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24 May 2008

Living In a Material World

I am a materialist - I'm not ashamed of it. I love material things - the earth, the oceans, plants and animals. I think it's amazing how everything is connected through material processes, one thing feeding off another in a great interconnected system. I love things that are well made, designed to last, because those are quality goods. I love good food - the way it tastes, the way it feels on my tongue, the way it looks with all of those bright healthy colors. I love my friends. There's nothing better than going out on a nice sunny day and playing Frisbee or tag or climbing a tree with some good people, and there's nothing like building a community through face to face interactions - those kinds of relationships really mean something.

I look at most of the people around me, though, and get the feeling that they're way too abstract. I wish they were more materialistic. They're always buying things, not because they love them but because they love the idea of having them. They love the idea of power, or happiness, or sex, or love that is promised with those things, but never actually comes. They use those things to fill an empty space inside of them, but it never really fills it. So they buy more things! Most of those things just get thrown away and replaced with other things that aren't much better, but the people think they are. What's worse, other things like plastic bottles and plastic bags get thrown away and forgotten about. But they don't really go away, they just sit somewhere unused and wasted for the millions of years it takes for them to degrade. These people don't love material things, they love to consume!

You should see the food that they eat too. Have you ever seen a Twinkie? What the hell is that thing? It's not food, it's sugar filled, fortified foam! And fast food? There's no telling what that crap is made out of! It's not colorful, it's not tasty and it's certainly not healthy.
They don't even have real relationships. Their "Friends" are little images on the TV. They sit there watching this little glowing box pretending that they're part of that imaginary world in front of them instead of talking to real people building real communities. No wonder they have to take drugs to stay happy!

Then there's money. It's just paper and metal to me - maybe I could use it to buy some food or something. But the people around me love it; they work their asses off for it, then hoard it, fight over it and die for it. Most of the time it's not even paper and metal - a lot of it is just numbers in a computer or floating around on electromagnetic waves. What could be more spiritual than that?!

The worst part is that they are always complaining about how materialistic they all are and try even harder to separate themselves from the material world. Not me though, I don't go for all of that crap. I like the real world, the material world. Maybe someday those other people will figure out a way to transcend their physical forms. I don't know, maybe with drugs or machines or something. I don't care - that just means I won't have to deal with them anymore.


Pat said...

Hey Jeremy, I was totally grooven' to your piece until the part about "Their 'Friends'". After that you were a bit too accusatory and dis-compassionate for a softy like me. It became an attack on the 'other' rather than an expression of how you see the world differently than most people do. So I thought I'd ask you a question I've been trying to answer for myself.

Everyone I have ever met--criminal, friend, student, mother, pastor, bum, who ever--has looked at life in a very similar way to how you describe it: they are worried about the environment; are in search of and value 'real relationships'; and talk about the meaningless nature of money. Anything I value they seem to value. Yet, when I zoom out and look at people in mass--at a party, at school, or at the mall--I don't see what I see in the individual. Instead, I see what you talk about in the second half of your article. So... Why don't the values of the individual carry over to how society functions at large?

Is it that everyone is too busy filling the "empty space inside of them" with shit to notice how disconnected this world is from what we truly value, or are people, like a girl who once told me she wanted things like relationships to be simple because they are easier that way, too lazy? Is caring about the environment put to the back burner because of economic issues and kids, or are people too scared and comfortable buying at Wal-Mart for cheap and then eating out every night? I wonder if people subconsciously choose to not be who they are simply because it is easier to follow others than to have the confidence to be yourself. Or maybe a portion of society just lacks the ability to self-critique?

Jeremy Trombley said...

Hey Pat! It's good to hear from you. I thought you had vaporized or something.
Let me first point out, and I wish that this was clearer in the post, that it's not intended to be my actual voice. It's poetic voice, I suppose, because I'm certainly not as clear cut and free of contradictions as the post would indicate.
Secondly, the "Friends" thing was a reference to the show and how genuine human relationships have been replaced by these false relationships found on TV (also online, to an extent). They are false because they are abstractions of real relationships. I'm sorry if it sounded accusatory - it doesn't come across to me, I guess.
I don't have a solid answer to your other questions right now (I'm on my lunch break), but I'll think about it and let you know.

Jeremy Trombley said...

