The following are my rough draft notes on various subjects. I post them publicly, possibly subjecting them to misunderstanding or ridicule, in the hopes that others might have some positive comments or points of view that could help shape my final pices.
Notes on Herbert Marcuse and The Project of Liberation
The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways the point however is to change it.
– Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach (1845)
What is at stake is the idea of a new theory of man, not only as theory but as a way of existence…
– Herbert Marcuse, The End of Utopia (1970)
The works of Herbert Marcuse have been subjects of controversy and calumny. This is to be expected when ones works and public statements are not only a denunciation of the esteemed hegemonic values dominant in a given society, but a Great Refusal of those values and the systemic dynamics that create them and reproduce them at the micro level and that the macro level. Marcuse presents a notion of a Great Refusal of late capitalist society as a whole – it’s politics, it’s economics, it’s philosophy, it’s organizations, it’s administration, it’s oppressions, it’s exploitation, it’s irrationality – which is in fact un-freedom. Marcuse argues that the capitalist system of alienation, exploitation and oppression is literally catastrophic for human beings and that only total revolution could overcome the contradiction between human beings having the capacity to live their lives freely, in a self-directed, self creating, self determining manner free from the dictates of economic necessity, ie. the dictates of capital and free from the deeply psychologically deforming capitalist ideology and the systemic needs of maintaining and reproducing the system, which is a system of total domination. Total revolution is required, both because alienated labor affects the totality of life and because the entire system of labor in leisure under capitalism is alienating an oppressive (Kellner 85). In an era when Marxism was either something to be feared, discredited, or destroyed/otherwise deconstructed, or something to be reified, petrified, and cast into an iron dogma serving to justify new forms of domination and repression, Marcuse attempted to restore Marxist thought to its proper role as a critical theory aware of itself and of its necessary link to the struggle for critical practice. Marcuse’s thought is still especially relevant as long as academics, activists, and radicals continue to misrepresent Marx, his theories, and continue to follow and or be influenced by the political dead end of postmodern, single issue or identity politics, micro struggles, and the refusal to recognize that a totalizing system of control can only effectively be challenged totally – by a radical praxis, that while recognizing the importance of different types of oppressions and distinct challenges manifesting in particular struggles, still has the capacity for providing a common ground upon which to build a unified and total opposition to capitalist hegemony.
As with Marx, the critical theory Marcuse developed had and has as its and the liberation of humanity from all forms of domination. (An important underlying assumption: liberation is a specific historical process, in theory and practice, and as such it has it has its right and wrong, it’s truth and falsehood – moreover, the real possibilities of human freedom are relative to the attain stage of civilization, and hence are rooted in the real material conditions which we all must live with and struggle with). Marcuse took seriously Marx’s early vision of an emancipated sensibility and the total revolution that that would involve developing new human needs and powers, a new sensibility, new human relationships, new institutions, and a new labor system – all dedicated to the fulfillment and realization of complete human beings, free to self create an empowered to control their daily lives as well as society as a whole (Kellner 85). This article will attempt to briefly outline what Marcuse believed to be the existing conditions of domination and repression, the nature of the liberation from such conditions, and some aspects of Marcuse’s project that may be problematic.
Since it is my contention that An Essay on Liberation(1969), contains all the central themes of Marcuse’s theoretical insights and prescriptions regarding liberation, this work will serve as the framework for study; his other major works, implicit in this essay, will be examined as they shed light on the project of liberation, which is at once a critique of existing conditions, an outline of oppositional tendencies that may lead to a decisive and revolutionary break, and the basis of a reconstruction. The term project is used connote the multifaceted nature of liberation as a process involving a complex interplay of theory and practice occurring in and changing in response to real historical processes – which can be analyzed, understood, and are not by any means unrelated random events as some postmodern thinkers would have us believe – historical processes rooted in the interplay between our relation to nature, technology, modes of production, social relations, the reproduction of daily life, and our mental conceptions of the world.
The Project of Liberation.
