Moral Philosophy

Ethics Part 16: The Frankfurt School (aka Critical Theory) and the Devolution of Academia

wake up matrix

“The Matrix” was an unusual event as a movie at the close of the millennium. A box office hit that set a long-standing record for an R-rated film, people lined up around the block to watch it because it would blow your mind and was the kind of social force Walter Benjamin long before said film could be.  The soundtrack was integrated into the film, creating a dreamy but acid vamped cyber punk vibe with revolutionary overtones. The use of Rage Against the Machine’s “Wake Up” at the very end was a fitting touch, since the whole movie was about ripping away the fake but comforting world you’ve been given as a screen to hide the fact that you are nothing but a minor source of energy for a corrupt, brutal and soulless system. This could be viewed as a modern reprise of Plato’s allegory of the cave, but it goes much further. The (so far) three movie series is chock full of philosophical allusions and is heavily imbued with the ideas of Herbert Marcuse and his Frankfurt School associates and successors, especially Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno and Jürgen Habermas; with doses of Michel Foucault and other 20th century philosophical enfants terrible.  The movie was also millennialist in the traditional sense, comprising a classic messiah/apocalypse story which one might say clashes with the subtext of social, economic and political revolution grounded in myths of progress, especially Marxist-Leninism. Much has been written about the film and here it only serves to introduce some of the ideas that have succeeded existentialism and taken over the public sphere to a great extent.  This essay will occupy itself with what some of Marcuse’s themes have meant for social discourse and, to borrow Habermas’ term, “the colonization of the life world” in the early 21st century. Also considered will be the efforts of some more moderate voices, like John Rawls and Robert Nozick to come to terms with what moral philosophy not devoid of academic rigor might mean at this point.

Lord Acton’s famous dictum: “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” applies fractally from the individual to small group; from enterprise to nation and empire.  This basic idea is at the heart of Montesquieu’s conception of the republic, which should be arranged to both frustrate the concentration of power and to maximize citizen virtue. The definition of virtue has been much debated. By the late 19th century it certainly did not merely mean Christian slave morality, as Nietzsche termed it; nor was it limited to the endless seeking for self-aggrandizement and public approval, as some adherents and critics of classical ideals were inclined to believe. Whatever consensus there was amongst proponents of virtue up through the “War to End All Wars” did not blindly accept the elimination of individual accountability or will through voluntary or forced servitude to the collective.  Early in the 20th century, sociologists, philosophers, writers and various self-styled experts, such as the Bloomsbury Group, had decided that since they were among the very few who transcended morality and law they should set the rules for everyone else to follow.  Their type dominated universities in Europe and America and continues to do so today. Their legacy already included the neo-imperialist and paternalistic cant of the Fabian Society, with its enthusiasm for big government, globalized central banking and credit, a global police state and eugenics. One of the key aspects of the professional intellectuals; who then as now moved through the revolving door between government, academia and corporate boardrooms; was that they increasingly adopted a Marxian approach to historical necessity and individual surrender to the public good as defined by themselves. They held that the coming society would provide progress and plenty for all through such tired ideas as the elimination of individual virtue and the reduction in the surplus population via control from above. The special ones never tire of labeling others as fascists but typically either ignore or minimize the failures of the state socialism they advocate, most notably in The Soviet Union and China. Mao Zedong believed rules applied to everyone but himself and that virtue was both an impediment to control and a personal affront. This helps explain why Mao, himself of notoriously poor hygiene, advocated spitting in public to cure Chinese people of their outmoded morality and self-governing behavior. One of the influential successor groups that shared in this legacy and which has largely dominated public discourse in the early 21st Century is known both as the Frankfurt School and Critical Theory.

Marcuse and Critical Theory

Marcuse’s Counter-Revolution and Revolt (1972) is something of a bible to followers of the Frankfurt School. Most excellent about the book is its readable and concise critique of existing social theory, including but not limited to Marxism. Would that more people today actually read this book and debated the concepts, rather than just sloganizing, trolling and rock throwing about topics that it treats in novel and even self-fulfillingly prophetic ways including: feminism, racism, environmentalism, the failures of capitalism and the inadequacy of positivism and science religion (scientism) to either explain where we are or help us going forward.

