I like things. I do not consider myself a particularly materialistic person. I am probably as attached to my material possessions as anybody in this day and age. The reasons for my materialism are myriad, and decidedly unenlightened. However, my reasons for placing importance on in-animate objects extends beyond the simple concept of possession. I believe that things have importance, purpose, and meaning.
The False Hierarchy
For the most part, humans place more importance on living things than inanimate objects. “Life is precious.” We treat the world around us as some backdrop to our own existence. That life and consciousness are the show, while the rest is all just a stage for it to stand on. We devalue every other form of existence simply because it is not conscious. It is not life, and thus is not important. We tend to see materialism, the appreciation of in-animate objects, as a ‘negative’ quality. While I do not disagree, it still seems to me a very biased view.
Humans tend to have a hierarchy of ‘importance’ based on consciousness and life. As conscious, self-aware beings put ourselves at the top. We put other conscious animals next. Then life in general, encompassing insects, plants, bacteria, eukaryotes, and prokaryotes. Then maybe viruses. And then…well everything else. Things. In-animate objects. They are at the bottom of this supposed hierarchy.
In reality we are simply on one end of a spectrum with no top and no bottom. Living things on one end, in-animate things on the other. Like any spectrum, there is no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ side, no ‘important, and ‘unimportant’. There are simply two extremes of a single quality.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to minimize the importance of life. I simply make this argument so that for those trying to understanding my view point, all things might be considered equal, regardless of their position on this spectrum.
The Lives of Things
I am a person who very easily personifies inanimate objects. I like to characterize inanimate objects as having personalities, thoughts, and lives. I know, logically, that objects do not, in fact, have these things. But there is some instinct in me that keeps me from believing that there isn’t at least something there. If an object can make me feel, remember, influence my life in meaningful ways, it must itself have meaning.
If consciousness is a light, even if objects are not themselves lights, they still define the shape of the light.
Instead, I believe that objects, while not having consciousness in any sense of the word, have some sort of equivalent that conscious beings like ourselves are simply incapable of comprehending in our limited experience of reality. I believe that the existence of an object has purpose, meaning, and is deserving of respect and honor. I believe there is more to every single thing that exists than we are capable of understanding.
It is this way of thinking that makes me value objects, and consequently personify them. The only way I have, as a conscious being, of communicating my value of the existence of objects is to imbue them with qualities that we, as humans, find valuable. Qualities like personalities, thoughts, and lives. I pretend objects have these qualities, because I have no way to comprehend, let alone communicate, the equivalents in their existence. It is only through personification that I am able to frame my interactions with objects in a way that feels as though it values their existence. This is what feels most ‘right’ to me.
The Material World
I would say that the religion that most closely resembles my own belief system is Buddhism. However, because of my belief in the importance of objects, I have always had difficulty with the necessity of ridding one’s self of worldly possessions, or detachment from the material world.
Some of these objects I see as my friends. We have history, we share memories. We have lived lives together and share secrets. How can I be expected to abandon friends? How can I show my respect for my belongings if I throw them away? It feels wrong, it feels disrespectful. For everything that an object has done for me, and meant to me, it feels important to honor it with a place in my home.
I feel that there is some middle ground, because while I cannot shake my belief in the importance of objects, I also believe in the purity and virtue of a life lived free of possessions. I have, with difficulty, started to reconcile my belief with that of the Buddhist teaching. It is not yet to a point where I feel I can frame it into words, but I do not feel that there needs to be a contradiction between the two ideals. As I grow, I will continue to meditate on it.