If you haven’t yet found it, I highly recommend the new UK site The Philosopher’s Mail. It’s a news site, much like the tabloid-heave Daily Mail, but it’s written entirely by philosophers. Think celebrity gossip and pop culture news with a reflective and entertaining twist, with stories like: “Love shortage drives Shia LaBeouf nuts” or “Larry Page, Google CEO, tortures us with his jeans“. Brilliant, but funny stuff right?
Today’s article, “200mph Ferrari California launched. Buyers not greedy show offs, just vulnerable fragile big infants in need of affection” struck me as particularly Mockingbird worthy.
We know, because we hear it so often, that we live in a crazily materialistic society where people buy luxury goods because they are greedy.
But this is far from being true. The motivation is in fact, in general, more emotional and touching. We invest in luxuries because we want people to be nice to us. We live in a world of snobs, where we are treated nicely in so far as we can show quite quickly that we are ‘doing well’, and we are ignored and patronised when we aren’t able to demonstrate rank and power. It isn’t the luxury goods we want, so much as the kindness they are a conduit to.
…The existence of the luxury goods industry is testimony to a trauma. It is the result of hundreds of thousands of people who feel pressured by the fear of the coldness of others to add an extraordinary amount to their bare selves in order to signal that they too may lay a claim to love. It is fuelled by people who feel (and they’re not wrong) that their chances of being treated with respect will increase if they take the extra precaution of acquiring a high powered job, a Ferrari, a Chanel bag, a Montcler jacket, an Omega watch and an Oswald Boateng suit.
The point is a simple one, yet easy to overlook beyond the rage of our own envy. Rich people need love just like everyone else; they just have more resources at their disposal to worship the “religions that are not religions”, as PZ has called them. The new Macbook is the idol to which we bow in the hopes that others might impute to us esteem, if not love. It worked when we were children, right? The neighbor with the new swimming pool was instantly the most popular kid on the block. Our greed is not itself the problem and berating it will not only leave one angry, but lonely. The real issue instead is much, much deeper and it’s one we all suffer from.
If our materialism is merely a desire for love by proxy, then that the quest for more and more things is one that is destined to fail from the word go. That’s not to saw that there isn’t any real joy in a new purse. Only that so often the enjoyment one receives from “things” unwittingly become a new identity marker to Instagram to a world we hope will reciprocate with affirmation. Of course, it’s not enough to simply know that one needs love and seeks it out in destructive way. And this is, perhaps, the place where Christianity has something to offer. As Augustine famously said, “Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee”. That new video game system may look like everything you ever wanted, but if (since) it’s love you’re looking for, it might be best to look elsewhere.
Cue the Beatles: