Friday, April 9, 2010

Are We Obsessed With Materialism?

I often hear people say that we have an overly materialistic society, but I am not buying it. We are a very wealthy society, due to riches that the opportunity of a (mostly) free society, but I don't believe we are really any MORE materialistic than other societies.

I know and hear of people obsessed with material things, but in my entire life I can only think of a few people who are really like that. By far the vast majority of people I see or read are seeking other things for their bliss: love, children, Friendship, community, God, all sorts of spiritual paths, fitness, and many things that can be facilitated by material things but they show that these material things do not satisfy.

Just look at how we frame most of our debates: take health care.

It is not a materialistic at its root. I feel it is about two ideological concepts that are hard to pin down, but neither is particularly materialistic. Broadly, it is a debate over altruism or liberty. One side would rather give up some political liberty for the sake of the common good, others believe that the sacrifice of liberty is too great and/or the common good is hurt by government funded or run health care.

Look at the abortion debate: one side believes in a woman's control over her own body vs the the other side, which values the fetus's right to life. It is an ideological, spiritual debate about self ownership and personhood.

Now granted, opposite sides often want to impugn motives -- it's easy to attack the other guy if he is a bad guy, so on both sides one will see one side saying they are doing what they are doing for greed -- but really, mostly, this is honest people working toward honest, non-materialistic goals of either doing God's will, serving their fellow man, and so on.

I see people from other countries behaving no differently -- they are as materialistic as anyone else, and the fights over there are framed similarly.

It seems everyone is somewhat materialistic, but no one wants to admit it and is perfectly willing to attack the other guy for it. I don't believe that any societies on earth are truly obsessed with it, however.

Now, if true, what might cause this social dynamic? Perhaps it is that the more abundance we have, the more we seek "higher things" a la Maslow. I tend to think it is a mix of envy and the simple human desire to think of oneself as a better person. If some dude or nation is richer than me, well then it MUST be because he is more materialistic.

I think it would do us all some good if we realize without a body there is no mind or soul, and without a certain amount of stuff we die. However the stuff isn't an end in itself for most -- we are seeking bliss and most of us find it in things more precious than stuff.

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