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The Gospel of Materialism

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I believe in materialism. I believe in all the proceeds of a healthy materialism – good cooking, dry houses, dry feet, sewers, drain pipes, hot water, baths, electric lights, automobiles, good roads, bright streets, long vacations away from the village pumps, new ideas, fast horses, swift conversations, theaters, opera, orchestras, bands – I believe in them all for everybody. The man who dies without knowing these things may be as exquisite as a saint, and as rich as a poet; but it is in spite of, not because of, his deprivation.

– Francis Hackett

The quotation is taken from the book “Economics” by Paul A. Samuelson and William D. Nordhaus (18th edition, page 577, publisher: Tata McGraw-Hill Publishing Co. Ltd.). As it is placed prominently at the beginning of a chapter, it must have had the concurrence of the late noble-laureate and one of the greatest economists of our times, Paul A. Samuelson.)

The writer in the quotation says that he believes into materialism and believes in all the proceeds and fruits of healthy materialism for everyone. Further on he says that one who has not experienced and known it can be as exquisite as a saint, and as rich as a poet but that is not simply because of their deprivation of these things. Simply being deprived of material benefits does not make one a saint or poet. You can be one in spite of your deprivation. Here it seems that the writer is implying that materialism and its proceeds do not affect and have not a very important role in your practice towards sainthood or being a poet. You can be any one of them even having materialism and all its fruits. Therefore, he concludes that materialism and its fruits should be for everyone. No one should be deprived of its fruits of good cooking, theaters, opera, orchestras, bands etc.

Before saying anything if we make an impartial observation and see the results of such a perception – it’s not so hard given that the world has been striving towards this for decades – we find that it has brought nothing but unhappiness, rising dissatisfaction and problems of grave concern that threaten the very existence of the human race. We have been so blinded by materialistic pursuit that we haven’t stopped even once and questioned its validity and wholesomeness despite the fact that following after it has brought anything but real welfare. From the most material to the psychological level we are worse off. If we see the state of services provided be it healthcare or education or administration, we are in a terrible condition. The service sector is plagued by an utter utilitarian spirit that does not have any regard for the quality of service being provided. The same is the case in the goods sector – rising degradation in the quality is what is prevalent everywhere. In all the fields, everywhere this utilitarian sprit is leeching away whatever possibility of good is there.

So why has the following after material benefits been so unhealthy and has left a bad taste in the mouth. It is because it is not the complete thing. It is a partial thing and in its center is a core of selfishness that drives this whole machinery. The only reference point that we seem to have is “what is in it for me”? We have built our whole social, political and economic infrastructure only on this principle. As Sri Aurobindo eloquently points it out in the following quotation, “This economic barbarism is essentially that of the vital man who mistakes the vital being for the self and accepts its satisfaction as the first aim of life. The characteristic of Life is desire and the instinct of possession. Just as the physical barbarian makes the excellence of the body and the development of physical force, health and prowess his standard and aim, so the vitalistic or economic barbarian makes the satisfaction of wants and desires and the accumulation of possessions his standard and aim. His ideal man is not the cultured or noble or thoughtful or moral or religious, but the successful man. To arrive, to succeed, to produce, to accumulate, to possess is his existence. The accumulation of wealth and more wealth, the adding of possessions to possessions, opulence, show, pleasure, a cumbrous inartistic luxury, a plethora of conveniences, life devoid of beauty and nobility, religion vulgarised or coldly formalised, politics and government turned into a trade and profession, enjoyment itself made a business, this is commercialism. …his idea of religion at best a pietistic formalism or the satisfaction of certain vitalistic emotions. He values education for its utility in fitting a man for success in a competitive or, it may be, a socialised industrial existence, science for the useful inventions and knowledge, the comforts, conveniences, machinery of production with which it arms him, its power for organisation, regulation, stimulus to production. The opulent plutocrat and the successful mammoth capitalist and organiser of industry are the supermen of the commercial age and the true, if often occult rulers of its society.

