Consumer Materialism As a Multilevel and Individual Difference Phenomenon: an Asian-Based Perspective

ABSTRACT - Materialism as an ideology or orientation concerning the material world differs both across and within individuals, depending on a host of circumstantial factors. This paper, from an Asian, largely Tibetan Buddhist perspective, considers how different views of the material world lead one to live and consume quite differently within it. Consumption examples, both extrospective and introspective, are offered to provide living, experiential evidence of how these views express and manifest themselves in everyday behavior. Finally, some implications for further thought, insight and investigation are discussed.


Stephen J. Gould (1992) ,"Consumer Materialism As a Multilevel and Individual Difference Phenomenon: an Asian-Based Perspective", in SV - Meaning, Measure, and Morality of Materialism, eds. Floyd W. Rudmin and Marsha Richins, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 57-62.

Meaning, Measure, and Morality of Materialism, 1992      Pages 57-62


Stephen J. Gould, College of Business Administration, Fairleigh Dickinson University


Materialism as an ideology or orientation concerning the material world differs both across and within individuals, depending on a host of circumstantial factors. This paper, from an Asian, largely Tibetan Buddhist perspective, considers how different views of the material world lead one to live and consume quite differently within it. Consumption examples, both extrospective and introspective, are offered to provide living, experiential evidence of how these views express and manifest themselves in everyday behavior. Finally, some implications for further thought, insight and investigation are discussed.

To see a world in a Grain of Sand

and a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

Hold Infinity in the paim of your hand

And Eternity in an Hour.

William Slake (1953, p.90), 'Auguries of innocence'


All things are impermanent and in themselves Jack any essence;

Hollow, empty, phantasap-like,

Similar to an overblown bubble, like the porous stem of a weed;

Nothing in themselves yet making their presence felt in various ways,

Devoid of any substance, a mere reflection-

Longchenpa (1989, p. 41), The Mount Potala Delights'

Individuals may approach the seemingly self-evident material nature of the world in any number of ways commensurate with the various interrelated aspects comprising and overdetermining (Devereux, 1980) their world view and life world, i.e. their physical, psychological and sociocultural environments. Thus, materialism as one's personal philosophical/theoretical ideology and orientation toward the material world, which defines that world in terms of both objects and activities and situates one in it, is not the same thing to all people. Indeed, some research has reported on distinctions in attitudes toward and perspectives on materialism, both between individuals and within individuals (Belk, 1985; Belk & Pollay, 1985; Fournier & Richins, 1991). These distinctions include both positive and negative (anti-materialistic) evaluative views of it, as well as variations in it, such as an instrumental (means) /terminal (end in itself) dichotomy (Fournier & Richins, 1991) and also a dualistic versus non-dualistic dichotomy in which internal mental objects and external physical ones are viewed as being either of a different (in metaphysical terms) or of the same (equivalent in existential terms) different: (in metaphysical terms) order, respectively (cf. Ross, 1991). In light of these various views and also of the central importance of one's orientation to the material world in determining one's consumption, it seems that we need to conceptualize and further elaborate the different conditions of materialism so that we can show directly how they function in consumers' lives. We also need to emphasize that a single consumer's approach to material things may vary in different situations, across different life experiences and of course, across the lifespan (Belk, 1985). Thus, it is the purpose of this paper to further explore the issue of differences in views of materialism both between and within individuals.

The theoretical/conceptual perspective to be used here is derived from Asian sources, principally Tibetan. The reasons for engaging this perspective are the followllng: (1) first and primarily the perspective to be offered here provides a coherent, experiential topology of material orientations which has been used for millennia, and (2) the author, although being a Caucasian American, has had direct experience with both the nature and applications of this view which he has found compelling in his own understanding of both materialism and the material world. In fact, after laying out the conceptual perspective, I will in part illustrate how such a perspective on materialism functions in consumption through introspective examples drawn from my own experience.


