Thursday, March 22, 2012

Thoughts of a Materialist

I am a materialist. In the past that would be putting myself down. It would be confessing that I was shallow, attentive to consumer goods at the expense of spiritual and intellectual pursuits. Being a materialist means something different to me now—more like keeping engaged to the physical world and appreciating the beauty in objects. On a superficial level, my materialism is expressed through the appreciation of vinyl records, with their often creative covers, well-written and informative liner notes, and high-quality mastering. MP3s and other digital music formats don’t exist in a physical world. Our engagement to the music has been reduced to an immaterial context. The way music is presented now provides fewer opportunities for creativity.

Another example of the contrast between the material and immaterial worlds we live in are childhood war games. As a boy, I often played war games with other boys in the neighborhood. We would use construction sites or the woods as battlefields. We used baseball bats as rifles, empty beer cans discarded by construction workers as grenades. We had to make up a narrative and adopt roles to set the action. It was fun crawling through the dirt, pretending a Louisville Slugger was an M-16, on a sneak attack on an imaginary fort. It was an extremely physical game and at the same time it was extremely imaginative. There were a lot of details we had to fill in ourselves to make the war seem real to us.

You probably know where I’m going with this. Video war games provide you with none of the physical engagement of the war game described above, and perhaps more importantly all the details are filled in for the player, leaving little room for the imagination. Video games are little more than elaborate and virtual mazes. The games are about directional choices the player makes and his dexterity in overcoming obstacles.

So in my current view, materialism doesn’t stand opposite of the intellectual and the imaginative or even the spiritual. The physical world co-exists necessarily with the spiritual and intellectual world. It is the immaterial world of video games and digital music that is a step removed from the intellectual, imaginative, and spiritual aspects of life that we value. In this modern context, materialism isn’t such a bad thing.

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