On the other hand, Communism relied on materialism in that it was going to distribute goods more fairly to the extent that we would be free to pursue life as we want to. Here, the issue Communism was addressing was the deprivation that existed for many workers in a Capitalist system. The system was owned and run by the rich owners who controlled the state. This is why Marx wanted to abolish private property. Now what Marx meant here was that he wanted to abolish the control that property owners had over the state (click here). He did not mean that one should eliminate private property itself.
In essence, what Communism and Capitalism are saying to each other is, 'we do materialism right.' While Capitalism knows how to create greater materialistic wealth, Communism knows how to share it more equitably. And the mechanisms used by each ideology is class control over the state--we should note that how Communism has been implemented has fallen well short of allowing the proletariate to rule. While under Capitalism, the bourgeoisie controlled the state, Marx proposed that the proletariate should control the state.
But Martin Luther King Jr says something that should upset our thinking about both ideologies' approach to materialism. In his speech against the Vietnam War, he says:
To King, the issue wasn't which class controlled society. Instead, his concern was that society loved things more than people. Loving gadgets, profits, and property rights more than loving people made one thing-oriented. In contrast to that, King also said:
I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented" society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
So to King, spending more on helping people in need than on defense showed that we were on the right path.
At this time, we should look at the characteristics of a thing-oriented society.
Status and success measured in the accumulation of goods
The first characteristic we'll look at is found in how status and success are measured. In a thing-oriented society, we more often gain status and approval by what we own. Things we own include our homes, cars, our furniture, and our clothes. So to gain respect, we try to own the right number of the right things. We often call this prosperity. And the problem with prosperity is that it can act as an anesthetic. However, prosperity doesn't make us numb to our own pains, it makes us numb to the pain of others who are without. But not only that, it stirs in us our urge to steal from others. For those who can buy laws, the theft is recognized as being legal. For others, they must take their chances with the law.
People become objects to be used or obstacles to be eliminated or avoided while things take on the importance of people
Next we want to look at how a thing-oriented society treasures things over people. In a thing-oriented society, since our reward is first found in the accumulation of stuff, us individuals are led to see things as being more important than people. After all, it is having enough of the right things that gives us our sense of significance. Thus, people, outside of a select few, become objects or obstacles to us. They become objects when we can use them to get the things we want. However, when people get in our way, they make us angry. The result is that people become disposable.
It is obvious why they are disposable when they are obstacles, but how could they be disposable when they are helping us get the things we want? Here, we merely ask the question: What if someone else can help us get the same things for a lower price, does the first person become less important or even necessary in our lives?
Since things are more important than people, and life is about having the more and more things, it follows that people will tend to become more and more aggressive to get what they want. This is especially true when what is wanted is in high demand. To see our aggressiveness, one only needs to look at the driving habits of those around us on the highways in and around cities. We should note here one kind of car that is often driven in a hostile manner: SUVs. SUVs are not inexpensive, especially the newer ones. People who drive SUVs probably have enough money to live comfortably. And yet, put them behind the wheel of their SUV and they unnecessarily risk the lives and property of others by speeding, tailgating, and reckless driving.
And if we think that the highways are full of aggression, then we should enter the dog-eat-dog world of some businesses. In that world, the prime objective and persistently reductive ethic of 'maximize profits' causes businesspeople to play by one rule: 'Do not get caught.'
Thus, almost all stakeholders, besides owners and those who represent them, become disposable objects of profit. For as long as those people aid in the maximizing of profits for the owner, they can stay. But once they become an obstacle to maximizing profits, then, then they become disposable even if they are not eliminated.
Litigious--the legal game of 'I've got you'
Being the thing-oriented society that we are, it should not surprise us that we are the most litigious one in the world (click here). If you read the article, what you will see are people suing for all they can regardless of how irresponsibly they acted. That is individuals, not business or corporations. The article also cites the people to lawyer ratio which leads to lawyers encouraging lawsuits in order to maximize their own personal and agency profits.
Being litigious is simply another way of being aggressive. Only here, people are using the laws designed to protect us to get what they can. Why? Because getting as much as we can is what comes at the expense of others is what comes with a thing-oriented society.
What do we do when someone takes our things? We want revenge. And since the objects of our revenge are only people, we don't care about how much they get hurt.
This applies not only to those who have tried to take our things, it applies to those whom we perceive as a threat to take our things. One only needs to look at the incarceration rates or the way of life in prison to get a glimpse of how we treat those who break the law. And our tolerance for the prison life of others shows our contempt for people. We mistakenly believe that pain and suffering will correct their behavior. All this does is either to prevent people from acknowledging what is wrong or hardens them while on the inside so that they are more likely to commit crime afterwards. Actually, prison is only one approach to correcting behavior. But we rarely consider others approaches And it is really difficult to say that prison is designed to correct behavior. Rather, it becomes a way of warehousing people.
Being merciless comes with being punitive; and so does legalism. We use legalism to justify being punitive. But again, what does it matter, we are only dealing with people. As long as we have our things, why should we care about those who, for whatever reason, could not follow the rules? Those who are in jail are getting what's coming to them, or so we think. Of course, little do we notice that those who can buy laws can legally hurt others. And if they are rich enough, their groups, such as big banks or corporations, can break laws with legal impunity. And perhaps this shows how much of a thing-oriented society we have. That those with the most things can get away with hurting the most people.
Compassion can be deep but only for those who deserve it
Here, we can measure compassion by how we take care of those in need. And in a thing-oriented society, caring for others requires giving up some of our things. So we want to be very careful about who gets those precious things we have to do without to support them.
A similar line of thinking has gone into Kansas' laws restricting how welfare recipients can spend their benefits. The restrictive laws says to welfare recipients that they can only spend their benefits checks on what the state sees as being necessary to live. It is another way of saying no unnecessary spending of what were our things before taxes took them away.
And yet, many who would restrict spending on welfare recipients say nothing about the money spent on companies associated with the Military Industrial Complex or other corporations that get unnecessary contracts, subsidies, tax breaks, favors from policies and laws, and such. Though the spending on corporations is substantial and probably outweighs our spending on welfare benefits, many are only concerned about what we spend on entitlements. And this is regardless of whether the entitlements are self-funding, like Social Security, or not.
So does it matter whether we are Socialists or Capitalists in a thing-oriented society? In either case, materialism, rather than people, is our focus. The accumulation of things will be our measure of success. And though things that are necessary to life like gadgets can be helpful and even lifesaving, while businesses need to make a profit to survive, and property rights are important so we can both enjoy life and create, when our use of them hurts others and it doesn't bother us, then we have to admit that people are not important to us. And when people are not important to us, neither are we important to them.
Of course, what has been written here will seem pretty all-or-nothing. After all, many of us do care about those in need and we help others besides those who are closest to us. But that often happens only after we have enough things. And we are often not willing to consider changing our systems so that more people can be cared for.
We all fail at placing the correct value on people. For either we will not care enough about groups of people because of some characteristic(s), or we will mistreat individuals. And that alone should tell us that many of us are treated better than we deserve. What should follow from that discrepancy should be empathy for those who've done wrong and those who are suffering. That is what should follow, but our lust for things changes the direction of our concern.