In anthropology, there is a definition of culture that describes it as both abstract concepts and the physical tools by which human society adapts to nature and nature to human society (“Culture,” pars. 5-6). Whether these physical tools aid in the gathering of resources or provide a barrier between humans and the elements, these physical tools—these material objects—serve a vital function for civilization. As such, some form of materialism is necessary for human societies to thrive.
Furthermore, materialism as a system of thought can be traced back to the 4th century B.C.E and the ancient Greek philosopher Democritus. This belief system holds that “the nature of the world [is] entirely dependent upon matter, [which is] the fundamental and final reality beyond which nothing need be sought”(“Materialism,” par. 1). This definition, though extreme, coincides with the reality that human society depends upon, and thus defines itself by, material goods to some degree. More currently, however, the word materialism refers to the importance of material goods in society, implying that the concern that materialistic people have for material objects is excessive (Goldsmith, par. 2). This negative connotation is not without basis. Materialism has evolved in modern society into over-consumerism, the consumption of material goods disproportionately in excess of the resources available to the consumer to acquire goods and beyond what is strictly necessary to live (par. 3). So, despite its necessity in society as a whole, in practice materialism has resulted in several negative consequences that plague modern society and not only damage society in the short term but are also not sustainable in the long term.