There’s an article on BBC about having too much stuff – we as a species are record-breaking hoarders of extraneous things. They liken this to our evolutionary hunger for sugar and the resultant obesity epidemic, in light of the recent advances in procuring sugar and inserting it into every conceivable edible product. I’m not entirely convinced by the analogy, as I suspect our materialism is more a product of societal and economic forces than an evolutionary desire to own things.
The solution they propose is to focus on the experiences. After all, many studies have shown that it is the experiences that we have that make us happy, whereas the happiness generated from the acquisition of material goods is fleeting and ultimately empty, because that product will almost immediately be superceded by a new, improved, updated, completely irresistably better version. My problem with this proposition is that you are asking a child to run before you teach him to breathe – if materialism is indeed evolutionary, then we must wean society off it in tiny baby steps.
The first step is to realize that materialism is an integral part of economic growth (whatever that means). If everyone woke up the next day content with their lives and the products that control them, our economy would collapse. Anarchy would ensue, but happiness would prevail. To ensure that this doesn’t happen, society must resort to manufactured materialism. We bombard people with advertisements offering a glimpse into a better life, full of luxury and decadence, attainable if you buy this particular product for only $99.95. We make every possible holiday an excuse to go shopping and exchanging worthless gifts, all in the name of goodness and charity. We happily ignore the fact that there are more slaves now than at any time in human history – many of whom are slave-workers of the garment industry – so that we can feel like we’re getting a tremendous bargain when we buy some trendy fashion item from H&M that we will throw away before the next fashion cycle. So really, it’s not your fault if you’re materialistic – the whole Western world is counting on it.
Stay tuned for part two.