The essential barbarism of all this is its pursuit of vital success, satisfaction, productiveness, accumulation, possession, enjoyment, comfort, convenience for their own sake. The vital part of the being is an element in the integral human existence as much as the physical part; it has its place but must not exceed its place. A full and well-appointed life is desirable for man living in society, but on condition that it is also a true and beautiful life. Neither the life nor the body exist for their own sake, but as vehicle and instrument of a good higher than their own. They must be subordinated to the superior needs of the mental being, chastened and purified by a greater law of truth, good and beauty before they can take their proper place in the integrality of human perfection. Therefore in a commercial age with its ideal, vulgar and barbarous, of success, vitalistic satisfaction, productiveness and possession the soul of man may linger a while for certain gains and experiences, but cannot permanently rest. If it persisted too long, Life would become clogged and perish of its own plethora or burst in its straining to a gross expansion. Like the too massive Titan it will collapse by its own mass, mole ruet sua.” (CWSA 25: 80-81)

Francis Hackett clearly sees a human being as just this surface body with a vitalistic emotional being behind. His sight and ken do no go beyond this surface appearance of the human being. And hence he stresses on its wholesale satisfaction and believes that every person should have this. But in reality a human being is not just his physical and vital and mental parts. He is infinitely more than that. He is the soul behind, the divine in him. And the satisfaction and joy that the inner part, the soul brings is boundless and infinite and not like the enjoyment that comes upon satisfaction of vital part which is tepid, shallow and momentary. Even the satisfaction of a part little deeper in us brings infinitely more joy than all the materialistic fruits put together. The joy of serving the person you love. The joy of serving the nation. Thousands of freedom fighters laid down their life without a blink of the eye for their Motherland. Maharana Pratap rather than making a deal with Moguls, which would have given him a materially royal life of the palace, chose to stay in jungle and fight for his whole life. The revolutionaries, idealists lay down their life for their cause, for what they believe into. What drives them? What makes them leave behind all that the “materialistic pursuit” brings. It is that greater joy, that Ananda which is impossible to experience if we are limited and concentrated on this physical body and its satisfaction. This joy, this satisfaction is the result of following after a part only a little deeper in us, that is just behind this surface sheath. What greater joy and satisfaction the soul, the innermost part in us would bring!

As Sri Aurobindo says, “If mankind could but see though in a glimpse of fleeting experience what infinite enjoyments, what perfect forces, what luminous reaches of spontaneous knowledge, what wide calms of our being lie waiting for us in the tracts which our animal evolution has not yet conquered, they would leave all & never rest till they had gained these treasures. But the way is narrow, the doors are hard to force, and fear, distrust & scepticism are there, sentinels of Nature, to forbid the turning away of our feet from her ordinary pastures.” (CWSA 12: 423)

Now here we can find the greatest fallacy in the argument of Hackett. When we are so very engrossed in materialistic pursuits how can we hope to have all the joy that our higher parts bring us. Following after it bars us from following those higher pursuits and satisfactions. Both these things are not, if we can use the word, “compatible” with each other. And this, the writer has obviously failed to understand and hence he says that you can be on your way towards your sainthood even while having and enjoying the fruits that materialism brings us. The sane perception escapes him. Following after it will only add to the economic barbarism that is rampant everywhere, which is responsible for all the degradation around. The corrosion of moral and deeper values, naked barbaric selfishness has been the cost of such an endeavor. And such a system is ultimately bound to collapse; if we think that science can help us here we are fools. If anything, it is an agent to bring about a speedy end to things because its use and helpfulness entirely depends on the consciousness using it. And to expect a better outcome from an economic barbarian who is running after materialism is stupidity. And this is what meets our sight when we look around. Under such a scenario it is impossible that anything other than what we are seeing can happen. Even the materialistic fruits that the writer wishes for everyone is an impossibility now. Neither healthy goods nor services are possible now. If anything, they have become tools to deprive you of your well-being and happiness even of your outer physical being. If we see the above quotation in this light then we clearly see that, though very cleverly crafted, it is a stupid and false assertion that has nothing of the truth into it.

For a person seeking a deeper inner life, these things cannot be an attraction. These things fall into their right place as one moves towards that true thing. In themselves they can never be a source of attraction. It is only in the higher consciousness that one can have the capacity to properly handle even such things. When the soul is in the front, these things may become simply instruments for its play and manifestation unless their rejection altogether is deemed necessary in the case of some individuals.

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