2016 – The Year Materialism Failed The Many

The year 2016 has been one of the most tumultuous of our generation. We have had unpredictable and shocking events such as Britain Brexiting (and Brexiting hard), Trump becoming President, and Leicester City winning the English Premiere League. We have suffered a multitude of celebrity deaths, Muhammad Ali being the most prominent one for myself. We have ongoing chaos in the Middle East, especially in Syria.  We have the rise and rise of far right nationalism all across the globe. We have reached an environmental tipping point when it comes to CO2 emissions. And we are now all living post-truth.

So bad was 2016 that actress Helen Mirren said “I think we can all agree that 2016 has been a big pile of shit.” Andy Zaltzman said 2016 “will be splatted into the history books in luminous, angry, confusing paint.” A more poignant assessment of 2016 came from Brendan Cox, husband of murdered politician Jo Cox, who said in Channel 4’s Alternative Christmas message that 2016 is “A year in which fascism, xenophobia, extremism and terrorism made us divided and felt threatened, from America, to Europe, to the Middle East and beyond.”

With all this going on I therefore found it interesting that in such a chaotic 12 months both Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin Welby, in their Christmas messages referred to how materialism is making the world more unbalanced. Yes they did mention the usual topics of suffering, war, conflict, community, and so forth, but they did strongly imply that our consumerist nature is causing untold happiness.

Even the Queen in her Christmas message alluded to helping others more than yourself. She said that, through the example of Christ, she can “see the value of doing small things with great love.”

There are two reasons why I am focusing on materialism (aka capitalism, aka consumerism). Firstly, I recently finished reading the book Revolution by Russell Brand. The book is an interesting read, especially the views on consumerism. I also watch many of Russell’s videos on his YouTube channel The Trews, from which many of his quotes below are from. Brand is one of those love-him-or-hate-him figures, and whilst I may not entirely love him, I certainly do have a lot of time and respect for him and many of his ideas.

Secondly, mankind has now officially entered the Trumpocene era, an era of climate change denial, enhanced division, conspiracy based governmental policies, and most alarmingly of all, pure unadulterated greed.


So what follows is the usual smorgasbord of quotes, clips, and pics related to the topic currently buzzing around in my head, materialism. Enjoy!

Let’s start with a classic quote on the mediocrity of our existence from the classic book Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh (ignore the last bit please)…

Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television. Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin can openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance. Choose fixed-interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisure wear and matching luggage. Choose a three piece suite on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pishing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked-up brats that you have spawned to replace yourself. Choose your future. Choose life…But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life: I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin? – Irvine Welsh, from his book Trainspotting

A quote from Russell Brand that echoes Irvine Welsh…

You may be suffering from anxiety because you recognize that the outside world doesn’t seem to bear a relationship to your own personal value systems, and the things that you’ve been told that will work for you, the things that you were told to do to make life work for you, are proving fruitless: go to university, do this, do that, get a good job, get a bank account, get a car, it’s all going to work well. Well, no it’s not, is it? It hasn’t worked. And guess what? The people that told you that it would knew that it wouldn’t. They were doing it for their own values, not in a conspiratorial way, just simply that there’s an economic system that some people benefit from and they have a vested interest in keeping it running and you my friend are the fodder. – Russell Brand

Archbishop Justin Welby on the failure of progress…

The end of 2016 finds us all in a different kind of world, one less predictable and certain, which feels more awash with fear and division. Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney said three weeks ago, “Despite immense progress many citizens in advanced economies are facing heightened uncertainty…rather than a new golden era, globalisation is associated with low wages, insecure employment, stateless corporation and striking inequalities.” That uncertainty of our world, our feelings tells us that our values are in the wrong place. I learned last week of a family in one of our cities who lowered their child in a supermarket dustbin to scavenge for food before fishing him out. What will that family eat today? Economic progress, technological progress, communication progress hasn’t resulted in economic justice. It hasn’t delivered glory for us. – Archbishop Justin Welby, Dec 2016, from his Christmas sermon

Russell Brand on the modern places of worship…

Joseph Campbell, the cultural anthropologist…said, “If you want to understand what’s most important to a society, don’t examine its art or literature, simply look at its biggest buildings.” In medieval societies, the biggest buildings were its churches and palaces; using Campbell’s method, we can assume these were feudal cultures that revered their leaders and worshipped God. In modern Western cities, the biggest buildings are the banks—bloody great towers that dominate the docklands—and the shopping centers, which architecturally ape the cathedrals they’ve replaced: domes, spires, eerie celestial calm, fountains for fonts, food courts for pews. – Russell Brand, from his book Revolution

Pope Francis on Christmas being taken hostage…

Jesus was born rejected by some and regarded by many others with indifference. Today also the same indifference can exist, when Christmas becomes a feast where the protagonists are ourselves, rather than Jesus; when the lights of commerce cast the light of God into the shadows; when we are concerned for gifts, but cold toward those who are marginalised. This worldliness has taken Christmas hostage. It needs to be freed. – Pope Francis, Dec 2016, in his Christmas Eve homily

Russell Brand on not being you…

When in 2011 young people all over Britain seemingly spontaneously decided to break the glass and snatch the idols from the altar, it was condemned as nihilistic and antisocial. That may be the case, what is more antisocial and nihilistic is the imposition of such dubious idolatry. The unrelenting bombardment of consumer imagery, the intoxicating message that you are not good enough. You are too fat, spotty, and wan. You are not as fit as David Beckham or Beyonce, escape your life into this PlayStation, mask the stench of your failure with this fragrance, run from your debts in these gleaming new shoes. Don’t be you. Don’t be you. – Russell Brand, from his book Revolution

Russell Brand on the crazy shopping event known as Black Friday…

A religious holiday is being measured in terms of consumer success. I don’t want to sound like a seventeen-year-old but obviously that shows that our state religion, of the states of the United Kingdom, in the United States and the sort of secular Western democracies, is consumerism, which never presents itself explicitly as ‘this is our religion’ but it evidently is: this is how we see ourselves, this is how we talk to ourselves, this is how we express ourselves. Even formally religious impulses, like let’s come together, are expressed now by going out and buying a bloody great big television…Can’t you already feel the shadows of future evolved beings watching this and going “And this is why their society fell apart.” – Russell Brand, Nov 2016

Whether you like it or not, we are all complicit, especially those not interested in politics…


Russell Brand on materialism versus spiritualism…

I myself felt that when you live in a world that is predicated on materialistic values and individualism, something deep within you knows that this is an erroneous ecological system and rejects it. So you feel like you’re not in harmony with the external world. The values of a materialistic society somehow don’t chime or resonate with your inner self…You get these objects, whether it’s trainers, a fast car, or a fancy famous lifestyle, it doesn’t nourish you spiritually, it never can do. – Russell Brand

Russell Brand on why materialism is causing some people to turn to drugs…

We live in a society that tells you that you have to be successful as an individual, that your feelings are secondary, that the way to solve all of your problems is by acquiring things. If you look at how often you receive that message over the course of a day it is bamboozling and baffling even to contemplate. Even if you stay in your house all day the message will hit you: you should have these trainers, this is what you should do, this is you should be drinking, this is what you should look like. It’s so perpetual that it exists as a rhythm in your head. We live in a culture that has closed the door on the mystery, that has closed the door on the metaphysical, that has closed the door on the spiritual, so all that is left is a kind of bleak mechanical nothingness that’s trundling towards the grave. And if that’s reality then I will bloody take drugs. – Russell Brand

I will leave you with Russell’s views on that Amazon advert that I thought was brilliant, but I am not so sure now…

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