Not Materialistic Enough

#1
I've recently been reading a lot of books on environmentalism and sustainability (e.g. Plenitude, Ecological Economics, Peak Everything, Techno-Fix), and several times I've come across this idea that the main problem with the world today is not that we're too materialistic, but rather that we're not materialistic enough! Apparently this idea originally comes from Raymond Wiliams. Real materialism or true materialism is against narrow anthropocentrism, consumerism, fads and fashions, short-termism, and the wasteful throw-away society, and for holistic long-term thinking and the interests of the entire biosphere.

I think this new positive use of the word 'materialism' is to be welcomed. It's too easy right now for people to link scientific/philosophical materialism with consumerism and hedonism in the public mind (See Deepak, Skeptiko, etc.), and this will complicate things and hopefully lead to some interesting new discussions.
 
#3
Real materialism or true materialism is against narrow anthropocentrism, consumerism, fads and fashions, short-termism, and the wasteful throw-away society, and for holistic long-term thinking and the interests of the entire biosphere.
While these may be laudable aims, I don't see any particular relation with the term "materialism". Perhaps it is closest to the concept of Gaia?
 
#4
I think this new positive use of the word 'materialism' is to be welcomed. It's too easy right now for people to link scientific/philosophical materialism with consumerism and hedonism in the public mind (See Deepak, Skeptiko, etc.), and this will complicate things and hopefully lead to some interesting new discussions.
??? It's easy for people to make all sorts of incorrect assumptions. Scientific/philosophical materialism means "a belief that there's only physical existence." I happen to be hedonistic, "materialistic" (like stuff) and very spiritual. And there's many like me.
 
#5
In what sense is it materialism?

Here are some things that immediately come to mind:

1. There's a real world out there independently of our minds. It was here long before us and it will be there long after us. We're damaging it and we need to stop. It's no good having the right desires and emotions unless these are backed up with action.
2. We are part of the natural world and not separate from it. We are animals and our well-being is bound up with that of other species and the natural world as a whole. There's an interconnectedness.
3. Life is precious. We only get one world and one life, so don't mess it up.
4. Capitalist consumerism doesn't treat the material/physical/natural world with the respect it deserves.
5. Wild places have value regardless of what we happen to think or feel about them. They have intrinsic value.


Now of course we still have the problem of how objective value is possible on materialism, or any other world view for that matter. I'm not saying that this is a totally coherent or complete world view. It's just important to try to break down the stereotypes as much as possible about materialists/atheists and consumerism, hedonism, short-termism and all the rest.
 
#6
In what sense is it materialism?

Here are some things that immediately come to mind:

1. There's a real world out there independently of our minds. It was here long before us and it will be there long after us. We're damaging it and we need to stop. It's no good having the right desires and emotions unless these are backed up with action.
2. We are part of the natural world and not separate from it. We are animals and our well-being is bound up with that of other species and the natural world as a whole. There's an interconnectedness.
3. Life is precious. We only get one world and one life, so don't mess it up.
4. Capitalist consumerism doesn't treat the material/physical/natural world with the respect it deserves.
5. Wild places have value regardless of what we happen to think or feel about them. They have intrinsic value.
I agree with @Typoz.
Your five points would go along with almost any philosophy, or political angle. Very conservative people would agree just as much as liberals or buddhists.

Also, I tend to refer to "materialism" as the philosophical position that claims only matter exists, even though there's no definition for matter, so it's pretty much an empty container...
Outside of philosophical topics, materialism is usually defined as:

preoccupation with or emphasis on material objects, comforts, and considerations, with a disinterest in or rejection of spiritual, intellectual, or cultural values
which doesn't seem to fit very well with most of your five points, or the environmental concerns...

More specifically, since materialism rejects spiritual values (e.g. transcendental principles) it isn't the best "model" to inspire ideals of reciprocal respect, compassion and care for living creatures, the planet's resources etc...

Of course there are plenty of self-proclaimed materialists that are inspired by those values anyways, but they probably don't realize the contradiction to the full extent. Ultimately those values are illusory, not transcendental. They exist as long as we exist, they aren't independent of our bio-computer in our head.

Seen from outside, objectively, the materialist's values have no value.
 
#7
I agree with @Typoz.
Your five points would go along with almost any philosophy, or political angle. Very conservative people would agree just as much as liberals or buddhists.

Also, I tend to refer to "materialism" as the philosophical position that claims only matter exists, even though there's no definition for matter, so it's pretty much an empty container...
Outside of philosophical topics, materialism is usually defined as:

preoccupation with or emphasis on material objects, comforts, and considerations, with a disinterest in or rejection of spiritual, intellectual, or cultural values
which doesn't seem to fit very well with most of your five points, or the environmental concerns...

