“Isn’t this actually none other than a highly invested attempt to superimpose a non-essential necessity of life on a particular individual in order to increase the capital of the corporate entity itself at the expense of an ignorant, despondent, and highly-distracted-by-entertainment public?”
While it is true that our modern society has come a long way in securing certain material comforts, we have to ask ourselves the real questions. Have any of these material advancements like gigantic industry, gerontology, and other so-called advancements within human culture or science produced any actual advancement of happiness and well-being? Does our investment of time and energy in the production and marketing of artificial necessities truly allow us a life of liberty and increased freedom? Does the scientific achievement of say producing breast implants for cosmetic reasons constitute real progress in human society, especially if it is considered a more desirable asset than an inalienable asset such as self-contentment? If not, what are the ethical implications of selling such products and using psychologist-researched marketing techniques to instill some sense of stature into an impressionable young female consumer? Isn’t this actually nothing other than a highly invested attempt to superimpose a non-essential necessity of life on a particular individual in order to increase the capital of the corporate entity itself at the expense of an ignorant, despondent, and highly-distracted-by-entertainment public?
In the simple and profound writings of the world renowned Vedic scholar, spiritual leader, and critic of America’s postmodern materialistic value system, Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, in 1964 wrote:
If the human civilization has sufficient grains, minerals, jewels, water, milk, etc., then why should it hanker after terrible industrial enterprises at the cost of the labor of some unfortunate people? Human prosperity flourishes by natural gifts and not by gigantic industrial enterprises. The gigantic industrial enterprises are products of a godless civilization, and they cause the destruction of the noble aims of human life. The more we go on increasing such troublesome industries to squeeze out the vital energy of the human being, the more there will be unrest and dissatisfaction of the people in general, although a few only can live lavishly by exploitation. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.8.40).
Swami Bhaktivedanta is stating that if by observation we can see that nature already contains within it the sufficient necessities for the proper maintenance of all biological life on this planet, then why should mankind create so much painstaking troubling to create a gigantic industry for producing and acquiring so many varieties of useless commodities? A single society which consumes a major portion of the world’s resources to maintain a small portion’s spendthrift and hedonistic lifestyle is not a social model capable of sustaining itself, what to speak of the sustention of the entire planet. Today, 72% of the U.S. economy is devoted to consumption as opposed to production, representing the largest percentage in the world (Pruett, 2009). Thus, the current system is simply there just to provide for a small percentage of the population’s lavish and profligate personal sense-gratification.
Without a doubt, an industrialized capitalist economy by its very nature encourages people to accept the philosophy of materialism. Take television for example. It is reported that millions of young viewers are exposed to tens of thousands of commercials each year, and many researchers suggest that beyond the promotional messages that are including in such advertising, the promotion of consumption itself is foremost (Twitchell, 1999). It could be easy to see why money and consumption become status symbols in an industrial society. They send a constant and clear message to all of its viewers that material goods and happiness are indefinitely related (Postman, 1988). Remember, in an industrialized culture, labor becomes less of a factor in production. Thus gigantic corporations who own ungodly and indecent industrial complexes are able to easily inflate the needs of a consumer, meanwhile advertising and media outlets bring the whole show to life by promoting that the acquisition of such products are the new status-quo for a happy life here on Earth.
This idea alone wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t for the fact that human beings cannot be satisfied with alienable goods alone. The very reason the country was started was to pursue quintessential inalienable assets, such as freedom in the pursuance of happiness along with the right to personal prosperity. Not only are such things essential for humanity, but without them, alienable goods seem like nothing in comparison. No one in the history of the world was satisfied with alienable, material possessions alone.
Murray N. Rothbard in his book, Man, Economy, and State with Power and Market states:
No one denies that there are nonmarketable, nonexchangeable goods (such as friendship, love, and religion) and that many men value these goods very highly. They must constantly choose how to allocate their resources between exchangeable and nonexchangeable goods (Rothbard, 2004).
Time in human life is limited indeed, and as one famous historical Indian philosopher and socio-reformer, Chanakya Pundit, wrote, “Time itself becomes one of man’s most valuable resources, so valuable that millions of gold coins cannot even purchase it.” This is very interesting, because rarely do we think of time as a resource in an industrialized society. The irony is that although the industrial society claims to offer more freedom, people end up spending less time at home and more time at work than a traditional agriculture-based social structure. Rothbard therefore brings up a really interesting point when he says that we all must choose how to best allocate our energy and resources, including time, between the tangible and the intangible things of this world. It is obvious to any sane person that the greatest human needs are inalienable goods, otherwise what need was there for so many declarations of independence over the course of human history. The original socio-religious concepts of the New America, and many other fundamental religious cultures of the whole, is that life becomes prosperous automatically when we use our energy to ethically pursue inalienable goods like religious freedom, love, and happiness, without creating more artificial needs to add further to the burden and suffering of mankind.
So, from the point of view of the history of the world, this brand new industrial culture and its ideology comes along and through its increased production, advertising and sales, sways a large number of people to place their hope and aims into succeeding in the “acquisition-of-material-assets” game. This game requires that the society adopt a certain mindset to stay afloat- the consumer-unit mindset. Besides the fact that people who are swayed by the philosophy of materialism are cutting themselves off from the real goal of human life, they may begin to feel that in order to have stature in such a materialistic society they too must also come to acquire such non-essential luxuries of life, things such as cosmetic breast implants, boy-band CD’s, sports cars, strip clubs, children’s plastic toys, feature films, fast-food restaurants, artificially flavored soda drinks, lipstick, high heels, video games, etc. You get the idea. Of course, to continuously increase the artificial needs of the human being, in order to fill the inner void that results from not living with a definite purpose in the world, is the essence of the materialistic philosophy.
