Siyanda Mohutsiwa
Siyanda Mohutsiwa

Why we choose materialism – part 2

Because, it is far easier to want a nicer, more expensive outfit than it is to ask ourselves why we can never conceive that we are enough as we are.

It is easier to want a better, higher paying job than to ask ourselves what happened to the idealism that had once dominated our youth and fuelled our desire to change the world.

It is easier to want a better bed than it is to lie in it and wonder what within us has driven away every partner that lay in our own bed at one point or another.

For some of us, materialism is a more manageable need. The philosopher’s definition of materialism is an interesting one; defined as “the theory that the only thing that exists is matter or energy; that all things are composed of material”.

Its convenience is in its simplicity. I will extend it into the paradigm of economics and say that we are discussing a philosophy that implies that all that is real is what can be acquired.

And this is a very simple desire; to want only what is “real”. Very manageable, indeed. And subscribing to this belief system makes one’s desires infinitely more fulfil-able.

It may take a lot of work but there’s a good chance you can get that car you’ve always wanted. But what about filling the void that was gashed open by your parent when they left you at a young age? That might be a bit tricky. Hell, that may never happen. But getting that car sure can!

Agonising over which property to purchase as your first house is tough — I’ll give you that: but that’s a far easier choice to make than say, deciding who to share your entire life with. And that’s when materialism becomes convenient. Now, everything in your eyes becomes commoditised. It can be listed now.

You can list the traits you want in a life partner like you list your groceries. In bite-sized desires: acquirable and uncomplicated. As if “honest” is a category in a shopping isle, you can walk down it, pop a partner in your cart, and tick “honest” off the list.

That is significantly more manageable than getting down to the pit of your soul and asking questions that may not have answers. Asking why you need a life partner, why the traits you’ve listed matter to you, what void within you needs to be filled by “love” and why it exists.

It is far more manageable to want someone “cute and funny” than to admit that you, with all your emotional complexes, life-long fears and unexamined desires, have no idea what kind of love you need and even less of an idea where to look for it.

That’s why we drape our souls in shallow aspirations. That’s why some of us escape the hum-drum of desiring life partners for child-rearing. It is all far too daunting. Un-manageable. So we shorten the list and chase men with money and power or women with good looks and sexual prowess, and we ask from each other only tangible things.

“Love”, “happiness”, terms too abstract for our liking; undefined to us, are replaced with desires like “fun (sex)” and “support (money)” because these can be measured out, weighed on some mental scale and ticked off the proverbial list without anyone getting hurt.

We fear the pain of failure, and that’s why it’s easier to want things. We don’t want to examine our parenting techniques; thinking back to painful moments in our childhoods when we vowed never to become our parents.

Or thinking back to happy moments and the promises we made to aspire to be just like mom/dad. We cannot bear to look in the mirror and see that we failed, watch our kids turn into people we dislike and consequently hate ourselves. No.

So we pore over private-school catalogues and focus on making enough money to give our children something tangible, something certified by money and society to be good. So we don’t have to think about the other stuff.

The deep, abstract stuff is easy to forget when you’re looking through your credit-card receipt and smiling (or frowning.) Things are a wonderful distraction.

So, yes we do choose materialism. Every day. Because it is far easier to want than it is to need.

Tags: , , , ,

  • Inequality and violent protests in South Africa
  • How technological control undermines human desire
  • Marx at 200: As relevant as ever
  • The present ‘world dis-order’
    • Dave Harris

      I like your definition of materialism, which goes to the heart of that spirituality that drives human introspection. A quote attributed to Plato states “The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being” speaks to the essential underlying philosophy common in all spiritual traditions.

      These individual materialism gives rise to materialism at the macro level that grips certain societies, reflected in society’s hierarchy and how they live their own lives with the constant emphasis on controlling others and the environment to feed that UNQUENCHABLE thirst.

    • Brian B

      Siyanda , what you have written displays amazing insight from a young mind.

      We like to enjoy the good things in life. We also like to provide for our families.

