Wake up in the morning and open your eyes wide. See the beauty in the world, smile and give thanks. See the ugly in the world, weep; then refuse to let it win. Do this and a life will be lived.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Brother, can you spare a dime?

I am perplexed by mankind’s burning desire to conquer and possess. In the modern world, we relentlessly pursue financial and material gain, forging ahead with no real insight into the future. We run in circles chasing paper. Family and friends are left in the dust as shiny cars and fancy things become an ever increasing priority. We shut out the impoverished, labeling low income citizens lazy or worse yet, diminishing their value with Darwin’s soulless survival of the fittest rule.
How did this happen? Is materialism a sign of the times, a symptom of spiritual withdraw? Can consumerism and ethics coexist? Can we want more without wanting too much, and if that is the case, who defines what is too much?
I do not consider myself a materialistic person. I don’t live or die by trends in manufactured goods. I consistently put my loved ones before things and dollar signs. Still, who am I to judge corporate millioniares? They turn a blind eye, but ultimately, so do I. I delight in owning multiple handbags while children go without a good pair of shoes. I sleep in a king sized bed; knowing full well homeless shelters are overpacked. I go out to eat, finish half my plate and let the rest be thrown away. I own more shirts than I can wear in a week. I do all of this knowing it fulfills a want, not a need. Does that make me materialistic?
If I'm materialistic, every middle class American born post industrial revolution is materialistic. We are all guilty of want. However much we volunteer, however much we donate to charity, we are still living way beyond our needs. Does that make us fundamentally wrong?
In recent years, some have chosen to turn their backs completely on industry and capitalism, certain living in candlelight and wearing hemp pants will save the world. I understand the sentiment but I don't agree with the position. If we take such a drastic approach, we lose sight of the good side of progress. It's like saying we are all better off living off the land; then dying at twenty-five without ever having read a book. It's nice in theory but do we really want to go back there?
Industry changed the world by making the impossible possible. New technologies paved roads to important feats in human history. Where would modern medicine be without technology? Scientific discoveries, space exploration, travel, all of these things were made possible by industry. Industry made it possible to communicate across the world. Consequently, we have a greater understanding of the human condition, which is what leads us to question ourselves in the first place.
Then, there's capitalism. Capitalism is a free economic system. It proclaims everyone free to work hard, to create their own wealth, to buy and to sell. The system is in itself idealistic. It was intended to make things better.
The system isn't the problem. Industry isn't the problem. Technological advances aren't the problem.
So, what is the problem? Why are people obsessed with bank accounts and possessions? Well, I can't officially answer, but I certainly have an opinion.
The problem is treating capitalism like a religion. Material things were not meant to and can not fulfill the human spirit. When people attempt to ease their aching soul with cash, they never succeed. So, they keep trying. They always want more. The more they want, the more they are willing to do to get it. The cycle creates pain and poverty, where growth and progress should be.
Modern life isn't perfect and will never be Utopian. Life on earth is poetically flawed. Bad comes with the good. We can only do our best to embrace progress and still maintain our values.
The most important thing is that we start from the heart. If God is at the center of our hearts, we will not be overwhelmed by greed. We will instead devote our energies to balancing human progress and spiritual health. We will no longer pave gold roads to nowhere. We will pave sturdy roads to a brighter future.