I am in some ways a cynical writer, and like to think I am writing to an intelligent, skeptical audience.
Here is a New York Times article a friend of mine sent me as reading for an ongoing conversation between us.
Here it is, it's amazing: Love People, Not Pleasure.
The article discusses Abd al-Rahman, an absolute ruler who lived in complete luxury. After a long life, he said he had counted his only genuinely happy days, which amounted to 14. This is a man who miserably sleepwalked through life, loving things and using people.
"This search for fame, the lust for material things and the objectification of others — that is, the cycle of grasping and craving — follows a formula that is elegant, simple and deadly."
By my definition, one who only loves things and doesn't love people is a sociopathic materialist.
"Love things, use people." This is morally disordered. Flipping the equation orders it, and makes it virtuous. Love people, use things.
The article says Abd al-Rahman's worldview is the same "snake oil" unconsciously prescribed and "peddled by the culture makers from Hollywood to Madison Avenue."
In my view, it is hard to be immune to lopsided materialism. As the article says, a greater love for people "requires the courage to repudiate pride and the strength to love others — family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, God and even strangers and enemies. Only deny love to things that actually are objects. The practice that achieves this is charity. Few things are as liberating as giving away to others that which we hold dear."
This is a great quote, but I would modify a bit.
First, I don't believe in God. When I see "God" in text, I think of it as a metaphor for the universe. The study of complex patterns in nature is known as Chaos Theory.
So when I see the word "God" I actually tell myself "Chaos." This is not intended to be glib or severe, it is because life emerges from Chaos and is anti-entropic. Order emerges from Chaos. As an atheist (technically agnostic) this allows me to listen to someone say "love God," or "God is truth," or "God is beauty" and feel I understand and relate. The religious individual and I may be saying different things, but I believe we mean similar things in spirit.
The article says you should deny love to things that are actual objects, but I don't agree with this. There is no reason not to love objects as well. You can love things you utilize. The more things you love, the more pleasurable your life will be (but the more comfortable you must feel with being vulnerable–because you can lose things you love).
As a polyamorist, I can certainly attest to the following statement: "few things are as liberating as giving away to others that which we hold dear." Only I don't "give away" my partners because they are not my possessions. I also don't try to make my partners my possessions, I set them free. I want them to be free. I want them to be happy. I want to make them happy myself, I also want them to make other people happy. And I want other people to make them happy too.
The article concludes saying "Finally, [happiness] requires a deep skepticism of our own basic desires. Of course you are driven to seek admiration, splendor and physical license. But giving in to these impulses will bring unhappiness." I would modify this statement to say giving into these impulses to the point of imbalance will bring unhappiness. If you can maintain a balance, you will be fine.
This article nails it though. Loving things and not people is morally deficient. It's an imbalanced equation. The equation "love people, use things" is more balanced (and more virtuous). Regarding this equation though, I would add to say I believe it is important not to weigh happiness in relation to others. That approach will imbalance the equation with jealousies.
I do not think it is morally deficient to love things, seek admiration, splendor, and physical license. I do think a person should be careful to maintain balance though.
One's goals should be intrinsic first, extrinsic second. The intrinsic goals are what maintain and sustain you, how you are, how you think. How you think determines your (objective subjective) experience through life. Happiness comes from within. If you don't feel happy, you might feel lost and alone. You can find yourself, by knowing who you are. You are the story you tell yourself.
If you want to be good, and happy– you must believe, commit, and allow yourself to change (you must be skeptical of yourself, and repudiate your pride). You can be good and you can even be forgiven for mistakes. You can eliminate your blind spots and self-correct. Stay proud.
If you have inner peace and realize happiness comes from within- you will still need to work for more happiness.
Each accomplishment I achieve (reading a book, going on a run, writing a blog post, completing a job) elevates me- I experience extra residual good feelings, then they dissolve, then I strive for more.
I have faith in people because I assume they are self interested. Love people, use things. Or love both, use both, and maintain a moral balance. It is more pleasurable, beneficial, and intrinsically healthy to be virtuous.