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The materialist conception
December 28, 2016, 4:23 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , ,

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Chen Wenling, God of Materialism

The things we need to support life, how they are made, and how traded: these are the essential elements of the materialist conception of history and the structuring of all societies.

By materialist measure, social and political change can only come from unrelenting commitment to how we make what we need, and how we trade it.

By other better measures we have human thought, as an example, which conceives and constructs transcendent metrics like truth and justice, which we could use, if we were bold and not passive, to find our way out of the shadowy half lived life of homo economicus.

The materialist conception of history starts from the proposition that the production of the means to support human life and, next to production, the exchange of things produced, is the basis of all social structure; that in every society that has appeared in history, the manner in which wealth is distributed and society divided into classes or orders is dependent upon what is produced, how it is produced, and how the products are exchanged. From this point of view, the final causes of all social changes and political revolutions are to be sought, not in our brains, not in our better insights into eternal truth and justice, but in changes in the modes of production and exchange.

Friedrich Engels

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death in your mouth

Material life or … spirituality or … death in your mouth.

Simon Critchley describes how materialism and spirituality are the diametric options for living that we tend to follow en masse in this life, and how they enslave us.  Both are escapist strategies:  materialism is the handmaid of forgetfulness; spirituality of assurance of endless life.

But to learn to know death realigns our lives to our own mortality and frees us.

There are two very aggressive contentions in this idea: that to ‘know’ death will have a freeing effect; and that to deny death is hate yourself.  Does it follow that to be materialist or spiritual, are forms of self hatred?

Here is Critchley’s description from the introduction to The Book of Dead Philosophers:

We are led on the one hand, to deny the fact of death and to run headlong into the watery pleasures of forgetfulness, intoxication and the mindless accumulation of money and possessions.  On the other hand, the terror of annihilation leads us blindly into a belief in the magical forms of salvation and promises of immortality offered by certain varieties of traditional religion and many New Age (and some rather older age) sophistries.  What we seem  to seek is either the transitory consolation of momentary oblivion or miraculous redemption in the afterlife.

It is in stark contrast to our drunken desire for evasion and escape that the ideal of the philosophical death has such sobering power.

[…]

To philosophize, then, is to learn to have death in your mouth, in the words you speak, the food you eat and the drink that you imbibe. It is in this way that we might begin to confront the terror of annihilation, for it is, finally, the fear of death that enslaves us and leads us towards either temporary oblivion or the longing for immortality. As Montaigne writes, “He who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave.” This is an astonishing conclusion: the premeditation of death is nothing less than the forethinking of freedom. Seeking to escape death, then, is to remain unfree and run away from ourselves. The denial of death is self-hatred. …

The Book of Dead Philosophers, Simon Critchley