How can somebody who doesn’t care much for material things advocate laissez-faire capitalism? Surely this is a system that only benefits the very rich, i.e. people who care about material things above all else. Correct?
Wrong. Most of the people I encounter who are fairly or very rich are either (a) committed socialists or (b) unprincipled Republicans who, once you scratch the surface, are practically socialists themselves. The reason for this, on one level, has to do with a lack of integrity in the particular people in question. Hypocrisy and lack of integrity have always been widespread qualities in many human beings, so that’s not really worth much analysis here. What is worth analyzing is what motivates people to be nutty materialists. By “materialist” I mean the unhealthy sort. Not the sort who want ever-increasing material prosperity (including wealth) for all of mankind, including oneself — that’s healthy and rational. Not the sort who value a secular life on earth and as many comforts as possible to enhance it — that’s reasonable and healthy, too. I’m talking about the type who chases material things for the sake of gaining approval from others — and who is threatened by those who don’t do the same.
Such an unhealthy type is usually motivated by two irrational yet (to him or her) potent things: One, a need for approval from others; two, a false sense of value. The first unhealthy motive is self-explanatory. “If I have this fancy car or ring or other expensive object, then I’ll be approved by Johnny across the street, or Suzy at the office, or Andy across town.” Some people are individualists but most want to be part of “the pack,” and unhealthy materialism is one way to be part of a particular pack. The second unhealthy motive is less obvious and, in my judgment, far worse. Having expensive material things, to this person, means, “I am somebody.” The person actually derives value from the fact that she owns something rich, not because “The efforts of my mind created the wealth that enabled me to buy this.” That would be a healthy motive. The person derives value from the object because, “Having this means I’m somebody.” You might call this a form of irrational supernatural materialism. Just as the religious nut gets pseudo self-esteem from the false belief that he is somebody because he believes in a supernatural being, the materialist nut gets pseudo self-esteem from the fact that he owns something expensive. It’s as if the object itself gives the person value, rather than the value in the person (creativity, productivity, competence in the marketplace) created the object. This is one reason why the nutty materialist is compulsive and always has to get more stuff: She will never feel like somebody no matter how hard she tries, because the stuff will never give her the value of self-esteem she objectively requires to be sane and serene. Only the recognition of the competence of one’s mind will.
People like this expect you to be nutty materialists too. If you’re not, they come across as snobby and will even subtly put you down for not having or wanting what they have and want. This is because you threaten their world, which is propped up by something stupid and empty, and they can’t stand it when somebody else is rational or fulfilled in a way they cannot grasp or make their own.
As a political aside, it’s little wonder that the nutty materialist is so often either a far-left socialist or some sort of phony “Republican” who’s really a socialist beneath it all. People like this by definition do not love themselves. Either they have nothing to love other than their material objects, or they love their material objects for the wrong reasons, as I just described. Advocating for socialist or leftist policies makes them feel like they’re “moral” since these viewpoints, after all, represent the established conventional morality of educated and elite society. If they really liked themselves for their own virtues — assuming they actually have any virtues — they would understand what system (i.e. hands-off capitalism) enabled them to create their well-deserved wealth, and they would want the same system to continue, for themselves and for all of the world. If they don’t feel worthy, then the logical step is to punish themselves (and everyone else) by imposing the wealth-destroying system of socialism (i.e. organized poverty) on the world.