The Essay on Liberation
Marcuse begins his Essay on Liberation (1969), with the optimistic view that a new opposition was developing that had “taken the idea of revolution out of the continuum of repression and placed it into its authentic dimension: that of liberation.” Revolution, in more than the sense of a mere change of political regime, was apparently once again on the agenda in this 1960s. It appeared in this new revolution would be unlike all previous revolutions. Humanity would finally be able to achieve a deep physical, psychological, political, and economic liberation hitherto not considered possible. A new consciousness coupled with the need for liberation and the subjection of the most advanced technological achievements of the previous historical epics to the subjective desires of liberated/ing individuals would possibly usher in a new world which could be no other than the negation and supersession of the existing one:
For the world of human freedom cannot be built by the est. societies, no matter how much they may streamline and rationalize their domination. Their class structure, and the perfected controls required to sustain it, generate needs, satisfactions, and values which reproduce the servitude of human existence.
What was once denounced as “utopian” was/is no longer that which has “no place” and cannot have any place in the historical universe, but rather that which was/is blocked from coming about by the power of the established global capitalist society. These utopian possibilities are inherent in the technological forces that already existed (and are even more developed in the present day) and their rational utilization on a global scale would “terminate poverty and scarcity within the foreseeable future.” But in order to contain the possibility of liberation, a new oppressive ideology has arisen that is harnessed by the present system to make that future incomprehensible, unthinkable, and more unreal than ever; scarcity and sacrifice are essential elements of this ideology – which has unlike any of its predecessors, penetrated so deeply into the minds of individuals that it has assumed quasi-biological characteristics. The steady rise in mental illness is a testament to both the power and limitations of the dominant ideology to more or less take root in individual psychologies – mental illness becomes a label for all those who have not sufficiently accepted the dominant ideology or who have accepted it so wholeheartedly that they become incapable of continuing to play their economic role in a functional manner, i.e Tthey no longer produce or consume in socially expected ways or otherwise suffer from cognitive dissonance or unshakable existential angst, resulting in a some form of breakdown. The system’s ideal is an individual who has taken on the dominant ideology to the point where it becomes second nature, where the deepest, most primitive parts of an individual’s psyche, the very core of subjectivity, has become one in a near mystical fashion with the ideology of late spectacular consumer capitalism, where hitherto particular individual needs, wants, and desires would grow from a human interacting with others and his/her environment and where such interactions would then shape new needs, wants, and desires – from the material to the spiritual – now a system compliant individual has those needs, wants, and desires deliberately manufactured and introjected all the while appearing to the individual as being completely natural and having emanated from him/herself. Neither the rational use nor the collective control of technology (and the other forces of production) would by itself eliminate domination and exploitation, although democratically controlled means of communication could most certainly help undermine the hegemonic discourse that compels all to seek themselves, their happiness, their humanity, and even spiritual fulfillment through endlessly repeated acts of consumption. Marcuse posits, and to this day, it seems self-evident, that there must be a redefinition/rediscovery of truly human needs and a profound change in consciousness occurring “in the infrastructure of man… [In] the biology of the individual.”………..
Notes from The Postmodern Prince by John Sanbonmats
without a perceptible form or shape, existing social movements have little reality for the majority of human beings… Without a body through which to appear in the temporal world, movements are doomed to roam the earth unperceived
without organization and strategy, there is nothing to work for and no way to evaluate what we’ve done.
The question of unity, of how to construct the collective will, capable of leading society, is paramount.
The “postmodern prince” is the name of the new collective subject, which must gather up the myriad dispersed movements of oppositional practice and culture in the form of a single movement whose outward expansion establishes a genuinely democratic and ethical human culture
while the contradictions of capitalism generate points of friction in opposition, counter identities and counter discourses, the resistance identities that emerge can take any of a variety of forms, not all of them progressive
(fragmentary opposition easily isolated co-opted marginalized)
Massimo Teodori listed five core themes at the heart of the new political organizational praxis – first, the new left emphasized a moral revolt against society, a revolt rooted in individual self-expression – second, it encompassed a wider and deeper critique than Marxism, seeming to take into detailed account the entire cultural and psychic fabric of society – third, it eschewed more traditional spheres of political participation, emphasizing instead the tactics of direct action – fourth its adherents generally affirmed a commitment to grassroots or participatory democracy – fifth. The movement was committed to the general decentralization and multiplicity of structures and actions.
