“The very progress of civilization under the performance principle has attained a level of productivity at which the social demands upon instinctual energy to be spent in alienated labor could be considerably reduced. Consequently, the continued repressive organization of the instincts seems to be necessitated less by the “struggle for existence” than by the interest in prolonging this struggle — by the interest in domination.”
Herbert Marcuse, Eros and Civilization
What Marcuse is saying here is that society has been guided by a principle of action required to secure resources for survival, that infects all areas of life. Repression of instincts into line with this goal of productivity. Now even in areas where it is not a matter of survival, it persists purely as a form of domination of self-perpetuation, of one generation asserting its right arbitrarily over the next generation. This irrationality can only be countered by people whose actions are guided by their own thoughts, rather than by impulsive reactions. The chain of impulses wants to entrap you and ensnare you in this game of domination.
This sums up much of my issue with many people at many points in my life, when I have seen them to be acting in line, fatalistically with this sorry tragedy of human society. The blind acting to repress what no longer needs to be repressed, just because it always has been, or just for temporary sadistic pleasure of domination of another. I simply cannot stand when people lose their humanity in ways such as this. Acting out a set historical role, rather than living out their own unique destiny. Selling out to forces of domination such as this, just because they are not willing to put in their own effort of mind to guide their actions more appropriately and independently.
I can’t stand the wannabe,
hiding in the shadow of others
really they are saying they cannot be
preferring a hollow security.
Nothing is achieved in imitation
you find yourself always one step behind,
this is its ultimate limitation
the moment you never can find
jealous of the living, who embrace it now
you cling to it belatedly, jaded
you never can quite see how,
but your soul grows more and more faded.
What once was wanted, you now idolise,
its the only way to distance it from yourself
so you need no longer despise
and envy them their wealth.
I am currently engrossed in some good books, so it seems to be the best thing for me to talk about on here right now.
I am reading a couple of books by Frankfurt school philosophers: Eros and Civilization by Herbert Marcuse and rereading, Minima Moralia by Theodor Adorno. I have previously read many books in this school of thought. They appealed to me strongly for two reasons, their opposition to positivist thinking, and their critical approach to Marxist social theory. Incorporating some areas he got right in his social analysis, while denying some of the more dubious, stronger claims of historical determinism.
Minima Moralia is a post second world war diatribe on the whole moral culture of a civilization that could lead to such wars. He was an exile from Germany and was right in the thick of this era of great progress, great change, but also great suffering. It reads with a similar passion to Nietzsche, though it is written in much more dense language so would not probably appeal to the average reader. There are also a lot of obscure cultural references, particularly in the area of aesthetic theory, that I struggle to understand myself.
But amongst it there are many valuable and well-thought through insights into the depth of complicity of civilization itself in, not just the world wars, but in allowing the rise of a fascist state such as the Nazis.
Eros and Civilization is a take on Freudian theory and its importance in the social, not just psychological, context. It is insightful to see things from a different angle such as this. So much of human behavior is performed blindly in line with drives and principles such as Freudian theory brings to light. I have always acted in great awareness of my own actions and motivations, but this is helping me to get a better grip of what motivates other people and society in general, in many of what seem on the surface, to be irrational actions. It is helping to reduce some of the chaos I perceive around me daily to some sort of order to allow me to feel more comfortable amongst it.
It is well and good to have moral ideals of behavior to try and live up to. But when you start confusing your own ideals with reality you tend to come up against a lot of misunderstandings with other people. Yes, we develop meaning in our lives, we have goals and aspirations. But we also have needs. Needs which can cause us much suffering if left unfulfilled. One thing I do not subscribe to is the idea that we have a natural drive towards aggression. And that we come to repress this as a result of civilization. This purely negative take on the influence of society forgets that the very notion of us having a sense of identity is tied up with society and culture. In this postulated natural state where we pursue all our desires without any conscience, the problem is that in such a state there is no “I”. Identity is not established at this stage. The behavior is thus anonymous. It cannot claim any grand principle of action such as aggression, it takes an “I” to behave in such a way. And this “I” only emerges with civilization.
Aggressiveness is itself a product of prior repression and “socialization”. It is not what we are. It is the derivative of the formation of a false ego ideal. We imagine we are greater somehow that we in fact are, we imagine we are entitled to more than is our due, and so we act aggressively to try and force this ideal on reality. This is where the line lies between aggression and assertiveness I think. Assertion comes from a better appreciation and reflection on ones true ego status.
