Materialism - An Addictive Meme
|So successful have we become at molding
and manipulating the world, we have come to believe that modifying
our surroundings is the way to solve all our problems
-- not necessarily the only way, but the easiest and simplest way.
For reasons we have already touched on, and shall return to later, this approach does not work so well when it comes to our inner needs. But seduced by the power of our hands and conditioned by past experience we still try to satisfy them in the way we know best. When this fails to bring any real or permanent satisfaction we do not question whether our approach may be mistaken. Instead we try harder and harder to get the world to give us what we want. We buy more clothes, go to more parties, eat more food, try to make more money. Or we give up on these and try different things. We take up squash, buy a video camera, decide to move house, or look for new friends. Yet true peace of mind remains as elusive as ever.
We are rather like Nasrudhin, the “wise-fool” of Sufi tales, who has lost his key somewhere in his house. But he is searching for it out in the street “because,” he says, “there is more light outside.” We too look for the key to fulfillment in the world around because that is the world we know best. We know how to change this world, how to gather possessions, how to make people and things behave the way we want -- the way we think will bring us happiness. We know much less about our minds and how to find fulfillment within ourselves. There seems to be “much less light in there.”
A Cultural Trance
Somewhere deep inside most of us know this way of operating has its limits. We recognize that whether or not we are content depends as much on how we are inside as on how things are around us. We all know people who can remain cheerful when everything seems to be going wrong; who do not get upset at having to wait in a long queue, even in the rain. And we hear of more unusual examples -- those who have maintained an inner equanimity despite the atrocities of war, or yogis who can sleep peacefully on a bed of nails. The trouble is our cultural conditioning is so strong that this inner knowing rarely comes to the surface.
Our society has caught itself in a vicious circle. If most of us go through life on the assumption that psychological contentment comes from what we have or do, then that is the message we teach each other. If we see somebody suffering, we are more likely than not to suggest ways they can change the situation so as to feel better. When we want to persuade someone to buy something or other, we tell them how much happier it will make them. And when our best-laid plans fail to give us what we seek, we encourage each other to try again.
It encourages short cuts in the name of financial expediency.
It promotes blinkered thinking and short-sightedness.
It causes us to care less for the Earth than we do for our own well-being.
It puts us in competition with Nature herself -- insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides keep other species at bay so that we can more easily, and more profitably, accomplish our own ends.
Addicted to the Material World
This is our most dangerous addiction -- our addiction to things. For it is this addiction that underlies the materialism of our age.
If we are move beyond this pecarious phase of
our evolution, we must discover how to free
this addiction. To see what this will entail and where it might lead,
need first to look at some of the effects of this out-dated mode of
on our personal lives. For it is in our personal lives that we will
to find the keys to change.