More specifically, since materialism rejects spiritual values (e.g. transcendental principles) it isn't the best "model" to inspire ideals of reciprocal respect, compassion and care for living creatures, the planet's resources etc...

Of course there are plenty of self-proclaimed materialists that are inspired by those values anyways, but they probably don't realize the contradiction to the full extent. Ultimately those values are illusory, not transcendental. They exist as long as we exist, they aren't independent of our bio-computer in our head.

Seen from outside, objectively, the materialist's values have no value.
As I see it, the main problem is that many anti-materialists (i.e. those people who think materialism is both false and harmful) are "bewitched by language", as Wittgenstein put it. The word 'materialism' has two different and quite separate meanings, 1. shallow consumerism and short-term hedonism 2. the view that there's nothing outside the material/physical/natural world. Anti-materialists think there just has to be some sort of connection between these two kinds of materialism. It's a kind of magical thinking, and in my view is driven by prejudice. Nobody ever says there just has to be a connection between the two different meanings of the word 'bank', for example, but when you already have a strong prejudice against scientific/philosophical materialism, the connection with shallow consumerism and hedonism just seems obvious and common-sense.
 
#8
As I see it, the main problem is that many anti-materialists (i.e. those people who think materialism is both false and harmful) are "bewitched by language", as Wittgenstein put it. The word 'materialism' has two different and quite separate meanings, 1. shallow consumerism and short-term hedonism 2. the view that there's nothing outside the material/physical/natural world. Anti-materialists think there just has to be some sort of connection between these two kinds of materialism. It's a kind of magical thinking, and in my view is driven by prejudice. Nobody ever says there just has to be a connection between the two different meanings of the word 'bank', for example, but when you already have a strong prejudice against scientific/philosophical materialism, the connection with shallow consumerism and hedonism just seems obvious and common-sense.
Relax dude...
I am not anti-matter, in fact I'd annihilate and release energy if I were :D

More to the point, where did I say that the two definitions of "materialism" are one and the same?

I was just pointing out that outside philosophy, "materialism" is certainly not conducive to the safeguard of the environment and other living beings.
Inside philosophy materialism is pretty clear that life is accidental and ultimately meaningless. Again I find this premise to generate very little impulse towards the safeguard of of the environment and other living beings.

Naturally there is an utilitarian (and selfish) aspect to this: we need an healthy enough environment to live a good and healthy life.

What is the value of "interconnectedness" exactly under a materialistic point of view? Sheer love for our fellow humans on the other side of the planet or fear for the backfiring of our own bad decisions?

The usual mantra of "leaving a better world for our children and nephews" ... isn't all about "our children and nephews"? I
So, if it wasn't for my stuff, my progeny... could I care less?

How can the materialistic philosophy go beyond the level of the human ego, if all there is ... is a meat robot, programmed by evolution and deluded by its own neurons?

I am being provocative on purpose :)
 
#9
Relax dude...
I am not anti-matter, in fact I'd annihilate and release energy if I were :D

More to the point, where did I say that the two definitions of "materialism" are one and the same?

I was just pointing out that outside philosophy, "materialism" is certainly not conducive to the safeguard of the environment and other living beings.
Inside philosophy materialism is pretty clear that life is accidental and ultimately meaningless. Again I find this premise to generate very little impulse towards the safeguard of of the environment and other living beings.

Naturally there is an utilitarian (and selfish) aspect to this: we need an healthy enough environment to live a good and healthy life.

What is the value of "interconnectedness" exactly under a materialistic point of view? Sheer love for our fellow humans on the other side of the planet or fear for the backfiring of our own bad decisions?

The usual mantra of "leaving a better world for our children and nephews" ... isn't all about "our children and nephews"? I
So, if it wasn't for my stuff, my progeny... could I care less?

How can the materialistic philosophy go beyond the level of the human ego, if all there is ... is a meat robot, programmed by evolution and deluded by its own neurons?

I am being provocative on purpose :)
You've given me a lot to deal with there.

On the question of ultimate meaning/purpose in life, I agree with Nagel and Maitzen that it's an incoherent concept.

http://philosophy.acadiau.ca/tl_files/sites/philosophy/resources/documents/Maitzen_OGUP.pdf

On the question of meaning in general, I think life is inherently meaningful, and so God, the afterlife, immortality and Psi are irrelevant. I suppose something like panpsychism must be true.

