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Spiritual/immaterial alternates to materialistic economic systems?

So, Adam Curtis' Century of the Self does a pretty good job of explaining how the world got the way it is today. Individuated and materialistic. The problem was overproduction and governments worried that people would get into trouble with too much free time on their hands. So together with PR people they convinced us that we needed to be competitive with each other, we needed to express our individuality through material possessions, and we should work to satisfy not just our needs, but our wants.

And now we find ourselves in a world where people do indeed keep very busy, but have lost the ability to function as communities, to act for the wellbeing of the whole. We're facing numerous environmental issues created by the ramping up of the production of material goods, and though aware of these existential threats, we're unable to do anything about it.

Just wondering if the solution could be to substitute something immaterial for materialism, whether spiritualism, culture, knowledge, etc., so that without trying to undo the current reality of individualism, we could reduce the threats facing us all which come from materialistic overconsumption.

One illustration: if knowledge became the highest value, we could all keep busy throughout our lives learning and teaching. We'd judge each other based on how hard we've worked to learn about things. The economy could be 80% or more just education sector. There'd still be individualism and competition and status and all that to keep us motivated to continue working, and so there'd be no threat to the social fabric as it is today, but environmental stresses should be considerably reduced.

Storytelling could be another basis for an immaterial economy, and I'm sure there are others, and wonder what you all may think about this. How practical a notion it is. How the transformation could be catalyzed, etc.

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  • Jan 22 2013: Well, first off, the world does change. Think about entropy for a moment, and I'm sure you'll see what I mean.

    And, what I'm saying is that materialism is a values system. One which puts our planet's ecology out of balance when applied at the scale modern society is capable of. My notion/question is, can we substitute another values system in materialism's place.

    And I'm certainly not arguing about capitalism vs. communism or egalitarianism vs. elitism, though these are other good subjects to consider. Also not talking about the function or flaws of the current education system.

    Materialism has been deliberately promoted. Psychological advertising equating material success with social success for instance. Ooo! I want that car because I'll get a sexy girlfriend! Ooo! I want nice clothes so I'll be respected in the workplace! Can we instead advertise that some other kind of success is what we all really want? Instead of going to fancy restaurants or clubs where we spend lots of money for consumable goods, can we get to a place where instead we go to salons of conversation where all are both students and teachers gaining mutual respect while consuming minimal physical resources?

    And note again that in the above example I'm not trying to imply egalitarianism, certainly in these conversation salons some will be more talented than others, thereby gaining more respect, and so keeping the status system of motivation in tact. Not to go too far into an aside, but I do believe that we are motivated by comparisons, and if everybody is the same, there will be no motivation. Everybody is not the same, and so there will be comparative differences among us in any system that will provide motivation. Too much difference is not good either, though. But again, this is just an aside to help you understand better what I'm trying to say.

    Just this: can we substitute something immaterial in place of our currently materialistic economic systems?

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