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Step 63: The One-Dimensional Man

Chasing “false needs” we are too drained to rebel, much less think.

Capitalism must channel our energies, either absorbing or dispersing them. What better to feed itself while neutering us than playing on our wealth and desire until we only relate to the world through material goods?

One-Dimensional Man

Hebert Marcuse

Part 1: Capitalist Absorption

Part 2: The One-Dimensional Man

Part 3: Cybernetic Theory


Step 63: The One-Dimensional Man

PART 1: Capitalist Absorption

Capitalism absorbs everything. That is it’s super-power or villainy. Last episode I called it slime, because it seems to overrun things and make them part of itself, even criticism of capitalism is sold, and it generates proponents of capitalism to protect it, writing more books. Perhaps even making some sweet ideological swag, perhaps a fundraiser tote bag for all that outrage.

The absorption of opposition is also internalization.

We can appear as external rebels to the system, as we talked about with Elvis’s wild hip movements and music appropriated from black culture, and how those counter-cultures are converted into a money-making production.

So, his cooptation serves capital, but because it is a competitive system, any tactic generates counter-tactics, leading to battles that fuel more capitalism.

A famous example:

Even if you are a sincere revolutionary, like Che Guevara. you can manifest outrage until you become the voice of others, and as you or your movement become famous your fame is used, it has utility, and it leads to feeding the consumerist entertainment cycle, the opposing war machine, and eventually, your face is on a shirt for sale. Che-Guevara as a purchasable identity, ironically probably made in a sweatshop oppressing others as a means to signal cheap solidarity with the cause of freedom.

The tactic is to take a three-dimensional cause, render it into a lumpy two-dimensional graphic (us v them / black and white), and then reduce it further to a singular aspect, one dimension of flat irony: rebellion as purchase.

Step 63: The One-Dimensional Man

PART 2: One-Dimensional Man

In 1964 Herbert Marcuse wrote a book claimed to be one of the most important of the century: the one-dimensional man.

The book tackles capitalism and communism. It shows social repression in both societies and specifically a decline in revolutionary potential in the West.

He blames much of this on advanced industrial society creating “false needs”, where people get caught up producing and consuming in excess. They are urged on and stupefied by TV, mass advertising, and even workplace management, such as Taylorism.

This consumerism through, let’s call it industrial capitalism, creates a climate of universal thought… it promotes marginal differences and over-working chasing unnecessary, frivolous things. Due to the chase for stuff, including having to work too hard for basic necessities, we are drained of the aptitude for critical thought and any consideration for opposition or rebellion.

This is how two-dimensional thinking is whittled down to one dimension.

In dialectics, the world is complex, each point of view has a competing, dynamic alternate other… but in a reduced, simplified one-dimension, there is no conflict, thus humans are like automatons or limited machines.

To make it worse, this “universal” flattening of values, by everyone being caught up in working more to consume more hamster wheel, is a form of social control.

As an example:

Marcuse points out the universality of techno-rationality. We reason rationally that tech adoption is good, it is released into society, which then changes what is reasonable in society. Yet, tech-rationality is so ubiquitous now as to be unconsidered, and even undeniable: irrational.

Marcuse goes so far as to say we think we live in a democracy, but it’s actually totalitarianism. It is run by the affluent, what we would call the 1% today, who under the disguise of increasing comfort have increased exploitation, manipulated our perceptions, and along the way psychologically destroyed us, limiting our worldview to social connection through material items.

While Marcuse’s framing of the concept is different, the one-dimensional man reminds me of the fulfillment of Nietzsche’s concept of the Last man who chases mundane happiness, is content to work, retire, and vacation. With the death of God, Nietzsche feared the nihilism of values would produce such a man. and it has.

“It is only for the sake of those without hope, that hope is given to man”

Walter Benjamin
Step 63: The One-Dimensional Man

PART 3: Cybernetic Theory

Let’s speak for a moment of the language and framing we are going to be seeing a lot of in the next few episodes.

When philosophers speak of negativity inside a system, internal negativity or self-generated negativity (rather than external) they are often speaking in terms of Cybernetics, or cybernetic theory. The easiest way to think of it is as a thermostat regulating pressure in a changing environment, so it accounts for feedback to moderate the system.

The cybernetic terminology is that “negatives” are safety or control mechanisms keeping the “positive” energies (desires) in check as they attempt to proliferate outwards in danger of exploding the system. In this way, the absorption of energies by capitalism is essential for it to maintain and perpetuate: you either have to diffuse or redirect the energy.

Applied to things like capitalism, you can see how the one-dimensional man, too busy chasing material goods to bother rebelling, is a means to regulate the destructive tendencies of humans. Our material wealth and desire coupled with social and managerial control lead to a pretty totalizing regulatory system.

The Deleuze and Guattari term for the cybernetic negative is to “territorialize”, which is a type of negation or blockage to stop something from getting out of control. Thus, to “deterritorialize” is to spin up the positive energy in the system until it flies free, breaking loose from constraint.

However, according to Mark Fisher Capitalism immediately “reterritorializes” deterritorialization; simultaneously capturing the excess energy and channeling it, blocking it, or dispersing it.

This is a cliff-notes version of cybernetics, but it will come in handy as we move forward considering ways to react to the double bind of our current systems.

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Hebert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man

Geoff Schullenberger “Memetic Theory and Accelerationism

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