Chapter 35 ~ “The New Forms of Control” by Herbert Marcuse (1964)
“A comfortable, smooth, reasonable, democratic unfreedom prevails in advanced industrial civilization, a token of technical progress” (405).
In the earlier stages of industrial society, according to Marcuse, rights and liberties were an extreme importance; but now, they are losing their traditional rationale and content.
When Marcuse states, “Independence of thought, autonomy, and the right to political opposition are being deprived of their basic critical function in a society which seems increasingly capable of satisfying the needs of the individuals through the way in which it is organized” (405), I can’t help but to wonder if this means society is now “creating” a pseudo-independence for people.
At a time, it seemed as if autonomy could be realized through technology; if technology could be harnessed to take care of people’s needs, then people could move beyond necessity toward a freedom that enveloped autonomy.
Marcuse asserts that actually the opposite of this occurs; “the apparatus [technology, machine] imposes its economic and political requirements for defense and expansion on labor time and free time, on the material and intellectual culture” (406).
Talks of the political world and its stronghold on technology, a stronghold that mobilizes society over any one individual or group, but this can be reversed, creating a potential basis of a new freedom of man. This freedom requires us to redefine traditional terms of economic, political, and intellectual liberties.
In Marcuse’s discussion on true and false needs, he realizes there is a need to figure out what exactly are false needs and what are true needs. If Man must be “free” in order to give his or her distinction, how do we free ourselves in order to differentiate?
Marcuse states “as long as they [man] are kept incapable of being autonomous, as long as they are indoctrinated and manipulated (down to their very instincts), their answer to this question cannot be taken as their own” (407).
So, how do those who have been manipulated and dominated for so long create conditions of freedom for themselves?
For Marcuse, this comes from the “replacement of false needs by true ones, the abandonment of repressive satisfaction” (407), but I wonder if that can even be done. Would be this individually based? Feels like, at some point, even true needs of one could ultimately become false needs of someone else.
Advanced industrial societies, by their nature, suffocate liberation. The ability to choose disintegrates because those in control select the choices as oppose to the individual deciding “what can be chosen and what is chosen” (407). If the choices are connected to the sustainment of society control, then they are not really choices FOR the individual.
This domination has been so enforcing that to even think outside of societal norms is to seem “irrational,” and even though Marcuse makes note of the idea of “inner freedom,” even that he says “has been invaded and whittled down by technological reality” (408).
This consuming of individual thought is a disturbing one…but not a new one. In some ways, I liken it to Foucault’s thoughts on the Panopticon. Everyone who is a part of the Panopticon plays a part in its running, from the warden to the prisoner to the society who watches it all. The Panopticon is a framework to which all its “participants” actively play a particular role. In the society Marcuse discusses, there is a similar “play.” Society, with its technological progress, blankets individuals with a way of living and after being indoctrinated into that way of life come to see it as “normal.” Once you have been trained to see society’s thoughts as your own thoughts, how can you possibly break away from that?
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