There is a wistful quality to Marcuse’s work, which is a product of his perception in the early 1970’s that the New Left had largely failed to accomplish the great revolution Marx heralded that would end capitalism and usher in an era of peace and prosperity accompanied by a fuller kind of freedom for individuals than had previously been experienced. While Marcuse viewed Marx’s work as foundational and directional, he thought that extant Marxists missed the boat in some important ways. He also thought that late stage capitalism had become adept at using the tools of mass communication and education to co-opt much of what the movement had been about and turn it either to uselessness (his opinion of hippie-dom and new age-isms) or re-enforcement of the powers of the establishment through acceptance of consumerism and the most destructive and alienating kind of careerism, undergirded by materialism in both personal comfort and metaphysical senses. The rise of the yuppie and the nerd-ocracy should have surprised nobody. His solution, along with those of his colleagues Adorno and Horkheimer, was about how to act to subvert the agenda of the powerful through political education and to foster the kind of engagement that he felt would be productive. Ultimately, the Critical Theorists achieved much success over the past forty years insofar as their students and devotees have become tenured professors at most colleges and universities, both public and private, and have taken positions as policy leaders and administrators in the deep state while also controlling much of the narrative that comes from main stream media. While these people still “fight the man,” they have become the man and are therefore at war with themselves.  That said, it is worthwhile to re-examine what Marcuse said and why it could still provide important guidance for those who seek positive social change.

Here is a synopsis of Marcuse’s Counter-Revolution and Revolt:

  1. The reality of life in late stage capitalist society is not freedom but rather servitude. Alienation from work results in loss of dignity and consumer culture. Far from actually freeing individuals, it provides a false, prefabricated freedom of choice. In this culture presidents are sold like automobiles and are expected to provide business as usual in just the same way. While labor and intelligentsia are mired in class conflict, both are exploited in the service of capital formation.
  2. To transform culture would require a qualitative, not just quantitative leap. To counter the fragmentation of work means to enable new relationships between sexes, nature and generations.
  3. The only political choices open to us are socialism and fascism, which is synonymous with late stage capitalism. The distinction between these is never clear as both seem to be authoritarian or totalitarian states, but state socialism is to be preferred.
  4. Political education, which is really all education is, means dispelling the false and mutilated consciousness of people and separating them from the barbarous society built on the veneer of purportedly inevitable scientific and technical achievement (unplugging from the Matrix, as it were). Since they might choose fascism if left to their own devices; the educators must manipulate students for their benefit and that of posterity.
  5. Defeatism and apathy are functions of separation of the less affluent (not stake-holding) members of the intelligentsia, thus de-politicizing and neutralizing dissent before it begins. The hippies were therefore “privatized” and so made harmless to the establishment. Consequently, Marxism, while it still works theoretically and as a guide to practice, can’t be ritualized in forms appropriate to social realities that no longer obtain.
  6. “Power to the people” means specifically empowering the most disenfranchised among minorities and the not-silent majority. This does not happen spontaneously and educators must lead.
  7. New individualism transcends “the bourgeois individual” to be neither buying in nor dropping out. The counterrevolution by the establishment has meant co-optation of the media of revolution including rock, ecology and ultramodern art.
  8. Quoting Jacques Monod, Marcuse says one cannot view the way forward based on teleology, or an Hegelian or puritanical kind of Providence. Rather, the way to think about future possibilities is neither in a fatalistic or completely random way, but to embrace chance and humanity’s ability to alter outcomes. In this sense, Marcuse is for a view of progress based on no fate but what we make. Marcuse refers to Kant’s progression in moral sensibility from the 1st through the 3rd  Critiques.
  9. Imagination as knowledge is part of the core of Marxian dialectical materialism and therefore the completion of German Idealism. This point is central to Marcuse’s thought and program and he does not see reason the same way contemporary analytic philosophers do, being more in line with Husserl and Bergson.
  10. Kant and Hegel both provided direction for what must be the revolt against consumer society. Critical here is an appreciation of how sense experience involves the “we” within the “I.” To follow Kant again:
Critique of Pure Reason (1) Critique of Practical Reason (2) Critique of Judgement (3)
Freedom in sense data & individual accountability Praxis originates in personal autonomy Nature and man joined –beauty the symbol of morality


Marcuse perceives the aesthetic as the common ground between individuals and society that can resolve the conflict between the two.

