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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 24 2013: Economic systems and spirituality are not mutually exclusive, in fact quite the opposite.

    The reality is that the product is a result of the cause, the individual. And the process of that cause creating the product is the pinnacle of the spirit, cause.

    If you get this no explanation is necessary if you don't no explanation is possible.
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    Jan 26 2013: .
    The easiest one is to quit INVALID happiness.
  • Jan 25 2013: I think Pat's right here. Products are created because of demand. True, our society manipulates us to be focused on material things, but it's not just that. Have you ever noticed that humans naturally want more stuff/fame/money/attention? Something to build themselves up and make themselves feel better. We get centered on ourselves. A self-centered society is a materialistic society by nature. Anything that doesn't change our tendency for self-centeredness will only change things on the surface. It sounds like you want people to be focused on a higher reward. Religion is your answer in my book. Real religion, not the scams put on by other self-centered men. But nobody seems to take religion seriously anymore. Oh well, you can't have your cake and eat it too.
  • 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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    Jan 23 2013: As you mention storytelling, would you consider the ever more popular hobby of blogging in this category? Personal creative work being shared online? Chatrooms?

    I don't know whether these count as "immaterial economy," exactly, but they have boomed as a way of spending time.

    Those who spend lots of time reading things online (or in some cases watching television or listening to radio) are at once reading, listening, and learning. One person may have a different definition than another for knowledge, but knowledge or at least information gathering is a big part of modern life and modern recreation now.

    So I agree with Krisztian that this has all been happening and with Dennett that the increasing focus on doing things with meaning is evolution that is very well underway.
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    Jan 23 2013: this is ongoing. as the economy went from agriculture based to industry based to service based, this trend won't stop. in the future we can expect further marginalization of production, and further increase of services. but as services gets automatized, people can engage in all sort of activities never even existed before. i mean, try to explain the profession "relationship coach" to a peasant in 1200.

    but it will not be a single thing, like knowledge. just like we have literally billions of products, no reason to believe that we won't have billions or trillions of services satisfying similar amount of desires. to disappoint you a little, i believe the "knowledge market" will always be a niche market. entertainment will dwarf everything else.
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    Gail .

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    Jan 23 2013: I am pretty convinced that in my lifetime, I will see significant transformation in the direction of which you speak. (And I am 62).

    How could such a transformation be catalyzed? Mathematically, our current global fiscal model is unsustainable. That it is unsustainable on its own is bad enough, but that we now live with a war-based economy makes things far worse. The catalyst will manifest of necessity. Then, when money no longer has an value, we can devise another system to act as the social glue.

    I''ve seen the beginnings of the transformation already. People from around the globe are waking up. By "waking up", I mean becoming self-aware. I thank the Internet in large part for that. As people become more self-educated, they are able to put pieces together that used to seem disjointed and non-related. Also, as people become more separated from their families and communities, they are looking inward and finding that which has always been missing in their lives.

    I believe that after the fall, the awakened ones will be our next leaders - but they will lead by example, not by herding the sheeple.

    Just my take
  • 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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    Jan 23 2013: So, is what Adam Curtis say in his book stated as a theory?

    Because there are various reasons floating around out there as to why the world is in the condition that it is in.

    Until we really come to an understanding of the real reason the world is the way it is, I would imagine that any kind of man made solution or fix would be only temporary.

    I will have to look up Curtis' book and read it.
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    Jan 22 2013: There may be significant differences in different parts of the world in aspirations among the young, for example, while each of us may assume what we see in the way of goals at home is what one could expect to see anywhere.

    The only legitimate comparison is among those who already have the basic essentials of life in hand, because those who are worried about finding shelter or the next meal will surely focus there first- on the material needs of existence.

    A couple of days ago, I was listening to a feature on Al Jazeera about the call center industry in the Philipines. A couple of academics were expressing concern that young and capable people in the Philipines were focused on getting a well-paying though not learning-oriented job at the call centers rather than pursuing degrees that would entail more challenge but lower pay if the person were to remain in the Philipines. One of these academics compared the students doing technical and academic studies he had worked with in California and those he worked with in the Philipines. He said the students in the US are interested in having INTERESTING lives and careers, being innovators- that is what they talk about and what they see as the goals in getting an education. Meanwhile the kids in the Philipines talk about the good jobs.

    Daniel Dennett in his TED talk claims that we have already moved as a species to seeking meaning in our lives rather than things in our lives. People still acquire things along the way but this is not what they are working for. The rise in the industries/activities of ecotourism and voluntourism are examples.

    Along those lines, sometime in the last year I read an article analyzing the spending of the wealthy. The article noted that the wealthy were emphasizing experience- travel, adventure, good health, and so forth (all of which is very accessible if one is affluent). People assume the wealthy are always shopping for stuff, but experience has replaced stuff.
  • 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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    Jan 22 2013: Great idea; but considering the way the world works one could easily deduce that the more things seem to change the more they remain the same.
    There would always be a mass of people that would be pulled here and there by the strings of materialism and ever-changing trends; then there would be people who would be guided by wisdom (the right and ethical application of knowledge) and the pursuit of excellence.

    Most people go to school not because they really want to learn and grow, but so that they can get a certificate and get a well-paying job. That is why a mass of school graduates blame teachers for their mediocrity after school.
    Mediocrity is more common than excellence; that is how the world is. Like a pyramid the top is only for the exceptional, patient, curious and persistent; while the bottom, for a lot of people!
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      Jan 23 2013: Your statement that "mediocrity is more common than excellence" brought to mind this little gem of a talk, in black and white, from 1972......Have you seen it before on TED?

      Dr. Frankl offers a wonderful illustration on how to get humans to work at full potential. Enjoy!!