Why is it that our society is so wrapped up in this materialistic way of life? From birth to death our achievements in life are measured on how much money we can pass on to our loved ones, how nice hour houses are, the luxury of our vehicles, or how many toys we can buy our children. We collect objects with no personal meaning so we can show them to other people who also gain no meaning from them. Why? Is it for the shallow feeling of joy from seeing others notice our possessions? Does a nice car make someone like us more? Do the interiors of our houses reflect the interiors of the self? Do our children gain true happiness from showing off their toys and gifts to other children? What does it all boil down to?
There is no easy answer. Now, that may sound like a cop-out, but it really is true. A long held tradition throughout history is that physical possessions reflect greatness of the individual. It is just a simple fact of our existence, and there will always be those who judge and rank a life based on the material wealth it possesses. With all our capacity for love, happiness, and desire I would like to think that solace can be found in one another – on the inner rather than the outer. Instead of people being a means to material end, it should be the other way around. Not simple gratification from a one-off encounter with another person, but gaining knowledge or experience from that encounter- making it. Viewing the spirit as the garden to be tended rather than our bank accounts should be our ideal- minimalistic versus materialistic. Here’s a quote from the existentialist cult movie Fight Club to chew on:
“I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact.”
Recently, while I was participating in a discussion on The Book of Job (in one of my favorite classes, I may add) I considered the implications of Job’s turmoil. Only after removing all of his wealth, all of his herds, his crops, and his house was he finally able to glean some enlightenment from his inner self. Removing the religious implications and context of the piece, it can be seen as a tale of one man realizing the value of the things he had previously taken for granted and understanding the futility of those pursuits. He did not die when his estate was taken from him. He did not wither into nothingness. Rather, he withdrew within himself and understood that the will to progress is entirely internal. External possessions do not create happiness. Physical ties to the world do not beget enlightenment. Powerful, moving literature expresses these ideas, even when the popular culture of the day mandates otherwise.
Speaking of popular culture, this materialistic dogma is so integral to our culture in America that we pay people millions of dollars to watch them throw it all away. The Kardashians, Jersey Shore, My Sweet 16 (is that still a thing?), popular media advertisements (ex. Beer commercials, Cash 4 Gold, ) are all relevant examples of how we crave this desire for the physically tangible- the worship of the material. And people look up these “celebrities”! So many people think “If only I could get on television, if only I could get famous, then I’d be happy”. As if love- not strictly romantic love- is based in wealth. As if love can be found in these misplaced desires, these shallow connections to objects or objectified people.
Ultimately, it is up to us to toss off the shackles and the muzzle that the media has placed on is. Tune ourselves in to the way we’re being programmed into buying our happiness. Most of the media is so unreliable that we simply cannot depend on them to change their ways. Their existence is solely based on profit now. Simply complaining and lamenting the denigration of intellectual and spiritual wealth is useless. Only through your words and actions combined can your progress and influence others to do so. Whether it is through music, writing, activist work, teaching, volunteering, or spiritual counseling you can make your mark in this world.
P.S. As an afterthought, I decided to go and look up some supporting essays and articles with the same theme. I think that this is something that I can really get into. I think I rather like this philosophy meets literature meets popular culture method of analyzing my world.
I just discovered this website, and I already have a feeling that I’m going to love it! From what I’ve gathered from this article, it expresses a lot of ideas that I haven’t quite formed on my own yet. It’s a great reference, so check it out!
Here’s another interesting article. It goes into a more metaphorical than blatant depiction of the materialism perpetuated by mass media. The site seems pretty neat as well.
Modern perception’s limitations: The curtain of materialist society’s illusion