Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Gimme That...

Materialism is almost too easy to talk about as a corrupting agent.

Every religious text, every philosopher and everybody's momma, has warned about the destructive power of wanton materialistic lust. There are a plethora of scriptures, poems, songs and prose dedicated to warning folks away from materialism. Yet, for some reason people keep falling prey to it.

As someone who grew up in the 80s and 90s, I was raised on Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" commercials and after school specials. Unlike many kids, I was honestly scared to death of the destructive power of crack cocaine and heroin because of these cheesy television programs. The whole "all it takes is one time" campaign, plus my father's apocryphal stories about Len Bias, had me shook.

I remember talking with a friend and wondering how anybody in our age group, or in the generation below us, could possibly get hooked on crack. With all the bad publicity crack received, all the derision crackheads were subjected to, it seemed impossible that someone would pick up that pipe and take a hit. Yet, it happens every single day.

Materialism has that kind of staying power as well. People know it's dangerous, they know it's addictive, yet they can't stop themselves from taking that first hit. And after that initial hit, well there are quite a few materialistic junkies in this world.

Oh, just a reminder, this is the next installment in our six agents of corruption series where we've discussed: secularism, relativism, pragmatism and humanism. Materialism is our second to last corrupting influence to discuss.

Materialism is both a subtle and obvious corrupting agent. It's easy to see how Americans' lust for all things material has contributed to our current economic woes. It's quite obvious that we allowed our desire for "more" to lead us to actions that, in hindsight, were not very bright.

But, it's not the obvious dangers that make materialism scary. There is also the problem of becoming dependent on smaller creature comforts, things that sap your will and desire. Our fear of losing these creature comforts can drive us to heinous actions. Keeping up with the Joneses doesn't have to just be about getting a new house or driving a new car. It can be about which brand names the baby wears, or what kind of pizza y'all order.

Status symbols are everywhere in our lives. We crave more and more things to affirm our self worth because we've lost sight of our ultimate goals. It's not enough to accumulate items or money, what's more important is making a lasting impact on lives and the world. By all accounts, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King were not wealthy when they died, but I'm positive their legacies will live on long after Donald Trump and his millions are dirt.

In the black community, we need to reaffirm this message. We have to understand that while capitalism can do a lot of good, it also can lead to greed and excess. We need to teach our children and remind ourselves that there is more to life than the rat race. We need to remember that we are not defined by our possessions, but rather by the inner light we use to illuminate the world. Children need to understand that there is a reward in hard work, in doing things the right way, even if that reward isn't the best car or most beautiful clothes.

So many people have succumbed to the lure of materialism, to the rush of acquiring more things. It's become such a need on our society that there is no value, no standard that we are not willing to sacrifice at the altar of ambition. This has to change.

Life ain't cheap.



Deacon Blue said...

You've hit upon an interesting duality (at least to my mind)...it's the easiest corrupting influences to talk about, yet also the most difficult one to free ourselves from.

Big Man said...

Thanks for pointing that out.

It's amazing to me how the stuff we can obviously see is the most dangerous, is often still the most tempting.

Like, people understand what infidelity does to marriage, yet so many people still commit adultery every day. In some ways it boggles the mind.

Lisa J said...

On point again. This makes me think about one of my new gurus of sorts, Eckhard Tolle, he is sort of a philospher/spiritual teacher I guess. I was introduced to him via a PBS special, and he talked about how people will buy things to make themselves feel more satisfied and to "know who they are" and it works maybe for an hour or two or maybe a day or so, but then it goes and they start searching all over again for the next thing to buy or to do etc. He is big on focusing on the literal now and finding fulfillment there rather than by anxiously awaiting the future, brooding or mooning on the past or on things we buy. Interesting. I'm working on getting there myself but it is not easy and it is so easy to get caught up in the daily minuatae and the ten million thoughts, and memories and anticipations in our mind.

Big Man said...


I'll have to check him out because that sounds like great advice. I thank my parents for instilling some of that in me, but I still have problems with materialism.

Lisa J said...

I misspelled his first name it is Eckhart, this is his website ,
He has written a few books too. Interesting guy.

older_not_wiser said...

Materialism, adultery, drug addiction and many other corrupting and self-destructive behaviors have one thing in common: They represent the path of least resistance, the yielding to impulse. It is a fundamental paradox of the human condition that to live the most successful and ultimately satisfying lives we must learn to resist our urges toward things that are immediately gratifying.

things that sap your will and desireThis calls to mind the phrase "rags to riches to rags in three generations." We humans are a lot better at achieving prosperity than we are living with it.

blackwomenblowthetrumpet.blogspot.com said...

Isn't Eckhart Tolle the New Ager who Oprah was gushing over last year when she started a weekly webinar at her site to tout his book? She said his book changed her life! Well...that was in 2008....in 2009, she admitted that she needed to address somethings internally due to the public betrayals she has faced with people on her show who used her to increase their book sales ...

Lisa J said...

Don't know, don't watch Oprah. I came across him on PBS. It is possible. He doesn't strike me as a user though. Pretty unassuming.

Mr. Noface said...

I often wonder about the hold materialism has on people and I came to the personal realization that since we were so indoctrinated to the concept of things=happiness from a very young age, that we have to make a conscious effort at every opportunity to remind ourselves that "I am are not my iPod!"

The crack analogy is apt because just like former addicts we have to take rising above materialism stuff, one day at a time!

Raving Black Lunatic