The New Forms of Control
Freedom of thought, speech and conscience were essentially critical ideas, designed to replace an obsolescent material and intellectual culture by a more productive and rational one. - Once these ideas were achieved though, the need for them disappeared. You can see this now, we take things for granted; when we have free speech etc we value it less and so become all too willing to give it up for any remotely logical reason.
Under the conditions of a rising standard of living, non-conformity with the system itself appears to be socially useless. - Why rebel against a system that seems to work, mostly? This question of non-conformity will become more important as we go through the excerpt. Right now it can be linked to the point above, we established a need for freedom to avoid oppressive regimes, but when we do not see ourselves as being under an oppressive regime, why would we fight for freedom?
If the productive apparatus could be organised and directed toward the satisfaction of the vital needs, its control might well be centralized; such control would not prevent individual autonomy, but render it possible. - Marcuse doesn't go along with the idea of technological determinism. It is currently having far more harmful effects on freedom and autonomy than it is positive ones, but that need not necessarily have been the case. If technology had been controlled correctly and pointed toward satisfying only our vital needs it would have freed up the rest of our time for autonomous action. How it doesn't do this right now will become clear later on.
In actual fact, however, the contrary trend operates. - It could have worked out as the above describes, but unfortunately it has not. To defend itself and particularly for continued growth, technology imposes its requirements on us, specifically on our labour and free time. Through the manipulation of needs technology can cause society to become totalitarian. Not in a classical sense, but in a way in which it is actually compatible with free press, multiple parties in a democracy, etc. By controlling what we 'need', it restricts the choices we can make within our alleged freedom.
We may distinguish both true and false needs. - To begin to explain the above we need this distinction. So here goes...
True needs – These are the vital needs he mentioned earlier. In more detail then, they include such things as "nourishment, clothing, lodging at the attainable level of culture". This is obviously a very small amount of needs.
False needs – These are those needs which are imposed upon us by society. We are convinced that we 'need' various things through advertising and the general social climate. How many women won't go out without make-up on? How many people in our society don't have a TV in their house?
Additionally, many would argue that what we have called false needs of theirs are actually things they have chosen themselves and would do so given any amount of autonomy or freedom. Marcuse argues, though, that no matter to what extent a false need becomes a person's own, individual, genuine need, it will still be what it began as – a need which was imposed by society at large.
In the last analysis, the question of what are true and false needs must be answered by the individuals themselves, but only in the last analysis. - Before then an individual's word cannot be trusted as he has become too indoctrinated by society. No external tribunal can make these decisions for an individual though, as true and false needs are distinguished through individual autonomy, and if an individual cannot claim his own autonomy, no one else can claim it for him.
All liberation depends on the consciousness of servitude. - To attain freedom we have to be aware that we currently lack it. The technological society we live in now suffocates any needs which require true freedom and instead replaces them – or at least distracts us from them – with false needs and false freedoms. We are completely free to choose between a Honda and a Ford, but are we truly free in choosing whether we want a car? More appropriate still, we are free to choose what things to buy and what job to get to earn the money for these things, but are we ever free to choose whether we want to get a job and buy things?
The objection that we overrate greatly the indoctrinating power of the "media," and that by themselves the people would feel and satisfy the needs which are now imposed upon them ... misses the point. - The media is not a cause of the preconditioning of man, it is just another symptom, albeit one which then contributes to the continuation of this preconditioning. People already come to the media open to this preconditioning because of society in a more general sense has already preconditioned them. Marcuse claims that the fact that people of all classes enjoy the same 'things' does not mean that class distinctions have broken down so much as it highlights the power with which needs are manipulated in society; the upper class is affected just as much as the lower classes.
The prevailing forms of social control are technological in a new sense. - Technology has, throughout its history, been a vital tool in social control, keeping all the little bastards in line and all that. In terms of more obvious forms of technological aggression (military applications and the like) as well as keeping the lower classes labouring as they should be. In contemporary society though, it is vital to social control in a different way. It is "the very embodiment of Reason for the benefit of all social groups and interests", and so we return to the point made near the beginning, that because of this all opposition to the system as a whole seems not only hopeless but completely irrational. System is reason, so rebellion is irrational.
Mass production and mass distribution claim the entire individual, and industrial psychology has long since ceased to be confined to the factory. The result is an immediate identification of the individual with his society and, through it, with the society as a whole. - The individual comes to identify himself with the state; people in some sense all become cogs in the machine, treated as such by society, through this industrial psychology (like Taylor, I presume). Any inner sense of self is removed as people can only see themselves as part of something else – society.
The whole idea of an individual being alienated from society thus becomes impossible. Any possibility of an uprising against the system disappears when everyone involved cannot grasp themselves apart from the system. This inner dimension is where alienation, judgement of a regime and rebellion "take root", as Marcuse says. The self and the society cease to be separate entities, they are one and the same. The self is absorbed into society and disappears.
The productive apparatus and the goods and services which it produces "sell" or impose the social system as a whole. - The products of technology actually sell the system to us by themselves, they push its ideology. We have a higher quality of life because of technology, and so we perceive it as only a good thing. Though we may acknowledge some poor implementation of it (A bombs etc.) we see this as down to human error, nothing is wrong with technology itself. When we accept a product of technology we are implicitly accepting the technological regime. This all amounts to an inability to see any flaws in the system and react to them, especially given the absence of the inner dimension of self.
The trend may be related to a development in scientific method: operationalism in the physical, behavorism in the social sciences. - This concept of operationalism is similar to that of Arendt's reduction of reason to "reckoning with consequences". We now ask "how" rather than "what" or "why"; in Marcuse's terms we define everything in operational terms. A concept simply is the same thing as the set of operations which constitute it. Being is nothing over and above this; operationalism is another symptom/consequence (/cause?) of the decline of metaphysics. The result is that we simply dismiss anything that we cannot easily give an operational account of. We begin to think only in technology's terms and are thus further indoctrinated by its ideology.