In adapting the Tibetan view of materialism, I will utilize the perspective of the Wheel of Life (WOL) laid out in Gould (1991a) and then go beyond that to explore some salient levels of human experience which were not fully developed in that paper. The WOL, itself, is a central sacred myth of Tibet, grounded in Buddhism, and designed to point individuals beyond this world to another transcendent one, both as an existential, ontological entity, and as a perspectival conceptualization of what one's present life could be like under other conditions. It does so by illustrating (there are literally paintings of it) how the sufferings of various types of existences are something that one should try to escape and transcend through following various Buddhist doctrines, teachings, practices and rituals in order to avoid rebirth in them (Gould 1991 a). According to both Gould (1991a) and Trungpa (1973), the myth serves not only to situate the individual in spiritual space and time but also may be soon as something which can be used to describe various psychological states in one's present time and space. For example, the hell realms of the WOL may also be used to describe human beings in everyday earthly reality, who are figuratively experiencing 'hell on earth', as well as 'actual beings' in non-human forms, who literally are believed to be 'really' in hell as an actually existing place. In this regard, individuals may be seen as acting within the frame of the Bourdiou's (1984) "habitus," which is the totality of one's cultural and personal experiences that one accumulates and carries around with oneself as one goes through life. Moreover, in situating individuals in psychological space, the WOL myth clearly delineates what Guenther (1984) calls their perspectival horizons in that each sees matter in terms of both the range and limitations of his/her perceptual and intellectual capacity and experience. To illustrate how this conooptualization might operate, I offer the following quote from Guenther (p. 110) who translates a Tibetan text with respect to how different 'beings' experience water:

for denizens if hall it appears as fire; for spirits as dark blood; tot men as cleansing and beneficial, for animals as something to drink, and for gods as nectar. For those who traverse the pure realm (it appears) as a river of nectar, and for whoever has succeeded (in recapturing life's meaningfulness it appears) as Mamaki [a goddess associated with the fluidity of water] and so on.

To utilize this conceptualization for purposes of this paper, I need to briefly describe the realms of the WOL in psychological terms (for a more complete description see Gould, 1991a; Guenther, 1984; and Tatz and Kent, 1977). There are six realms in the actual WOL plus one described by Gould (p. 39) as "beyond the Wheel of Us." These realms serve as a hierarchy of desirable states of being with the hell realms being the least desirable and beyond the Wheel of Life being the most desirable. In the various hell realms (e.g. hot and cold hells), the individual exists in a complete state of misery, privation and pain as punishment for various misdeeds and crimes which usually stem from one's own uncontrollable hatred and aggression. In the hungry ghost realms, the tormented individual is full of unfulfilled desire such as hunger and is always craving something in a fixated manner. Greed is the driving psychological principle behind this realm. In the animal realm in which stupidity is predominant, the individual leads a miserable and ignorant life, but occasionally achieves some very limited pleasure.

In the human realm, the human being is often able to attain some material gratification but must work hard to got it and is at great risk to lose it. In the antigod realms, envy of the 'higher' gods predominates and in this respect, Belk's (1985) consideration of envy as a trait aspect of materialism seems especially salient. Finally, in the god realms, the individual is able to achieve varying degrees of great and sometimes constant pleasure, comparable figuratively to the easy going life of the rich and self-indulgent. There are many god realms and some even go beyond material form in what are called the formless realms. However, even the blissful pleasures of these formless gods in which one is in a constant state of ecstasy serve in the end to bring misery for they do come to an end, and one falls, according to the WOL myth, back into lower states through rebirth. Moreover, even gods in the formless state are still materialistic in that they seek to possess that state and have pride in it (cf. Ross, 1991). This is a form of 'spiritual materialism' in which the individual clings to spiritual matters and/or psychological abstractions such as the ego with a materialistic possessiveness (Trungpa, 1973).

The only way out of this circle of death and rebirth for Buddhists is to achieve enlightenment which means that one has gone beyond and transcended materialism, desire, possessiveness and other such states and traits (i.e. beyond the WOL). As Schumacher (1991, p. 65) has noted, based on the Buddhist notion of "right livelihood":

... Buddhist economics Must be very different from the economics of modem materialism, since the Buddhist sees the essence of civilization not in multiplication of wants but in the purification of human character.

