Bare Necessities: Materialism Matters

Lucy Twisleton 28 April 2014

A look at materialism in this comfy Western world of ours. How materialistic are we? Is anti-materialism hypocritical? How much can we really contribute to the issue? Perusing, not preaching on the dilemmas over everything from Coca Cola and fast fashion to Voluntourism and being an ethical student. 

Materialism matters

On a bright spring morning hundreds of men and women are camped in market square. Rows and rows of tents can be seen along the high street. People hug cups of hot tea in the cool breeze. But it’s not because everyone has decided to stage a sleep-out: expectant customers check their iPhones for the time, counting down the minutes until they burst into the Apple store and purchase an iPad they will cherish and love for the rest of their immensely enriched lives. Or until the next generation comes out. Whichever comes first.

Now I’m not the most anti-materialist person out there. I have a smartphone, can’t carry all my possessions in a little knapsack and don’t dress in hessian sacks to avoid fast fashion. But I do try to think at least a little bit about doing what’s ethically right. However, moving to the big city of Cambridge (relative to my previous midlands hometown whose only claim to fame is that is hosts signs for the M69) has revealed a lot of unexpected challenges.

Just how can students do this living ethically stuff without coming under masses of social pressure? It’s hard to avoid buying a swap outfit we’ll wear once that has most likely been made by a very unhappy Bangladeshi child; when the time comes, can we resist buying those extra shots in Cindies that mean we’ll only be able to afford 15 grey-looking battery hen eggs for the next week’s food?

Now it may not seem worthwhile to consider students: we really aren’t the biggest spenders out there. And after all, don’t we have a lot more important things to think about buying clothes that will last more than 3 weeks? Well, actually no. Just because things are there for us lucky Western consumers to buy, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t consider whether it's morally okay to perpetuate a system of consumption that causes poverty, inequality and wealth disparities through the world.

Advertisers and the media will always tell us to buy more because that’s how they make money. But isn’t it about time we saw through this and considered our actions in the wider context of how they affect the world outside essays and bops? At the end of the day, wouldn’t you rather spend that money on a cinema ticket for your cute supervision partner rather than another t-shirt?