(These are key elements along with Marcuse’s concepts of the Great Refusal and the new sensibility – Buddhist principles may be invaluable here as well. In so far as individuals can rediscover their authentic selves, their authentic desires – which cannot be easily commodified or met by the market)
what the new left lacked was a new theoretical synthesis, one capable of providing an analysis of the structures of American society, a vision of future society, and the ways and means of bringing about the transformation which will lead from one to another.
(Here elements of Marx, Marcuse, The Situationists, and Buddhist anarchism combined with an understanding of the relationship between virtual world social networks and real world social networks and the part they can play in transforming both theory and practice and bring about real concrete change might be useful to mention)
(human beings reach their highest fulfillment in expressive activity and the need to freely engage in creative labor both means through which humans objectify some subjective aspect of themselves to gain validation/recognition/self-worth from others as well as gaining an inner sense of satisfaction and self-worth – i.e. they find meaning through activity and human relationships – KEY PROBLEM – spectacular capitalism has interjected false needs and created a second nature centered on consumption, where consumption of commodities and the images associated with them is posited as the solution to all existential questions and has replaced to a great extent, the role religion once played in ameliorating alienation and justifying the social order)
the new praxis emerges in the struggle against violence and exploitation were the struggle is it waged for essentially new ways and forms of life: the negation of the entire establishment, it’s morality, culture: affirmation of the right to build a society in which the abolition of poverty and will terminate the in the universe where the sensuous, the playful, the calm, and the beautiful become forms of existence and thereby the forms of the society itself.
(Where resistance is partial and fragmentary power will always reassert itself)
self liberation is self-education, but as such, it presupposes education by others –, Gramsci – all authentic education is political education and in a class society political education is unthinkable without leadership educated and tested in the theory and practice, a radical opposition. The function of this leadership is to translate spontaneous Protestantâ organized action, which is the chance to develop and to transcend immediate needs and aspirations for the radical reconstruction of society: transformation of immediate and to organize spontaneity.
(Here it’s important to bring up radical pedagogy, the importance of educating oneself – both Buddhist anarchism, Marcuse and his concept of introjection of false needs/consciousness to the point that it becomes second nature and the necessity of overcoming this and William Godwin might be useful for elaborating on this topic)
a counterforce to the system must necessarily be developed for and effectively organize left one capable of dispelling their education the false and mutilated consciousness of the people so that they themselves experience, their condition and its abolition as vital need and apprehend for themselves the Ways and Means of their liberation.
(The Democratic/radical/independent media/self education and methods by which individuals can break through their own second nature/false consciousness/consumerist religion – problem is to destroy/weaken/undermine false consciousness and show it transform minds to understand the need for liberation again Buddhist principles applied individually combined with a coherent total critique of the system would be eminently useful)
(disintegration into identity/single issue/micro politics is related to the reification of roles – the natural defense of the spectacle. Since this brings them back into the economic system – divide and conquer/co-optation – rebellion that made demands on the market that could not be met by the market because they were total can win only fragmentary or partial be eventually met by the market, commodified, neutered….
Theses on the Cult of Consumption in Late Spectacular-Commodity-Finance Capitalism
1. The spectacle as the qualitative transformation of accumulated quantities of capital into images, appearances, messages, spectacular events, new hyper-real means of communication& symbols produced by the state & private corporations is the manner in which capitalism has superseded traditional religion.
