What Went Wrong and What We Can Do About It (Vision of Utopias)

FEBRUARY 7, 2016

From conversation today with SB

  • Functional materialist age: we want more material things such as food, washing machines, cars because of the impact on our well-being: we do not go hungry, we do not do tedious physical labour. Key point that this demand shows sharply diminishing returns: once you have enough food you do not need that much more. What can you do with more than one car per person etc.
  • What happens when you “succeed” in this area? You enter an age of abundance.
  • What happens in an age of abundance? Two paths:
    • Status materialist age: you want material goods in order to have status and define your identity. This need is essentially limitless because:
      • Status is a comparison / relative good. Red-queen style / keeping up with the jones. You need to run faster and faster to stay in the same place.
      • Identity is somewhat similar in that what is needed to “belong” or define yourself can keep evolving and, in particular, increasing. In part, this is necessary since identity is defined against an other who must be excluded from your belonging. In addition, identity is, in part, a creation of advertising and the sponsors have an interest in even increasing what you need.
      • cf Veblen, Theory of the Leisure Class etc.
    • Post-materialist age: focus on non-material goods - wisdom, knowledge, self-development.
  • At the moment we are heading towards status-materialist age but we want a post-materialist age.
    • problem that post-materialists are vulnerable to aggressive acquisitiveness of status materialists if there are goods both need e.g. land, food. Even for goods post-materialists do not care about e.g. Prada handbags there is the problem that manufacturers of Prada handbags use up some of the shared resources e.g. factories use land, advertising uses internet bandwidth.