A Sleepless Christmas Eve

26 Jan

(I began to write this blog during a sleepless Christmas Eve night in the hospital. I have no idea what the connection is between my situation and the subject of the blog, but I wrote energetically—in the middle of the night.)

Crass materialism is a worldview and a way of life that has taken hold of our society in a troubling manner. Materialism has been with us forever, but in recent decades it seems to have become our public philosophy. This worldview narrows our perspective on human life, to what we can see, touch, and handle. It is a one dimensional view of reality that eliminates depth and larger meanings for life. Science goes against this worldview when it shows that the material world is more amazing and complex than it appears on the surface, but science cooperates with materialism in its focus on the natural world that we can manipulate and use for our own purposes.
Crass materialism is a worldview of the surface, not the depth. Herbert Marcuse offered a critique of this world view in his 1964 book, One Dimensional Man.

A second feature of crass materialism is that it measures human life and human beings in terms of their productivity and profitability. The two great world views of the 20th century, capitalism and communism, shared this way of measuring humans: their material productivity and their ability to contribute to the economic life of society. This is revealed in the changing manner in which the working force is evaluated in the life of business. No longer is the workforce a community of human beings, rather it is considered to be a business expense. And as with all other costs of business the point is to reduce it to a minimum. In his new book, Grasping the Hebrew Bible, Robert Butterfield writes about the significance of the seventh day of creation as the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a powerful testimony that humans are not exhaustively measured by their working life Monday through Friday. There is more to human life, and the Sabbath points to that “more.” It is no surprise that our economic system long ago erased the distinction between the work days of the week and the Sabbath.

Crass materialism offers a picture of humans who cannot and should not transcend the material world, and then it claims that this is the only world—this is all there is.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote: “Once you give up survival at any price, then you learn the most valuable thing in life is the development of the soul.”

When I started writing this, I was tightly bound into the world of medical science, and I was hoping with all my being that it would succeed in helping me. Our healthcare system is based on the premise that our material life should be extended as much as possible. It teaches us that survival is the goal, and makes it very difficult for us to follow Solzhenitsyn’s wisdom.

Yet there must be voices that remind us that there is more than the material world—otherwise we lose our souls. There must be a “counter culture,” if you will. Religion is part of that counter culture. So are the concerns that go beyond the highly praised STEM areas—science, technology, engineering, and math. The humanities, poetry, literature, music and the arts point us beyond one-dimensionality. Perhaps my awareness, in the hospital, that my material body is weak and impermanent, is what moved me to write this.

The counter culture is beleaguered at the moment. Our economic system is ever-more pushed in the direction of what the French call “American ‘savage’ capitalism.” Religion is scoffed at. Some leaders argue that non-STEM studies should be discouraged in schools and colleges. But there is more than one dimension to our lives. Let the counter culture flower!

(c) Phil Hefner January 25, 2018

One Response to “A Sleepless Christmas Eve”

  1. Richard Busse January 26, 2018 at 1:01 pm #

    Hi Phil: Hope you are feeling better. Good to here Bob Butterfield is writing interesting books. The same materialism you write about infects the law. In bankruptcy, you are not a person but a debtor. In divorce, the main issue is dividing the property. In child custody, people fight over child support, i.e. the money, even though the law states the best interest of the child is the bottom line. Our taxes are cut so we can have 1000 more dollars in our pocket, instead of funding health , or environmental, or arts programs. And yes we need more money for the military to protect all this material gain. I heard Joe Biden say the same thing you said above– we (Americans) have lost our soul. He’s right, your’re right. But I think the counter culture may be stronger than you suggest. Folks are resisting. People seek mystery, ecstasy, selflessness, richness, flow (remember Mihaly Csikszentmihaly). (See also Stealing Fire, by Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal). The search however takes place not through traditional institutions, but counter culture festivals like Burning Man.

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