In everyday psychological terms, beyond the WOL states can be variously seen as being in the process of reaching enlightenment (Bodhisattvas), as well as having achieved actual enlightenment (Buddhas). In the quote concerning varying beings' perspectives on water above (Guenther, 1984), the references to the 'pure realm," .'recapturing life's meaningfulness" and the goddess Mamaki are aspects of what might be expected in moving beyond ordinary states. In this regard, there exist three approaches to gaining enlightenment which can be viewed from one perspective as ways of dealing with the material world and attempting to move beyond the WOL According to the Tibetan scholar Namkhal Norbu (1987), these include: (1) renunciation, (2) purification and transformation, and (3) self-liberation. Renunciation involves avoiding things that will distract one from spiritual accomplishment and thus one must necessarily regulate one's actions with respect to the material world (e.g. follow rules which regulate what one drink& and eats, what one wears, how much one may possess, whether and how one may engage in sexual behavior, etc.). In many ways, this path may be seen as equivalent to asceticism of such people as monks and nuns in various religions which has been characterized as being the opposite of materialism (Richins & Dawson, 1990).

On the other hand, purification and transformation constitute processes by which the individual instead of avoiding things renders them useful in spiritual accomplishment by using them with transformed awareness. A famous example may be found in Indian yogic texts in which one yogin (yogi or practitioner of yoga) is said to have declared (Eliade, 1973, p. 263):

By the same acts that cause some men to bum in hell for thousands of years, the yogin gains his eternal salvation.

In other words, by drinking alcohol, using material things in ostensibly material ways, smoking, engaging in sexual intercourse, and any number of other materialistic practices, the yogin transforms the substance of material attachment into a tool for realization. S/he engages in such behavior to transcend the material world through overcoming it in use, exhausting its effect on oneself, and even making it an ally in realization (e.g. using alcohol to achieve altered states of consciousness). As a sacred Indian text notes (Biads, 1973, p. 263): "One who knows this, although he commit& very much evil, consumes it all and becomes clean and puts, ageless and immortal." Such an individual burns up his/her negativity and attachment to the material world through his/her use of it.

Finally, the path of self -liberation, according to Norbu (1987, p. 33) is one in which whatever the individual encounters is "allowed to arise just as it is, without judgment... or attachment." In other words, one encounters the material world and occurrences within it as arising and failing in the scope of one's thoughts and perceptions, but one does not hold on to these as rallied concretions. Indeed, one sees the world in non-dualistic terms (Ross, 1991) since both internal objects (i.e. thoughts and their contents including images) and external ones (i.e. physical things as perceived in everyday conventional understanding) are equally the stuff of one's experiential encounters with the world (i.e. seen in terms of what has been described as being of 'one taste'). One's total awareness and presence are invoked and the effect might be likened to the direct experience one has of something before thought has entered in. This experiential path is often exemplified metaphorically by consideration of the peacock which is said to be able to eat a certain poison and not only not be harmed by it, but indeed to benefit by its consumption. The peacock and the individual does not purify or transform the poison (i.e. the material world) or avoid or renounce it but instead is not even affected by it, at least in a negative way. As a famous Tibetan sage Longchenpa (1989, p. 41), circa 1306-1363/1364, put it in expressing the essence of the self-liberating experience:

The initial vibrant dimension of Being's actuality, without objective concretizations and their corresponding acts of subjective mentation,

Is pure experience, Me king, neither stepping out of itself nor changing into something other than itself throughout Me three times.


To demonstrate how the various perspectives on materialism manifest and drive everyday consumer behavior, it is necessary to provide illustrative examples. These examples will be seen to include both between and within consumer perspectives. Such examples of how materialistic states are implicated in consumption acts and states will be derived here from two primary source methodologies: (1) extrospection and (2) introspection. Extrospection involves the identification of examples outside oneself, here mainly in written sources. With regard to introspection, I will follow the technique of Gould (1991b) who essentially traced within himself his experiences of consumption and energy. In the context of this paper, it will involve mainly recollections of various consumption experiences although on going thought experiments as to how I might feel in certain circumstances also play a role. In fact, it is quite in keeping and typical of Tibetan, as well as other Asian psychological approaches, for one to watch and analyze one's own experience.


