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Crass Materialism

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Simone Weil Princeton Theological Seminary Public Domain

Crass Materialism

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Richard Girard

I have been writing an awful lot of consequential articles this year, in terms of subject matter, complexity, and size. My articles last year averaged a little over 3000 words. This year they are averaging over 4600 words each.

Part of the reason is that this year's articles have tended to involve my thinking out loud as I write; being uncertain where an article is going to end up when I start it. Given some of the subjects--Marxism, human trafficking, education, philosophy and government--it could hardly be otherwise.

Yet, in the end gentle reader, I hope that you have found these articles both worthwhile and entertaining. I also hope that they have made you think, whether you wanted to or not. If these articles have made you question your preconceptions and biases, even for a moment, then I have succeeded beyond my wildest dreams.

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The world that we live in is neither simple to explain, nor is it easy to live in. The rules that we are told by society we must live by are not the rules by which the most materially successful members of our world live. As I mentioned in my November 15, 2012 OpEdNews article, "Marxism for Fun and Profit ," Sitting Bull, the great Hunkpapa Sioux leader, saw the contradiction in the values of our "leaders" and the average American:

"Strangely enough, they have a mind to till the soil, and the love of possession is a disease in them. These people have many rules that the rich may break, but the poor may not. They have a religion in which the poor worship, but the rich will not! They even take tithes from the poor and weak to support the rich and those who rule. They claim this mother of ours, the Earth, for their own use, and fence their neighbors away from her, and deface her with their buildings and their refuse.

We cannot dwell side by side. Only seven years ago we made a treaty by which we were assured that the buffalo should be left to us forever. Now they threaten to take that from us also. My brothers, shall we submit? Or shall we say to them: 'First kill me, before you can take possession of our fatherland.'" (Sitting Bull, Tatanka Yotanka, "Behold My Friends, the Spring is Come;" Great Speeches by Native Americans; Robert Blaisdell, editor; New York, Courier Dover, 2000; p.166.)

It is a different, and in many ways much poorer world than the one Sitting Bull lived in a little more than a century ago. Our Mother, the Earth, is being crippled by our refuse to the point that many of her children, both plant and animal, can no longer survive in Her sheltering embrace. The greatest threat to human civilization is the billions of tons of carbon dioxide and other gases that we pour into our atmosphere every year, not nuclear weapons. Our carelessness threatens our coastlines and islands with rising seas, and our more marginal lands with becoming deserts. Here in Colorado, we live at the northern edge of the Sonoran Desert of Mexico. A few more years like 2012, and Denver's climate will become like that of Phoenix, but without the water rights purchased cheaply early in the Twentieth Century to sustain us. This last year, with its droughts and "Superstorm" Sandy, should be a warning to us all, but will most likely be ignored like all of our previous warnings.

What "previous warnings" you ask? Go out tonight and rent George Clooney's movie "A Perfect Storm." Hurricane Gilbert did exactly what Sandy did, except that it happened far enough out to sea that no one except fishermen, sailors, and a few oceanographers and climatologists noticed it. With the rise of sea levels due to ice caps melting, storms like Sandy may soon be the rule, not the exception. New York, Boston, Miami, New Orleans, Houston, Seattle, and Los Angeles (to name a few American cities), could easily become uninhabitable within a decade.

Noted economist John Maynard Keynes stated in the book Essays in Persuasion (1931; chapter 5, "The Future"), "For at least another hundred years we must pretend to ourselves and to everyone that fair is foul and foul is fair; for foul is useful and fair is not. Avarice and usury and precaution must be our gods for a little longer still." Keynes also argued that the "love of money," and all of the other vices associated with greed would have to continue until the world's economy has grown enough to satisfy human wants and provide the potential for removing poverty from the economic equation.

We can't afford to wait a century from when Keynes made his statement, now less than twenty years away. If we do, there may be no civilization left from which to "remove poverty;" only the impoverished dregs of what was once a scientifically advanced human culture, fighting over the remaining scraps. As Socrates observed two-and-a-half millennia ago, "Wars and revolutions and battles are due simply and solely to the body and its desires. All wars are undertaken for the acquisition of wealth; and the reason why we have to acquire wealth is the body, because we are slaves in its service." (Quoted from Plato's Phaedo, section 65c--66e.) With almost nothing left, the survivors may be fighting for everything with nuclear weapons.

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Our materialistic society is proving destructive of humanity's best interests. Whether you wish to use the free market materialism of the Austrian and Chicago Schools of Economics, or the dialectic materialism of Karl Marx's Communism, neither is providing the answers we need for our future survival. When you put things ahead of people, it will always prove destructive of the needs of humankind--both individually and collectively--and of the dignity of the human race itself. Marx at least had a noble motive behind his ideas: the opportunity for everyone to fully develop their human potential. The followers of von Mises, von Hayek, and Friedman simply desire to create a world in which social Darwinism was codified, and a permanent class system of rich and poor established.

Materialism in any form is easy to sell to the average person, even one who imagines himself to be deeply spiritual, whether the faith is in God or in some amorphous, inexplicable future. These are the reasons the spiritual descendants of John Calvin--and to some extent Martin Luther--use the beliefs of "predestination" and "the elect" to such devastating effect upon their sheep-like Fundamentalist followers. If you are not wealthy, it is because you are not right with God.

So, is there an alternative to this materialism?

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Richard Girard is an increasingly radical representative of the disabled and disenfranchised members of America's downtrodden, who suffers from bipolar disorder (type II or type III, the professionals do not agree). He has put together a team to (more...)

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