The Material Man

Materialismby Tim Jones12/20/14
Seeking salvation and transcendence in all the wrong places  •  SOLIPSISM: “the view or theory that the self is all that can be known to exist”. This is the definition you get for solipsism when you enter the word into Google. But solipsism is what I like to call thinking of oneself as being at the center of the universe. It could also be a synonym for narcissism, just another way of saying “it’s all about me.” But what most of the philosophers over time have concluded is that the self is really just a social construct in one form or another. And it was Descartes, the father of the modern self, when he defined it as “I think, therefore I am” or in his exact words, “Cogito ergo sum”.

So over time the self has become a god unto itself, identified by a name and by a physical body. This in turn has led to hyper-individualism in today’s culture, where everything has become all about “me”. God and the external cosmos have been transformed and brought down to earth in the form of the self and its internal cosmos where thinking of oneself as being at the center of the universe becomes more literal by the day.[pullquote]With the apotheosis of a society that provides for every material need and individual pleasure, one has to wonder why suicide and depression are at an all-time high.[/pullquote]

If the self is a social construct who’s characteristics are defined by the social milieu of it’s time, then it would follow that it’s a free-floating illusion in the time and place of its origin that changes with every generation and with every culture. Today’s self has replaced the soul, personality has replaced character and psychology has replaced spirituality. With this transition the individual has become the measure of all things, seeking its self-aggrandizement through material gain and pleasure. It’s become a reflection of capitalism where materialism rules and where more becomes better, (an unfortunate by-product of an economic system whose benefits I believe outweigh its drawbacks.)

With the apotheosis of a society that provides for every material need and individual pleasure, one has to wonder why suicide and depression are at an all-time high. It comes down to the fact that self cannot save or transcend itself. Modern culture has transformed the biblical into the clinical stripping meaning out of daily life. When all of life is reduced to choice and pleasure-seeking, then genuine purpose in life is not possible. Seeking purpose in the material and the pleasurable is like a cat chasing its tale, it will always end in failure.

What now is happening is like treating the symptoms of a disease with the disease itself. If the disease is modernity or post-modernity, take your pick, then the “products” to cure the problems of modernity are themselves products of modernity, kind of like throwing gasoline on the fire while trying to lift oneself into the air by one’s bootstraps. This is the great illusion we’ve created: that the anti-depressant will permanently cure the blues, the next vacation will provide everlasting happiness or the shiny new car will instill pure joy. Salvation and redemption has come down to earth in the form of hyper-self-centeredness, creating a culture of shallowness and emptiness that is beyond belief. • (943 views)

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3 Responses to The Material Man

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    My understanding is that Descartes’s concern was proving everything from first things — starting with proving his own existence. After pondering this for a while, he realized that someone had to exist in order to think — hence his most famous quote.

    Solipsism also gets discussed briefly in 1984, given the Party’s insistence that reality was whatever the Party proclaimed it to be at any given moment (which could be changed later at the Party’s convenience in accordance with doublethink).

    Fredric Brown once wrote an interesting story called “It Didn’t Happen” (which appeared in his collection Paradox Lost). It involves a man who kills a girl accidentally — only to discover that there was no trace of her death afterward. He then kills a bum of some sort, and the same thing happens, causing him to believe that he must be the only real person. He then commits another murder, only to discover that this time the victim was real. (It turns out that reality is controlled by a set of corporations with lists of who is real and who isn’t — and if necessary, as it proves to be in that case, a real person can be put on the other list.) I later decided that this was in fact similar to the way serial killers and the like feel — they may not be the only real people, but any others don’t matter at all. (Such an attitude isn’t confined to serial killers, either.)

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Is “Material Man” that same dumb-ass who is forever accumulating “points” from this retailer or another? Goodness, I’m so sick of that marketing scheme.

  3. Rosalys says:

    Excellent article Mr. Jones. You precisely described the Spirit of Our Age.

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