Why do we place so much importance on our stuff?


In a recent post, I (rather pompously) said this; we imbue product with meaning, in the absence of greater meaning.

It is the elephant in the room that is taking up ever more space.

How did we get this way? Perhaps psychologists might help us understand this a little better…

We know that it all starts early. In 2008 Batya Licht filmed 22 month old children in nursery and found that a quarter of all conflict was over objects- either defensive or aquisitory. Perhaps little changes as we get older.

Then there are those special attachment objects that our kids often have- the filthy blanket, or the bear or floppy toy. Strangely, we parents often seem to become just as attached to these things- we give them special power over our emotional lives. Perhaps this kind of magical thinking survives into adulthood too- think about the reverence we give to works of art or objects touched by celebrity. It is perhaps significant that children seem to make less use of such objects when parents practice ‘attachment parenting’; sleeping in the same bed, feeding in cue etc. (Green et al 2004) The closer the connection to the real thing, the less we want a replacement.

As for teenagers- they seem to use possessions as a crutch for their ‘selfness’. In 2007 Chaplin et.al. asked young people aged 8 to 18 ‘What makes me happy’. There was a peak around the age of middle adolescence where most seemed to define this in terms of what they owned. Conversely, those who were given flattering and supportive feedback from peers, thereby boosting their self esteem, showed a marked decrease in their pull towards materialism. Those who felt loved and accepted by the people that they shared life with had less need for stuff.

Into adulthood (even though as already hinted at, we all carry our inner children) our association with stuff is ever more complex. The first car, the clothes and perhaps above all things- the house. It is never just a house, it is an ‘extension of my physical body and my sense of self, that reflects who I was, am and hope to be.’ (Karen Lollar 2010.)

It will be no surprise to hear that how much we see our things as an extension of ourselves depends on how confident we feel in who we are. Reflecting on our accumulation of things appears to restore, to bolster, our fragile ego. When we are more secure in our selves we have less need for such things.

Our possessions are also the means by which we send signals to others about the things we want them to value in us. We wear brands like Apple like a cool badge of belonging. We carry books we want others to know we read with the cover facing outwards. This trend towards ‘brand loyalty’ led psychologists Philip Cushman and Robert Pollard to say this;

…as people find less satisfaction and community in traditional sources like family, country and religion, they turn instead to alternative sources in the marketplace.

Quoted in The Psychologist, August 2013

So, is materialism always bad?

Tim Kassler’s research has shown a clear association between holding materialist values and being more depressed, having poorer relationships with others and being more selfish.

However, other research (van Boven, Gilovich et al 2002) suggests that there might be a difference between the purchase of things and the purchase of experiences. Those who do the latter seem to be happier, and more liked by others.

LJ Shrum (2012) suggested that the degree to which buying stuff damages us might also depend on what meaning we ascribe to the purchase. He theorised that it was not what we want, but why we want it that matters.

shop window

Time to revisit my earlier premise; that we imbue product with meaning, in the absence of greater meaning.

When we belong, when we love, when we connect, when we feel loved in return- we are less inclined towards gathering stuff.

Conversely, when we feel disconnected, vulnerable, shallow and disenfranchised, we turn to the credit card. And like a bottle of cheap whisky, we only feel the anesthetic for a short time before we wake with a blinding headache.


Going cold turkey with our ‘stuff’…


(The first of a couple of posts about materialism…)

Jesus told his disciples to travel light. In an age before antiperspirant deodorant he even told them that they only needed one shirt. I am sure a think tank commissioned to give the gospel market penetration would have a quiet word with Jesus about this.

How much stuff do we really need though?

I heard a bloke interviewed on the radio the other day about this film;

This is the blurb (from here.)

Petri Luukkainen is a product of the marketing industry, an ideal consumer whose Helsinki flat is filled with all kinds of stuff. One day his girlfriend dumps him. Petri realizes he is burdened by a huge mortgage, scarred by a maxed out credit card, and haunted by the stuff that failed to bring him happiness. He is in the middle of an existential crisis. He starts rebuilding his everyday existence by asking himself: What do I really need? Encouraged by his grandmother, he decides to conduct a bold experiment. The rule is simple: Put all of your stuff (including your clothes) into storage, and bring back only one item per day. The director documents his experiment in a fascinating way. He examines modern culture and the incessant need of people to fill their lives with consumables.

