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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 23 2013: Something that I'm assuming is that all the material needs of everybody on the planet could be provided for with perhaps 10% of the total global economy. Food, shelter, basic health care. I'd like to see the other 90% of the economy shifted away from material goods. A big chunk of that 90% is energy used for personal transportation, manufacture of goods, and transportation of goods. Much of this can be reduced through localization. Resource sharing to reduce number of cars per capita and things like that.

    But I'm not really trying to ferret out details of how to reduce material consumption, I'm trying to look at the possibility of shifting aspirations away from material concerns. Yes, experience is good, kind of falls into the education theme I was looking at.

    And Century of the Self is a BBC documentary, shouldn't be hard to find.

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