Materialism and Dematerialism

On this website, materialism and dematerialism have technical definitions that, perhaps, have nothing to do with the meanings assigned to these words elsewhere.  Materialism can be defined as the use of material wealth as a measure of success, a reward for achievement or effort, or as an inducement to behave in a certain way.  Dematerialism is any method for unwinding materialism.  The definition of materialism subsumes two serious sub-problems that are slowly destroying the world: (1) absurd differences in compensation for work done and (2) the excessive amounts of energy that go into the sale and marketing of goods that drives the environmentally destructive consumer culture.  You won't go far wrong if you assume that, for all practical purposes, materialism is buying and selling including the buying and selling of the time of people's lives.

Materialism allows wealth to be distributed unequally and unfairly depending upon accidents of birth even if those accidents of birth happen to be great strength, high intelligence, and good character.  Why should people who have received these great gifts from Nature just because of who their parents were expect to receive additional gifts especially in an overpopulated world in which resources are scarce and one person’s surplus is guaranteed to be someone else’s deficit!  Nowadays, it takes many poor people, perhaps thousands of poor people, to make one rich person; and, for many poor people, a deficit in consumable resources leads to death by starvation or worse.  Also, materialism requires a large authoritarian government to control a society that is essentially unstable because of war and poverty.

Many people will claim that they obtained their wealth and power because of their own hard work.  Even if this were true, and I claim that it is not true, the struggle to acquire wealth and power, if continued, will very likely cause the extinction of all life on this planet.  Materialism is indeed the Pandora’s Box that spawns every imaginable evil as shown in Chapter 9 of the book On the Preservation of Species.

Dematerialism, on the other hand, results, eventually, in a nearly equal distribution of wealth and income in terms of real wealth.  Moreover, since political power can no longer be concentrated in the hands of the few at the expense of the many, dematerialism permits the attainment of true democracy in a non-hierarchical society.  The approach to a non-materialistic society advocated on this website involves a series of changes any one of which can be reversed if unintended effects occur.  For example, delegislation is a process by which thousands of laws are replaced by only a few laws, one of which, the prohibition of the sale of entire companies, is the first in a series of laws that would place the ownership of the means of production exclusively in the hands of the workers according to the maxim that a workman should own his own tools.  Thus, distributed ownership of the means of production is achieved gradually but not too gradually.

The vision of a non-materialistic society offered on this website can be described most simply as a libertarian, give-away economy, as opposed to the socialism of Russia or China.  Dematerialism requires the equal distribution of wealth, modified slightly to account for differences in needs, and the production of wealth in a cooperative setting according to the abilities of the individual, allowing for the need for abundant leisure.  An education that is consistent with the aims of dematerialism provides people with the ability to enhance the material wealth and prosperity of society, viewed as a collection of private individuals; but, more importantly, it teaches people how to enjoy leisure in a manner consistent with their development as human beings, through the arts and sciences, sports, and other recreation.


Many people will find the ideas behind dematerialism a little difficult to understand – much less accept.  It seems to me that my critics should read the book On the Preservation of Species before passing judgment.  For an extended introduction to dematerialism that is much shorter than the book the preliminary essay “Social Problems and Solutions” might be good enough.

Tom Wayburn

Houston, Texas

December 10, 2005