Interesting question and thanks for the A2A.
Here are some reasons that come to mind:
1. Have you ever seen a dog drop his bone or toy to try to get the bone or toy another dog has? I think this instinct is hard-wired into our reptilian hindbrains, and the more we indulge that impulse to acquire (and envy others who do so), the more those neural pathways are strengthened. Take a gander at this: Cherokee Legend - Two Wolves. (http://www.firstpeople.us/FP-Html-Legends/TwoWolves-Cherokee.html)
2. Social status and capital have been extraordinarily important throughout human history in just about every culture - reflecting a desire for secure social position, existential stability and a sense of agency (freedom). At different times and in different cultures around the world such status and capital have been established in different ways - family lineage, physical prowess, personal charisma, tribal alliances, number of wives or husbands, number of offspring, special abilities (battle strategy, hunting skill, etc.), physical beauty, ability to persuade or influence, and indeed personal character. Material wealth has not always been part of the mix, but it has sometimes been a byproduct - or evidence - of these other traits. With the advent of trade, money and widespread affluence, the quickest shorthand for "I have social status and capital" rapidly became material possessions; such assets seemed to indicate these other traits, even if they were not present, so acquisitiveness became a convenient shortcut.
3. Along the lines of the Cherokee story, commercialistic capitalism feeds the egoic, greedy wolf within, reinforcing the linkages between individualistic materialism, immediate gratification, social status and superficial happiness.
4. I think moral development also plays an important role. If I am stuck at a toddler level of moral valuations, I will place a lot of importance on I/Me/Mine assertions. If I am more mature, I will tend to relax such egocentrism in favor of prosocial traits like generosity and kindness that empathize with the needs of others.
5. The more material wealth we have, the more confused we become about what is truly valuable - and what we should value in ourselves and other people. When we have lots of stuff, our view of the world becomes distorted, and our connection to both other people and our innermost Self is weakened. See Paul Piff's research around this topic.
Those are some ideas. Let me know what you think.
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