There are those who surround themselves with costly and refined items, dwell exclusively in select and exquisite environments, and provide themselves with pleasant experiences in excess of what their basic and natural needs would be — those who, in other words, seek luxuries in their lives.
What counts as basic and natural needs varies, of course, with a range of historical, regional, and cultural conditions. While there are certain obvious minimal requirements with respect to nutrition, housing, health, and human dignity (which are still not met in many portions of today's global society) the bar might be even higher in some places, where the overall social and economic conditions have been so fortunate, over a long period of time, that the level of what is commonly taken as 'minimal' and 'basic' has raised considerably. For example, the ability to move around freely and easily every day, by car or public transport, in an area so large that it would take a whole day on foot, just to be able to get to work, school, or go shopping, is no longer the privilege of a very few that it was, just as access to information in books or news media (such as television or papers) isn't for a minority any more. (There is certainly also the aspect of inequality within societies, which complicates the question what exactly counts as luxury in a particular instance even more.)
Wherever the line runs, however, in a given society, there is a sense in which some go beyond it and indulge in what clearly exceeds the basic and the normal — and that's where luxury, in the sense we're discussing here, begins. Is it bad to seek luxuries, in that sense, from the point of view of reflection on living a good life? Does it reveal a faulty character, or misguided choices of what to aim for in your life?
Well, if you can afford it, why shouldn't you choose to have a beautiful house with an ocean view, with a white marble terrace, where you sit watching sunsets while drinking noble wines? (Or insert here whatever your idea of a luxurious life style is.)
Notice, however, that there is an 'if' in this formulation. That is the 'if' of reason. It would be foolish not to choose something that is a real option for you. (Unless, perhaps, other choices seem even more sensible.) Luxuries may be within your reach when you are, say, wealthy enough to develop an expensive taste (and you can't come up with other ideas to which use you might want to put it). As with any external things, luxuries can be selected, provided they are among your options; and selecting carefully among our options is precisely how we should use those rational capacities we're endowed with as human beings.
A conditional choice such as this, a choice under an 'if' condition, puts these abilities to good use; it all gets problematic, however, when the drive towards luxury becomes unconditional; when it turns its object into a value, something that directs your actions, views and feelings. A clear mark of this is when when people get emotional (be it suspiciously protective or exuberantly excited); or judgmental about the luxuries which they enjoy themselves or those they see others indulge in (jealous looks and sniding remarks speak the same language here); or even start taking foolish actions (buy things they can't afford, or take to excesses like bathing in Champagne).
That is because emotions include a valuation: an emotion shows that you take something as valuable. (And luxuries aren't that — they're indifferents, which may be rationally selected, but not unconditionally.) When people get emotional about something, this indicates that they care more about it than that thing probably warrants; emotions incorporate an uncompromising attitude towards something as good or bad, as opposed to seeing it as simply preferable or dispreferable under certain given conditions. Likewise, when people get judgmental, they again imply that something of value, something of import under all circumstances, is at stake; and once more: that's not the case with luxuries. Finally, people display their values in how they act; and actions plainly incorporate the wrong values when aiming at things that can be clearly seen, with just a minimum of consideration, as utterly out of proportion, or downright stupid and disadvantageous in the long run.
Luxuries, being externals, things that can come from blind accident and might be taken away by a wilful turn of events, aren't really of value; they're not of the stuff that makes a life go well (or badly), they're mere indifferents as far as that overarching goal is concerned. Treating them as anything else, in your emotions, views, or actions, is mistaken (and will hurt the way your life goes, in the long haul). Take care.
Copyright © 2007-2012 by Leif Frenzel. All rights reserved.