Is Materialism the Eighth Sin?

Writers and philosophers tell us that the great vacuum inside our beings can be filled with spiritual pursuit, work and love. However, somewhere down the line people realized that a Sony 65-inch Ultra HD Smart T.V is easier to acquire than enlightenment and infinitely less troublesome than love. And the best part is that it’s available on easy instalments. The purchase high doesn’t last, they say. Your assets won’t pass by your eyes in your final moments; the endearing memories shared with family and friends will. But material objects don’t disappoint you like people do so you’re more likely to distract yourselves with them than focus on complicated relationships while living in a flawed society. Let’s address the fact that the sentient and material worlds are intricately intertwined and it is no longer possible to be content with only one of the above. Purchasing power matters, so it is hardly possible to have a family and be content with family bonding alone. From education to experiences, one has to spend more to get more. No wonder we have begun to believe that our chance at being happy increases if we can buy the best things in life. Even harmonious family life sometimes depends on big splurges.

Besides, we live in the midst of commercial chaos. Advertisements are everywhere. They’re flashing on billboards or buzzing as messages and emails (that unnecessarily address you in the first-person) in your inbox. Social media has taken it to a whole new level. I’m afraid to linger on a random object like an inflatable boat out of idle curiosity because the next time I pick up my phone to read an article, an inflatable boat will pop up to woo me. I’m never going to need it but the digital world is confident that I can be brainwashed. I miss the days when I could read an article on the Fiji Islands from a magazine stack at my dentist’s clinic without all the resorts in Fiji hounding me for days. I used to be able to leave that sparkly pair of sandals, the billionaire’s wedding celebration and the actor’s extravagant apartment behind when I put the magazine back on the rack. Now these people, events and things haunt me every time I pick up my phone.

Over and above these temptations, celebrities and influencers tell us what to buy. We tend to ignore the professional make-up and hair, the colour coordinated backdrop, the designer outfit, the aesthetic angle of their cameras and zero in instead on the expensive wristwatch they’re plugging. It is never going to make you feel half as happy as you think it will but the illusion compels you to dip into your savings. Most of the time people believe, ‘If I buy it, everyone will know I can afford it and that makes me happy.’ It’s a superficial ego boost but a prerequisite in this era of image-building.

We have begun to think of our wants as needs. If I look at my surroundings, I see several objects I thought I needed. I had to have a new saree for an upcoming event. Also, a lipstick to go with it because it was the exact shade of pink as opposed to the other six shades of pink lipsticks I own. I couldn’t resist a new improved foundation because -uff- my previous one cakes up. I have an assortment of mugs, miscellaneous scented candles and a couple of crystal decanters I’ve never used. Without much thought I press the ‘add to cart’ button, wait for the package to arrive and enjoy the new purchase till it gathers dust in my home. If it has to be exchanged, I waste precious time organizing it. Leo Tolstoy wrote, ‘That which constitutes the cause of the economic poverty of our age is what the English call over-production (which means that a mass of things are made which are of no use to anybody, and with which nothing can be done).’ Yet, I live in the time of psychological pricing with price tags that read 999/- or pass by department stores with posters that scream, ‘Buy 1 get 1 free.’ And oh, how I Iove the ‘Flat 50% off’ sales banners. It’s another matter of concern that once I enter the shop, I usually like something from the new collection.

Some of the best advertisement campaigns sell goods by convincing consumers that a product- handbag, perfume, car- can be life-changing. Imagine feeling differently about yourself by buying an object; not by reading a poem or a book or by having a conversation with your grandmother or learning a life skill. We are sold on the idea that objects can fulfil emotional needs. Regardless of gender or economic status we see people reaching out for retail therapy at both, street markets and upscale malls. Like it or not, consumerism is here to stay. Relationships are challenging with growing intolerance and independence, holding on to jobs can be stressful and people find it hard to make time for soul-searching. We have little hope when spirituality has also been packaged in a promotional format. Spiritual retreats resemble luxurious spas. The soul has become a bit weary and craves tangible comforts to soothe it.  Acquiring shiny new items acts as a stress buster, a quick fix. Yet I can’t help but wonder: Is materialism a sin? Are we doomed to struggle forever in this consumerist society? These are rhetorical questions. After all, it’s the twenty first century and the world doesn’t condone judgement anymore.

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