Interestingly enough, even this did not seem to break the addiction to product- in the interview I heard, he claimed that if anything the experience had made him MORE materialistic – he was now even more attached to some of his things.

When he was asked how many things he thought a person needed, rather than wanted, he came up with a figure of 200. I thought this seemed too large a number at first, as surely most of the things we have are not owned out of need, but out of lust for product. But as I thought about it, and looked around my house, I realised that 200 was not a large number at all.

  • Clothing- coats, trousers, shoes and (of course) shirts.
  • Laptop
  • Guitar
  • Toothbrush
  • Mobile
  • Pots and pans
  • Precious books
  • Lobsided things made by my kids
  • Etc.etc..

200 came and went quickly.

I have this theory about all of this; we imbue product with meaning, in the absence of greater meaning. 

Kicking this habit takes more than a short visit to the rehab clinic.

In case you missed it, it is now Spring…

rhododendron  flowers, snow, early spring … and it is perhaps just in time.

I know it has been a warm winter by most standards, but the darkness, the bare tree,; the sodden hillsides, the succession of storms – they do wear you down.

Spring is the time of yearI  love more than any other. More than the driest day of hot Summer, give me a Spring shower. Particularly one falling on the West Coast of Scotland. It is a time when my boots start to twitch to the promise of adventure. A time when things seem characterised by potential.

So my friends, may your windows be opened wide.

May your air be sweet with the song.

May you come to realise that after the heavy bloat of pregnancy, after the rending of birth, new life leaps into the fields, fresh of fur, eyes wide with wonder.

May you be drawn outside, where the world is.

The sofa will wait.

Captain Pugwash comes to the Holy Loch…


We don’t get many pirates in these parts. However, a few days ago there was an incident on the Holy Loch involving the boat above.

The Glen Masson is a posh small cruise boat of the rather grandiosely named Majestic Line. It was featured in last years Visit Scotland TV ad. Here she is last spring, beached for a bit of maintainance.

Recently whilst the Glen Masson was moored up, Captain Pugwash, along with Master Mate and his swarthy (is that a racist word?) band of cutthroats climbed aboard in the dead of night and helped themselves to all manner of treasures. Triumphantly they bundled their booty and made escape towards the high seas.

Except pride comes before a fall. In their excitement at a piratical job done well, they turned left rather than right.

This meant that rather than heading towards the mouth of the Clyde (and freedom) they sailed straight up the Loch, where they ran firmly aground.


Police and coastguards did the rest. Booty has been returned, the brave pirates are clinging to bobbing flotsam…

The report from the local paper is here.

Hollywood returns to the flood myth…

You may have heard about this film that is about to hit our screens;

It is a great story of course; an ancient almost-apocalypse in which an Angry God wipes out most of the planet in some kind of Creation-reboot.

When films like this make it onto the mass market however, it is often a good time to take stock and ask what this rehash of Genesis is speaking in to our culture.

One thing that seems to be central to a lot of mass media output post 911 is FEAR. Fear of the outsider, fear of the enemy within, fear of a great cataclysm that scatters body parts in all directions. Fear like this, at a time of greater (Western) peace and security than at almost any other time of our history, seems totally absurd at first glance. But this kind of fear is contagious. It might also be deliberately induced (take a look at Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine if you want to dig into this a little more.)

Movies have to make money. They have certainly parachuted some impressive acting talent into this one, be it a dog or be it screen nirvana. Movies have to plug in to a market demographic, and it seems likely that this epic will sell well in Conservative Christian middle America. The sort of places where many people regard Darwinism as the work of Satan, that the Great Flood explains away the fossil record and the words of the Bible are all we need to understand Science.

Remember the Creation Museum?

There is another way to approach the story of the Great Flood however. Some of you will be well aware that there are many other ancient cultures who have a flood myth as part of their received history.