So, I spend all afternoon pondering your questions Pat. I don't feel like giving a concrete answer at here, but I'd like to throw out some thoughts and see what you and other people think.
1)People are inconsistent and contradictory. We are quite capable of holding several mutually contradicting values at the same time. Also, stated values do not necessarily manifest as behavioral values. There's nothing wrong with that - in fact, it's part of what makes us interesting and adaptable.
2) I don't think it's only because people are lazy or ignorant that they don't try to fix things or build a better way. There are probably some people who are, but I think it has more to do with the structure of our culture.
We are essentially helpless because our culture makes us that way. We are helpless because we are individuated - we value independence, so we are constantly trying to separate ourselves from other people, to "simplify" our relationships (on a side note, it always bothers me when people say that they're very "independent" - really, we all depend on a complex social structure, without which we would probably die). Why? Because it's part of our culture - the nuclear family structure, going off to college, rhetoric of self-sufficiency, etc. As a result, we don't have the social structures that would support us if something were to go wrong, or to encourage us when things go right. That's why we are afraid.
3) We are also helpless because we no longer have the skills that we would need to get by. We're so busy working for money to survive (because we HAVE to in our culture - to "earn a living") that we aren't able to develop skills like gardening, food preparation, hunting, communicating, sharing, etc.
It's important to recognize that the way we live and the choices we make are all embedded in a network of social, cultural, and economic forces that surround us. So if someone chooses to shop at Wal-Mart, it's because there are several of these forces pushing them to see that choice as simply sensible.
I hope that helps - I'd like to hear anyone else's thoughts too.

Anonymous said...

In what way are online relationships false?

Jeremy Trombley said...

It is my feeling that online relationships are false, or at least not quite genuine, to the extent that they are not face-to-face. There is always something between the relationship - some mediating force, which makes it necessarily abstracted. For example, all you would know about me based on this blog and the attached profile is that I'm a student, I study anthropology, Im interested in various things, I like to write about certain issues, etc. It doesn't give you the whole picture of who I am. I also believe that it is important, in order to build a relationship, to see a person's face - it has something to do with how we're wired that we can only truly bond by seeing faces. Certainly, these limitations can be overcome by meeting people that you know online directly, but then it ceases to be merely an online relationship and becomes something more - truer, more genuine.

btmc said...

hmm... I wonder. I think that online relationships exist for a reason, and I don't think we can say they are not real, but definitely more abstract than face to face or even telephone relationships. I'd like to address the reason for them, cause their value is pretty subjective.
I've known plenty of lovely young people, I'm thinking of a few different girls I know right now, who use the online community to network, work out events and keep that warm feeling of community alive in their hearts, this is how I see it anyway. one of the good things about an online community is the safety, as long as a person is smart they will never come into physical contact with their "friends". this means no rape, no violence, none of those things that alot of women have had to deal with in their formative years. in the online domain a woman has as much, actually more control over s situation than a man does, on a purely genetic level man's only advantage in an interaction is physical, remove that advantage and we are much less able to compete.
so I started by trying to talk about the why of online relationships. I'm pretty sure most women or men don't log onto the internet with rape on the brain. but I will bet you, like most things we do, that the promise of an interaction with somebody cute or interesting is a big part of our reason for logging on, certainly to such things as aim, facebook or whatever else. The fact that the internet is a safe place, not only that we can be sure no one will take advantage of us physically, but also that we are free to be whoever we want to be. I think this relates to patricks point, our individual idealist selves that do not come out in our physical selves are often manifested in these online personas. the online is a safe domain, free of taboo and law and all that. we can be whatever we want without fear.
So I guess these online communities are a manifestation of that community building you were talking about jeremy, but I think it is essentially a powerless community, and therefore, assuming civilization will be ending shortly, a useless one. for one thing it will not exist without the global economy to sustain it, which will leave all of us plugged in ones completely cut off from our communities across the globe, and of course our dependence on this thing will not leave us with any of the basic skills that jeremy outlined in his most recent post. but even if the internet is sustained, and all of our online friends stay in contact, and we are still filled with that warm communal feeling, this community will not be able to help you make a fence or build a house or search for burdock root. for instance, I stay in contact with jeremy, I live in connecticut and he lives in kansas. the only thing he can give me, and the only thing I can give him is ideas. If I was gonna plant a garden, I couldn't ask him to help, and he couldn't help if he wanted to. our friendship cannot outlive the fall of civilization. it would make alot more sense for us to pursue friendships as close to our front doors as we can manage, today and tomorrow.
sorry that was alot.

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