Okay. We all know the concept of “being a materialist is bad.” People should not be given over to inordinate desires. And people should not assume only what we see is real. It is not a safe assumption. One must prove it is true. But what about an inordinate desire for materialism itself? Can a person fall into a trap trying to prove a point to the last person who does not accept it?
Not A Good Materialist
I do not make useful assumptions. Let me give you one example. I worked in a Waldenbooks Store in the middle 1980’s. I taught myself about bestselling works. After all, I want to be a writer. Learning what sold could help me know what to write. Then I received an order that changed my mind.
I checked in six hardcover books from Naval Institute Press. The publisher was known for technical works on all things nautical. In East Tennessee, we only had the TVA lakes on the Tennessee river to navigate. I did not understand why the buyers placed an order with this publisher for us. I looked read the dust-cover blurb and saw it was a work of fiction. The cover was an unattractive gray – like US Navy ships. I could not believe I would have to find shelf space for a book no one was going to buy. The title was good though. It read The Hunt for Red October.
Almost forty years later I have not forgotten that goof on my part. In the grand scheme of things, my assumption was inconsequential. We sold all the copies. And we kept a list of people asking for new ones. I learned two lessons. My assumptions even based on what I knew to be true could still be wrong. And they did not necessarily make that great an impact on things. Materialism as a philosophical position relies on the methods I used.
Human being have bodies. Rather, human beings are bodies. Everything tangible about us is part of the material world of experience. Our bodies produce energy to move, maintain life, and even run its autonomic functions. We consume and convert what is consumed into the stuff we make energy from. Our brains are resilient but subject to injury and will stop working when the energy stops being produced. We are material.
Biological processes have requirements. This means our brains understand needs. We have materialist needs. But out brains work beyond fulfilling our needs. We develop intangible wants due to the reinforcement provided by the reward mechanisms within our brains. Addiction is a neurological disorder. It is an example of something going very wrong with the normal function of the brain. When addiction is interrupted the quality of the brain known as neuro-elasticity allows the brain to reconfigure itself.
This is fascinating. The brain repairs itself by using an intangible tool. Addicts avoid using their drug of choice and develop strategies to reinforce the avoidance. Prayer, meditation, spiritual reading, or writing allows the brain to fulfill the material needs to repair itself.
Obsessions, like addiction, are also disorders of the brain. They are more difficult to understand. One does not remove a substance to begin the reordering of the brain. Changes in behavior are necessary though. Just like an addict must change many behaviors including avoiding the substance, the materialist obsessions end with practices that say “enough is as good as a feast.”
Enough is intangible. But enough things are tangible. What is the difference? The brain is programmed by spiritual discipline and education to learn satisfaction. Materialist philosophy wrestles with why this works. The benefit appears to be more than survival. The benefit is a new way of relating to material stuff. It is an intangible benefit. Our oldest ethical and spiritual philosophies developed the idea of enough. The ancient practitioners did not know the material processes of the body that explained how their ideas worked out for the benefit of people. But humans developed roads before we built vehicles. We made the roads to make our vehicles more efficient. How did ancient spirituality improve humanity?