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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: @ Fritzie, yes I consider all of those as non-material economies.

    As an aside, the "Spiritual" in the topic title for me refers to storytelling, that's my religion. Used to call myself athiest until I realized what religion really is. A community sharing good stories that help us answer the question "what should I do in this situation" by substituting "what should the Hero do?" This is exactly what Christians mean by "what would Jesus do?" Joseph Campbell of course helped me to understand this.

    And in response to the suggestions that this transition is already happening and is inevitable, you may be right. But this thought process is too close to apathy for me to be entirely comfortable with it. Though, I've been guilty of this sort of apathy too much myself. I used to try to make the world a better place through activism, working for non-profits, organizing communities, etc., and when I ran into one obstacle too many and gave up trying, I rationalized it to myself saying well, change is inevitable and will happen without my active participation. Time for me to take a break.

    I guess to answer my own question, the thing I think we can all do to help this transition along isn't to look inward and make ourselves better people, but to seek out and support communities of people who are coming to a similar awareness. Just finding it rather tough at present to identify and join such a community.
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      Jan 24 2013: I wasn't arguing that everyone needs to sit on sidelines and wait for whatever they are waiting for. Rather, I think that in policy debates, it is useful to have a good idea of where we are- what the status quo is.

      Let's say we have a path that starts at A, with B and C on the route and we are ultimately aiming for, tending toward, or hoping for G. A lot of energy can be wasted talking about how horrible A is if we actually are at C but people think we are still at A.

      I think when people discuss lots of important policy issues far from the trenches, they mistakenly believe we are at A when we are at C. Those who want to make a difference can do more for change if they get acquainted with C than if they keep talking about A.

      For example, people not involved in lower education often believe that classrooms across the nation are lecture driven. This is no longer standard, though it is true in some places. Schools have changed since those who are now fifty or sixty were children.

      Honestly, I think there is a widespread acceptance that satisfaction derives from doing things that are meaningful and having interesting experiences and good relationships. What is true also, though, is that people have a habit of acquiring stuff along the way that doesn't really fit into the picture. It is a little bit like the way many people eat when there is food at hand, not out of greed but out of habit.

      Lots of people pinched by recession learned to curb shopping habits. In the US, lots of people could stand to cut back on lots of purchases, though this would reduce jobs in the industries that meet that demand. The people who lose those jobs are not necessarily a good fit for jobs that might be needed if people shifted to other activities and recreations.

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