Consumer researchers among others have provided us with examples that illustrate the dimensions of individual differences in material states which directly impact on one's consumption choices and patterns. For example, Belk (1985) found that consumers displayed individual differences with respect to scores on a materialism scale which he developed. Moreover, materialism is a general trait that may result in different focal choices of possessiveness and attachment for different individuals (Wallendorf & Arnould, 1988). In general here, we will consider states which are relatively persistent and which may be seen as conditioned traits although they may involve genetic personality or temperament aspects as well, i.e. states persist so long that they take on trait qualities in persistently defining one's perspectival horizons (Guenther, 1984).

In some ways, this approach is consistent with Richins and Dawson's (1990) approach in regarding materialism as a value, but it is also more inclusive of other aspects of materialism which reflect the unconscious and sensory aspects of materialism that emanate from our felt and lived relationship with the material world. Thus, to a large degree, the value aspect is a projection in psychoanalytic terms of the more unconscious aspect, and in turn our unconscious and sensory aspects can be conditioned and influenced to some degree by values, including both our own privatized and our publicly displayed values as determined by our culture (cf. Obeyesekere, 1981). As noted above, materialism is thus an overdetermined construct which has ontological roots ranging from the psychoanalytic to the cultural. For instance, Ellen (1988) in his discussion of fetishism, which is one way a person relates to material things, and Belk (1991) in his discussion of Ellen both implicitly recognize the overdetermination of materialism when they consider it to be of three types: (1) religious, (2) commodified in the Marxist sense, and (3) sexual in the Freudian, psychoanalytic sense. In fact, fetishism may at times involve all three types in one overdetermined occasion (e.g. having sexual/sensual feeling for a object which is invested with spiritual/religious energy and meaning, such as a sacred statue, and which is detached from its original source of manufacture and creation [the Marxist commodity]).

Differences in Levels of Material Relationships. As implied by the WOL myth, consumers experience material things with a great deal of varying perspectives. To illustrate further the various determinants of one's relationship with the material world, we might consider the example of homeless consumers who must in effect carry out the same functions (eating, sleeping, having possessions) as people with homes, but who do so in within the limitations of their conditions (cf. Hill and Stamey, 1990). In general, these individuals might be seen as inhabiting the psychological equivalents of the lower realms in the Tibetan Wheel of Life (i.e. the hellish and hungry ghost realms in particular). Yet even here many differences may persist. For example, some individuals might fare better in this experience psychologically (e.g. be more hardy, adaptive, etc.) than others.

However, beyond that disposition, various life experiences might help shape their psychological states of being and their feelings about material things. In this regard, Hill (1991) quite strikingly shows in his study of homeless women that some, who had had happy experiences in the past, saw material things, especially a fantasized future home, in relatively expansive and hopeful terms. Others, whose prior home lives had been largely troubled, fantasized about home life in terms of escape and protection from a hostile world. Past conditioning, taking the form of what Hill calls past selves, quite clearly leads to a different outlook on the material world and probably to quite different behavior for these women, if and when they escape homelessness.

Similarly, O'Guinn and Faber (1989) considered the compulsive consumer whose form of materialism might be compared to the hungry ghosts in the Wheel of Life. Such people have extremely intense material cravings which they project into the purchase act and/or consumption act, itself, and which they fixate upon without satisfaction. In doing so, they often destroy other aspects of their lives in order to attempt to satisfy them. They differ from other consumers who do not develop such intense cravings or who are able to regulate and control them through various means, such as sublimation.