  1. Marx, Marcuse says, preserves transcendence in idealism through the union of freedom and necessity (historicism) and revolutionary praxis (saved by revolution rather than God) and the abolition of capitalism which will inevitably be replaced by socialist institutions.
  2. Feminism is presented in psychological terms as the furthering of feminine receptivity over against male aggressiveness. In the established social structure, neither women nor men are free, because the patriarchy restricts the former but also saddles the latter with the assembly line and the “ethics of the business community.” As a corollary, classicism is presented as the rigid formalism that makes of “reason” a tyrant at the expense of natural forms and modes of understanding, therefore impoverishing art and experience. The feminine principle should be a counter-agent.
  3. The art of Shakespeare is a more evolved presentation of ideas than oracular prophetic exposition created by religious dogmatism and inherited by narrowly perceived reason/science. Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies end with the hope for the final end of violence but present this with a kind of humility that is not ego bound. The text speaks, rather than the man.
  4. The cultural revolution in aesthetics has yet to get past the struggle between orthodox Marxists like Lucacs on one side; and Bertolt Brecht and Walter Banjamin on the other. The latter two innovated with new forms in theater and film that can help to create the new proletarian worldview.
  5. Anti-intellectualism is shared by misplaced radicalism and the establishment. This plays out in attacks not just on the reason of capitalism but reason per se. In addition we see increasing incapacity by the establishment to tolerate independent thinking. It is hard to seriously talk of “sitting down to reason together” when society is transformed into an institution of violence (referencing Vietnam). Strategies must be developed to combat the counterrevolution. The outcome of this struggle depends on the younger generation (namely baby boomers) neither dropping out nor accommodating. To regroup after the defeat of the left (in the 1970’s)  means a long process of education over decades to prepare the final crisis of capitalism.

I am not going to fill up pages with a lengthy rebuttal at this point, however a few key points are in order before proceeding with other voices and some of the consequences of Critical Theory.  To begin with, co-optation certainly was and is a risk. If, as some have said, socialism is merely the establishment’s way of eliminating competition for monopolists (J.P. Morgan thought this), there is no clear reason why it should be preferred to fascism, apart from a non-veridical gut preference between one of the 20th Century’s horrors and the other. In each case, the result of total power to the state, enabled by gulling the masses with high sounding rhetoric, was the needless and awful deaths of millions of innocents who were deemed to be not politically correct or in the way. If one were to choose on reverse utilitarian grounds based on the most harm for the greatest number, then socialism wins by being worse. However, one need not accept this false dilemma. In fact, the place of innovative social theory for positive change was long held by liberals who were libertarian and above all opposed the concentration of power in favor of voluntary association. They were also producers themselves, being largely craft workers and inventors or their close associates. Taking the means of production is of course an obsolete notion of Marx’s, since today it is obvious that the kind of industry that obtained in the 19th and early 20th Centuries has been replaced through automation, finance capital and globalization, leaving the old proletariat sidelined and without power or voice. They are now referred to as deplorables by authoritarian candidates “on the left.” Those who have co-opted the rhetoric of Critical Theory on behalf of globalist oligarchs have used it and the left to consolidate power, just as in a similar vein they did with Hitler and The Soviets. There is now a crisis, not only of people realizing that supposedly democratically elected governments and the mouthpieces of power exist to milk them and lie to them on behalf of their controllers. The fancy words that sound like they came from Marcuse are being used to justify social balkanization and repression rather than justice or fairness. One challenge in Marcuse’s book that hits home now more than ever is that if the young don’t reject consumerism and false uses of technology to enslave we are headed for a barbarous future. The hand wringing about colleges becoming useless whenever humanities are taught rather than STEM disciplines is not new and Marcuse correctly saw that the elimination of free thought was institutionalized where school was made only a narrow vocational training ground for people who would never challenge their paymasters. Today colleges are useless not only because they crush students with debt and substitute thought policing by the left for thinking; but also because the opposition simply ignores critical thinking, social conscience and art to stick to the knitting of learning how to write better programs that will obviate still more human action or be used to support the trans-national corporatist surveillance state.  Neither side is a threat to the steady march towards the global monopoly of commerce and the public sphere by a very small elite who obviously couldn’t care less whether the apparatus of control is painted red or blue.

