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Step 64: Artificial Negativity & Repressive Tolerance

What if democracy is a sham and we live under total control through consumerism? Then any negativity is a “simulation” within the system.

Ryder looks at Paul Piccone‘s use of Artificial Negativity, and Herbert Marcuse‘s idea of Repressive Tolerance, considering Piccone’s move from “left” to “right” as a failure to (in Hegelian fashion) sublate, instead switching sides.


Paul Piccone

Part 1: Hegel

Part 2: Paul Piccone & Telos, Carl Shmitt

  • Artificial Negativity (Piccone and Lake)
  • Repressive Tolerance (Marcuse)
  • The Particular

Part 3: Outcome


Step 64: Artificial Negativity & Repressive Tolerance

PART 1: Hegel

Before we get into Piccone and artificial negativity, we need to talk about Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. aka Hegel. This is important for the arc of not only this episode but the surrounding episodes.

The overarching Hegel idea is those antagonistic opposites may seem opposed, called antinomies, but if you pause and analyze them, you can find their shared relationship to the whole (that is opposites rely on each other, they give shape to each other, one cannot exist without the other, so they are circular and reliant).

By finding the unifying force or principle you can envelop, overcome, or sublate the opposites realizing their essential unity within the whole. The two can become one… while still remaining two. Magic. And each sublation allows you to encounter a larger set of oppositions, like a never-ending spiral staircase.

Hegel talked of the true essence of a thing as its “Ground.” And that “ground” includes “having it’s Being in another.” Every being is formed from a negation, not indifference or nothingness, but more like a drive to separate… that is a constitutive part of who and what they are.

Step 64: Artificial Negativity & Repressive Tolerance

PART 2: Paul Piccone

Many people on the left found the concept of the one-dimensional man to help articulate the problems of both capitalism and communism. And the premises in the book seem to become more true, more explanatory, of why the glorious Marxist revolution never manifested, and perhaps why capitalism did not collapse under its own contradictions.

philosopher Paul Piccone took Marcuse’s ‘one-dimensional man’ concept and built on it, morphing it into “artificial negativity” a practice managed by “the new class.”

Bur first some history: Paul Piccone was a philosopher in the 60’s through 80’s and the editor-in-chief of Telos. Telos was a philosophy and culture publication and vehicle for his ideas.

It started as a Frankfurt School and Marxist-leaning publication. it was primarily Hegelian, definitely left-leaning, but also roundly critical of everybody, and really quite combative and challenging… Piccone began to bang on about the “exhaustion of the left,” citing the failures and entrenchment of academia, declaring the path of the left to be a dead end.

This is a common problem: we intimately know the flaws of those we are closest to, allowing us to create eviscerating attacks.

The “exhaustion of the left” meant seeking ideas elsewhere, and Piccone moved to the right embracing the ideas of Carl Schmitt.

Carl Schmitt might be a good philosopher, but he was also a supporter of the Nazi party. Given his Nazi affiliation, his ideas are forever tainted. However, they were re-introduced to the right about 20 years ago and have gained popularity.

One idea Schmitt had that stuck out to me, which has an eery echo of Herbert Marcuse’s take-down of democracy, is that we do not really live in a democracy: democracy is a sham.

Why? As soon as anything becomes difficult, under strain, such as a war or pandemic, the government reverts to a small group of elites who, in a dictatorial fashion, make decisions for the nation. Our voice and our democratic freedom are suspended every time a truly meaningful decision is made. So, in Marcuse’s interpretation, the affluent elites let us pretend it is a democracy to keep us pacified because they know they will take control whenever they want.

Artificial Negativity

Piccone and Timothy Lake created the idea of “Artificial Negativity,” and despite the later turn, it is a great observation that explains a lot about why we cannot manifest change.

Essentially, it says that Marcuse is right: consumerism was the tool to complete “repression.” We are living in the full domination of capital and are homogenized, and depersonalized: we have lost the particular. We are all “the one-dimensional-man” unable to muster the direction or intelligence to rebel, under totalizing control.

The rebuttal is: why do we see negative things if control is so total?

The negativity we see, the revolutions in the system, are “system-generated simulations”… meaning they come from inside the system as pseudo-reactions. They are not organic… they are contained and staged in a way that will never break the system. They are managed.

Piccone has offered a persuasive picture of a consumer-cultural hegemony grown so complete as to remove from its subjects a combative intelligence essential to now-extinct struggles. Internal opposition is necessary in order to equip the system with vital control mechanisms; with the too-victorious stamping out of the undomesticated, monopoly capitalism now must somehow relax its repressive force so as to help engender a renewed negative presence. ~

John Zerzan, From the Anarchist Library https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/john-zerzan-vagaries-of-negation

In the crisis of one-dimensionality, the state/capital must generate opposition to its own bureaucratic excesses, but the opposition is artificial, merely moderating. Acts of civil disobedience (internal revolutions or movements) might seem oppositional, but they are merely rituals whereby the state/capital realizes its over-reach and re-calibrates itself to be more innovative and efficient… While supposedly opposing or reforming the system, all such movements are in fact ensuring the system’s continued domination. (pulling from cybernetic theory)

What does artificial negativity look like?

