January 10, 2019

Is Materialism Instinctive?

"Me Grog. Me big caveman - need storage cave for all my extra stuff."

Is a focus on materialism an instinctive behaviour? Is it human nature? Are we predisposed to want to accumulate things? 

Materialism researchers James Burroughs and Aric Rindfleisch think they have it figured out. I have my doubts.

"Telling people to be less materialistic", they say, "is like telling people that they shouldn’t enjoy sex or eat fatty foods. People can learn to control their impulses, but this does not remove the underlying desires."

Sex and eating fatty foods are survival strategies for humans since early times. But until recently, accumulating things as a human would be a very bad idea running counter to effective survival strategies. 

We are the most adaptable and mobile species on Earth. In order to do this, we have, for hundreds of thousands of years of evolution, had to travel light. As nomadic people, extra accumulation of stuff would not be an evolutionary advantage.

If the researchers are right, where is the evidence of acquisitiveness in the archaeological record? Did cave dwelling humans have off-site storage caves to store all their extra pointy sticks, and rocks and stuff? 

If so, where are they? Where are Grog's Super Self-Storage Caves?

People don't really want 10 tons of crap. Or the storage caves or lockers to put it all in. They want to be loved, to be content, to be part of a vibrant community of supportive compassionate citizens. 

Those are the real underlying desires, and we have been told that the accumulation of stuff will bring us all of that through the completely artificial construct of consumerism.

Survival is instinctive. Materialism is a learned behaviour, and one that now runs contrary to our survival. Even a cave dweller could see that.

If the love of things is learned, it can be unlearned. That is what this blog is all about - unlearning the destructive consumeristic behaviours we have been inculcated with by a sick system that does not care one whit about our survival. Or the survival of the planet.


  1. I think there is middle ground here. Even apes want what the other ape has and will chase and even kill for the object, as humans we gather and keep when we can and want what others have. I think it is instinct, once we feel out of danger and settled.

    1. If there is an instinctive component, it is weak when applied to conspicuous consumption. Otherwise the marketing industry wouldn't have to spend hundreds of billions of dollars every year to convince us to buy their stuff.

      But you are probably right, and like most things, it is a bit of both instinct and learned behaviours. While we have more developed brains than other primates, we are still animals.

  2. Anonymous1/10/2019

    "They want to be loved, to be content, to be part of a vibrant community of supportive compassionate citizens."
    Spot on! I agree and this is a timely reminder for me as we reconsider our living arrangements, perhaps purchasing a home.

  3. Anonymous1/12/2019

    I think materialism is definitely a learned behaviour. Beyond what we actually need, we are not going to want to acquire stuff unless we see it - usually via advertising. Advertising creates 'needs' we didn't know we had until we saw the ad. Sadly, we are now able to be brain washed 24/7 via the internet.



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