Foucault & Chomsky on Power & Justice, and the Stupidity of Behaviorism

Michel Foucault is considered one of the important social theorists of the late 20th Century. His views were distinct from those of the Frankfurt School but he shared their starting point and grounding in Marxian thought. He also incorporated Nietzsche’s will to power in a novel way. For Foucault, the class struggle was everything and all the rest of his thought was contextualized by his notion that the disenfranchised and alienated masses needed to seize power by whatever means they can.  However, for radical thinkers like Murray Bookchin, he didn’t go far enough and stopped short of providing specific guidance for revolutionary action, making him an armchair theorist rather than a man of action. Still, his ideas were and are influential.

Noam Chomsky is both an MIT professor of linguistics and a well-known writer and speaker on social issues, public policy and especially the way in which the corporatist media are used as a propaganda machine disguised as a fact reporting institution that supposedly speaks truth and therefore acts as a check on power. He is anarcho-syndicalist and meliorist rather than Marxist and revolutionary, but his thought is no less a challenge to establishment ways of thinking and operating.

Foucault and Chomsky had a debate on Dutch television in 1971 that has been incorporated in a book that also includes other interviews with Chomsky. The moderator of the debate wanted the two to discuss whether there is a thing called human nature. Foucault says no, taking Rousseau’s position that each person is a tabula rasa to be stamped by society. Chomsky gives a qualified yes, but seems to evade Foucault when asked whether he thinks there is a higher or innate sense of law that transcends the laws of the state. The book is interesting because it shows the contrast between a thinker who claims to want popular revolt but is actually elitist; and one who does not expect that such a revolt would be productive without preparing the “proletariat” (a freighted but now dubious term for the working classes who have neither the skills or mindset to assume control of the means of production) but is neither elitist nor in the post-Critical Theory sense, a democrat.  Foucault’s position is broadly consistent with social theorists who inherited the Critical Theory mantle such as Habermas, in that he is a Marxist materialist and views the continuing project of the Enlightenment as against the notion that individuals have any innate moral sense or that there is any kind of Providence in history that would deny open-ended yet paradoxically deterministic human progress or collective freedom. The discussion between Foucault and Chomsky highlights the lengths to which New Left thinkers are prepared to go by insisting on law and justice as a shared process while denying any natural law; but also by insisting that experts are needed to lead the revolutionary masses in the destruction of institutions and individuals that don’t agree with their collectivist and supposedly rational program. This is of course consistent with Lenin, Stalin and Mao; and Chomsky does not see the work of any of those as steps forward toward what he terms a decent society.  Chomsky consistently says that experts are not required to decide for the poor slobs, but helping people to be more aware and prepared to run their own lives as individuals and members of their communities is desirable.

At one point in the debate, Chomsky describes how and why he is against behaviorism, essentially because it is junk science that has been roundly discredited after having had a long run in academic circles. But Chomsky is not only outing what he views as the second rate work of B.F. Skinner and his acolytes in psychology departments, he also opposes what he sees as counter-productive efforts to predict and control human action both politically and commercially.  His argument is similar to that of  Nassim Nicholas Teleb’s about the general bankruptcy of social science when it comes to numeracy, research and prediction. But amidst the celebration of the Behavioral Economics of Kahneman and Tversky, and the social manipulations of legal theorist Cass Sunstein and his followers, one would never know there had been a challenge.  This is important, because the people who are deciding what you can see or say, and what the law currently means, are thoroughly bought in to the idea that you need to be manipulated for your own good – and they believe this because they long ago defenestrated the idea that you were born with any rights that they aren’t now going to tell you whether you have.  For the new behaviorists (who are not co-incidentally just as “liberal” and elitist as was John Maynard Keynes) one must not be on the wrong side of history and so the proles must be delivered as incapable of moral agency or independent thought – which is precisely what Marcuse said the fascist establishment did.