Piccone goes so far as to say the welfare state, civil rights, feminism, environmentalism, anti-globalism, as well as consumer activism. These are pseudo-reformations, perpetrated by “the new class” who are the cultural intelligentsia. The white-collar managerial elites of culture.

But I want to look at another way to see it in action:

Extreme divisiveness in political factions. This causes stagnation while bloating both state authority and capitalism: the further extreme each side gets the more they fuel the opposition… which just ensures both sides stay equal in their struggle, leading to no substantive, real change.

As an example: When the left refuses to recognize biological sex the right is enraged at what they see as irrationality.

Fox News doesn’t even have to try… they just broadcast the quotes from the left.

Meanwhile, the cult of Trump claims to be patriotic, moral Christians, while manifesting racism and xenophobia, rolling back women’s rights, and advocating for guns with an immoral bully as their mascot, you want to ask “what would Jesus do?”

The Daily Show doesn’t even have to try for satire: you made their point for them.

The harder you fight, the more extreme you get, and in the media age, you feed the other side. Eventually, both sides have violent factions in the streets.

The opposing forces neutralize each other instead of conquering or breaking the system, the energies are cycled through the capitalist media machine, generating cash and outrage, but is it producing substantive change?

I have my own thoughts on this, but here is a visual for you: both sides – the right and left- hate the leader (but for different reasons), and in their haste to tear down his statue, they throw ropes onto it, and both start pulling… but since they are in opposite sides, it applies equal force, the tug of war functions like guy wires, making the center position even more stable.

Repressive Tolerance

Another Marcuse idea utilized by Piccone is Repressive Tolerance: To be tolerant means to be open to diverse differences, yet Marcuse brings up how especially the left uses inclusion and tolerance as an imperative: you must be inclusive and tolerant or else.

You must progress with us or we will leave you behind, invoking a communal demand for one way of thinking, not even considering the irony that by forcing tolerance you are being intolerant.

“Get on board boomer, or just frickin die already.”

This intolerance in the name of tolerance highlights hypocrisy which undermines the legitimacy of the movement.

What seems interesting here, is again, Piccone is pointing out a contradictory abuse, but according to what I read online, if you criticized these ideas on Telos, the journal, you would be declared to be a member of the “New Class” – which is a term from a guy named Gouldner that Pirccone co-opted and inverted to become a pejorative slur.

Do you see the hypocrisy? the paradox in the game where Piccone turned it into a closed loop, no-win scenario, a double-bind: to speak up is to be named as a repressed tool of the system, brainwashed by “artificial negativity”. If you aren’t on Piccone’s side, you are a “false-conscious” manager of artificiality. To be academic, to critique was to be called a “creteinized” conformist.

Now we can see how Schmitt’s totalizing views come to make sense.

Our combative knight has switched from White to Black.

“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you. ”


In the end, Piccone had decided that the only way to break out of the one-dimensional man crisis was through the “particular“. That uniqueness could not manifest under monopoly capitalism and must come from without. That meant small, unique communities must flourish until they developed a means to apply “organic negativity.”

Unfortunately, when asked about the KKK, Piccone did not dismiss it out of hand… because indeed these backward groups developed an individuality that was not totalized. And that is the rub: to want a group outside of our way of thinking to break our systemic chains means they would likely appear as barbarous aliens.

Step 64: Artificial Negativity & Repressive Tolerance

PART 3: Outcome

Coming full circle, back to the beginning: Piccone uses Hegelian philosophy, finding the contradictory antagonisms, but like Marx, he “inverts” it from the ideal o the real by doubling down on a particular crisis.

Marx says he “inverted Hegel,” who was essentially an idealist, by finding a reality (wealth, class, and/or capitalism) to which he could apply dialectics. For Marx, it isn’t ideas that shape the world, but material, empirical facts.

Piccone followed suit: the crisis of the one-dimensional man, the exhaustion of the left, and the managerial state were a ground from which he could fight. Instead of “sublation of the antinomies,” he becomes the opposite; from the liberal particular Left to Schmitt’s illiberal totalitarian absolutism… to save the particular.

His solution in the end was centered around the idea that egalitarian rights claims can be abused, that varied cultures were incommensurate, and he saw the “New Class” as protected drivers of domination under the name of egalitarianism… I think we have all seen examples of that.

But it can be said that Piccone was operating from a false starting place.

Piccone was “seeing individuals as prone to destructive excesses.” Piccone “ignores the fact that the they also manifest aspirations for justice from below, anchor forms of legality that give vulnerable people some protection, and provide an ethical vocabulary to protest domination, terror, and war.”

Robert J. Antonio

In this sense, Piccone created his own “artificial negativity,” a game if you will, without a true “ground”… in his game authority over the flawed masses is essential for community survival and to preserve cultural pluralism… but that sounds like repressive totalitarianism, which is a totalizing negation of difference… which is exactly what Piccone started out wanting to preserve.

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Hebert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man

Geoff Schullenberger “Memetic Theory and Accelerationism

John Zerzan, From the Anarchist Library https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/john-zerzan-vagaries-of-negation

Marx’s Reaction Against Hegel

Robert J Antonio “Absolutizing the Particular

Outsider Theory “Right Critical Theory with Jacob Segal

Herbert Marcuse: Repressive Tolerance

Adam Kotsko “Tables, Ladders and Chairs: Telos, Artificial Negativity and the Big Society” pt 1 & pt 2

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