I am tired of all this “woe is me” talk about how we have to repress so many of our natural instincts in a civilized society. It assumes a nostalgia for some natural state in a past time. But there is nothing natural about clinging to a “lost, innocent” past like this. This clinging is itself the unnatural thing. What is natural is to be alert to the needs of the moment, and to express yourself in that moment.
We are self-repressed because we spend so much time drifting along, not living truly and passionately in the moment. We have to take personal responsibility here for our actions and our impulses and our beliefs. It is not going to solve anything to shift the blame to some abstract thing you have dreamed up, such as civilization, as being at fault for repressing your natural urges.
Yes there is the daunting prospect of a society engulfing us, over-filled with people and their needs conflicting with ours. But through all this, what holds us back from our expression of natural urges? Not some outside force, it can only be some stronger urge within us that takes precedent. Reflect on that urge, look into it in great detail. Dissect it, determine where it has come from and why it leads you to act as you do.
Only through self-understanding of this kind can you get past the old story of society as repressing us. And come to the realisation that we have repressed ourselves, while all the time possessing the most natural urge of all in our reach. Grasp it, live it, don’t run from it, for you will only run in circles.
During my life, it has been a constant war waged against settling into fixed thought patterns. It got to the stage, at one point, where I was prejudging anything I read in a book or magazine, anything I watched on tv, or saw on the internet.
I was no longer letting the object in the world speak to me, and tell me its truth. I already had it pigeon-holed so that it fit neatly into my system of categories. I was not listening to the world, I had become deaf to it.
This is the situation I have faced in recent times, and I have only just become consciously aware of it, to begin to fight against this tendency, these past few months. It may have given me a sense of control and security. A sense of completeness to my understanding of the world. But it was a completeness that bred a complacency. And this complacency led to me losing touch with reality.
So I am having to learn to listen to the world all over again. I had everything prejudged, predetermined, predestined, in a nice self-serving system. This system must be brought down. A few years back I did a physical clearing of my hundreds, if not, thousands of books. Now it is time to do a mental clearing of the concepts some of these books have planted in my head.
I am starting fresh and turning to writers who illustrate a great listening ability to the objects that surround them in their world, so that I can learn and develop this skill for myself. It is a move away from the great systematic thinkers I once admired so much. Immanuel Kant, Arthur Schopenhauer, Edmund Husserl. Too often I have began to see in them a tendency to subordinate particular phenomena too readily and too easily to their general classifications without giving the specific phenomena concerned their due.
I was reading a book of late by John Gray. I already feel I know with his books that you are going to get the same perspective over and over again. The same pattern is followed, the same system is used repeatedly, to subjugate the complex world to his system of thought. It makes for a great veneer of self-confidence, but it is only on the surface, and does not strike very deep. Edmund Husserl tells me in his cartesian mediations he is going to take nothing for granted at the same time he is saying exactly what he wants the conclusion of his meditations to be! This is not true thinking. Following a set pattern, a path through the woods already flattened down by others is not thinking. It is merely habit, routine, a reinforcement of a genuine and original thinking that occurred sometime in the past.
The security this provides has become stifling and oppressive to me, so it is time for me to learn once again the art of listening to the world.
Feelings long repressed, a love cut short
no other object can I pursue, loves no sport.
My harsh words and judgments daily regretted
feelings and emotions needlessly upsetted.
Lost in a world that makes no sense
No finality, nor chance for recompense.
Over such small, insignificant concerns
I raised up indignant, while your heart burned.
you bared your soul to me,
for my prideful, judging eyes to see
I was ruthless, thoughtless, in judgement
blinkered by my begrudgements
No other object can there be for me,
for my affection, cut short by mutual decree.
I have your poems, letters and kind words,
I read them now, like I have only just heard.
An unrequited love so deep and profound,
proceeded in me without a sound.
Whilst the very same thing proceeded in you
And yet here I am, you are there, and I don’t know what I can do.
A placeless sense of frustration, anger
Common noise, sound and chatter.
Appropriated space, claustrophobically enclosed
Featureless faces, questioningly disposed.
In a practical dash, a rush to complacency,
a parting with trash, scrambled up frequencies.
No end that can be justified,
through which this can be dignified.
A beginning simply absurd,
no rational voice to be heard.
Planted in the middle of this formless mass,
a trivial riddle, thoughtless and crass.
Awaiting some meaningful conclusion,
finding only a barren seclusion.