A Vision Non-material: Abandon and dismantle the machine of possession culture.

This post is dedicated to Thea and our incredibly challenging, fulfilling conversations. Thea, you’re right.

Ubiquitous mobile phones are a product of possession culture. Obviously there is the desire to possess the new shiny product of the moment. But, more than that, there is the desire to possess other people. The cultural norm of always having your device nearby and of prioritizing it allows us to be possessed by the people that may cause it to ring, to buzz, to jingle-jangle.

What if we abandoned possession culture? What if we abandoned capitalism. What if doing and being became more important than having?

What would the world look like?

No mobile phones. The people you want to talk to would be in your own community and only a walk away. You would see them everyday. And you could talk to them in person without a device to facilitate the exchange.

No cars. We’d spend most of our lives within a 20-mile radius. For those trips to other areas, there would be rail and maybe some electric planes. Travel could become an adventure rather than a compulsory part of our day.

No personal computers. Mostly because there would be no personal anything, but also because they’d no longer serve a purpose. In fact, no one would possess any sort of electronic screen and people would spend very little time looking at electronic screens. Entertainment would be live and it would be fleeting. Music would always be live and would become so much more important. Our comedies and dramas would be live performances and be that much more human for it. No more summer blockbusters that excite us briefly and then leave us feeling empty.

No advertisements. We could escape the cognitive dissonance of having an emotional reaction to a mass produced thing because of manipulative marketing. Consider how much time we spend thinking about things that are being sold to us because we allow advertising into nearly every aspect of our daily lives. What could we be thinking about instead?

So much more time. All the time we spend worrying over our possessions would instead be spent focusing on each other or our own health and well-being. Life could become a desire to create and be with people and not a race to accumulate or a battle fought against a culture that measures us based on our ability to possess.

Learning and education would be free. Education would be a right and not a commodity. Knowledge would be a goal freely pursued and not one more possession we indenture ourselves to obtain.

Justice. In the broadest human sense, there would be justice. When we abandon our possessions, there is no longer a reason to exploit less powerful groups of people to create the things we lust after. Our resources, recognized as finite, could be cultivated and preserved, and used sustainably. Then there would also be justice for the Earth.

Freedom. We are enslaved now to a culture and a system that cares only about possession and consumption. Those two vices are forces that keep the whole machine in motion. If we resist them completely, the machine will not only grind to a halt, but fall apart. Possession and consumption are everywhere in our culture. They have become the primary appeal of everything, including people. Look at dating and hook-up sites like OkCupid or Grindr. They are about consuming people and then moving on, because there are more people to consume. Not only do we make the machine work, but we are becoming the product the machine produces. When we abandon possessions, we also abandon possession culture and free ourselves from the shackles of this machine and the neat packaging it tries to imprison us within.

The things we’d give up, we won’t miss. Each function a possession fulfills in our lives would be replaced with something much more deeply satisfying. We would soon realize that many of those formerly essential functions serve only to reinforce the possession culture. We could quickly realize how little we require in order to be happy.

A dramatic shift is most definitely coming. More and more people are becoming aware of our subtle enslavement to possession culture. More and more we are finding a stirring in ourselves to connect back to our human roots apart from all of this stuff.

We don’t need the machine. But it most definitely needs us. Resist. Resist. Resist.

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4 thoughts on “A Vision Non-material: Abandon and dismantle the machine of possession culture.

  1. Imagine all the people…

  2. Hi Ryan. This is an interesting viewpoint, and I agree that we live in a dangerous culture of possession and consumption in the modern world – but to posit an idea that an entire society can function without electronics and all the fixings of modern technology is a little naive, in my opinion. I think Burning Man is a good example (and a good social experiment, not to mention) of what it’s like when people are removed from possession/consumption culture.

    I also agree that more people are becoming more aware of the slavery we have towards possession culture. Avoiding all material possessions and modern technology, however, sounds a little like Amish behavior. Maybe we should study whether they’re truly happier than the rest of us with ‘first world problems’?

    I would say that there’s also more to the idea that the ‘machine’ is powered by possession and consumption, which is kind of a nebulous statement. I don’t disagree with it, but I think looking into how that culture started could be a good way to start examining the subject.

    Lastly – maybe the practical way to resist is to unplug once in a while.

    • Daniel (Rhys), hi there! First of all, thanks for reading and for your thoughtful comment.

      to posit an idea that an entire society can function without electronics and all the fixings of modern technology is a little naive

      I don’t think this is naive at all. Entire societies functioned for most of human history without “modern technology.” Furthermore, I’m not actually talking about abandoning technology. I really believe technology, when properly applied, has the ability to advance us. My point is that we don’t need to be in possession of so much technology. Most of what we use it for is to dull our senses and hide from each other.

      Avoiding all material possessions and modern technology, however, sounds a little like Amish behavior.

      There really is no reason for all of us to possess cars or computers. If we lived in a more thoughtfully organized society, the power of those technologies would be way beyond most of our needs. I really like that you mention the Amish. They don’t actually avoid all modern technology. They just find spiritual and personal salvation in work. Anything that removes some element of that work diminishes them. At the same time, they are very conscious of which tools are appropriate to get a job done. Some Amish actually use computers, but only when it is the necessary tool for the job.

      I think the Amish are a terrific example of what I’m talking about.

      The goal of my post was to briefly explore how our lives would be different if we turned our backs on possession culture. Believe me, I struggled with this idea. How would I listen to music, communicate with people, keep my schedule if I gave up my phone and computer? But possession culture is devious. Most of these modern “needs” we have are a product of having possessions. Our needs are actually pretty basic, and it doesn’t actually take much to make most of us happy. We spend so much time managing our lives and our stuff, though, that we struggle to meet these minimal criteria.

      Yes, my post takes an extreme position. But I think we’ve gone to extremes with our technology and mainly with the way capitalism has corrupted technology. It’s easy to understand why this has happened, though. This is relatively new to us. We’re still learning how to integrate this incredibly powerful technology into our lives and culture. I imagine in a hundred years, culture may swing the other way and most people will begin to prioritize people over things.

      Obviously I haven’t abandoned my computer or social technology. But, I think this is a conversation we should start having. You were absolutely right when you said unplugging occasionally is the practical way to resist. Consciously unplugging can help people realize that we do not need this stuff, the bits and pixels, to be happy.

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