The most important feature of any capitalist society is growth, without growth the wheels of governance come to a standstill and the entire community feels the brunt. In a society where new is always better, people believe the more stuff they have the better their life will be. In a society where new is always better, people compete with their neighbours to show they have the best stuff. In a society where new is always better, people spend their lives working and head to the grave with a mountain of stuff they’ve exchanged for the most valuable of all assets – time.
If a drug is something changing your state of being, what does that make money? We live in a world where the most addictive substance isn’t a narcotic. People spend their entire lives chasing the materialist dragon, the supposed “winners” of society no more dependant than the “junkies” they step over. At the end of life is one really more satisfied if they’ve collected a lot of stuff?
Money doesn’t buy happiness. This may be true, yet let’s not be naïve and say it can’t be an avenue towards it. What the real issue with wealth is, like a drug, it drags people into a perilous slope towards a craving for more with view of other humans as collateral damage.
When there is a continual desire for more people are less likely to appreciate what they already have. One’s bed may not be as comfortable as they’d like, but after an evening on the floor they definitely see the value. A person’s worth is measured not in what they can hoard, but by how they chose of accept life.
Contemporary society is a feeding ground for mental illness. Neurosis persists on either side of the spectrum; those atop the hierarchy shovelling material down their gullet with no sensation of being full, those below staring at them and thinking “Wow, they must be so happy”. Advertising is the salient propagator of this message and shows you just how good your life can be, if you only come back to this page five times a week; to try attain samples of the “illusive” perfect life this is exactly what the masses do. If the gloss was wiped away from advertising all one would find is a florescent sign flashing, “CONSUME, CONSUME, CONSUME”.
The more stuff one has the more they have to loose, therefore constant guard must be undertook to protect their plunder. In society we have come to weigh one’s wealth in material when it is the shallowest of substances, as empirical Kant wrote, “We are not rich by what we posses but by what we can do without”; or, in Thoreau’s Transcendentalist tongue, “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.”
“I’ve Got the Best Stuff”
As we drift further and further away from our egalitarian origins the desire to exhibit one’s worth by sharing is all but depleted, most would would rather highlight importance (or should I say, insecurity) by the age old art of flaunting. Thorstein Veblen had an eloquent term for this relating to the new money of the 19th century, Conspicuous Consumption.
In the never-ending tit-for-tat game of “Who’s got the best stuff?”, players incessantly squabble over unnecessary items to the benefit of the game’s manufactures, and you too can join in the fun! This toxic culture has decreased the durability and perception of goods, a possession only worthwhile until the latest upgrade is available. With an automatic impulse to upgrade how sturdy is the tether to society’s past and our previous selves?
As frugality becomes unfashionable people cannot help but compete against others for the latest stuff. And as everyone is out squabbling it may be of benefit to pick up Chuck Palahniuk’s classic and let Tyler Durden’s philosophy sink in,
“Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need….
We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars, but we won’t. We’re slowly learning that fact.
And we’re very, very pissed off.”
In saying this, however, one can’t deny that nice things are nice, of course they are, but if you base yourself on your possessions what does this say about your person? Are you really acting for yourself if the first thought coming to mind after buying something is you can’t wait to show so and so? And the real question is, does it really make us happy when we do? Sure, for a moment, but the quick spike of delight plummets back down to an all-new unsatisfied equilibrium.
The Trading of Assets
In order to buy stuff we must work, and work means one must trade their time and effort for money, and once that money is used we need to work again to get more money to buy more stuff – the process repeats ad infinitum.
There is no shame in people who work to survive or who find joy and satisfaction in their occupation, however if they are exchanging most of their life in the pursuit of material are they really living purposefully? On their deathbed will they be happy surrounded by all the stuff they’ve traded their most valuable asset for? In the worlds of the brilliant George Carlin,
“Trying to be happy by accumulating possessions is like trying to satisfy hunger by taping sandwiches all over your body”.
Buying things may temporarily fill the void inside, but it also has the potential to infect.
Western society has been moulded to see those with the expensive items and obese bank accounts as the “winners”. We are more accustomed to ask “How much are they worth” instead of “How happy are they?”. Steve Jobs was no doubt a revolutionary mind who changed the face of humanity, yet his personal life was a disaster and, by all accounts, the man was quite an asshole – was he really a winner? If he could, do you think he would have traded his fortune for extra time to mend the family fractures he caused?
Money can be remade but time never rewound.
The idea of a societal “winner” should not be allocated to those who have slaved the hardest and hoarded the most, real “winners” are those investing time to develop genuine relationships, improve the lives of others and die with their integrity in tact.
Money may buy comfort, however happiness will always be illusive to those who require more to feel comfortable.
The more you have the more demanding your life becomes.
The more you have the more your desire to compete with others.
The more you have doesn’t mean anything if you’ve traded all your time for it.
The sun is gradually sinking on all our existences – wouldn’t it best to slow down, immerse yourself in sunlight and enjoy the warmth with those you love?
Image Source: Chaostrophic