Could materialism be a vestigial characteristic – a behavioural pattern that has lost most of their ancestral function? You could make some inferences about a man’s character if you know the condition in which he has survived and prospered: Given that the industrial revolution only began in the late 1700s, where “for the first time in history the living standards for the masses of ordinary people begun to undergo sustained growth.” (Robert E Lucas, Jr), this meant for a vast expanse of human history, the rich were more likely to have a larger pool of surviving offsprings. In addition, for a significant period of human existence, women still relied on men to be bread winners in the family, it goes without saying that those who married the richer men were likely to have more surviving offspring than those who married poorer men. And if we subscribe to Dawkins theory of the selfish gene, “we are but survival machines – robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes”, and the gene for materialism secures its own perpetuation by the simple unconscious expedient of blind faith in the power of money.
Although times have changed and women no longer has to rely on men to provide for them, it could be argued that the genes that codes for this materialistic behaviour is still within us? For you see, individuals are fleeting, put our lifespan in the context of a day, and we are dewdrops on a leaf that evaporates by mid morning. However, genes are the denizens of geological time: genes are forever. They are the replicators and it still serves their purpose to encourage their survival machines to engage in acts that would further their survival chances.
Even a seemingly reasonable explanation for materialistic behaviour does not make it any less deplorable. Money grabbing behaviour often provokes condescension and derision from the men who are the target of gold diggers. Men who are looking for a long-term relationship would not settle for one of these gold diggers, because you don’t fall in love with something you could buy. A love potential is generated when you see something that you want but do not yet possess, however, if you could buy the object of your desire, your sub-conscious would not enter the actual state of falling in love. Therefore, the question is: is materialistic behaviour even relevant in today’s society, should we attempt to upset the design of the selfish genes?
As an entire species, it may be the case that we carry the gene for materialism within us. However, as humans, with a life span of less than a century, we are not programmed to understand the grand design of our immortal selfish genes. At a personal level, humans still long for condolence and consolation, acts that give us a nice warm feeling inside. The idea of someone having a relationship with you simply for your material possession is more likely to freeze your insides with the chill of indignation.
Witnessing how relationships in the 21st century has happily taken on that edge of distasteful superficiality, being with people for only what they can offer you. Wanting to climb up that social ladder even it meant stepping on other below you. And here is where I say that we can override biology with free will, and it is also important to understand that genetic programming of our lives not fully deterministic, it is statistical. Just because we are programmed to be selfish and advance our own position in life with a probability of X, it doesn’t mean that we have to go out and act that way.
Unlike the expression of phenotypes by genes, where nuturing could play no part to affect the colour of one’s eyes, or one’s race for example, nurturing could still in large affect one’s behavioural patterns. “Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish. Let us understand what our own selfish genes are up to, because we may at least have the chance to upset their designs, something that no other species has ever aspired to do” (Richard Dawkins).