Thinking on law and public policy has come a long way since Marcuse and his associates initiated a strategy to take over academia on behalf of neo-Marxism and social progress.  This is important to understand as we continue to briefly review that shape of moral philosophy in recent years and whether academia is in a position to exert any positive influence or instead has been irretrievably corrupted by competing visions of indoctrination for servitude.

Rawls, A Theory of Justice, & Differing Views

Along with Kant’s three Critiques and Marx’s Capital in three volumes, another often mentioned, seldom read book is John RawlsA Theory of Justice (1971, hereafter TOJ). The touts refer to Rawls’ book, and its sequel Political Liberalism (1993, hereafter PL), as the foremost work of moral philosophy in the 20th Century.  A self-professed neo-Kantian, Rawls inherits prolixity as a stand-in for rigor. Unlike Kant, he is not saved by humanistic subtlety or a core commitment to a Mosaic ethical foundation. Rawls probably liked the 1st Critique but dismissed the next two, much like fans of Wittgenstein who either like the Tractatus or the Investigations but can’t reconcile them (hint: Wittgenstein is often described as monkish for a reason).  Habermas, whose ethics overlap with yet diverge from Rawls on key points, excuses the mythic undertones of both Marx and Derrida because they were basically Jewish mystics who didn’t have the bad taste to actually believe in God.  Rawls is a rationalist through and through and not an incipient or reconstituted philosophical idealist the way Marcuse confessed himself to be.

What follows is a very brief introduction to Rawls by way of comparison and contrast with three who disagreed with him: Robert Nozick, Jürgen Habermas and Michael Oakeshott.  No attempt is being made here to provide in depth analyses of the positions held by any of these, and the reader is encouraged to look into all of them.  My principal interest here is to round out the context of the conquest of the groundwork of thought (Habermas’ life world) by the New Left and rebuttals to the best thinking offered on liberalism as a moral ethos by a libertarian and a conservative. All of this is based on work by academic philosophers who have exerted significant influence on government policy and the evolving core values of academia, insofar as these can be held to exist. Some but not all of the sources were meant to be taken as textbook material.

Fortunately, Rawls did a nice job of laying out what he wanted to accomplish at the beginning of each of the books mentioned. Consequently, if you want to know what he was about you can read the prefatory comments and first chapters of each and get a good handle on his argument.  Nozick deliberately rebutted A Theory of Justice in Anarchy State & Utopia (1974), which is a tough book to read but some comments on Rawls stand out.  Habermas inherited Adorno’s almost indecipherable style (in his theory, not criticism) and the Cambridge Companion to Habermas is of great benefit to get an overview. Oakeshott’s writing, while stylistically of another era, is very readable and his points are clear. Though the source material used here predates Rawls, the contrast should be obvious.

