An introduction to the Frankfurt School (Philosophize This!)

Don’t expect any mention of Erich Fromm in this podcast though, unfortunately. Fromm being the Frankfurt School author I’m most familiar with. But it’s still an interesting podcast to listen to, especially recommended for those who have a knee-jerk reaction against anything relating to the Frankfurt School.

Part 1, “Introduction”:

Part 2, “The Enlightenment”:

Part 3, “The Culture Industry”:

Part 4, “Eros”:

Part 5, “Civilization”:

Part 6, “Art As A Tool For Liberation”:

What is referred to therein as “monopoly capitalism” sounds to be the same as what I generally refer to as Corporatism and/or oligopolistic capitalism. The difference being that the market situation has grown and expanded through the domination of sectors by key major (and increasingly global/multinational) corporations that wind up working in tandem to shut out competition from smaller businesses and upstarts (whether via political lobbying efforts or through technological strangleholds, etc.). To me, calling it monopolistic at this point oversimplifies the reality we’re confronting, though I can understand why Marcuse would use that language in the 1970s.

Part 7, “The Great Refusal”:

Pausing at 4:55 in that last clip…yes, and it’s precisely that concern which drives my own interest in the arguments and ideas put forth by people like Dr. Jordan Peterson. Though Peterson is well-known for criticizing neo-Marxists and those he refers to as “postmodernists,” he’s still absolutely right about how one needs to “clean your own room” before attempting to engage too far in the process of attempting to overhaul society. Why? Because “cleaning one’s own room” is about more than just literally doing domestic chores — it’s about developing our own individual selves, grappling with our own limitations and shortcomings, and taking more time to study history broadly so that we can have a better handle on what all has come before and why we humans find ourselves where we’re collectively at now. These are complex matters, not simply bumbling errors brought about by idiot, racist/sexist/”traditionalist” predecessors who gave too little thought to life and living or who were all so blinded by their own destructive agendas that they gave no shits for the fate of future generations. That’s too close-minded and uncharitable of an interpretation of the unfolding of history and the motives of people in the past and the institutions they designed over time. We have to step back and really take time to think deeply about what we’re confronting here today and how it came into being incrementally over the course of the rise of civilizations. Not any easy task. Requires a great deal of personal reckoning as well, due to our own individual biases and wishful thinking and brainwashed programming delivered via mainstream sources, educators (even those who were well-intentioned in their own right), and the wider culture and the narratives it depends on in order to survive.

The further I’ve gone down this rabbit hole over the years, the deeper I recognize the rabbit hole to be. There are no simply answers here. Not even that many clear-cut enemies necessarily. Just a bunch of us humans trying to make sense of reality and to play the games according the rules we understand (or rebel against them if that’s our bag). Domination and power certainly do factor in to the lived human experience, but so does SO MUCH else. It’s not so simple of a matter as destroying hierarchies and we’ll all eventually be free to live in peaceful equality with one another. No, that’s just begging for the creation of a power vacuum which will be filled by the ambitions of other groups of people operating under their own ideologies that will very likely prove even less effective than what’s currently in place. It’s a precarious situation at present, compounded by so much idealism in the hearts of protesters who like to imagine themselves as having the magical, never-before-tried answers to what plagues humanity. And many of them are blind to the lessons of history as well, largely due to ideological obsessiveness and the narrowing of focus that commonly entails. They will not prove to be saviors either, I’m willing to bet.

That doesn’t mean we have to throw our hands in the air and accept the current status quo as the only game worth playing because all else (like communism) likely will prove even more fatal. But it does ask of us to be careful and cautious in moving forward, to pay closer attention and to not be so arrogant as to assume we ourselves and those we politically/socially identify with have discovered ultimate answers to these complex problems and issues. Humility is absolutely essential here, lest history just keep on repeating (or rhyming, rather) in a downward spiraling fashion (thanks, in part, to new and powerful technologies coupled with greater centralization than the world has ever known before). Power available today is like that of no other time in history — be heedful of that fact.

Many of us want to see change be brought about, for human societies to become healthier and less dominated by economic interests solely. Plenty of us grasp the alienating features of modern life and what that can and does do to us psychologically and socially, and how that then spills out to impact all other aspects of society. But the way to bringing about change indeed isn’t going to come through simply protesting in the streets or certain interest groups vying to dominate within academe and the corporate and political world. That’s just a recipe for more disaster, so far as I can tell. I lost all faith in that approach. It’s become more a question of individual development and social evolution, of working with what is within our direct control and making decisions that allow us as individuals (and the communities we choose to devise or partake in) to live more in alignment with the values we claim to hold dear. Not trying to force the hands of others, since that won’t work. Better to find ways around the perceived obstructions and to test our own mettle than to attempt to overthrow society as a whole, especially when no better game plan is yet afforded to all of us on a society-wide scale.

People don’t wish to hear this, because it sounds harder. Much easier to instead try to push for change in the streets or by screaming at people in lecture halls and pulling down audio equipment so as to disrupt speakers we dislike. Much easier to behave destructively, rebelliously, than to take the time to comprehend our own inner tyrants and the consequences that produces in a reverberating fashion across society and on up through history. Much easier to blame the “other,” somebody else, than to recognize our own part played in this due to the human nature we share. Doesn’t matter that we were just born into this and didn’t ask for this. Nobody originally ever asks for anything, and all were born into it. That’s no excuse for refusing to do the heavy lifting required in this life. Turns out that giving in to such destructive tendencies and acting like rebels without a clue winds up doing more harm than good oftentimes, especially to our own selves, though it’s usually years on down the road before we can recognize it for what it is.

There are no easy answers here, and there likely never will be. It’s just us and our strivings and our need to learn to communicate more effectively with one another about our conflicting points of view. And that’s okay. This is what we have to work with. There was never a rose garden back before, no ideal worth returning to necessarily. Just the movement and expansion of Life in all its complexity on up through time. Never perfect, at least not in the rational sense that we humans like to dream about, nor will it ever be. But we co-constructors of this reality, particularly in terms of our own actions and choices herein. So we start there, inside oneself, that being where we have the most control and are capable of reaping the greatest benefit in our lifetimes.

Simple, yet not easy. C’est la vie…

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