As an illustration of consumers comparable to the higher god realms of the WOL, we might consider the phenomenon of secular immortality or the legendary status achieved by certain affluent individuals (Hirschman, 1990). Such consumers engage in terminal materialism in which consumption becomes an and in itself (Czikszontmihalyi & Rochberg-Halton, 1981; Hirschman, 1990). While Hirschman cites many useful examples of how such consumers use consumption in ways that reflect their material ideologies and that mark and signal their status, several aspects are particularly striking. For example, she suggests that certain cosmetic ads lead to the inference of material immortality. However, since nothing material is ultimately immortal, this can of course only be an illusion, the same one that the gods in the WOL seem to be deceived by. Moreover, these same affluent people ultimately suffer, according to Hirschman, because of their greedy materialism and may fail in various ways, just as the gods do. Indeed they could join the ranks of the compulsive consumers, as well, if they do not manage their desires. By contrast, instrumental materialism in which the concern with materialism is more toward using materialism for goals such as safety and well being rather than as an end in itself (Czikszontmihalyi & Rochberg-Halton, 1981) might be seen to apply to realms beyond those of the gods (involving psychologically self-actualizing individuals, particularly those who do so in spiritual terms), at least to the degree that the instrumental purpose is directed toward some "higher' good. This is especially true it is directed altruistically toward the benefit of others, a very worthy goal from a Buddhist point of view.

A Jungian Perspective on Between Consumer Differences. When we consider all the realms of the WOL and the psychological approaches to materialism beyond it as well, it might be useful to apply Jungian analysis as discussed in consumer behavior by Gould (1991c). In particular, we might consider the Jungian personality dimension related to how a person finds out about the world. There are sensing types and intuiting types. The former type is more partial to processing information in sensory modes and the latter is more willing to rely on inspiration and intuition in divining information about the world. In one sense, people whose lives may be seen as expressive of the various forms of materialism both in the WOL and in some of the examples discussed above may be characterized as being sensory types. Likewise, intuiting types are symbolized by those beyond or moving beyond material world and WOL in not taking what is before them as "the real" or 'the only reality."

People who already question materialism in some way have begun to rely on other inner, intuitive sources of information. Thus, one who engages in one or more of the paths of renunciation, purification and transformation, and self-liberation is in fact questioning in some way the meaning and/or perceived nature of the material world. This world now becomes a tool for heightening one's consciousness and moving toward enlightenment rather than an end in itself. To be sure, people who do not see the world in such Buddhist terms may nonetheless question it and see its limitations, as for instance, do some of the compulsive (O'Guinn and Faber, 1989) and affluent (Hirschman 1990) consumers discussed above. In fact, their ability to question and change their own consumption behavior suggests the presence of within consumer differences, regarding materialism, which are developed more in the next section.

While in this analysis we have focused on the Jungian dimension of information processing, we could bring in other dimensions which both complicate and enrich our analysis. While much of this goes beyond our scope, we should note that Gould (1991c) also considered the thinking-feeling (decision-making) dimension of Jungian personality in conjunction with the sensing-intuiting dimension. (There are also two other dimensions: extroversion/introversion and judging-perceiving). Thinking involves logic and objectivity. Feeling is subjective and involves the acceptance or rejection of something. Gould notes that a person who is a sensing-thinking type, for example, is the one who comes closest to being the rational, economic man posited in classical economics and the human realms in the WOL where gains and losses predominate. The opposite of this type is the intuiting-feeling type who is more likely to engage the world in terms of a vast number of possibilities and to consider them in holistic fashion as might individuals in the less materialistic ranges of the WOL Thus, we can suggest that different perspectives and ideologies, regarding materialism, are likely to involve fundamental personality differences which are reflected in both Tibetan and Jungian analyses of human experience with materialistic phenomena. At the same time, such analyses should be read in terms of flexible within consumer differences in that consumers may change, grow and integrate various characteristics. For example, Jung (1971) believed that individuals should maintain a healthy and functional balance of traits in their personalities through equilibrating and adjusting the presence and expression in their lives of such opposing traits as sensing and intuiting.


Individuals manifest and express emotions, feelings and behaviors either in terms of enduring traits or in terms of situational stabs which arise circumstantially (Murgatroyd, 1985). Of interest in this section is the state perspective (i.e. within consumers) in which consumers' material perspectives are seen to change as their circumstances, stage in the life span (Belk, 1985; Czikazentmihalyi & Rochberg-Halton, 1981), moods and even metamotivational states (Apter, 1991) change situationally. For example, involuntary job loss has been shown to affect one's consumption, attitude toward oneself and material aspects of life thus leaving one feeling less materialistic or instead trying to affirm one's materialism and rotation to the material world more strongly (cf. Dittmar, 1991; Roberts, 1991). A particularly useful concept to consider in this regard is the working self concept which posits that not only will only certain aspects of one's self-concept be accessible at any one time, but that in fact one's self-concept is shifting circumstantially as certain aspects become salient or lose salience in specific situations (Markus & Nurius, 1986). What this idea suggests is that one's perceived materialism or aspects of it will shift with respect to changing circumstances.

