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Class & Economy as Practices of Power : Herbert Marcuse. One-Dimensional Man Ch. 9 & 10 “The catastrophe of liberation”. Technical thought is not neutral.

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class economy as practices of power herbert marcuse

Class & Economy as Practices of Power:Herbert Marcuse

One-Dimensional Man

Ch. 9 & 10

“The catastrophe of liberation”

technical thought is not neutral
Technical thought is not neutral
  • The social position of the individual, and the way that he or she relates to others, is determined by “objective” economic & political processes, laws that appear as “calculable manifestations of (scientific) rationality.” (169)
    • “Laws” of economics
what is reason
What is Reason?
  • What is rational? Can nuclear war be rationally chosen?
  • For Marcuse, a strong, two-dimensional rationality is aimed always at truth and Being. This is the mark of the rational. In this light, to speak of the rational choice for nuclear war is only to highlight the basic insanity of technical society.
we have it much better than before
We have it much better than before…
  • Ideal & actual
    • The “side effects” of civilization
    • Tolerance of these is enforced by “the overwhelming, anonymous power and efficiency of the technological society.”
    • “The absorption of the negative by the positive is validated in the daily experience, which obfuscates the distinction between rational appearance and irrational reality.”
    • P. 226
historical determination of truth
Historical determination of truth
  • Mathematics and operationalism became understood to be ‘true’ (as values are not) by demonstrating their ability to predict and control the universe
    • Thus, the validity of the concept is not what determines its truth, but its historical manifestation
    • Thus, liberation will require a catastrophic shift in our historical circumstances
the catastrophe of liberation
The Catastrophe of Liberation
  • Catastrophe:
    • 1. ‘The change or revolution which produces the conclusion or final event of a dramatic piece’ (J.); the dénouement.
    • 2. ‘A final event; a conclusion generally unhappy’ (J.); a disastrous end, finish-up, conclusion, upshot; overthrow, ruin, calamitous fate.
    • 3. An event producing a subversion of the order or system of things.
new reason
New Reason
  • “A new direction of technical progress will be the catastrophe of the established direction”, not the evolution of quantitative rationality, “but rather its catastrophic transformation, the emergence of a new idea of Reason, theoretical and practical.” (228)
recombining science and value
Recombining science and value
  • TWO dimensions of thought
  • “What is at stake is the redefinition of values in technical terms, as elements in the technological process.”
  • “calculable is the degree to which, under the same conditions, care could be provided for the ill, the infirm, and the aged—that is quantifiable is the possible reduction of anxiety, the possible freedom from fear.” (232)

“Formerly metaphysical ideas of liberation may become the proper object of science”

    • The Good is a part of Reason
  • But for this, science must become political, it can no longer embrace a pretended neutrality.
  • The pacification of nature should be the aim of technology
    • All happiness results from the overcoming of Nature
    • The veneration of the Natural is a veil to protect the status quo
      • Race
      • Disease
      • Gender
      • Sex
      • Economics
      • Poverty

Art is, almost by definition, the enemy of the Natural

    • It asserts Truth against Fact
  • Thus, Art can be “envisaged as validated by and functioning in the scientific-technological transformation of the world.” (239)
    • Not art for art’s sake, but as part of a project of fundamental change
    • “Rather than being the handmaiden of the established apparatus, art would become a technique for destroying this business and this misery.”

Nature is only what IS, and what IS is oppressive in that it promotes the satisfaction of needs that requires

    • The rat race
    • Planned obsolescence
    • Enjoying freedom from thought
    • Working with and for the means of destruction (241)
needed for the change
Needed for the change
  • Centralized economic planning
    • Deployment of resources in rational plan to pacify nature
  • Abolition of false freedoms
    • Freedom of enterprise
      • “Work or starve”
    • Advertising as speech
    • Population controls
  • Change in consciousness
    • The “primary subjective prerequisite for qualitative change” is “the redefinition of needs.”
  • Direct Democracy

The false needs present in current technological society form the material base of domination

    • They prevent the individual from being the individual, making him or her only an element of the economic and political apparatus. He or she is incapable of true self-determination. There is no space for solitude
    • Enchained by a vision of “the good life” as one of material satisfaction & contentment
    • P. 245*

But fundamental change may be impossible

    • Economic & political interests in maintaining status quo
    • Aesthetics have been co-opted to veil domination rather than reveal it
      • “A combination family room during peacetime (sic!) and family fallout shelter should war break out.”
    • Workers, once the agents of change, have been incorporated into society’s structure

What, then, is to be done?

    • The Great Refusal
      • “What we refuse is not without value or importance. Precisely because of that, the refusal is necessary. There is a reason which we no longer accept, there is an appearance of wisdom which horrifies us, there is a plea for agreement and conciliation which we will no longer heed. A break has occurred. We have been reduced to that frankness which no longer tolerates complicity.” (Le Refus, fn. 3, p. 256)
it is nothing but a chance
“It is nothing but a chance.”
  • But this is only individual, and politically impotent.
    • It allows the individual to be authentic, True to a greater extent than he or she would otherwise.
      • “Don’t wait to be hunted to hide.”
    • But even such people will find themselves continuously compromised by the necessities of survival.
    • Ultimately, while the life of the individual may have improved, and be Truer, nothing has changed.
it is nothing but a chance1
“It is nothing but a chance.”
  • Last possible agents of fundamental change:
    • “the substratum of the outcasts and outsiders, the exploited and persecuted of other races and other colors, the unemployed and unemployable”
    • “Their opposition is revolutionary even if their consciousness is not.” (256)
  • Civil rights mvmt might be the beginning of fundamental change:
  • “Their force is behind every political demonstration for the victims of law and order. The fact that they start refusing to play the game may be the fact which marks the beginning of the end of a period.” (257)
    • Protest & a demand for change
  • “the economic and and technical capabilities of the established societies are sufficiently vast to allow for adjustments and concessions to the underdog, and their armed forces sufficiently trained and equipped to handle emergency situations.” (257)
    • Ultimately for Marcuse, the choice is between individual withdrawal or, just possibly, an alliance of diverse outsiders.
      • Both likely futile
essay prompts
Essay Prompts
  • 1. Using the critical tools presented in the readings from Foucault, analyze the structures of power present in Ehrenreich’s description of her experience as a low-wage worker in at least one chapter from Nickel & Dimed.
  • 2. Using Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man as your source, critique one of the following texts:
    • Front section of New York Times or Wall Street Journal
    • An episode of a TV show
    • An NBA game
    • Two hours of cable news network (CNN, FOX, MSNBC)
    • Another text of your choice, to be approved by me
  • An example of how this prompt can be approached may be found on the course website.
essay prompts1
Essay Prompts
  • 3. Agree, disagree, or modify the following statement: “Marcuse argues that, due to the benefits that they receive, the modern, Western worker is not aware of his or her oppression. However, the reality depicted in Ehrenreich’s Nickeled and Dimed shows that Marcuse is wrong on this point, and thus the society he describes is far less stable than he imagines.”
  • 4. It is common to hear that people in poverty make bad decisions that prohibit them from improving their lot. How do Ehrenreich and Bourgois account for “bad choices” or “self-destructive behavior” among the working poor? What role does the presence or absence of social capital play?
  • 5. A thesis-based argument of your own choice. The topic of this paper should be specific, clear, and focused on class texts and areas of concern. It must also be approved by me.