Sunday, February 6, 2011

Musings on Materialism

"Materialism leads to a decline in civilization and human values”. I agree with this statement completely.

The above statement holds much truth in this period of time. However, glimpses of where this statement has held good can be seen throughout history. It becomes necessary to understand what materialism is in order to truly grasp its effects.

Materialism refers to the act of accumulating material things, irrespective of whether it is really required or not. It refers to wanting things which are not essentially needed. Food, shelter and clothing are things which a human being needs; gadgets, expensive cars and branded clothes are what a human being wants or desires in the course of its life just because he saw someone else possessing it.

Materialism stems from the belief that one needs to possess a certain things to enjoy its benefits. This belief arises because everyone is caught in the rat race of owning more than the other person. A capitalist frame of mind, in fact, encourages materialism.
The manner in which materialism leads to decline in human civilization and human values can be seen on two levels. The first one is seen in the stages of a human being. These days, even a small child seems to be bound by the shackles of materialism. For example, it may see a toy being possessed by one of its playmates and the demand a similar, if not superior toy from its parents. If not obliged, it may throw tantrums due to which the parents are forced to comply. Thus, the values taught to the child do not seem to work in this case. This is the start of materialism in a human's life.

From then on, the urge to possess only increases. When the child grows up to a teenager, it will only want to own much more expensive things. The demands vary from the latest Apple iPhone to the newest gaming device in the block. The decline in civilized behaviour is much steeper than how it was during childhood. The teenager can resort to varied forms of emotional blackmail, especially if the parents are working and therefore are feeling guilty that they are not spending enough time with their child. Moreover, peer pressure can also result in teenagers borrowing money from unreliable sources and even resort to stealing money from their own family members if no one gives them what they want, when they want.

When one grows up into an adult, it can be seen that the whole world seems to be judging you by your net worth. People speak to one because he owns a dozen yachts, has millions of dollars in his bank account and has his own private turf in an exotic place. One gets invited to the crème de la crème of parties if he owns a football or baseball club. So, the onus is on him to keep the big bucks flowing in. This kind of stress usually results in people trying to acquire wealth and other materialistic things through unscrupulous means.

Tax evasions, cheating people of their money is what I mean by unscrupulous means. People no longer care how the money comes in, they only care about the fact that they are earning money and acquiring materialistic things which are virtually of no use to them except for attaining a so-called status in the society. They would have totally forgotten to think about how their lifestyle would affect others and how many others are suffering in sweatshops in some tropical country all because o their materialistic desire. Materialism results in the attitude of 'every man for himself’. The system of values seems to be defunct. No one wants to share because it might affect his rate of acquiring materialistic things. This invariably results in an inequitable distribution of wealth-making the poor poorer and the rich richer.

The other level in which materialism affects human civilization is when it extends beyond the desire to acquire smaller things. Materialism can be seen as a cause of wars too. The desire to be a superpower can incite countries to wage war against each other, conquer territories and establish that they are supreme. This kind of greed which arises from materialism is one that is most harmful. It not only is unnecessary, but also poses a threat to innocent civilians. For example, the First and Second World War were both attributed to Germany's desire to become a world power and rule the rest of the human race.

This kind of materialism resulted in the system of secret military alliances. One country did not hesitate to kill the other country's people. They betrayed each other, while trying to show who was greater than whom. It did not matter what level they went down to, it only mattered that they won. All this decline or rather absence of civilized behaviour and values in the name of materialism-the urge to acquire more land, be feared, to rule and not be ruled. The parties involved did not understand that when one side was declared victorious, it was the whole human race that actually lost.

The only way further deterioration of civilization and values can be checked is to look inside. Materialism refers to the outside domain. However, spirituality is what we need to really focus on. Instead of separating our inner and outer self, we must reconcile both and act as one. We must begin to derive happiness from the little joys of life. I do not believe in advocating a monastic way of life. One must enjoy life's pleasures; but not go to the extent of becoming a materialistic machine.

A famous philosopher Lao Tzu once said "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step". So, if one wants humanity to take the journey of developing in terms of values and civility, each person must take the single and extremely important step of honing the soul or spirit which is inherent in himself or herself.