It seems that there is a plague in our midst. It threatens to steal away our health, our happiness and perhaps our future. Celebrity carriers like Paris Hilton and Donald Trump may be it's poster-children but they have a lot of not-so-famous company. Look around...it's likely that many around you have already been infected. In fact, chances are good that it's gotten most of your loved ones and quite possibly.......you.
Materialism, consumerism, commercialism...call it what you will. It permeates our culture. Buying, spending, accumulating...these are the building blocks of our society. Our values reflect it and our government encourages it. Feeling good about ourselves comes not from what we do, but what we have. Social status is based on wealth and possessions. Legislation is designed, not to protect the common good but, to protect corporate profits and shareholder interests and to preserve the link between money and power.
Research (not to mention common logic) has demonstrated that the more people value materialistic goals, the less happy they are and the more likely they are to act in socially and ecologically damaging ways. It is becoming more and more clear that when we choose to define success in materialistic terms, we pay a very high price. Here in the United States, we are reaping what our capitalistic society has sown and most of us are disappointed with the harvest.
Huge fuel costs (despite record fuel industry
profits) are hurting everyone directly and indirectly through higher food prices, fewer police patrol cars, scaled-down highway repairs, and steep increases in air travel costs to name but a few. Companies are relocating or outsourcing overseas leading to under or unemployment of American workers. Quality health care is available only to those who can afford it (an ever-shrinking number). Our current administration chooses to release our worst corporate environmental criminals on their own recognizance. Why legislate environmental protection when we can leave it up to corporations to choose to be environmentally friendly out of the goodness of their hearts? Spending more to protect the environment decreases profits...the goal of corporation is to increase profits. Hmmmmm.........
In a materialistic society money does equal power. Redistributing either undermines the status quo and the current power structure. How can we expect our elected officials, who got where they are with the support of their rich and powerful friends, to turn around and pull the rug out from under them? Future elections and the continuation of political careers are at stake. In a society based upon the desire for material success, are we still surprised that our elected officials are unwilling to pass legislation that supports the common good? Do we still believe the old “Trickle Down Theory” of economics that perpetuates the myth that ensuring the profitability of big business will lead to a sharing of the wealth with the little guy? Greed is at the heart of materialism and sadly, this theory fails to account for it.
So what are we left with? A society that values most what is least beneficial. Materialism costs dearly and those costs are personal, social and ecological. They threaten our health and welfare today and perhaps the very future of our species. Are we doomed?
The more optimistic of us believe that all is not lost. A battle can be waged against the scourge of materialism, but every person must do his or her part to resist the constant temptations we encounter and to encourage others to do the same. We need to shift our values from extrinsic (materialistic) ones to more intrinsic ones (personal growth, affiliation etc.) and we need to behave accordingly. To change the world, we need to first change ourselves.
To learn more about the personal, social and ecological costs of materialism and the many ways we can change ourselves and our world, please look for the next post in this series - coming soon.
Much of the information in this series comes from an article entitled “Materialism and It's Alternatives” by Tim Kasser contained in the book “A Life Worth Living” by Mihaly and Isabella Csikszentmihalyi.