The obsession with the material…

That’s what the vast majority of “conservative” arguments are these days – appeals to the material.

I write this article on a state-of-the-art (from five years ago) computer powering two huge monitors whose inner workings might as well be magic, surrounded by walls full of guitars – and not just any guitars, some of the best ever made. I have a magical electronic drum set a few feet from me, just in case I want to play drums without bothering my neighbors.

I live in a huge house in one of the most expensive states (California). I have hundreds of books, movies, and video games to entertain me whenever I get the slightest hint of boredom.

What makes me happy, though? My family and my creative work… or just petting my cat.

At a certain point, you have enough wealth.

It’s with that mindset I understand the callous, ugly arguments of the modern right, which are always boiled down to some appeal to the material:

This policy is better because it will get you more stuff.

Free Trade? GOOD, because it’s GOOD for the ECONOMY. H1B Visas and cheap immigrant labor are GOOD for the ECONOMY. Lower regulations are GOOD for the ECONOMY. Lower the capital gains tax because it is GOOD for the ECONOMY. Stock markets increasing are GOOD for the ECONOMY.

Is it good that my children can’t speak the same language as the children around them, have no faith in common with their neighbors, and must face the prospect as adults of living a rootless, secular life in the amorphous world of infinite labor mobility, as long as big TVs are cheap enough to own while paying down their student loans?

Or would it be better if my children knew their neighbors, grew up with them, worshiped God with them, married spouses with the same faith and experiences as them, and produced another generation in that community, but couldn’t but a new car every few years or had a small TV?

I’m not a believer in ignoring the material – many of our problems in the world are material and can be solved by material means, but the value of the material is not everything. In fact, the material can distract us (very potently) from what actually matters for happiness, fulfillment, and spiritual salvation. We need not revert to being medieval peasants to see that there are limits to what pure economic growth can deliver as far as happiness.

Were you less happy in 1990 with a 13 inch CRT TV?

This is, yet again, why I use the term Optimate. For the Good. Not merely material goods, but those states which sustain us – materially and spiritually. And if there is a contest between the two, the spirit should always take president.

These ideas are not merely limited to the hypothetical. We already choose many things for non-material reasons. You can, right now, choose to have less “stuff” and more of other, (hopefully) more fulfilling things. I’m not one to talk, as I’m insanely comfortable as it is, but I know that my family could be “wealthier” if my wife and I both worked outside the home.

The left is hyper-focused on the material. Ultimately, that is what the constant appeal to “equality” and egalitarianism is – materialistic equality.

The real alternative is the spiritual and the cultural.

I’m reminded again of the Eagle and the Snake. The Eagle does not fight the snake on the ground where the serpent is powerful but instead takes his enemy to the sky, where the snake is powerless.

Take your battle to the spiritual realm and you will gain a massive advantage over your enemy.

My job is to write books, as well as articles like these. You can support me (and hopefully get a little value for yourself) by buying some. I even give some good advice for how to write your own:

One Comment

  1. This is a great and necessary observation. But the question that immediately comes to mind is: why? Why concentrate solely on economics and ignore the spiritual aspects of life if and when the spiritual questions of meaning, responsibilities, and values are more important? Why talk about optimal tax rate for economic growth and effects of red tape on business when the opposition is talking about, really, so much deeper things like oppression, hate, and taking care of one another?

    I think that your own question of coalitions might be the key to this. If you want to make a coalition of ideologies you need something to bind these, very different, coalitions together. Empirical facts are one of the only glues, I think, for this purpose.

    Let’s say, for example, that conservative politician is arguing against welfare benefits.
    His/hers audience might consist of:
    – radical libertarians who consider every single thing that reduces individual liberty a categorically evil thing
    – people who think that welfare benefits might be a good thing if they would really raise the quality of life for the poor people but who are sceptical of their ability to do so
    – people who think that their tax rates are too high and who are angry of this because they would like to buy more expensive things (because they think that is what makes them happy)
    – Racist far-right groups who think that every political program that helps ethnic minorities is a bad thing in and of itself

    The best possible outcome for conservative politician would, of course, be to get votes of every single one of these groups. Economic arguments are really one of the only things that he can give that all of these groups can agree on, because – really – there is almost only common ground these groups can find.

    So, in order to make a coalition of very different ideologies you kind of have to disregard the spiritual aspects of life.

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