2. Traditional religion’s sphere of influence was the masses of impoverished individuals seeking meaning for their life circumstances, a sense of purpose not found in wage-labor, rules for behavior that would result in eternal reward (& punishment for the evil), some bit of relief from the drudgery of life – all presented dramatically through rituals orchestrate by costumed fatherly clergy who could make biblical myths & fairytales somehow temporarily fulfilling
3. As Marx said, religion is the opium of the masses – it provided a fix just like the junkie’s
4. Religion’s stock & trade was providing images for the believer to emulate, appearances were
Notes from “networks of outrage and hope social movements in the Internet age” by manuel castells
“Those who have power construct the institutions of society according to their values and interests” (4)
(Insert quote from Marx the German ideology here )
Power is exercised by coercion and or by the construction of meaning in people’s minds through mechanisms of symbolic representation. (5)
But power is not monolithic or unitary – counter power exists where social actors can challenge power embedded in society’s institutions for purpose of claiming representation of their own values and interests (5)
(Problem here is if power is so dominant that individuals believe societies institutions do represent their values and interests – insert Macuse here mentioned new sensibility and introjection of second nature)
The actual configuration of the state and other institutions that regulate people’s lives depends on interaction between power and counter power (5)
(Problem here – power defines realm of acceptable debate and limits acceptable thought and acceptable political visions )
Key – power has the ability to construct meaning, essentially defining the reality – what is – as best of all possible worlds
(Insert Marcuse on essential role of negative thinking, utopian thinking, using the radical theory as means by which to point out the difference between what is and what could be )
(System has too many people still believing at best, that it just needs reform, at worst that this system is natural or sanctioned by God or the only system it in accord with human nature )
“The fundamental power struggle is the battle for the construction of meaning in the minds of people” (5)
(I. E. Any social struggle must simultaneously be an individual struggle that both must strip away layers of false consciousness – the consciousness that accepts the the ideology of the ruling class, that doesn’t question, that acts from habit, that behaves in ways that overtly or covertly uphold the laws, traditions, or ways of thinking about oneself or others that serve to maintain the ruling class, even accepting that power is necessarily legitimate, or worst of all believing that the world and people have always been like they are now, she may still cling to fundamentalist religion and worse have wed rulingclass ideology with said religion – so long as they have heaven or Jesus and shopping malls they will deny reality as evidenced by consistent anti-scientific beliefs)
Humans create meaning by interacting with their natural and social environment, by networking their neural networks with the networks of nature and with social networks (5-6)
If such networks can be used for communication as a process of sharing meaning through the exchange of information, then the process of socialized communication can be a source of social production of meaning (6)
(as opposed to the top-down production of meaning – but essential to this insofar as it made lead to change, is that the information exchanged serves to question power and empower individuals – the socialized production of meetings must be purposeful, thoughtful, subversive, and not large-scale Smalltalk – unless such social communication consciously goes beyond the bounds of the acceptable and includes what is usually marginalized. It will only serve power what is communicated must subvert challenge question and come from a place of authenticity that seeks others who might share common experiences in order to form virtual and or real networks of counter power)
(Here it is critical to educate break corporate control of the media, free schools from reactionary school boards and universities from corporate influence as well as campaign against theism and utilized Buddhist meditative practices to allow for a shift in perspective within individuals – insert passage from Hooked)
The process of constructing meaning must be diverse but unfortunately most symbolic construction is largely dependent on what is diffused in multimedia communication networks (6)
although each individual human mind constructs its own meaning by interpreting the communicated materials on its own terms, this mental processing is conditioned by the communication environment. Thus, the transformation of the communication environment directly affects the forms of meaning, construction, and therefore the production of power relationships. (6)
(the communication environment is not simply external but also exists internally in each individual. Therefore, necessitating transformation as well – insert passage from Hooked)
(as long as most media is corporate run, individuals will have to struggle with creating meaning out of never ending streams of information, much of it meaningless or superficial and as expected, intimately tied to the needs of the market and corporations – major obstacle to political consciousness)
Mass self communication is based on horizontal networks of interactive communication that, by and large, are difficult to control by governments or corporations. (7)
(problem – governments or corporations do not necessarily need to control mass self communication. They can easily drown people in useless, fragmented facts, trivia, and propaganda or advertising)
if society can be conceptualized as a network society, power is multidimensional and is organized around networks programmed in each domain of human activity. According to the interests and values of empowered actors. Networks of power, exercise their power by influencing the human mind predominantly (but not solely) through multimedia networks of mass communication. Thus communication networks are decisive sources of power making. (7)
