More pondering on the philosophy of Marcuse

Marcuse came back across my radar again today, so I decided to give Professor Rick Roderick’s lecture on Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man another listen. Completely worthwhile.

Pausing at 4:19, yes, I totally understand everything stated thus far and am keenly aware of this “dark side” that accompanies the narrative(s) based off of “instrumental reason” (Marcuse’s term to describe this trend toward heavy reliance on science in the absence/diminishment of religions). We like to assume we are ‘evolving’ as quickly as our technologies, and it appears we’re assuming wrongly.

Continuing on and quoting excerpts from Roderick’s lecture…

“It simply turned out not to be the case that we became less afraid in the face of the unknown. No, the unknown became more terrifying than ever.”


And no, we don’t have enough time to learn in-depth about various fields of research, not when many of us spend a decent amount of time trying to earn a living. There’s not enough time or energy, so most of us rely on the expertise of somebody else whose logic seems to jibe. But how the hell do we know? We’re trusting them to know. And people tend to be driven toward agreeing with whatever the majority vote appears to be (articles advertising the claim”the vast majority of scientists believe in climate change” immediately spring to mind).

“We built up an intellect hard enough, as it were, to see through these mystifications, but any intellect that powerful has a tendency to become totalitarian. This is the fundamental problem. And nowhere would that be more evident than in the experience of the Germans, who were great at their technology, the advance of science and so on, a world as instrumentally rational […] but the flipside of Enlightenment has been to sort of give up before the overpowering forces of technology in a more abject surrender than any that was ever called for in religion, to abjectly just to surrender before the powers of technology. And given the current state of the powers of technology, they far surpass the characteristics that we associate with God.”

Very good excerpt. I love this man’s presentations.

“What had been a myth became a technologically-achievable reality.” […] “Now we have systems, ‘rational’ systems, […] instrumentally rational. That leads to a further paradox Marcuse locates in modern rationality, and that’s that instrumental rationality, and I want to associate it with sort of atomic bits of what I’ve been calling information, as opposed to knowledge, and instrumental singular decisions based upon them. You put these together and the outcome isn’t rational, the outcome is irrational, and dangerous.”

Significant portion of the talk follows. And that’s very much how I’m seeing things too. Trying to micromanage everything and everyone will not lead to order, it will lead to a new form of chaos, most certainly not the sort of life most of us would really want if an alternative still seemed possible.

“Science marks off this terrain of reason, but outside it it pays no attention, it gives no guidance. Why are there things outside of instrumental reason at all? That’s the theme of the whole course. The self under siege could never find meaning in this denuded form of thinking and living, where all that you’re up to is making rational decisions one after another. That’s not a rich enough notion of experience for human life.”

“The Enlightenment, in other words, carries myths right along with it, it did not kill it. And it may be that this entwinement of Enlightenment and mythology is what is most important to understand about the situation that we’re in now, by that I mean in the late 20th century, because now our technologies are themselves quasi-mythological.”

“[I]ndividual instrumental reason, left to its own, produces irrational results.”

Game Theory and unavoidable paradoxes.

A “society massively soaked in drugs.” Hear, hear. It’s the only way we’re able to put up with one another.

Alienation, rationalization, banalization…so true. Nodding along with what Roderick is describing there.

“Much easier to be a cynic than to deal with complexity. Better to say everything is bullshit than to try to look into enough things to know where you are. Better to say everything is just silly or pointless than to try to look into systems of this kind of complexity and situations of this kind of complexity and ambiguity that we have to deal with now.”


On the apathy exhibited in college students in the ’90s, Roderick shared this sentiment:

“And it is a fair question to ask whether a society that produces this reaction in its young is worthy of existence at all. It really is, it’s worth asking whether it’s worth being here at all.”


That’s what I’m wondering too. What’s the point if we’re only headed toward creating hell on earth?

Seems to me if we’re going to live we ought to be able to carve out meaningful lives within cultures that make sense to us as social beings, that is to say lives and communities we exercise some control over and help direct in an engaged way. Instead we’re being alienated from the processes of living and are being rendered cogs in a wheel we’re simply born into and don’t individually possess the power to effectively go up against. That leaves people bewildered and scared, dependent and clingy on authorities to protect us from so much we do not understand, from supposed military threats to those cracking up within our own society, from economic disasters to damage caused by weather. We are becoming child-like in our inability to care for our own selves aside from “whoring” ourselves out to employers and waving around money to get our needs taken care of. That’s all most of us know how to do these days.

“…we don’t have all the answers, that we have not even formulated all the questions correctly.”

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