I can best illustrate in a gestalt fashion how materialism takes on situational qualities within a single consumer by describing my own experience and considering various WOL and beyond it levels not only as traits but as states, all or some of which one can experience in one's life. For instance, there are times when I feel absolutely 'hellish', sometimes from anger and sometimes from a feeling of deprivation or loss. For example, I might feel really angry at missing something, such as a TV show. Or I might change moods when something bad happens to be me and see all my consumption in terms of escape from that bad thing or as all bad in itself. At other times, I feel hedonistic (godlike) and fully in tuns with consuming "up a storm." At such times, I embrace the materialism of our culture and love all its objects. Thus, for example, I might watch TV in a purely entertainment mode or enjoy various possessions in very sensual and even fetishistic modes of enjoyment. In that case, material things take on an aura of excitement.

At still other times, I feel I need to hold the line on my materialistic behavior and regulate it. I thus renounce some activity and try to keep myself in line. For example, I may find myself watching too much TV and feel that this is a distraction which I should avoid in terms of my own growth and development. However, at still other times, I see myself as transforming what I regard as a bad or negative activity into something positive. For example, instead of turning off the TV as in the case of renunciation, I might watch something constructive or something which informs my perspective as a student of consumer behavior. An example of renunciation and transformation working together as drawn from my personal experience concerns my evolution in becoming a vegetarian. I renounced eating meat for health and other reasons (not an easy task in our society) and worked on transforming my tastes so that I could achieve satisfaction from other foods (cf. Gould, 1991b for further discussion of related transformation processes).

Beyond even such transformation, I might merely take in all experience as self-liberating in that all arises and falls without regard to my renouncing or changing it in any way. Thus, for example, I engage in activity such as watching TV, eating, drinking, or any other activity with as little judgment as possible as to its positive or negative effects , a form of conceptualization, but instead focus on the experience in terms of nonconceptual feeling, i.e. what does it feel like? In summary, all these various levels of perspectives on materialism may enter my consciousness or perhaps more often than not determine my behavior through tacit and more automatic responses to my environment. I am ail them 'materialisms' and thus while I try to engage what I regard as the more compelling 'higher' levels, I nonetheless embody them all in various ways. In some sense, we might view them as ranging from my id to my superego. In another, I might view them as multiple selves of which the id/ego/superego model is one example (Elster, 1986).


This paper has considered materialism in an individual difference (trait - between consumers) and overdetermined perspective (state - within consumers), based in large part on insights derived from Tibetan Buddhism, and demonstrated through various examples how this perspective may provide insight into everyday consumer behavior. In addition, it has provided a relatively now perspective based on within consumer differences and incorporating Tibetan views, i.e. that the consumer, him or herself, may display various attitudes toward and actions expressive of materialism, depending on the situation. Indeed, s/he may be circumstantially materialistic. Laying out materialism in both this between and within consumer perspective should be helpful in studying materialism in future research, investigation and theoretical development.

Another consideration for future investigation is to study the manipulation of the material world through technology in terms of the framework of the materialistic perspectives provided here. In general, technology may be seen as moving consumers away from overt physical/mental effort to more convenient, instant experiences. In some ways, technology, as coveted and used by consumers, represents an emulation of the god realms where one's very wish is manifested as instant pleasure. Paradoxically, this involves a separation from many aspects of physicality, not to mention the means of production in Marxist terms and aspects of creative work in Buddhist terms (Schumacher, 1991), so that consumers, at least affluent ones, are often inured to both the causes and consequences of their actions. We look at two aspects here: (1) internalization versus externalization and (2) convenience.


