‘Post-materialism.’ That’s the term being bandied about more and more to capture the change in values increasingly noticeable among the generation now very much coming to the fore (roughly, the post-boomers, born, say, between ’65 and ’85). I’m tempted to say we’re witnessing a ‘satisficing’-shift in attitudes, with respect to more ‘materialist’ goods, at any rate. It seems that growing numbers feel they make ‘enough’ money, or possess enough creature comforts, provided they have sufficient means to enjoy leisure with family or engage in non-economically defined productivity and (self-)development.
I think this shift in attitude might be fueling the Occupy Wall Street movement, and certainly generates sympathy with it. Our currently dysfunctional society, from its criminally unequal economy to its pathetically vapid news and entertainments, is rather hard to fathom outside of a culture whose materialism has run amok. And there are, in any case, interesting reasons why any self-described post-materialist should be not merely sympathetic but actively help to productively shape the OWS movement. Some are broadly ethical, as Will Wilkinson suggests here. But there are also provocative fiscal reasons, as Reihan Salam notes, that could hopefully (my hope, not necessarily Salam’s) encourage transformative change across the board, and not permit the movement to succumb to the embrace of the business-as-usual left. A truly profound post-materialism, one really worth acknowledging and actually pushing, should transcend a left-right divide that derives much of its meaning from materialist-dominated concerns.