the state constitutes the default network for the proper functioning of all other power networks… Power is held in the network society by the programmers with the capacity to program each one of the main networks on which people’s lives depend (my note – each one of these main networks emanate from the various spheres of economic activity and include the state. The military-industrial complex, the financial sector, media, science and technological institutions, educational institutions, service industries, etc.) . Power is also held by the switchers who operate the connections between different networks (media elites and the political class, financial leads bankrolling political elites, political elites working for financial institutions, media corporations intertwined with financial corporations, academic institutions financed by big business, etc.) (8 – 9)
if power is exercised by programming and switching networks, then counter power, the deliberate attempt to change power relationships, is enacted by reprogramming networks around alternative interests and values, and/or disrupting the dominant switches while switching networks of resistance and social change. (9)
by engaging in the production of mass media messages, and by developing a tonomous networks of horizontal communication, citizens of the information age become able to invent new programs for their lives with the materials of their suffering, fears, dreams and hopes. They build their projects by sharing their experience. This subvert the practice of communication as usual. By occupying the medium in creating the message they overcome the powerlessness of their solitary despair by networking their desire. They fight the powers that be by identifying the networks that are (9)
social movements exercise counter power by constructing themselves of the first place through a process of a tonomous communication, free from the control those holding institutional power. Because mass media are largely controlled by governments and media corporations, and network society. Communicative autonomy is primarily constructed in the Internet networks in the platforms of wireless communication. (9)
since the institutional public space, the constitutionally designated space or deliberation, is occupied by the interests of the dominant elites and their networks, social movements need to carve out a new public space. It is not limited to the Internet, but makes itself visible of the places of social life. Occupied spaces have played a major role the history of social change for three basic reasons 1. They create community, and community is based on togetherness. Togetherness is a fundamental psychological mechanism that overcome fear. And overcoming fears, the fundamental threshold for individuals to cross in order to engage in a social movement; 2. Occupied spaces are not meaningless: they are usually charged with the symbolic power of invading sites of state power, or financial institutions. Roles by relating to history, the voked memories of popular uprisings; 3. The control space symbolizes the control over people’s lives. By constructing a free community is symbolic place, social movements create a public space, space for deliberation, which ultimately becomes a political space, space for sovereign assemblies to meet and to recover their rights of representation, which have been captured and political institutions predominantly tailored for the convenience of the dominant interests and values. (10 – 11)
the critical matter is that this new public space. The network space between the digital space of the urban space is a space of a tonomous communication. The autonomy of communication is the essence of social movements because it is what allows the movement to be formed, and what enables the movement to relate to society at large. Beyond the control the powerholders over communication power. (11)
social movements arise from the fundamental injustice of all societies, relentlessly confronted by human aspirations of justice (my note – they must necessarily break with the bonds of acceptable debate were more often than not aspirations of justice are not usual topics of conversation, let alone given a place of prominence and political discourse) (12)
social movements are made of individuals – we must analyze and understand how and when individuals network by connecting mentally to other individuals begins the process of communication that ultimately leads to collective action – how these networks negotiate the diversity of interests and values present in the network to focus on a common set of goals, how these networks relate to the society at large and to many other individuals, and how many more individuals are activated and the networks formed broaden and then engage in resistance to domination in a multimodal assault against an unjust order (13)
at the individual level, social movements are emotional movements where emotion has been transformed into action (13)
the key emotions that lead to action are hope and enthusiasm overcoming anxiety, fear, and paralysis, but this positive emotional activation of individuals must connect to other individuals (14)
as many individuals feel humiliated, exploited, ignored or misrepresented, they are ready to transfer their anger into action, as soon as they overcome their fear and any use the existing communication process to link individual experiences together (15)
at present, multimodal, digital networks of horizontal communication are the fastest and most A Tonomous, interactive, reprogrammable and self-expanding means of communication in history. The characteristics of communication processes between individuals engage the social movement determine the organizational characteristics of the social movement itself: the more interactive itself configurable communication is, less hierarchical is the organization of the more participatory is the movement (15)
for the networks of counter power to prevail over the networks of power embedded in the organization of society, they will have to reprogram the pology, the economy, the culture or whatever dimension they aim to change by introducing in their institutions. Programs, as well as in their own lives. Other instructions, including, in some utopian versions the rule of not really anything (17)
(such networks of counter power must come back at the individual level years of ideological indoctrination that shapes and distorts potentially novel notions for the restructuring of society by filtering them through the language of the system – individuals must reprogram political consciousness on their own and through interaction with other radicals – Marcuse’s second nature, ignorance, false consciousness)