In Embracing Mind, Alan Wallace writes the following:

Mysticism is a very general and troublesome term. It is primarily defined as a belief that one can
achieve union with the divine through contemplation. However, it is often confused with vagueness
and obscurity, as in “I’m mystified.” Since contemplative methods are often kept secret or else
written in complicated, symbolic language, the two definitions have tended to merge, lending a
prejudicial air to the term.


What anti-materialists like Wallace can't see is that exactly the same thing has happened with the term 'materialism'.
 
#10
This is my take on what materialism really amounts to, once you get rid of all the caricatures and stereotypes.

Materialism, properly understood, is the view that consciousness, meaning, love and value are latecomers in the universe. They somehow magically emerged from mindless matter over billions of years. And that's it!

Materialists believe in mind, love and all the rest just as much as anybody else does. The only difference is that they have a different origin story and a different explanation.

All the slogans we hear on Skeptiko (Mind=Brain, mind doesn't exist, consciousness is an illusion, etc.) are views that virtually nobody actually holds. And the 'biological robot' thing basically just comes down to the view that libertarian free will is impossible. We may disagree with this, but it's not a crazy view.

Now the anti-materialist may say, "Yeah, but materialists still think that it's all ACCIDENTAL, and so this means life is totally meaningless." Here I have to quote Nagel:

If we learned that we were being raised to provide food for other creatures fond of human flesh, who planned to turn us into cutlets before we got too stringy - even if we learned that the human race had been developed by animal breeders precisely for this purpose - that would still not give our lives meaning, for two reasons. First, we would still be in the dark as to the significance of the lives of those other beings; second, although we might acknowledge that this culinary role would make our lives meaningful to them, it is not clear how it would make them meaningful to us.

Nagel's point is that even if we have been created by Gods or extraterrestrials for a purpose/reason, and so our existence isn't ACCIDENTAL, this does nothing to make our lives more meaningful to us, though it may make our lives meaningful (or rather useful) to them. This is the problem with the whole ID movement. Even if there is design or purpose back there somewhere, it won't help to make our lives more meaningful to us.

Like Nagel, I think materialism is probably false, but I'm very skeptical about the idea that it's harmful. I think the negative meaning of the word 'materialism' in everyday life has tricked people into thinking that materialism in philosophy must be equally negative. Over time the two definitions have merged and it's now very difficult to have a sensible debate about these issues.

I've tried over the years to start with a neutral definition of philosophical materialism to see if we can reasonably connect it to war, consumerism, hedonism, greed, selfishness, violence, technology worship and all the rest. But I've failed. There's just too much anger, prejudice and hostility here. It never seems to work.

If environmentalists could popularize this positive meaning of the word materalism, though, it could help.
 
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#11
On the question of ultimate meaning/purpose in life, I agree with Nagel and Maitzen that it's an incoherent concept.

http://philosophy.acadiau.ca/tl_files/sites/philosophy/resources/documents/Maitzen_OGUP.pdf
I read that. It didn't strike me as particularly incisive. I can *readily* imagine a situation where a) thought and b) "questioning" have no relevance at all outside of the human condition. In that circumstance, meaning will be governed by what the awareness-experience of a given state finds meaningful. If there is an "all buck stops here" state, then whatever that awareness-experience "finds" meaningful is exactly what ultimate meaning would be...by definition.
 
#12
I read that. It didn't strike me as particularly incisive. I can *readily* imagine a situation where a) thought and b) "questioning" have no relevance at all outside of the human condition. In that circumstance, meaning will be governed by what the awareness-experience of a given state finds meaningful. If there is an "all buck stops here" state, then whatever that awareness-experience "finds" meaningful is exactly what ultimate meaning would be...by definition.
Yeah, perhaps we've reached the limits of philosophy and rational thought here. Perhaps you just have to experience this state where all doubt and questioning ends.

But Maitzen does deal with this to some extent here:

Granted, in the midst of an ecstatic post-mortem encounter with God it might not occur to you to ask, “Why is this ultimate?” But the question would persist even so. By the same token, you can avoid considering a question by getting stoned out of your mind or by committing suicide in the face of it, but you don't thereby answer the question, much less make it disappear.

He seems to think that, even though there could be a situation where all human beings are totally unable to question the truth, validity or whatever of some experience, it is still questionable. We can, for example, question it right now. During an NDE we may be unable to question the idea that the meaning of life is to love all sentient beings, but right now we might sensibly say, "No, the meaning of life is to discover how the universe works through science, or to create beautiful works of art and music, or to protect flowers and trees."

I may be wrong, but I think this is what he's getting at.
 
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