Critical Theory

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Marcuse is part of that crew, One Dimensional Man.


Article, In Defence of Critical Theory [1] - published in Unherd

  • The marxists started getting a little uneasy once their ideals devolved to a weird mustached man and another mass murderer in Russia.
  • Science - 'it's all made up'. It's a highly social process. And there's the replication crisis.
  • Bruno Latour - proposed that that we believe that we are modern and science tells us the truth. This is the modernist myth. This is a really effed up mental model that provides us with arrogonce, limits ouro re-evaluation of possibilities ('we already know everything'), and prevents us from learning from history and other civilizations. Bruno Latour, one of the first scholars to study “the social construction of scientific facts”.
  • In a very real sense, science stripped of the myth of modernity takes on the same shape as the study of history. It is absurd to think that history is simply an account of what happened; “what happened” in a month in any small town would fill entire libraries. The historian’s task is to craft a narrative which illuminates some part of the past, using actual incidents as building blocks. A scientist without modernist pretensions, similarly, crafts a narrative that illuminates some part of nature, using replicable experimental results as building blocks. Theories along these lines are useful rather than true; they start by accepting the reality that the human mind is not complex enough to understand the infinite sweep of the cosmos, and then goes on to say, “but as far as we are capable of making sense of things, this story seems to reflect what happens”.
  • This sort of thinking is doubtless a bitter pill to swallow for those who have founded their own identities on the notion that humanity is or should be the conqueror of nature. Here again, though, the failure of those notions to create a world fit for human habitation is increasingly clear to many of us. And the sooner we accept that the stories told by today’s industrial societies are just another set of mythologies, and that the technologies they’ve created to manipulate the world are just another set of clever gimmicks — why, the sooner we can get to work discarding those aspects of modernity that have failed abjectly, and picking up those older habits and stories and technologies that are better suited to the world we find ourselves facing. Only then, can we begin to do something less inept and foredoomed with our time on Earth.
  • It is to the credit of the founders of critical theory — Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Erich Fromm, Max Horkheimer, and Herbert Marcuse — that they didn’t just go on believing in the secular mythology of progress. They grasped that the Enlightenment had failed to accomplish what everyone expected of it (Hitler + Stalin + Mao), and they set out to understand what had gone wrong.
  • The first major book to come out of the movement, Horkheimer and Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment, sought to make sense of the way that Enlightenment rationalism had led to the twin tyrannies of Stalin and Hitler.
  • The founders of critical theory did in fact make a massive mistake, but it’s one that pretty much everyone made in those days and too many people still make today.That mistake? The failure to recognise that the academic circles to which Adorno and Benjamin belonged — and to which their followers by and large belong today — form a privileged class with an interest in furthering its own influence and grabbing more than its share of wealth and privilege. Critical theory by and large avoids talking about this. A genuine critical race theory would interrogate the discourses concerning race used by Left-wing activists in today’s society, and show how those discourses are used as instruments of hegemony by those activists and the people who pay them. A genuine critical theory would also interrogate the implications of “liberating human beings from the circumstances that enslave them”, and talk about how that rhetoric of liberation is used to replace one set of enslaving circumstances with another. - didn't Marcuse talk about one enslavement replaced by another?


  • Marcuse believed that it was possible to conceive of technology under an entirely new reality principle. In the capitalist system, technics and its governing technological ideology is based on the performance principle of competition and production and must serve the goals set by this performance principle. Even if scarcity is no longer a real problem, the idea and fear of scarcity are taken up and put to work for the ideology of production for the sake of production and competition for the sake of competition. We are never told that at this moment we have the necessary resources to end world hunger. Instead, we are told that more and more technological progress will end the problem of scarcity. [2]
  • The social reality in advanced industrial societies is that very sophisticated systems of domination are in place and they are capable of transforming themselves to meet the challenge of any movement for liberation...For Marcuse, the specter of liberation haunted advanced industrial societies. One might even say that Marcuse’s own critical theory was haunted by the specter of liberation. [3]
  • The function of one-dimensional thinking is to produce a one-dimensional society by whittling down critical, two-dimensional consciousness. This is accomplished in several ways which will simply be listed here.:
    • The system must make the citizens think that they are freer than they really are.
    • The system must provide the citizens with enough goods to keep them pacified.
    • The citizens must identify with their oppressors.
    • Political discourse must be eliminated.
  • The first chapter of One-Dimensional Man begins with the following sentence: A comfortable, smooth, reasonable, democratic unfreedom prevails in advanced industrial civilization, a token of technical progress.