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One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society (Routledge Classics) Paperback – 11 Jul 2002
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About the Author
Herbert Marcuse (1989-1979). Born in Berlin but forced to flee Germany in 1933; gained world renown during the 1960s as a philosopher, social theorist and political activist.
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Top customer reviews
One-Dimensional Man reads like an academic text made accessible for the non-specialist, and it may prove difficult reading, in a few short sections, for those unfamiliar with the late drive theory of Freud - cf. the part on 'saved' libido and how it is used. Non-familiarity with Marx is probably less problematical for understanding the thrust of Marcuse's argument(s).
The core of the main argument is that the consciousness of human beings living under modern capitalism has been manipulated to secure the continuation of what is in fact the historically obsolescent domination of man by man. This manipulation has been greatly facilitated by a steep rise in living standards and the spectre of living in a Soviet society, which many erroneously believe to be the only historical alternative to capitalism (this belief too can be traced back to the general manipulation).
The manipulation is so pernicious because of its absolute character and appropriation of concepts such as 'freedom' and 'democracy'. Our needs and desires have become manufactured needs and desires, our thought manufactured thought, our behaviour manufactured behaviour. The scope and depth of the collective manipulation has been made possible by advances in technology, in particular the mass media, which violate private space (via television, radio, advertising, and other media) in an attempt to merge public and private existence and in their stead create a well-adapted and easily controllable societal individual.
The totality of the manipulation enables the current society to prop itself up with relative ease: it defines what are and what are not legitimate ways of speaking and thinking so that it becomes extremely difficult to conceive of anything other than the extant social structure; indeed, any 'alternatives' discussed are alternatives that move within the societal framework, and so pose no threat to it. Marcuse goes so far as to argue that science and philosophy too are suffused with the 'technological' way of thinking, which sees the entire universe as an infinite series of means to be experimented on so as to best improve efficiency.
He dedicates a lot of space to criticising what he labels the operational and behavioral modes of thought that he believes determine the practice of science and philosophy and gradually filter down to determine Joe Bloggs's way of reasoning too. Qualities of objects give way to mere quantities, and the multifaceted objects lose their particularity in the process; the ubiquitous practice of such abstractions leads to an imposition of a chimerical uniformity among objects in nature that provides a buttress for the political status quo. The enforcement of sameness in nature parallels the enforcement of sameness in society's individuals, and enables the turning of depersonalised objects into instrumentalities to proceed with good conscience. Anything which cannot be readily observed or comprehended using the already existing methods is disallowed from discussion : thus, the modern way of thinking is reactionary. All subversive elements - dialectical thought, for instance -are disregarded a priori. Marcuse's point is that, because of their internal structure, the operational and behavioral modes of thought are politically conservative and complicit with the established society. What a revolutionised science would look like, however, is only vaguely described.
This book is extremely ambitious and bold in its claims. Without wishing to take away from its intellectual force, there are parallels with The Matrix in its complete rejection of the world as it is known, arguing instead for a radically different, qualitatively different, mode of existence, which, although perhaps less comfortable, would be freer and free from illusions and deceptions. The main difference, though, is that whereas in the film the domination comes from a conscious force outside us, in Marcuse's view of things we are dominated by a non-conscious force of our own making; ultimately, the domination emanates from us.
Just a few things. I find myself frustrated that there is nobody with whom I can discuss some of my questions; frustrated because the book is so important as to merit some serious thought. I am not sure for instance whether Marcuse wants to say that science caused the technological mode of thinking or has been appropriated by the technological mode of thinking, or if he thinks a definitive answer to that conundrum impossible (or even unimportant). Also, there seems to be an ambiguity in the book: in places Marcuse speaks of man's continuing domination over man; in others, of man's being dominated by technology. Which is it? Or is it more that technology dominates all of us, but that some of those who are dominated in turn dominate yet others? Finally, how is it that Marcuse can be so sure that technology has reached a point at which any form of domination is obsolescent? Where does he get his assurance from?
The book is excellent and should be read by everyone. Even if you should completely disagree with what Marcuse has to say, he will make you think and will force you to refresh your way of viewing the world. I don't see what more you could want from a political book.
I arrived at Marcuse as a result of reading Terri Murray's 'Black Mirror Reflections' in issue 97 (July/August 2013) of Philosophy Now (pp42-44). Although Murray's introduction was perhaps somewhat interpretive, it nevertheless sparked an interest in the Man.
ODM is one of those seminal and prophetic texts (à la Boorstin: Image, Postman: Amusing Ourselves to Death, Huxley: BNW, Orwell: 1984) which was written in an age past and which actually resonates louder in the present. One of those works where perhaps even the author could not have imagined how true its prophecy would turn out to be.
Rather than critique this text, I would simply like to offer some extracts which should give the potential reader a flavour of what the work is about.
"The products indoctrinate and manipulate; they produce a false consciousness which is immune against its falsehood. And as these beneficial products become available to more individuals in more social clases, the indoctrination they cary ceases to be publicity; it becomes a way of life. It is a good way of life - much better than before - and as a good way of life, it militates against qualitative change." (p.12)
"Society must first create the material prerequisites fo freedom for all its members before it can be a free society; it must first 'create' the wealth before being able to 'distribute' it according to the freely developing needs of the individual; it must first enable its slaves to learn and see and think before they know what is going on and what they themselves can do to change it." (p.40)
"If the individuals are satisfied to the point of happiness with the goods and services handed down to them by the administration, why should they insist on different institutions for a different production of different goods and services? And if the individuals are pre-conditioned so that the satisfying goods also include, thoughts, feelings, aspirations, why should they wish to think, feel, and imagine for themselves?" (p.50)
"Higher culture becomes part of the material culture. In this transformation, it loses the greater part of its truth." (p.58)
"Whether ritualised or not, art contains the rationality of negation. In its advanced positions, it is the Great Refusal - the protest against that which is." ( p.63)
"The Happy Consciousness - the belief that the real is rational, and that the system delivers the goods - reflects the new conformism which is a facet of technological rationality translated into social behaviour." (p.84)
"Language which constantly imposes `images' militates against the development and expression of `concepts.' (p.95)
"Remembrance of the past may give rise to dangerous insights, and the established society seems to be apprehensive about the subversive contents of memory. Remembrance is a mode of dissociation from the given facts, a mode of `mediation' which breaks, for short moments, the omnipresent power of the given facts." (p.98)
"It (Time and Memory) militates against the closing of the universe of discourse and behaviour; it renders possible the development of concepts which de-stabilise and transcend the closed universe by comprehending it as historical universe. Confronted with the given society as object of its reflection critical thought becomes its historical consciousness; as such it is essentially judgement." (p.99)
The given reality has its own logic and its own truth; the effort to comprehend them as such and to transcend them presupposes a different logic; a contradicting truth. " (p.142)