Monday, May 17, 2010

Materialism

I must admit to being rather confused these days...
A lot to be confused about, too.
"We" are constantly hitting ourselves around the head in our societies. Collectively getting down on our own cases. (As a shrink, I discovered that hitting ourselves around the head as individuals was a way of... not dealing with what we REALLY ARE responsible for. It is a subtle way of wiggling out of responsibility by taxing yourself with the responsibility for EVERYTHING. "It's all my fault. I'm a BAD PERSON." etc etc. When you think about it, taxing yourself with being responsible for EVERYTHING is a mirror image of taxing yourself with being responsible for... NOTHING. It allows you to not break the situation down into details and really SEE where YOU are in it. It keeps things... global, and untouchable. Out of.. THINKING range.)
We hear lots of stuff about being a.. consumer society. A MATERIALISTIC consumer society.
And if you take a stroll in my town's "zone industriel", a depressed French version of a shopping mall which doesn't even have the.. GRACE to look pretty ; it looks like a... camp.. you will see parking lots full of cars on Saturday morning and afternoon, even when the weather is nice. People hanging out in the stores to buy.. STUFF.
That's pretty... materialistic, isn't it ? Buying all that STUFF ?
....
Let's look at it from a different perspective, and a little more closely.
WHAT are the people buying ?
Flat screen TV's. Computers. Hard disk drives.
THE PEOPLE (!!!!) are buying mass produced techno stuff... (In all fairness, they are NOT JUST buying this mass produced techno stuff in France, either.)
Well, we aren't going to dictate to them how to spend their money, are we ?
We're in a democracy, aren't we ?
...
I received from my parents quite a few really beautiful OBJECTS. (Not a bunch of stuff...)
Made at a time when the mass produced techno stuff had NOT YET taken over. (I feel obliged to point out in fairness that the industrial revolution is NOT TOTALLY responsible for the mass produced mentality. It has been with us for a long time, as a short visit to Avignon's art museum showed me, when I got a look at hundreds of cheap, shoddy imitations of Botticelli Madonnas made for middle class people OF THAT TIME to feel like THEY TOO had the real McCoy. Keeping up with the Joneses in the 16th century.)
Those objects my parents gave me look a lot different than the stuff people are buying right now.
They are... beautiful. They are... made with care. (a little bit like violins, cellos, are made).
I know that when I go to my friends' homes I will not see objects like these.
While they are not UNIQUE, they are a lot closer to unique than my Mac computer.

Second point. We are not really interested in the OBJECT when we buy the techno stuff.
Not at all. We are interested in.. THE IDEA behind the object. The object really has little or no value to us in and of itself. It gives us access to... the world of ideas behind.
So, you see where I am going.
Our culture is really light years away from materialism at this time.
It is DRUGGED on transcendance. (At least, the culture that we are getting hit around the head with...)
Yep, you heard me.
Transcendance is THE WORLD OF IDEAS that our culture, in true Platonic fashion, has stuck BEHIND the material world, which I am going to define as the world we can TOUCH with our HANDS.
A rather restrictive definition of material, I will grant you, but.. i am writing this, and I will assume that restriction. All the senses do NOT connect with THINGS you can hold in your hand or touch. Not at all. Especially VISION.
I will come back to the problem of transcendance, in later posts (I hope..)
MOST people tend to confuse the problem of transcendance with the question about the existence of God.
That's reductionist.
While we may triumphantly crow that we don't believe in God, and that that is our choice, we definitely DO NOT and CAN NOT triumphantly crow that.. we don't believe in language.
No way.
Not possible.
And the question of transcendance is inseparable from the question of language, and meaning.
And... just WHAT is more immaterial (at first glance at least..) than.. LANGUAGE ?

6 comments:

Debra said...

Hey Toby, I just heard a bureaucrat say...
"I have confidence (faith, "confiance" in French..) in the Euro", and the journalist asked him...
"Is this a.. PHILOSOPHICAL point of view, or a political/economic one ?"
And he answered... " a political/economic one".
LOL, Toby.. And I'm NOT being cynical here either...

Toby said...

Interesting. My first remark is that quality can be mass produced, but built-in obsolescence gets in the way of this. The quicker things break, the sooner they have to be replaced. Sadly, that’s one of the mechanisms holding the economy together. Consumerism is Very Bad when combined with eternal GDP growth (and other nasties).

Your point about our current brand of consumerism being, at least in one way, non-materialistic is well made, though its consequences are indeed material, in the sense of very badly managed resources. A point I’d like to make here though is that your description of access is also important for our changing relationship with the idea of ownership. Access is what it comes down to in the end. I have unlimited access to my home while I own it, but it’s not ownership that matters so much as unrestricted access. An invading army could kick me out of my home. I might still have legal and moral ownership of the property, but no access. Conversely, a generous benefactor might give me and my family lifelong and unrestricted access to his empty villa. The access is more important than the ownership.

The danger with this direction is lack of pride in the thing accessed, lack of desire to maintain it. I think we see this in the terrible waste our system produces, even though we own the things we buy, because, as you point our, there is a huge disconnect between humans and their planet. There is a perverse and warped sense of abundance contributing to this wasteful attitude too, and the quick circularity of the consumption cycle adds to this. I believe it will be possible to transtition to a more pride-based, well-built approach to automated production, combined with zero-ownership access-based economics, but this requires a transition away from GDP growth and money-profit inspired business. The kind of dedication you see in open source software engineers, whose ‘pay’ is kudos in the community, gives us a hint as to how this transition might be affected. We have to go this way, because the current system is totally unsustainable, and none of the old ways will work (none that I know of).

I look forward to your expanding on the relationship between language and escapism (I see the mania for all things high-tech as driven, in part, by a need to escape mundanity). I think there’s a battle going on between the sky-god and the earth-mother, but like Jung hope for a uniting of the opposites, not victory for one side or the other.

Toby said...

Just read your comment. Are the press turning? My sense is of deep panic behind the scenes, and a press at last waking up to their proper role as society's watchdog. They better get their skates on though, because we need to start building a new consensus pronto. Without the press working as they should, things will get far bloodier than they need be.

Debra said...

But... WHY don't we take care of the things we OWN ?
Why do.. some people take care of things that they DON'T own while other people can't even take care of things that they own ?
And.. why do SOME people manage to take care of things they DON'T own, while they CAN'T take care of things they own ?? (And this question can not be reduced to the policeman complex either...)
Pretty complicated, don't you think ?
Once you start.. observing the world, you will notice a wealth of detail that you never saw before.
You didn't see it because... your prejudices get in the way and KEEP you from seeing it..
You know... all that STUFF you hear all the time. Like.. renters don't take care of property, for instance...
I think that in order for us to take care of things, it implies that we are at a certain place/point in time, and that the object is there too.
Like WE are... INVESTING the OBJECT. (Hey, that "investment" word is handy, isn't it ??...)

Toby said...

"But... WHY don't we take care of the things we OWN ?"

Well, of course that's far more complicated than a simple comment from me can possibly address. I'm not qualified to give a detailed response, but my basic position is that it's possible become better at that side of human life as time goes on. I think it probably fits in with abundance, scarcity and sustainability, amongst other things.

One of the things we desperately need is a revolution in education. I think it better to teach children how to learn, not what to learn, although a heavy emphasis on relationships, with self, others and the environment, should play a very big role. Matters like looking after the things we use would fall under that umbrella.

Debra said...

It's easier when you have... fewer things, Toby.
Like it's easier to find a place to stick them when there are fewer of them, too.
Especially if you DON'T have a cleaning lady...
I'm gonna do a post on cleaning ladies, too...
A BIG problem, cleaning ladies...