Rejecting materialism

This page is outdated. The text below is from the first, 2007 draft of Meaningness. My understanding of the material has changed since then, and the style I write in too. Someday I would like to rewrite this; but I hope the 2007 version may be adequate for now.

Materialism wrongly fixates mundane purposes, and denies higher ones. Both aspects cause unnecessary trouble.

This page explains how three other confused stances, eternalism, mission, and nihilism reject materialism. These rejections are each partly right, and obviously so. Unless you are stubbornly committed to materialism, you will admit this, if perhaps sometimes reluctantly. That makes these considerations obstacles to maintaining the stance, destabilizing it.

Each critique is flawed; partly wrong, although not entirely mistaken. These flaws are also obvious, which is a reason it’s possible to adopt materialism at times.

Meaningness rejects materialism from point of view of the complete stance. It regards all purposes, mundane and higher, as both nebulously meaningful and nebulously meaningless. The next page explains that critique.

Eternalism’s rejection of materialism

Most people are committed to eternalism in word, but often adopt materialism in deed. The ubiquity of the discord between these two has not escaped the notice of the guardians of eternalistic religions, who devote much of their effort to condemning it.

There are two lines of attack: materialism leads you to selfishly violate God’s laws, and it distracts you from higher purposes (which, in eternalist theisms, are God’s purposes). God’s laws generally require self-sacrifice, which is inimical to materialism. God says Thou Shalt Not, and materialism says “I’ll go for what I want.” God says Thou Shalt, and materialism asks “what’s in it for me?” And the tug of animal desires is so strong that, unless we constantly fight them, we will—according to most eternalist religions—lose sight of our true purpose, which is to please God.

Non-theistic eternalisms make similar critiques. For example, some political ideologies say materialism is the root of the destructive capitalist consumer culture. It creates unjust power and wealth inequalities, destroys the environment, and eliminates the possibility of cultural transcendence by filling our heads with mediocre mass entertainment.

The eternalist critique is correct, insofar as exclusive pursuit of fixed mundane purposes is harmful—even to oneself.

Mission’s rejection of materialism

The critique of materialism from point of view of mission is similar to the eternalist critique. (So it is correct for the same reason, and to the same extent.) Materialism is selfish; it views other people as mere means or tools to the materialist’s shallow purposes. It is amoral. It values things over people, power over virtue, lust over love, consumption over generosity. A materialist may create works of enduring value, but only as a means of self-advancement or self-glorification.

The difference between eternalism’s and mission’s critiques is that mission sees mundane purposes as meaningless, and has no interest in their details. Eternalism fixates mundane purposes as well as higher ones; an eternalist religion may give detailed guidance on how you should live everyday life.

Nihilism’s rejection of materialism

The nihilist views the materialist as deluded. For the nihilist, there can be no real purpose. Only an idiot could believe that “he who dies with the most toys wins.” Mundane purposes are transient and empty—just as higher purposes are vain and imaginary.

… all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more; it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.1

Nihilism is right that purely personal, mundane purposes expire at death. That doesn’t make them entirely meaningless, but it’s a factor important to consider. Meaning cannot be purely personal, and neither can purposes.

  • 1. William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act V, Scene V.

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