The materialist worldview denies that there is anything real other than matter; or that the things which aren’t material but do seem to exist – like one’s own sense of consciousness and of self-identity – are unreal illusions; just accidental, inconsequential byproducts of material interactions. The universe has no inherent meaning and there is no “point” or direction to its existence or ours. We are born due to chemical interactions resulting from the union between our parents and when we die, we “wink out” and that’s it. There is no afterlife, and the sum of our lives has been zero. We inhabit a pinball universe of random collisions between atoms, so any order and structure we see just happened to build up out of random possibilities over a vast span of time.
This worldview has at least two devastating consequences upon the human psyche:
- Human beings are the meaning-seeking creature. At least some of our species have always been engaged in this search; whereas one never sees other great apes gazing at the stars, scratching their chins and contemplating the meaning of it all. Primatologists have determined that their intellectual development terminates at what Piaget termed “concrete reasoning”: they are completely present in the immediate environment and the present moment – which makes them highly adaptive for survival – but are incapable of imagining a time other than now or a place other than the immediate environment, so they can’t plan for the future; and they’re incapable of abstract, symbolic thought, so they don’t have art, philosophy, religion, music, science, etc. As human beings, we have such capacities. Not everyone activates them, which leads to the popular differentiation of being “awake” or “asleep” – that is, leading Socrates’ “examined life” or not – but clearly we do possess these capacities. It is the position of some forms of psychology – humanist and transpersonal – that without attention to these parts of our psyche, humans suffer various deleterious psycho-emotional consequences. So long as they live in a culture and society in which these questions and issues are widely and openly aired and discussed, those who are asleep can be held in a relative state of mental health. But in a stridently materialist society, where all people are being told incessantly that there is no meaning, and those who do address those questions are sidelined as being flakes or at best well-meaning, harmless eccentrics, then a widespread ennui grows and pervades the mainstream culture. Over time this can lead to a pervasive angst, as meaning-seeking human beings are told repeatedly that there is no meaning to anything, including them and their lives. This angst will be expressed least in those who are most asleep, and thus only leading lives as human animals – not to denigrate our animal nature; I only point out that we are distinguished by being more than just animals – but more so in those who are more awake and who will thus be aware on some level that they are experiencing cognitive dissonance. The more awake, aware, and sensitive to the spiritual dimensions of human potential a person is, the more their psycho-emotional health will be challenged by materialist claims and the more they will suffer. This is one reason we see widespread and growing mental health issues – chiefly anxiety, depression, and addictions – in modern and postmodern Western societies and, thanks to corporate globalization, most other societies as well.
- A second unfortunate consequence of the materialist worldview is that anything which doesn’t lead to immediate, concrete material benefit is denigrated as less important if not completely illusory and meaningless. Thus a cultural orientation develops that encourages people to direct their attention exclusively to the outer world, paying little attention to the inner development of their psycho-emotional health and spiritual growth. Why would you if that was all nonsense, as a materialist worldview maintains? As a result, most individuals are developmentally stunted and immature. A widely-held, unexamined assumption is that one automatically grows more mature as one grows older. Unfortunately, this is not so. Many (most?) biological adults function at adolescent if not childish levels of conceptualization. We can see this in the international posturing among leaders of nation-states, which of course leads to conflict and suffering; and in many social groups based on concepts of “us versus them” that promote bias, prejudice, bigotry. This results in fear and even hatred of “others” who are “not-us.” One can readily see such dynamics of social interaction on playgrounds among children. In those cases, however, there are supposed to be mature adults around to see that no one gets seriously hurt and to impart instruction based on “play nice with others.” Unfortunately, the few mature human elders who attempt to instruct the majority who are acting like children are ignored by sociopolitical leaders, or at best paid lip service to, without any real change in consciousness and thus in behavior. Fear-driven, immature leaders can only lead humanity to ruin and suffering. On a personal level, one can’t have healthy, happy relations with others if one doesn’t know who and what they really are in the first place. At this level too, leading the examined life is required for the development of successful communities which promote healing, growth, understanding, safety, and evolution.
So philosophical and spiritual inquiry is not simply the provenance of a few, irrelevant academics but a vitally necessary, functioning component of human society in order for the social container to support human development in general; and safe, happy, healthy human lives in particular.
But even scientists and other intellectuals who are unwittingly trapped in a materialist worldview, by virtue of having been brought up in it, don’t generally carry their lines of thought to their ultimate logical conclusions. It is astonishing to me that intelligent people can claim that consciousness is just an accidental byproduct of brain function, simply a meaningless epiphenomenon – using inconsequential consciousness to make such an assertion! They don’t notice the circularity and self-defeating nature of their statement: if they’re right, then their assertion is no more meaningful or likely to be true than any other position, so why should we pay any attention to it?
I have developed this argument to support my assertion that the materialist worldview is a major, fundamental cause – though certainly not the only one – of addictions, which is my academic topic and personal mission. Yet I think one can see that it has widespread ramifications throughout all aspects of human society. I see it as not only a significant contributing factor in the current unfortunate state of world affairs, but also as a major stick in the spokes of human evolution.
Fortunately, it is the Old Paradigm, in terms of Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. A New Paradigm has been developing since the beginning of the 20th Century, beginning with quantum physics and relativity theory in material science, and evolutionary theory in social science. At first and for quite a while, these issues were confined to arguments within some disciplines of scholarship and research. I suggest that the sense of a developing New Paradigm arose from seeds planted during and just before the Hip Revolution (which my view includes the psychedelic, spiritual, consciousness, sexual, civil rights, and ecological revolutions). Groundwork was laid 50 years ago, when psychedelics were a hot new topic in psychology and psychiatric research and discussion due to their ability to reveal subtle aspects of human consciousness and treat otherwise intractable mental illness, including addictions like alcoholism. Then around 20-30 years ago, the distinct sense of a New Paradigm began to coalesce into overt commentary and proposals for a coherent theme. I suggest it is “integral,” but much work awaits.
Welcome to the Revolution!