Not All Materialism Is Consumerism: How to Pursue Material Goods Without Being a Consumerist

Everyone likes to talk about how they are not materialists — not consumerists. But these are not one and the same.

The Measure of a Man

The essence of our value as human beings lies in the quality of our choices. We can make choices because we have minds that can consider multiple ways of proceeding. We have a sense of future.

Because choice is as much an act of choosing something, as it is an act of not choosing other things, we see our choices as being meaningful — because they are meaningful. In every choice, especially when the options are highly disparate, there is an act of deciding what is more important, and what is less important. The pattern that emerges from your priorities — is your values. And the sum of your values — your character.

We also see that others have these same choices. We see that others also make choices based on priorities, values — character. We therefore also realise that the choice of who we choose to associate with is also meaningful. Who we choose to associate with is too a choice based on priorities, values, character.

The measure of a man is his or her character, and not the size of his wallet, the size of his house, or the size of his — anything.

Materialism aka Consumerism

Because our value is in who we are, and not in what we have, it follows that materialism also known as consumerism denotes a shallow way to live a life. A life where choices are made prioritising the extrinsic value of external goods over choices that prioritise intrinsic good.

But perhaps you too have noticed something?

Not all extrinsic goods are about extrinsic value.

Not all external things are a means-to-an-end. Is a piano concerto a means to an end? Or if that’s not your thing — is winning Olympic gold a means to an end? Do athletes really go through all that for money and cars? Sure maybe some of it is that. But really, do fully grown men break down in tears thinking… Just think of the ratings!

Some things in life are meaningful, and almost none of it can be seized through chants of “Namaste”

There is almost nothing of value — of lasting, “internal”, enriching, life enhancing value — that can be found “from within” at the exclusion of the material.

Not all Materialism is Consumerism, not all Consumerism is Materialism

They say we live in a materialist consumerist culture. I say otherwise — I say we live in a culture of “experience” consumerism. Everything is about experiencing something. It’s the socially acceptable hedonism of today. And because we are blind to the fact that it is hedonism, it is also one of the most effective advertising tactics — the experience of a lifetime — don’t miss out on this once only experience — try it for the experience — buy this, or else you will go through life without having this particular experience — be afraid — experience the terror of your mortality at the idea of a missed experience!

The threat of the missed experience grabs us where we are most vulnerable — the fear of the unfulfilled life.

The indiscriminate accumulation of experiences leads to happiness?

YOLO ergo happiness. Shallow rich people buy cars and mansions and die lonely, shallow poor people say “I’m too poor to buy cars, houses, jewellery, brand name goods — but I can have experiences”. These people look down on the consumers of material goods — because otherwise they’d have to feel bad about what they can’t have — and instead they aim to metabolise the meaningless immaterial!

These people are just as shallow as the brainless consumers of empty material.

The difference between hedonism — the unfulfilling life characterised by chronic scratching of endless itches, of never ending, never satiable desires… and a life of fulfillment, of lasting happiness, is about realising that human desire is endless, and possible experiences incalculable.


The indiscriminate pursuit of things and experiences, with no regard for their lasting value, is Consumerism. It doesn’t matter if it is consumed materially or immaterially. Pop music, pop tarts, pop art, pop quizzes, popular holiday destinations — empty calories. Consumerism isn’t about spending lots of money on a car. Consumerism is about metabolising empty carbohydrates every time you get the munchies (and thinking it will stave off hunger!)

I do not travel to random countries just to “see what it’s like”. I do not try every little thing just to “experience it”. I do not try sleeping on the street “to see what it’s like to be homeless”. I do not read random clickbait articles on buzzfeed just because I’m curious what “the true way to eat a banana” really is — I don’t really care but I’ve just got to scratch that itch! I understand that junk food is not just eaten through the mouth.

The Material World

Who you hang around. Where you work. Where you live. What music you listen to. What art you view. What advertising you subject yourself to. What movies you watch. The discussions you have. The things you buy. The places you go… The material and the immaterial — what you consume is what you digest.

The objects we create can be imbued with the highest worth — the ethos of its creator — and there is an innate good in experiencing this kind of material.

I ask myself: What kind of experiences do I want to live through? Not is it material — but what kind of material?

To shun the material altogether is to shun the richness of life. More than that! It is to shun the special meaning of human life! A life of anti-materialism is to reduce one’s material consumptions to the bare essentials, and the consumption of bare essentials is meaningless. Possibly more meaningless than outright consumerism. The consumption of bare essentials is literally to live one’s life according to the self metabolization of nature.

The material world is meaningful. Choices, priorities, values, character — these all play out in the material world. The material that you consume, and the material you produce. The products of who we are. Do you consume that which is valuable? Do you produce anything of value? Or do you produce and consume only what is empty?

Oscar Elmahdy · May 2017

Originally published at REAL DEAL PHILOSOPHY.