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Materialism Is Only Skin Deep

Materialism has been the favorite philosophy of progressives for well over a century. However, little attention has been given to the ideology’s connection with certain personality types and attitudes. A closer look at the psychology of materialism could yield useful insights into how the left thinks, and why.

Materialism in a nutshell

Many people think of materialism as being only concerned with money or material goods, but there’s more to it as a philosophy. It states that the only thing that exists is the physical. Consciousness is an illusion, a mere by-product of your brain activity. There is nothing more to you than the atoms that make you up.

Materialists believe you are only skin deep. Beneath your material exterior, there is nothing. You have no soul. You are only surface. You have no free will or agency. You are a leaf blowing in the wind.

Who likes materialism?

What kind of people are attracted to such a doctrine? It is tempting to answer “soulless people” but a more charitable reply would be people who tend to see and evaluate the world in terms of surface properties.

The pursuit of pleasure

Materialists tend to reduce life to hedonistic values, which are surface experiences of pleasure and pain in the moment. For example, the sexual liberation movement of the 1960s was focused on unfettered sex with no concern for anything other than the superficial pleasure of the moment. Conservatives, by contrast, have a deeper view of sex, connecting it to love, family, children and continuing the eternal lineage.

The hippies also focused on free drugs in pursuit of immediate short-term pleasure. In contrast,  conservatives see drugs as destroying the lifeline of long-term happiness and the fabric of society.

Feminists during this era argued that motherhood had little value. When describing what being a mother entails, they would often loathingly summarize it as the mechanical acts of changing diapers and housecleaning. They saw no value in the deep love between mother and child and in shaping the values and future of another human being.

What did they see as valuable instead? Money. Career.


Pleasure seeking.

Shallow identity

Materialists tend to focus on skin-deep identities, such as race, gender, and sexual orientation. A “person of color” who votes Republican must therefore automatically be misguided or a race traitor because a black person is reducible to his race and nothing more. He cannot possibly be an individual with his own set of qualities. He has no depth and no agency.

Similarly, the mythical gender pay gap can only be reduced to a single variable – the patriarchy. It’s not like women and men have hundreds of millions of years of different evolutionary pathways that have generated certain deep-rooted biological differences in skills and preferences. No, it all comes down to a one-dimensional surface property: oppression.

Proximate causality

Materialists tend to explain events with a singular, superficial cause. Guns kill. Poverty creates crime.

When a young man went on a shooting spree at a school in Parkland, Florida, the materialists explained it very simply. It was the gun that was the real killer, and anyone who supported the second amendment had blood on their hands. Conservatives tried to go deeper and tell a richer and more complex story: this young man had experienced childhood trauma. He was adopted at an early age. His adoptive father died when he was only six years old, and his adoptive mother died only three months before the school shooting.

Incidentally, a shockingly high number of the mass shooters that have filled the news coverage in recent years have grown up without a father. Materialists tend to ignore this obvious factor. Why? It relies on such immaterial concepts as fatherly love, building a character, instilling moral values, and teaching young boys to channel their energy into assertive agency rather than aggression.

Surface qualities

Even when it comes to evaluating concepts, materialists go for the superficial. The police wear a uniform; the Nazis wear a uniform – therefore, the police are fascist. The surface quality of clothing becomes a defining feature of an ideology.

Similarly, President Donald Trump puts children in cages, the Nazis put children in cages. Therefore, they are the same. Never mind that the intent of one of them was extermination and the other to keep the children safe from sex abuse.

A shallow philosophy

In pop culture, materialism is often a synonym for shallowness. Although that is a low-resolution analysis, it is a closer interpretation to the truth than the ideas upheld by materialism the intellectual movement. Consider the materialist term “reductionism.” It literally means to reduce the world we inhabit to something lesser, to remove an entire dimension of experience as irrelevant. Materialists think the world is only skin-deep – and that it’s a good thing.

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