“To say that humans are social creatures is about as newsworthy as saying that we breathe. Our lives unfold in a social matrix that is both deep and wide, and our interactions with other people and the culture at large affect our personalities and behavior in many ways” (Kasser). In Ray Bradbury’s novel, Fahrenheit 451, protagonist Guy Montag slowly realizes how government censorship and materialism have taken over and deteriorated society. Guy Montag is a firefighter who lives with his highly materialistic wife, Mildred. In fact, almost everyone in the town is materialistic and most people sit at home and watch TV just like Mildred. Upon meeting a girl named Clarisse who is very spontaneous and social, Montag starts to question the society in which he lives in. He finds himself to be very unhappy, and he searches for answers through books.
However, the government has completely banned all books and so firefighters, like Montag, burn down all houses with books in them. So when Montag is caught reading books, he finds himself in a lot of trouble and several events lead Montag to run away from his home, his job, and his wife. Censorship is used by the government to hide controversial information from the public. It is used as to not provoke arguments and upset the people, however what it actually does, is it takes away freedoms from the people. Materialism can be defined as when people value material possessions more than spiritual and intellectual virtues. For example, materialistic people become preoccupied with possessions and getting the newest, next best thing, and personal relationships and psychological needs tend to suffer resulting in dissatisfaction and unhappiness. Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 displays how the public is denied basic freedoms in a censored society, and how materialism leads to a lack of social connection and happiness.
In a society censored by the government, people are denied basic human rights and freedom of expression. Hudson Jr. and Ghani explain that in the case Board of Education v. Pico, “the Supreme Court determined that the First Amendment rights of students may be directly and sharply implicated by the removal of books from the shelves of a school library” (Hudson and Ghani), demonstrating how schools are taking away basic human rights when they censor students’ educations. Furthermore, author Sonja West explains the negative effects of depriving students of their First Amendment rights. “Punishing students for their speech robs our public debate of needed voices, and it teaches our children—who, of course, one day become adults—that censorship, even broad and sometimes arbitrary censorship, is acceptable” (West). West proves that students have a voice in our society, and depriving the freedom of expression takes away the opportunity to learn something from them. When censoring the freedom of speech, students are not taught to voice opinions, but instead to hide their thoughts as to not offend anyone. Growing up with this mindset leads students to accept censorship, and therefore their voices, as important as they are, are not expressed. In the following article written by Daniel Bar-Tal, the author highlights the basic rights to freedom of opinion and expression.
Freedom of expression is anchored in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that states (Article 19): ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers’ (Bar-Tal).
Bar-Tal demonstrates that censoring the freedoms of opinion and expression deprive humans of fundamental rights. In addition, when governing bodies censor basic freedoms, they become more tyrannical. Since the birth of America, government actions that involve censoring basic freedoms and abusing power have been heavily looked down upon. American governments, however, partake in those same actions when they censor the freedoms of opinion and expression. In Bradbury’s novel, Fahrenheit 451, fireman Captain Beatty has a conversation with Montag about government censorship and the reason behind it after catching Montag reading books. “If you don’t want a house built, hide the nails and wood. If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none” (Bradbury 58). This shows the violation of basic human rights and also shows how government censorship takes away from the intellectual freedom of people. The government censors controversial topics from citizens so that nobody is upset, but when information is hidden, nobody can form their own opinions or discuss actual problems in the world. People are left to conform with a censored society and are deprived of their freedoms. And, not only does the government affect society in a negative way with the use of censorship, but the people negatively impact their own society with materialistic tendencies.
Materialism leads to a lack of social connection and happiness. Ahuvia and Wong highlight one of the reasons explaining why materialistic people become unhappy. According to the authors, the more materialistic someone is, the more their life becomes dependent on satisfying lower order needs (Ahuvia and Wong). When placing a high priority on satisfying lower order needs, higher order needs such as love and personal relationships suffer, proving how materialists become unhappy. As a result of the lack of priority on higher order needs, overall dissatisfaction with life occurs according to Ahuvia and Wong, showing how materialistic tendencies lead to unhappiness and dissatisfaction. Furthermore, Nagpaul and Pang provide evidence for the relationship between materialism and well-being.
Kasser et al. (2014) conducted a 2-year longitudinal study with college students and found that, as individuals became relatively less (or more) oriented towards materialistic aspirations over a 2-year period, they reported increased (or decreased) satisfaction of their psychological needs (Nagpaul and Pang).
Nagpaul and Pang prove that people who are less materialistic are more satisfied with their lives, and people who are more materialistic are unsatisfied with important life values. According to the definition of materialism, materialistic people have a tendency to place materialistic values before psychological needs, which deteriorates well-being, thus proving how materialistic values lead to an unhealthy lifestyle. In an article written by Aimee Picchi, the author reveals the results of a recent study on the effects of rewarding adolescents with materials.
The study surveyed more than 700 adults for insight into the long-term impact of rewarding kids with material items. It found that those who had received more material rewards and punishments were more likely than others to rely on possessions to define and express who they are (Picchi).
Picchi proves how children are more inclined to rely on material items in life if rewarded with materials at a young age. Since the children are receiving materials for their success, they grow up thinking that materials are a sign of success instead of things such as happiness and personal improvement. The evidence suggests that children stop seeing their self-worth and base all of their achievements around material items, resulting in constant dissatisfaction and unhappiness. In Bradbury’s novel, Fahrenheit 451, an intellectual named Granger talks to Montag about his grandfather, and how he impacted his life greatly. Granger tells Montag about how when his grandfather died, he realized that he was not crying because of him, but because of the things he did. (Bradbury 149). This proves how important social interaction really is. In this instance, Granger remembers his grandfather not for just being his grandfather, but for the things he did for him as he was growing up, and how he made an impact on his life. However, with a world full of materialists, people constantly use technology and isolate themselves, taking away from the happiness that people bring each other through social engagements.
Materialism leads to a lack of social connection, satisfaction, and overall happiness in society, and when a society is censored by the government, the public is denied of basic rights and the freedom of expression as shown in Ray Bradbury’s novel, Fahrenheit 451. People with materialistic tendencies value possessions over intellectual virtues, resulting in a disconnection with peers and a downward spiral of dissatisfaction and unhappiness. In a censored society, the government deprives humans of basic rights, limiting the freedom to express opinions and ideas. According to author Francis Fukuyama, media companies such as Facebook ‘exercise government-like powers of censorship despite the fact that it is a private company.” Recently, radio host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones was banned from Facebook for his content (Fukuyama), demonstrating how freedoms to speak openly and share opinions are taken away with censorship. Furthermore, the evidence suggests that censorship is prevalent in not only the government, but in private corporations as well. Olesya Tkacheva shares her thoughts on the importance of expression and the exchange of opinions:
“…it is in the very nature of autocracy to try to suppress the inclination of people to engage in their own governance. This engagement has two components: vote and voice. The vote is what defines democracy, if one assumes that the voting is free and fair. But participation also requires voice—the ability to express and exchange political opinions. Absent voice, voting is an empty exercise. Indeed, absent voice, all other forms of political participation become empty exercises as well” (Tkacheva).