Thursday, November 02, 2006

Why modern times are probably less materialistic


One of the most common complaints against the modern world is that we’re too materialistic. People look fondly at the past, when people’s lives were less materialistic, and more meaningful.

But I want to consider whether this is actually true. It may sound crazy, but could it be true that people in the past were more materialistic than we are today?

It certainly seems that we do have more ‘stuff’ these days, that we devote more of our time to obtaining it, and that we often seek to make our lives better and feel satisfied by obtaining things.

I want to start by considering that perhaps the reason that we, today, have more material trappings, and reach for them to satisfy ourselves, is simply because, in today's world, we can.

Times were hard in the past, and there simply wasn’t the access to material things like there is today. Surely if people had had the opportunity to have these things, they would have jumped at the chance to have them. To indulge their hunger, to make things more convenient, to have nicer clothes and nicer things. To get easy entertainment.

In a way, their lives had more meaningful elements because they were limited to those options. Given the opportunity, I bet they would have thrown them away, like we have. It's not that they were necessarily more enlightened.

In fact, I think we're probably more enlightened today, because we've had the opportunity to experience 'material fulfillment', and had the opportunity to see it's limitations. It's because we're enlightened about it that we complain so much about its limitations.

Think of a kid whose parents never let them eat ice-cream. When they move out of home and finally have that opportunity to eat as much ice-cream as they want, they gorge themselves on it. And it's nice. But it does have it's downsides, and it doesn't provide a particularly deep sense of satisfaction. Over time they'll probably learn this.

So what I'm saying is that it seems we've moved on, somewhat, from where we were before we had the opportunity to fulfill our material desires. And from this viewpoint we have the opporutnity to try and do something about it. So we can try and build social institutions/conventions/whatever that do provide 'deeper' things.

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