A major aspect of current, technologized materialism has been the tendency to externalize and ,materialize' what was formerly internalized and often spiritual, in effect transforming and/or creating trait patterns of behavior. For example, watching television might be seen as substituting external imagery for internal imagery that one might project in listening to a story or as Tibetans do in spiritual visualization practices related to various forms of meditation and yoga (Norbu, 1987). Less effort is involved in the former than in the latter. Thus this phenomenon might also be seen in terms of active (internal) /passive (externalization) or even in terms of the classic involvement paradigm (high-active versus low-passive) in advertising and consumer research (Krugman, 1965), although in theoretical terms going beyond the scope of this paper, such a dimension might be treated as a separate one. (In that case, we are considering here active internalization and passive externalization although two other cases are also possible, i.e. passive internalization and active externalization). However, going further, the internalization -externalization phenomenon may also be seen to represent to a large degree what Baudrillard (1983) has characterized in postmodern terms as hyperreality in which the simulacra of things take on a hyped or greater 'reality' than does the physical reality surrounding on". Hyperreality presents problems of alienation from the self as one devalues one's immediate circumstances and valorize" phenomena which ordinarily would be beyond one's direct sensory experience.

Yet, from a self-transformative or a self-liberating point of view, such hyperreality is merely the further stuff of experience and encounter. However, for most people to got to the point where they are relating to it in this way, they probably need to develop a sensibility to its effects by distancing themselves from it at various times and testing the contrasting feelings they experience when completely separated from the media system that drives hyperreality. This has been my personal experience. For example, I might go on a retreat in which I am cut off from all media, ail news and even ail people. In doing so I can see quite clearly the effects of 'being connected' to material society versus not being so connected. In some respects, both being connected and being distanced emerge as aspects of the same process of the arising and falling of thoughts. In others, there are quite different sensations that actually do arise and fall (e.g. the emotions evoked by a comedy versus those of a drama).


Convenience in terms of substituting the instant and less effortful for the time consuming and more effortful is perhaps the primary desired characteristic of technology. Yet, again this serves to separate consumers from various production experiences and alienate them from the commmodity. For example, such alienation may have serious consequences in such areas as health (people who have lost touch with their bodies got sick) and the environment (people using products without understanding of product origins and costs in terms of externalities do not relate what they do to pollution problems).

In order to deal with such psycho-technological problems, we need perhaps to develop a better understanding of the processes of renunciation, transformation and self-liberation as offering possible antidotes. Voluntary simplicity as a combined process of renunciation and transformation comes to mind as an example that might be studied. Other desirable areas of study involve various types of consumers across different societies and cultures and various spiritual and religious orientations, such as New Age consumers and members of religious orders. Moreover, I am not suggesting that any one approach to the material world is the only answer or even is the answer. For example, as the phrase "high-tech/high touch' suggests and implies, some combination of technology and the humanization of it is probably more desirable for most people. Moreover, I expect that technology which I would strongly implicate in the emergence of postmodernity, (e.g. expanded and enhanced video technologies have driven the hyperreal and fragmented media environment [cf. Baudrillard, 1983; First, 1991]) as much as literary or intellectual trends, will continue to play a role in shaping how we see ourselves and structure our lives in time and space. Our ability to respond to such technological effects as they manifest will require psychological adjustment based on displacement of our drives and desires both in the direction of assimilating what technology offers, on the one hand, and in keeping it from overwhelming our consciousness of nature and sensibilities regarding various states of personal being, on the other.


Finally, I hope that consideration of materialism as a complex individual difference, overdetermined and variable within individual construct might lead to better insight and illumine what remains in my opinion a murky subject. A multidimensional rather than a unidimensional perspective on materialism accounts for and reveals not only the contradictions in society (and societies) regarding material things but also those within ourselves. In the and, our consumption of matter and material things can be seen as necessary to survival, as marking our identities and as either resistance to or as a stairway to wisdom and spiritual insight, among other things. it all depends on our perspective.


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Stephen J. Gould, College of Business Administration, Fairleigh Dickinson University


SV - Meaning, Measure, and Morality of Materialism | 1992

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