Great philosophers · philosophy · political philosophy · Political Theory · politics · Socialism

Conformity of our times. One- Dimensional Man by Herbert Marcuse

“A comfortable, smooth, reasonable, democratic unfreedom prevails in advanced industrial civilization, a token of technical progress” (Marcuse, 1991: 3)

One- Dimensional Man by Herbert Marcuse is one of my favourite books offering powerful critique of growing conformity, new modes of domination and social control. In particular, Part I One- Dimensional Society gives very good perspective on how much we agree on the rules governing politics, economy or even daily relationships between people because we feel comfortable. You do not need to be a socialist or a communist to acknowledge Marcuse’s insightful observation. The book can be useful for anyone who thinks that there is something is wrong with the world around us.

COMFORT can define the conditions we live in. However, there are consequences of this comfortable living. content[4]It comes at the price of lack of recognition for perspectives and alternatives beyond dominant frame. Contemporary societies endanger mode of free thought and behaviour. This means that all values, aspirations, and ideas, which cannot be defined in terms of the operations and attitudes validated by the prevailing norms, are repressed. Have you noticed that all genuine radical critique has disappeared, that all oppositions have been integrated into the established system?

So how people are trapped into conformity? It has been achieved by mechanics of conformity. People are settled down into conformity through various mechanisms of integration, through repetition and habit: rhythm of factory work, mass consumption. Technology restructures labour and leisure influencing life from the organization of labour to modes of thought. Consumer capitalism integrates individuals into its world of thought and behaviour. All of those developments pose a threat to human freedom and individuality in a total administered society. Technological progress multiplies the needs and satisfaction while its utilization makes the needs as well as their satisfaction repressive.

Under such circumstances, rights and liberties are losing their role. Freedom of speech, freedom of thought and conscious are not free, they do not promote critical thinking anymore. The right of political opposition losing social function. People commonly accept mainstream political principles, which opens way to authoritarianism.

Modern societies focus around mass production and mass distribution. “Mass” claims entire individual. In fact, it leads to automatic identification with the society. People recognize themselves in their commodities. A non- terroristic economic technical coordination, which operates through the manipulation of needs become a norm. Because we live according to artificially created needs, we no longer develop effective opposition. The intellectual and emotional refusal to go along appears neurotic and impotent (Marcuse, 1991 :12).

Marcuse claims that big part of it has happened because of manipulation of needs. Our true/ vital needs are nourishment, clothing and housing. However, capitalism created false needs to make people go along with the system. False needs are most of prevailing needs to relax, to have fun, to behave and consume in accordance with the advertisements. To love and to hate what others love and hate. It does not matter whether individual feels those needs are their own or identify themselves with those needs; they remain the products of a society whose dominant interest demands repression (Marcuse, 1991 :7). The satisfaction of those needs results in euphoria in unhappiness. According to Marcuse, the final goal is to replace false needs by true needs to abandon repressive satisfaction.

I think that Marcuse’s distinction between true and false needs reflects the reality. However, my main criticism is that he pays too much attention to the needs in this part of the book. Change of the needs would not be able to change people’s way of thinking. Needs should be replaced with actions. Only actions can transform into genuine opposition. The question arises is struggle against current system possible? Can it be toppled down with the power of people uprising? Or maybe there has to be a change or rapture coming from within the capitalist democratic comfort system?

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