That's what friends are for
Deprive modern man, [Heidegger] says in his Heraclitus lecture, of everything that entertains and holds him, ‘the cinema, the radio, the newspaper, the theatre, concerts, boxing bouts, travel’, and he would die of emptiness, since ‘simple things’ no longer appeal to him. In contemplative thinking, however, emptiness becomes an opportunity for ‘remembering Being’. At the climax of the war – ‘the planet is in flames’ – Heidegger reattunes himself to the great theme of his postwar philosophy, composure.
Rüdiger Safranski, Martin Heidegger: Between Good and Evil
We are living in a material world.
Madonna, Material Girl
It is hardly a revolutionary insight to point out that people are more materialistic now than at any point in history. And, just as the relentless consumers Westerners have become demand more and more from technology, so that dark and light phenomenon works tirelessly to supply those needs and hungers. The world is in the grip of a type of anti-Buddhism, an attachment to things and services probably unparalleled in history.
In a world where European immigrants riot because the broadband services gifted them by the countries they have selected are not fast enough, where a new iPhone is available every year and must be sought out and purchased on the day of its release, where soccer teams produce a new shirt design each season for which fans and the parents of fans must pay ever-increasing amounts, where people stampede one another in department stores to be the first at the gormless bazaar inside, where it is nothing for families to have two or more cars, and where devices and machines are rarely repaired in case of malfunction but simply replaced, are there still simple, non-materialistic pleasures and pursuits?
Now, this is not an exercise in virtue-signalling. I am more geared for vice-signalling, if anything. And so I am not putting on my guru outfit to deliver a lecture about gross and earthly pleasures. It is true that, when I left England, I also left about 80% of my worldly belongings in a crappy little apartment in Bermondsey belonging to the arseholes I had previously worked for, but that was their problem, never mine. The only things I regretted leaving were the books. I miss nothing else except a couple of pictures, and so I did not need those things.
Materialism is, like so much of life, learned behavior. Now, learned behaviour always sounds like such a wholesome thing, but often it is just the opposite. The junkie learns to fix himself up. The young street criminal learns how best to use a knife to stab someone. The politician learns the most effective ways to deceive the masses for personal and financial gain, and so on and so forth. The need for material goods is no different, and perhaps just as deleterious.
The main educators in this learning process are, of course, advertisers, and their classroom assistants are the peer group of the target market. The aim is simple; To turn ‘want’ into ‘need’.
It is over 60 years since Vance Packard’s seminal book The Hidden Persuaders but, in the main, his work on the psychological basis of advertising holds good now. To this subtle manipulation, however, has been added an element which relies heavily on the narcissism of contemporary consumers.
This is the age of high self-esteem. I distinctly recall, after the London riots of 2011 – caused by the fatal shooting of Mark Duggan, a black drug dealer police believed to be armed – hearing a hip young ‘psychologist’ on the BBC saying that the reason young black men rioted was because of ‘low self-esteem’. I almost soiled myself laughing. Anyone who has ever walked the streets of south London will be aware of the almost palpable smog of testosterone and braggadocio, surrounded as they will be by strutting cockerels preening their feathers, with the sort of self-image you might have expected from an Alexander the Great or a Maradona. Low self-esteem. Fuck off.
And this excessive and unwarranted self-esteem is, to an extent, spread across society. You’re incredible, culture tells the young. And whatever you believe is right. But you must have the right equipment.
The football (soccer) shirt example is a good one. I have spoken to several fathers of young sons – and, increasingly, daughters – who have bemoaned the fact that they have to buy the new shirt of their chosen team every season. And they are not cheap, but the consequences of failure to purchase this uniform are sever in terms of parent/child relations. Ridicule at school is the most-cited danger. So, being a good father no longer consists of moral rectitude and discipline and setting an example, but in making sure you are further impoverished by shelling out for a cynical marketing ploy. We are reminded of how Chinese people dressed under Mao Tse Tung.
It is not much different in London’s cities. There are three or four variations, but essentially everyone dresses the same. The hideous training shoe dominates. Anyone who wears a training shoe and is not running – I discount petty criminals here – will almost certainly not be rewarding company.
As for consumer products other than clothing, everyone is by now familiar with the experience of seeing a group of young people, not laughing and talking and experiencing one another as personalities, but gaping guppy-like into their phone screens, Nietzsche’s abyss in pocket-sized form.
Is there an alternative to this slave-like existence? Of course. Books. If you are reading this – apart from you, police cuntstable – then you are almost certainly readers, that is, real readers. Note how libraries have been progressively shut down in the UK over the past decade or two. Note how the US practice of employing ‘sensitivity readers’ to peruse would-be novelists’ efforts has been adopted in Britain. Note that there is no promotion of books in the UK unless it is some faddish nonsense.
Some of the greatest books I have ever read have come from charity shops – thrift shops in the USA – and for a small outlay you can furnish your room with a wonderful little library.
So forget about the next-generation iPhone, and tell your children and friends to do the same. For the same cost you, and they, can open a world whose existence is often unsuspected and unknown. Don’t buy new things, however shiny and beguiling. Buy new ideas.