilization and what do we really want to achieve in our life? When a particular individual is lying on his deathbed and looks back on his life, it is unlikely he will see his existence as a success by considering how materialistically successful he was. Henry David Thoreau said "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them." What he means is that most people in trying to do the right thing do not really follow their dreams. They get caught up in the mundane and the everyday problems of living, and die without realizing their inner dreams and aspirations. So next time you see that expensive item of clothing, ask yourself how happy it will really make you in the long term? Consider whether that money would be put to better use in an orphanage or a charity organization. Just imagine the type of world where the purpose of our lives was not to be more successful than another individual, but to help humanity as a whole to be more successful, to achieve even greater progress at a faster pace.
||Yet such a world is far from the reality. With consumer mentality on the rise and the advertising business growing by the year, it is difficult to imagine how and when people will stop and think for themselves instead of following what the man on the TV screen is telling us or what the billboard is making us do.
Many great philosophers and thinkers in the past and in the present have argued that all an individual needs for survival is shelter, sufficient amount of clothing, food, water and comfort. The other aspects required for a fulfilled existence are social contact and the knowledge that we are doing something worthwhile.So next time you walk past a store consider whether it will be worthwhile to spend your cash on a product which will eventually end up in a recycling centre or can that money be saved up and used to do something that you have always wanted as a child like to travel and explore other cultures and open up your horizons and help you realise that there is so much more to the world than a materialistic game which will eventually end up with “Game Over” for all of us.
© Alex Clackson July 9th 2011