This video is 4th in the 8-part video lecture series, The Self Under Siege: Philosophy in the Twentieth Century (1993). Lecture Notes:
I. Marcuse became a pop figure, the philosopher of the 60s. He expressed a key contradiction in modernity. Modernity is “enlightenment”, the end of myth and dogma, the power of reason; but it is also the rise of technology, capitalism, specialization, instrumental reason and the return of myth and dogma. The enlightenment built an intellect powerful enough to surrendering dogmatically before the powers of technology. This is the “Dialectic of Enlightenment” as analyzed by Herxheimer and Adorno and popularized by Marcuse. II. Instrumental rationality, information-based individual reason, leads to irrational outcomes. Individual monologic rationality is not rational in the totality of overall system. How did the force of the love of reason become itself unreasonable? The self cannot escape siege under the sway of instrumental reason alone, it drains the world of meaning and leads to the entwinement of myth and enlightenment. The film “Dr. Strangelove” is one long example of the contradictions outlined by Marcuse. III. Instrumental reason is the product of a one-dimensional society that produces one-dimensional human beings. Marcuse criticizes our society along at least two dimensions. First, the inner dimension: anxiety, despair, nausea and a massive industry in drugs to deal with these pathologies. A society of addicts. Second, the outer social world: alienation (separation from the subject and the object and the self in Marx’s sense); rationalization (bureaucracy and technical action in Weber’s sense). These produce a one-dimensional culture or banality which reduces human suffering and human desire to trivia and image.
IV. Such humans have by now become deeply skeptical and cynical about almost everything; in particular, the government and the culture industry. Beyond that, we are becoming skeptical about our history, our meaning, our purpose and the general fate of the species.
V. Marcuse’s method of criticism is called internal critique which measures a society against its own historically accumulated concepts and ideals in order to point out the gap between the actual social practices and the principles.
VI. Marcuse also never lost faith in the human species to reconstruct itself, to begin anew. This hope of liberation transcended the field of economics and standard Marxism, as well as the achievements of the so-called free and democratic world of today. He also rested his hope in the possibility of that the self could be won against the odds. Today, unfortunately, this view will seem to many quaint.
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