There is the Gligamesh one– from at least 1200 BCE, probably a lot earlier.

The Flood Tablet, relating part of the Epic of Gilgamesh -Nineveh 7th Century BC

Utanapishtim replied: “I will tell you a secret of the gods, Gilgamesh, I will reveal to you a mystery. Shortly after the Flood had been decreed for mankind by the great gods, Enki — without breaking oath — advised me to tear down my house and build a boat, to abandon possessions and save life. Into the vessel was to go the seed of all living creatures.”*

(*A similar story is found in ancient India, where Vishnu tells Vaivasvata Manu: “Seven rain clouds will bring destruction. The turbulent oceans will merge together into a single sea. They will turn the entire triple world into one vast sheet of water. Then you must take the seeds of life from everywhere and load them into the boat of the Vedas.” (Matsya Purana 2.8-10).)

Enki gave Utanapishtim instruction on the boat’s dimensions and construction. It was to measure 10 rods (120 cubits) on a side, six decks dividing it into seven levels, all measured to a height of 10 rods, with nine compartments inside. On the sixth(?) day it was completed. The boat was launched with difficulty, until two-thirds was submerged. Then after everything had been loaded in, including all the craftsmen, the deluge came. Raging storms reached to the heavens, turning all that was light into darkness. As in a battle no man could see his fellow. Even the gods, terror-stricken by the tempest, fled to the heaven of Anu, cowering like dogs. Ishtar cried out like a woman in travail; Belet-ili (Aruru) lamented that the olden time had turned to clay, because she had spoken evil in the assembly of the gods.

Six days and seven nights the winds blew. At sunrise on the seventh day they subsided and the storm ceased. Utanapishtim opened a vent and light fell on his face. Water was everywhere. All was silence. All mankind had turned to clay. On the submerged peak of Mt. Nimush the ship ran aground. After another seven days, he sent a dove forth, but it found no perch. He sent out a swallow; it returned too. Then a raven, and this one saw the waters receding. Utanapishtim went forth from the boat; he offered a sacrifice to the four directions; he strewed incense on the peak (ziggurat) and poured a libation — seven goblets and seven — to attract the gods. But Enlil was furious: all mankind was to have been destroyed. Who had revealed the secret? Enki reproved Enlil for causing the Flood, then explained how in a vision given to Utanapishtim the secret had been discovered. His fate must be decided by Enlil, who then declared that Utanapishtim and his wife shall become like gods. The gods took them to the faraway land, to dwell at the Mouth of Rivers — sacred rivers symbolic of the continuous stream of divine wisdom flowing into human life.

A while ago I read a review of The Ark Before Noah: Decoding the Story of the Flood by Irving Finkel. It tells something of how the ancient Hebrews might have encountered these stories and adopted (and adapted) them as their own during their time in Babylonian captivity;

Over the years, cuneiform flood tablets have continued to turn up. Three distinct Mesopotamian incarnations of the myth have now been identified, one recorded in Sumerian and two in Akkadian. It has become clear that the tale of a universal flood was widespread in Mesopotamia for an entire millennium and a half before the hapless Judaeans, defeated in the early 6th century BC by Nebuchadnezzar, were dragged away from their smoking cities into exile, there to weep beside the rivers of Babylon. Now, courtesy of Irving Finkel, the British Museum’s eminence grise of cuneiform studies, there comes a further clinching piece of evidence: a tablet that actually describes animals entering an ark “two by two”. Not only that, but it offers startlingly precise specifications on how best to construct one. An ark, so the tablet instructs us, should properly be circular in shape, have an area of 3,600 metres, and be fashioned out of plant fibre. All those living in the Somerset Levels may wish to take note.

