Posts Tagged ‘materialism’

How Material Are We?

“ ‘Cause everybody’s living in a material world / And I am a material girl,” Madonna sang in 1984. It’s a common refrain, that we are materialistic – obsessed with wealth and goods and consuming – in ways unheard of an earlier eras. But it was heard of in earlier eras.


by Juliet B. Schor

Clearly, Americans of the 21st century have more and consume more than Americans 100 or 200 years ago did. That the closets of old Victorian homes hardly begin to store the stuff that today’s middle-class family owns testifies to that. Yet, because more Americans can afford more things than their ancestors could does not necessarily mean that they are more obsessed with things. (Indeed, one stream of social science research talks about modern people as being “post-materialist” – e.g., here.) For those concerned with a too material world, there are social movements and web sites devoted to pursing the simple life, seeking “freedom from stuff and over-consumption” (e.g., here). This, too, has precedent: some people looked for the simple life in the 19th century. [1] (more…)

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Money and Character

One of the criticisms that foreigners (and many of us, too) have long had about Americans, going back to the earliest years, is how materialist and money-grubbing we are. Tocqueville was gentler than most when he wrote that “the desire to acquire the good things of this world is the dominant passion among Americans. . . . .”

Fed Reserve

In the early 20th century, an Egyptian civil servant visiting the U.S. wrote that “Americans measure man by his income, according to his bank balance, and this wave of idolatry is spreading from America to the rest of the world.” (Sayyid Qutb would later be the major intellectual source of the Moslem Brotherhood and Al Qaeda.)

Such valuing of money would seem to contradict the American principle that people ought to be valued for their character, not by what they have.

The tension between money and character, between money and human relationships, has bothered Americans for a long time. We don’t know whether to celebrate money or hide it.


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