Materialists and Idealists
In the first part of this essay I made some bold hypotheses and ended up with outrageous promises.
I will repeat then: The niche crisis is in itself not a problem, it is just an inevitable result. Therefore to handle it we have to find the cause. I think that the cause, broadly speaking, is the cognitive dysfunction of our civilization. We can correct this, but in order to do that we need to start with the conversation, maybe even create a new language, new set of metaphors and mythology. This is part 2.
Part 3 will start the conversation about the promises of the new beautiful world.
I thought that this cognitive dysfunction has to do with the eternal distinction between materialists and idealists.
I checked a few philosophy texts, some psychology sources and of course: Google. It all left me befuddled. Nothing fitted the bill.
- The philosophy was as always useless; neither early materialists like Democritus and Thales, or late like Marx and Engels were really materialistic, nor idealists like Plato or Hegel were helpful. The primordial sin of our civilization must be somewhere else.
- If it is a sin, maybe the religion would do the trick? Oh, I don’t mean the trick they do with humanity for the last 50 000 years. I mean the elusive distinction of believers vs nonbelievers- i.e. idealists vs materialists. But, no, all of them, fundamentalists, atheists, humanists, all of them want to be good and all are greedy and all want their kids to be successful.
- Big psychology- Myer-Briggs tests and others- and folk psychology tell me : materialists are bad (that’s for sure) and unhappy.
-they give babies coca-cola instead of milk.
-they murder to steal money or nice jacket or even sneakers.
-their science is wrong: Newtonian, solid brick and mortar , not relativity and “observer’s Universe”.
– they are behind technology, corporations, gadgets and consumerism.
-among the believers, the materialists are the worst: literal scriptures, real and factual, sacred rights, holy wars and xenophobia.
So, idealists must be good: they live frugally, don’t eat meat, like theater and poetry, hiking, nature, meditation, praying and dancing.
Mahatma Gandhi, Princess Diana, Oprah and Albert Schweizer-
We need to be like them, but we can’t , why?
All of these famous idealists were driven, obsessed by a humongous overwhelming ideas, usually not very happy, crazy overachievers, rather miserable “I will show them” people.
We all good normal people cannot be like them, do we actually want our children to be like that?
The research shows that typical materialists and famous rich materialists were not so happy and if they were happy it was the idealist part of them which did it. Like philanthropy of Rockefeller and Gates. And making material achievements a priority in life actually make self expression and good relationships more difficult.
So, we want our children (and ourselves) to be happy first. Then we have to find the way to be happy without hurting the planet.
These distinctions require thinking. Thinking and discussions and role-modeling. It looks that it is not switching from materialist to idealist that is necessary- it would be impossible anyway.
What is necessary and doable is noticing how indoctrinated we are by generations of automatic concepts of success, meaning of life and happiness. Well paying job, good house, fast car and a pretty woman. It is a very one sided picture of the American Dream, which is actually a dream of most of the people in the world.
And how did we get like that? Evolution and ethology ou secours ! Animals are not materialists, their brains are full of behaviors( for the observer, like Jane Goodall watching her chimpanzees),for them ( say, chimpanzees) they are experiences. The trick is to avoid bad experiences like pain, hunger or fear and maximize good experiences- satiation, control, safety even belonging. Not much different than us, humans. Hominids, also hunter-gatherers, lived in more or less egalitarian societies, where the leader, usually male, possessed very little, except for mates.
50 to 10 thousand years ago communication became language. In our search for the origins of materialism, there was one moment that was pivotal. Animals and hominid’s “language” follow their world of experiences. It describes behaviors (experiences), even sometimes complex ones like bees dance, crows teaching children about bad people and butterflies astral navigation, still behaviors. And then, at the toddler stage of our civilization, something happened to humans. I said “toddler” because, as a pediatrician, I observed the same magic hundreds and hundreds of times. A 15 month old human infant is a pretty complex being. She can talk a little, but she understands a lot, she knows her surroundings, she even mastered the skill called “object permanence”. She knows pretty much how the world around works, what is anger and fear and sadness, the hunger and the bliss of cuddling with mom. But, your dog or even a crow in your yard can do all of these. And then, out of blue, your child will point to the pineapple on the table: “What’s that , Daddy?”
And an abyss opened, a huge difference between humanity and all known sentient and artificial beings. Only humans can ask for the name of an object not related to any function or behavior.
Interestingly, more or less at the same time we developed society with haves and have nots, and having was better, and the thing to have to be on the top were, well, things. What was first, naming objects or materialistic society? I don’t know, but what is important is that it happened recently, materialism is not in our genes.
We need another renaissance chapter in our civilization. With our technology and advances in knowing the human mind we can make a better renaissance than the original Italian One. A mixture of materialism, idealism, humanism and all what is needed to take care of this planet. We can do it, but it will take new conversation on being authentic, on working on one’s personal unique worldview and on creating unique , personal mythology. James P. Carse in the “The religious case against belief” argues for this conversation, for questioning. It is what the real religious people ( read: happy, authentic, mature) do- reject belief, use the paradigm and language of their religion just for one, but all important purpose – to question the world. To find the meaning, the worldview, the happiness. Well, not to find, to journey on finding it.
This conversation, this work will lead to a new curriculum, more on that unknown black hole in Part 3.