Our Materialism is Killing Mother Earth
Global economic crises, terrorism, climate change, and human inequality are not just major problems today… but they also represent major systemic threats to humanity and the planet Earth itself.
The common denominator underlying these problems is the shameless focus on materialism under today’s dominant Western-inspired intellectual paradigm. In the past thousand years, spirituality, knowledge, social solidarity and sacrifice competed equally with money and conquests as overall life goals. Today, money trumps almost everything.
The evolution of capitalism, democracy, and science under Western civilization has undoubtedly unleashed humanity’s most glorious material achievements ever. Consequently, the world today could be free from the drudgery, poverty, epidemics, famine, and tyranny that plagued earlier eras. Excessive materialism, however, threatens these positives.
Three hundred years ago, when Western civilization became dominant, people globally were overwhelmingly poor. Today, 40 % still live in poverty. Excessive inequality, which breeds major social and economic problems, has grown five-fold. The richest 10% own 85 % of global assets. Around 40 % globally have attained middle-class status, often through routine jobs and long commutes.
Many middle-income people spend 10-12 hours daily in boring jobs and commutes. This undermines their self-worth and causes social problems. Finally, 20 % are rich today but many among them face major social and psychological problems. Over 50 % Americans report high to extreme stress in their day to day life. Divorce, lawlessness, and crime are high in rich countries.
The move of just 20-30 % people into high prosperity is causing massive climate change due to the need for energy, transportation, and mechanized farming. Recurrent recessions display the inherent instability of capitalism as investors chase risky ventures for high profits, and the helplessness of even rich governments to control them. Though much higher than under totalitarianism, freedom of thought in the West is still compromised since it requires easy access to differing perspectives.
In capitalist societies, people face high information overloads, while mainstream media largely emphasizes market perspectives and 10-12 hours of intellectually-crippling work leaves no space for most people to search for alternative perspectives. In other words, media spoon-feeds the world’s population its own perspective, agenda, and twist on facts, events, and news.
We as a society need a better goal than materialism. Our progress has been spawned by evolving capitalism, science, and democracy. Capitalism creates wealth by mobilizing energies around self-interest. Science enhances wealth through inventions and increased productivity. Democracy helps spread it broadly by legislating equal economic opportunity, taxes and social welfare.
Without increased productivity through science and redistribution through democracy, increased self-interest induced by capitalism among people would have created more conflict than wealth. In fact, capitalism’s fortunate co-evolution with democracy and science masked its shortcomings. Otherwise, it may have fulfilled Marx’s predictions about its demise long ago.
Since materialism depends on heavy consumption of scarce resources, its excessive pursuit soon creates conflicts with other people, and even within people due to intense competition and stress. The pursuit of bounded self-interest is necessary for survival. However, its excessive pursuit undermines the quality of life for all. The lack of a higher goal than cold and inane materialism within Western civilization is causing alienation and a rejection of even its positive aspects such as democracy, human rights and sometimes even science globally.
Humans desperately need a better life goal than materialism…
The common thread across these life goals must place emphasis on limiting materialism after reaching a comfortable standard of living; and then pursuing more abstract goals like social solidarity, environmental re-habilitation, living in harmony with nature, intellectual pursuits and spirituality.
These goals provide deeper human fulfilment than unlimited materialism and require limited material consumption, thus freeing scarce resources and money for others to achieve a comfortable standard of living too.
Humans must voluntarily adopt these alternative perspectives and establish a just and sustainable global order before massive economic depressions, climate change, wars or nuclear holocaust enforce them.
[Curated content based on excerpts from posts, blogs, media articles, and sponsored research]