There is also this fascinating passage;

By plundering the heritage of Babylon, they were at once paying homage to its cultural prestige, and annexing it to their own ends. Just as Christians and Muslims would subsequently transform the biblical figure of Noah into a prefiguring of their own respective theodicies, so the Judaeans transformed the myths of their Babylonian overlords into something that would end up as Jewish. In Mesopotamia, where it was the custom to erect buildings over the remains of levelled ruins, the ancient past literally provided the foundations of new temples. In a similar manner, its legends were made to serve the self-mythologisation of the Jews. Some details of the flood tablet discovered by Finkel – the animals going in two by two, for instance – were cannibalised; others – the specifications of the ark’s measurements, and the detail that the great ship had been round – were not. This, for me, is the real fascination of his find: the light it sheds on how a despised and defeated people won a victory over their conquerors so remarkable that it now gets to be commemorated by Russell Crowe.

We make of these stories what we need them to make. The ‘truth’ of them requires us to look a little deeper, a little further into ourselves.

Perhaps as far back as the melting of the last ice age, and the rising sea levels that swallowed whole villages, whole hunting grounds in a relatively short time scale- certainly within the span of people’s lifetimes, and within generational historical memory.

Or perhaps even further into ourselves- into our darkest fears…

Jesus Christ Superstore

As I was driving through Paisley on my way to the hospital, I saw a sign with these words;

         Destiny Charity Superstore


I checked it out later- it is a former garden centre, taken over by Destiny Church to operate as a kind of mega-charity shop. It is how Mega Church does charity shops, and as the man says, it is no ordinary charity shop;

Perhaps with charity shops (if not always with Church) bigger really is better?

St Patrick was English. Really, he was…



Feast days have always been an excuse for some excessive carousing, but in the past perhaps we were more connected to the stories of the saints that we celebrate.

This is probably never more so than with St Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, whose feast we celebrate today.

Like you needed me to tell you this. After all, the streets of all our cities are covered in people dressed in green suits, tongues brown from the Guinness and ears ringing from the bloody awful Pogues.

How shocked would most of them be to hear that St Patrick, that symbol of all things Irish, was actually, well English.  Romano-British to be precise, probably born in what is now Cumbria. Aged around 16 he was captured by Irish pirates who took him to Ireland, where he served as a slave for 6 years, during which time he converted to Christianity. He then escaped and returned to England (via France, where he encountered monasticism) before returning to Ireland as a Christian missionary.

Not that the Irish liked him much- he was beaten, robbed, imprisoned and ridiculed. Despite all this, he went on to found 300 churches, baptize thousands, found monasteries and (presumably because he was bored) banish snakes from Ireland.

Raise a glass, but also raise a quizzical eyebrow at all the feasting. I am sure he would.

Through the posh window…

Well, I suppose it is not that posh really, but one of my favourite places to eat is the lovely Inver Cottage Restaurant, out along Loch Fyne near the dramatic ruin of Old Castle Lachlan. The food is great, and served in a lovely airy space with a seaside/beach kind of feel to it, complete with open fires and good locally brewed beer. It is a place that we go to for a very special treat and feel kind of grateful that they let us in!

The owners contacted us a few weeks ago asking if we would be interested in selling some of our craft/art there. I suppose the beach-themed things that we make are a good fit with what they are doing too. Michaela and Pauline took a whole set of things round there, and it now fills their shelves. All very exciting for a bodging fiddler like myself.

Here is a photo Michaela took through their window, with all sorts of things we have made waiting to be displayed…


Tony Benn; who will carry his fire?

In memory of the man (who died today, aged 88) watch this;

As I listen to him- his appreciation of the history of working people in their struggle against the power and wealth of the few, his hate of war and injustice, his passion, grace and good humour, I pray that there will be those who will take up the same issues for the next generation.

I am sad to say that I am not sure who these people are, and where they will come from.

Commuting compensations…

Sunrise, the Clyde, western ferries, dunoon

Ask any of my friends and they will confirm that I am not a morning person. I do not like to communicate before mid morning, and sometimes then reluctantly.

At present, however, I am doing some work in Paisley, which involves getting up very early and being on the 7AM ferry, this being the only way to avoid sitting in the M8 car park of the rush hour. I get into work just after 8 and have a while before anyone else is there to practice sociability so it is not so bad.

This morning it was not bad at all. A beautiful sunrise, porpoises rolling in the calm water, even the traffic was relatively light this morning.

Unusually, I had my camera…

sunrise, the clyde,