Materialism & Migrant Friendships

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People tend to hang out with like-people. They spend their time and energy on relationships with people who have the same interests as themselves, maybe it is political belief, art or culture; for others it is their experience as a minority that brings them together.

Regardless, people form communities and find their home with people that share things in common.

For migrants, often our social cliques revolve around our first culture. It’s just easier you know? We eat the same foods, speak the same language and listen to the same music. Our communities become a refuge from the surrounding culture and maintain that little bit of home which is missing from our lives.

This of course comes with some challenges which are more frequent for some than others. My social life in a constant state of flux and my oldest friendship is currently only five years old.

In the past year and a half, four of my closest friends have had to disappear to other countries because Australia is just too expensive to make a life in.

Oldest friend, I’ve only known for five years and of my closest friends, four have disappeared within 18 months… If you were looking at my social life with a business eye you’d say my “friendship turnover” is exceptionally high.

For this reason that I have always admired the materialist philosophies of Epicurus, Marx and Heraclitus, the latter of whom is famous for his philosophy about change:

 

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

“The only thing that is constant is change,”
– Heraclitus

 

Before you heard Pocahontas singing that line about the river, Heraclitus was writing about change as the singular constant in the 4th/5th centuries BCE.

 

What does a classical philosopher’s writing about materialism have to do with social relations between migrants?

Materialism is a philosophical school of thought that is opposed to idealism. Materialism posits that what is real is the material. Thus what we see, feel and experience is identical to material interactions.

Idealism on the other hand posits that what is real is a fundamentally mental experience, mentally constructed and otherwise immaterial.

Great branches of ethical philosophy, aestheticism and political ideologies are literally built upon this fundamental and abstract branching of thought. Left-wing politics based on Marxist thought are explicitly materialist constructions and it can be argued that much of sex-positive feminisms are based on philosophies of the sensual and experiential which is often placed under the feminine in the gender binary, where as rational and mental constructions fall under the male in the gender binary.

So while idealist philosophers like Plato believed in the Theory of Forms which posits that mental ideas around things are permanent and the highest state of reality, Heraclitus was far more ‘down-to-earth’ in suggesting that actually nothing is permanent, that the only true state is one of becoming.

Things are only ever becoming something else and never a singular, permanent thing.

My experience of friendship has been that my social life functions in a faster state of becoming than my non-migrant friends’. Global politics has a measurable and noticeable effect on my life and the political decisions of nations around the world directly affect my social habitat. A glocalisation occurs as much as a globalisation. The local is increasingly affected by globalised events and vice versa.

The economic crisis in Venezuela has resulted in some of my closest friends finding it untenable to live here. It sucks, but I guess knowing this and being a materialist myself, I have always lived my experiences with these people with an equal sense of impending doom and hedonistic ecstasy.

Last year on my twenty-fifth birthday I spent an amazing day with all four of my friends who by the end of this month will be living in different countries around the world. It was a wedding they had shared on my birthday and I remember contemplating this very philosophy.

Nothing ever just is because it is constantly becoming.

Knowing that this amazing group of friends I call family would be a different group of friends in a year’s time made me cherish that day even more because I knew it would soon cease to be real.

Bittersweet.

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About Saúl A. Zavarce

Venezuelan-Australian journalist and international relations academic.

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