Resist manic materialism.
I have no one really to blame because I chose to watch MSNBC while preparing for the 2011 cycling season one morning last week. It was the morning after 20 inches of snow fell throughout the Northeastern U.S. Business analysts worried “How will the conditions affect retailers since post Christmas shoppers will stay home?”
Does everything always have to be interpreted through the lens of economics?
I should have switched to the Zen Cable Network, a mythical creation of mine where a slow, beautiful, non-narrated slideshow with acoustic guitar accompaniment was looping. Slow moving shots of young people up and down the seaboard sledding and having snowball fights while parents sipped coffee and talked against the backdrop of translucent, oddly beautiful cities.
Manic materialism is the increasingly common practice of defining as many life activities and events as possible in economic terms. How does this—a winter snow storm, schooling, an art form, food, healthcare—make people more or less wealthy? It’s the result of our collective idolatry, and as a result, it’s our unofficial national religion. No activity is immune from its influence. Every life activity and event is reduced to whether it generates wealth.
And make no mistake about it, wealth is defined one way—materially. How much money do you have, how big is your house, how nice is it on the inside, how luxurious is your car, where do you vacation?
Schooling provides a poignant example. Why are U.S. opinion and business leaders over involved in reform efforts today? For one reason—our international economic competitiveness is slipping. As a result, our relative wealth is declining. That’s why math and science content is routinely privileged at the expense of humanities and social studies education. The business leaders at the education reform table are in essence asking, “How in the hell is an affinity for literature or history going to translate into more money for more people?”
Maybe I errored in using the phrase “our collective idolatry” a few paragraphs ago. Maybe all of us are exceptions, a fringe minority that believes we’re more social, emotional, dare I even say spiritual beings, than economic ones.
In prioritizing close interpersonal relationships, maintaining work-life balance, and consciously living below our means, we provide a viable alternative to manic materialism and threaten the status quo.
What else can and should we do in 2011 to provide a social-emotional-spiritual alternative to manic materialism?