      Part of this is noble however if we become obsessed with material things then we become tainted with greed.

      There are certain things that money can not buy like good health once abused or heal relationships once they are broken .

      Certainly people from difficult backgrounds often find struggle to find happy fulfilled existence and seek to compensate for what they long for with material things.

      The key lies in gratitude , regardless of what we have got. Gratitude is calming and healing and leads us to achieve greater things.

      There are many wealthy people who are extremely generous and benevolent. Some even consciously set goals to make make lots of money to distribute what they don’t need to those in dire straights.

      Others allow money and material things to rule their lives and corrupt their souls.

      Too many people borrow money to live beyond their means which usually results in compounding their unhappiness.

      I guess that we all have to work out for ourselves what is important to us.

    • Rod MacKenzie

      I really liked this, thank you. Not new, but a god reminder, written with passion and compassion. I particularly was struck by the last sentence.

    • Johanna Hendricks

      It is very true. Our societies has been programmed not to look at ourselves but to focus on the material things and forget about the real things that in the end deifne us as human beings. We do steer away from honesty. I have observed how empty conversations are. It make you tired and you realise the importance of hanging onto your values with dear life. Very good topic.

    • pongoland

      This is not a moral issue, but an economic one.

      Our entire economic system depends on the never-ending growth of consumption. If we stop buying stuff, the global system will collapse. So advertisers persuade us and politicians beg us to keep buying, bankers encourage us to get into debt.

      Apart from the effect of this materialistic culture on human beings, there is the devastating effect on the environment.

      We need a system which values people for the content of their character rather than their wallets and which acknowledges our dependence on the natural world.

      As long as the profiteers are running this international ponzi scheme, we will continue to be deluded into believing that possessions make you happy.

    • Brent

      Simply excellent, please write many more articles Brent

    • RoyVolkwyn

      Thanks Siyanda, Gr8 read. Timely article. I disagree with the reference to capitalism though. The human brain is programmed to seek the easy solutions, comfort zones, be pleasure seeking etc. This was the case in ancient societies. Then, only a small elite had the means to acquire more than they needed.

      Advertising and the media (including entertainment movies/TV programmes) have created a desire for increasingly more people and children, to be increasingly materialistic. When I was young (1960s) it was acceptable for middle class children to wear hand-me-down clothes. By 1980s, my children wanted new clothes, with famous labels.

      However, the materialistic among us are increasingly alienated from their spiritual side (as you allude to, using different words), from their ‘Life Purpose’. It’s now very fashionable for younger people, say under 40, to proudly proclaim on Facebook or Twitter or Blogs that they are atheist. If I was atheist, maybe I would be materialistic too.

      Our higher beings, our spirits/souls can override our desires of our mortal brains. But that’s the harder path. Does not only apply to materialism.

    • pongoland

      Well Roy, I am an atheist and I am committed to low consumption and treading lightly on the earth for the sake of current and future generations.

      I am aware that my efforts are in vain unless other high consumers follow suit, but it has to do with an inbuilt sense of right and wrong, not a belief in an imaginary father figure.

    • igrek

      Very interested read. I enjoyed it and stopped for a minute to think.

    • Call for Honesty

      Materialism is essentially an interest in and desire for money, possessions and the like and a rejection of the existence of a spiritual reality and of morality. From the beginning of recorded history, materialism has show itself to be totally bankrupt. Death comes to every man and not even the richest can take a single cent of their wealth with them beyond the grave.

    • Thulo

      Woow this is a deep article Siyanda. It really got me thinking really hard. It is good the weekend is here and I can go through this over and over again. I am going to check some of the articles you have written before and they better be as good. You have just put a lot of pressure on your shoulders my sister.

    • nathan sturley

      experience has made me rich and now their after me……………..true though innit!

    • LaoneS

      Amazing. Simply amazing. Your article is not only refreshing but also it forces the reader to stop and re-evaluate their last purchase, whether it be clothing, gadget or intoxicant, and think long and hard about the real reason WHY they bought it.