As a society that is described as being too materialistic, I want to pose the question that maybe we are not being materialistic enough.
It’s true, in one sense of the word I suppose. We are too materialistic in that we are ingrained to habits of compulsive consumption. Too many people are trying to keep up with the Joneses, trying to buy the next “IT” thing, lining up on Black Fridays and at Apple stores. Admittedly, it was not too long ago that I did these exact same things. I remember it was a “family tradition” to go out every Black Friday with all my aunts and uncles and cousins to go on a crazy shopping spree. We would spend the entire Friday shopping until we dropped. Nightmarish at best, it was a “tradition” that we looked forward to every year. As consumers, we are caught in an absurd circle of micro trends, which are not really trends at all. These material goods are, simply put, status symbols. People line up at the Apple store with every new release of the iPhone because once a newer, “better” one is created, they no longer care about the one they have. In fact, the one they have suddenly emits a sense of dissatisfaction, a sense of unhappiness. We are confused about what will make us happy. As if the consumption of products will somehow magically add up to a satisfying life.
The definition of materialistic is as follows:
- Excessively concerned with physical comfort or the acquisition of wealth or material possessions rather than the spiritual, intellectual, or cultural values
- adhering to the philosophy of materialism, a theory that regards matter as constituting the universe and all its phenomena
Synonyms include: consumerist, acquisitive, greedy, capitalistic, bourgeois
Not exactly words I want to be associated with in general. But if you think about the philosophy of materialism, it is defined as a form of philosophical monism which holds that matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and that all things, including mental things and consciousness, are results of material interactions.
If matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and if we are truly materialistic, shouldn’t we be more concerned with the quality of our products? I’d like to ask if, maybe, the problem is that we are not being materialistic enough? We need to be true materialists, as in we need to really care about the materiality of goods. I call for an increase in materialism, which requires an invested interest in the true value of the products and materials that we purchase. It seems as if the stars aligned when “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” fell into my lap at about the same time I first saw the trailer for “The True Cost”. I suggest to anybody who wonders just how materialistic our society is to watch this trailer. Or better yet, the entire movie.
Something clicked and I realized, how was it ever possible to be able to buy an article of clothing for the price of $5. Companies must make a profit, materials must be paid for, so where do they cut the cost? The answer is simple and uncomplicated, albeit unfair and inhumane. Production is outsourced to poor countries with the enticing idea of enrichment. Large corporations addict these countries to the idea of uplifting their people out of poverty, which makes them stay, even when the production costs are reduced over time, enslaving their citizens into a dependency in the fashion industry. At the other end of the spectrum, distributors addict consumers such as ourselves to the idea of always faster, cheaper fashion. According to Liva Firth, “Each year across the world, 1.5 billion garments are sewn by an estimated 40 million people, working in 250,000 factories. These are predominantly made in countries described by the UN as the world’s least developed. All in all, the garment and textile industry is estimated to be worth some $3 trillion. And the bulk of that goes into the pockets of the owners of those fast fashion brands.”
It didn’t take much to convince me that a change has to be made. And it had to start with myself. If we are to be materialistic, then so be it. But I believe we can be materialistic while also being spiritualistic, being an intellectual and having solid cultural values. If I am to embrace the concept that matter is the fundamental substance in nature and that material interactions drive our consciousness, then those materials better be the best materials I can lay my hands on. And by best, I don’t mean coolest or most popular. I want to reach for materials that are sustainable, reusable, ethically made, and produced with care and love, not only for the consumer, but for the planet and the producers as well. I admit, it is a work in progress. It’s complicated, and also foggy at times, and it’s difficult to ask the hard questions. I have found a list
of brands and companies that I support, but I am still a work in progress. At least I am progressing. And the hope is that society as a whole is also progressing towards the freedom from this cycle of need, want, now, now, now.
I’d like to end this post with a scenario posed by Liva Firth. If you see a car crash happen in front of you, would you stop what you’re doing to help the people involved? My answer is yes. The question is this. How far away from you does that car crash have to be for you not to help. My answer is that it has to be far enough that I cannot get there in time to be of help. Additionally, how far away from you does that car crash have to be for you not to care?
We are not far enough away that we are unable to help. Some may be far enough away that they simply do not care.