The materialistic philosophy inculcates that acquisition of matter is the highest public and private value both individually and internationally, and places the value of such acquisition over the moral and ethical pursuit of happiness. Thus, the ethics and ideology of materialism prove to be the one true enemy of social harmony and individual progress.
In a carnal-driven and materialistic culture, everything becomes capital and personal value gets measured by money. The ethical and moral considerations in an individual’s quest for pleasure at best become second place in regards to their behavior and relationships with others.
Many imbalances are popping up, due to a more vested interest into the hyper-materialistic value system.
The National Institute of Mental Illness Statistics reports that in 2009:
Mental disorders are common in the United States and internationally. An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. When applied to the 2004 U.S. Census residential population estimate for ages 18 and older, this figure translates to 57.7 million people. Even though mental disorders are widespread in the population, the main burden of illness is concentrated in a much smaller proportion — about 6 percent, or 1 in 17 — who suffer from a serious mental illness.
People are not able to cope with the fast paced and superficially imposed pressures of modern life, despite having so much materialistic advancement. So many young people are not able to cope with the rejection and the pressure that comes from living within a money and body worshiping society. Everything is for sale here in such a culture, especially the female image.
A very recent report of the American Psychological Association found evidence that the sexualized images of girls and young women in advertising, merchandising, and media is harmful to girls’ self-image and healthy development. To complete the report, the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls studied published research on the content and effects of virtually every form of media, including television, music videos, music lyrics, magazines, movies, video games and the Internet. They also examined recent advertising campaigns and merchandising of products aimed toward girls. (American Psychological Association, 2007)
It was the second industrial revolution which eventually changed and broke down the traditional extended family, leading to the modern day nuclear family. Women had high-labor market participation during World War II, because women had to take up jobs to support their family and keep their local economy on track. Many women dropped out of the labor force when the men returned home from war to raise children born in the generation of the baby boomers. In the late 1960s when women began entering the labor force in record numbers, they were entering in addition to all of the men, as opposed to substituting for men during the war. This dynamic shift from the one-earner household to the two-earner household dramatically changed the socioeconomic class system of this country (Edin & Kefalas, 2005).
In addition to this point, many recent studies have shown that people who live together as an extended family occasionally feel a greater security and belonging than the nuclear family model of modern America (Pillitteri, 2009). There are advantages of extended type of family because this family contains more people to serve as resources during crisis and provides more role models for behavioral values. The disadvantage of living in an extended type of family is that they have to bear more expenses for their combined needs. Though, we can also see how this extended family model suits the agriculturally based society nicely, because people find more pleasure and security in family relations alone and don’t have to seek fulfillment in the cold impersonal acquisition of plastic and or the individualistic search for meaning through petty and obscure personal achievement.
Leo Tolstoy once wrote about a transition in his life when he began to question everything, despite his great success. Following Tolstoy’s example, imagine that you possess great material abundance such as exorbitant wealth, fame, vast knowledge, and dazzling beauty. Now ask yourself, are any of these things worth it if there is not some loved one with which to share it?
In conclusion, we as Americans should continue to re-evaluate our current value system and lifestyle to see if it is heading in a truly moral and ethical pursuit of happiness. In other words, as soon as we put monetary gain above the spirit and principle of life itself, we stand at the verge of our own destruction. Rather, when we use all resources simply as a medium to achieve a greater sense of unity with the diversity of our world, it is at this moment we will experience the true satisfaction that human life was meant to offer.
American Psychological Association,Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. (2007).
Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls.Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Retrieved from www.apa.org/pi/wpo/sexualization.html
Bhaktivedanta Swami , A. (1964). Srimad Bhagavatam. (Vol. Canto 1). Los Angeles: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.
Edin, K. and Kefalas, M. (2005). Promises I can keep: Why poor women put motherhood before marriage. Berkley, CA: University of California Press
Das, Mahat-tattva. (2010). What The Heck Is Wrong With Materialism. Retrieved August 26, 2010 from 16Rounds.com: http://www.16rounds.com/2010/04/what-the-heck-is-wrong-with-materialism/
Pillitteri, A. (2009). Maternal and Child Health Nursing: Care of the Childbearing and Childrearing Family. Baltimore, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins
Postman, N. (1988). Conscientious objections: Stirring up trouble about language, technology, and education. New York: Knopf, 1988.
Preston, P. (2001). Six million and Counting. The Observer (guardian.co.uk). Retrieved June 14, 2001.
Pruett , J. (2009). The Consumption of Status and Signs. Retrieved August 15, 2010 from Knol: a unit of knowledge: http://knol.google.com/k/the-consumption-of-status-and-signs.
Rothbard, M. (2004) Man, Economy, and State with Power and Market: Scholar’s Edition. Ludwig von Mises Institute: Alabama,
The National Institute of Mental Illness (2009). Statistics. Retrieved August 08, 2010 from August 06, 2009.: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/statistics/index.shtml
Twitchell, James B. (1999). Lead us Into Temptation: The Triumph of American Materialism. Columbia University Press