Nozick says that a principle of fairness that binds one in the absence of individual consent is not a valid “social contract,” per Rousseau and Rawls. The implication is that imagining an “original position” between rational people as Rawls does cannot legitimize or excuse the violation of liberty on behalf of the general will. While Nozick is more than collegial in saying Rawls has done a magnificent job of creating a comprehensive theory and standard from which to deviate in subsequent work in the field (TOJ), he makes some pointed criticisms from a libertarian perspective. Contra Rawls, Nozick says groups do not have rights that accrue to them and consequently government officials do not have special rights to limit their legal liability or confer special benefits when dealing with other citizens. To assume that all in society have implied consent with the original position is something akin to claiming they have shared in the original sin of ancestors long dead by virtue of their birth in a particular location. The original position as Rawls states it is not held to be an actual event in history so much as a theoretical construct or thought experiment. However, it is used by Rawls as a justification for some sorts of public rules and actions and not others. Nozick doesn’t make as much of this as he might, but later writers do and both Habermas and Seyla Benhabib indicate the difficulty presented by a theory that does not sufficiently account for the reality of human interaction either individually or, more importantly for them, inter-subjectively. Rawls tries to correct the lack of practicality in the theory in PL, but for these later critics he is still stuck by his classicism in the idea of an atomistic individual which he presumably kept from Kant. This is especially problematic when one considers that casuistry and rigidity have limited the conversation between humans in all sorts of ways that can’t be fixed by appeals to reason alone. Marcuse’s idea on the feminine principle is taken further and purged of its dated clumsiness in the work of Habermas and Benhabib. But Nozick was content with the Kantian idea of an individualist approach. For him and for Oakeschott, it is not correct to assume that society imposes a requirement that all differences must be settled, that conflict is always the worst problem or that consensus means unanimous agreement on everything. The state’s monopoly on the use of force can be withdrawn and exists based on consent of those living in its territory on an ongoing basis. It is never a set it and forget it affair. For Rawls, if the society is presumed to be just or nearly just based on its adherence to “justice as fairness” (which is a term of art for Rawls and doesn’t mean what it seems to say), then citizens have sharply restricted basis to complain or correct it. In this way, Rawls is actually more of an apologist for the status quo, including interventionist foreign policy and conscription, than was Hobbes! For Nozick, the only state government that is consistent with a just society is a minimal one that is strictly limited in its use of coercion which means it generally doesn’t interfere. With respect to distributive justice, there is no central distribution facility in society, which Rawls says but then provides significant exceptions. Rawls says neither managed market nor state socialist societies require central planning. The distinction is without difference as both are market tinged hyper-states in his description. In any event the two can be consistent with operating a well ordered society, whatever that means. For Nozick, Rawls’ acceptance of a large and intrusive state can’t be justified by the theory and, one imagines, Rawls has exogenous reasons for doing so. Nozick objects to the idea, taken from Marx but never credited by Rawls, that a just social order requires that all the trees be made equal by hatchet, ax and saw (pax Rush).  Nozick says that redistributive taxation is the same as institutionalized slavery. This is so whether it is used to benefit those who are presumed to be members of an aristocracy or are presumed to be disadvantaged based on inherited or developmental characteristics, or on socio-economic status.  For Rawls, it is consistent with justice as fairness to assume that all reasonable people would approve of having their children and grandchildren made into oxen for the public good.  While Rawls may think some special groups or individuals have the right to someone else’s labor or the product of their ingenuity, Nozick disagrees, though he does so in the mildest possible way.  Rawls says he wants a non-teleological approach to ethics that is an alternative to utilitarianism. For his part, Oakeschott challenges whether a non-teleological ethics requires a theory at all, since for the most part ethics are a matter of habits born of traditions and a cultural milieu including religion and family life that neither rely on nor presuppose a theory. His is a non-political and non-rationalist vision that nonetheless stipulates that education and learning are required. For him, the practicing politician, just like the practicing mechanic, first finds out what other practitioners do. He disagrees with theoreticians who either assume the world started a few years ago or that we can know in advance of our judgements what is “necessary” to do in a given situation.  Oakeschott seems however to think that we live in Athens in the age of Pericles. There are more things on heaven and earth than are dreamt of in (post Socratic Greek and Roman) philosophy. Marcuse was on to this and Oakeschott was certainly one who wanted to reduce education to technical training, if only to mint new minions for the Ministry of Silly Walks who wouldn’t cause trouble.  At the end of the day, Rawls fails to provide a theory that is relevant or workable. While he makes a massive effort, he often stops just when the questions become interesting, because there be dragons there. Or perhaps there is no there, there. When Habermas, possibly channeling Kant better than Rawls did, says that Derrida can be excused for having been influenced by the Nazi Heidegger because his mentor was Emmanuel Levinas, he may be more right than he knows. I look forward to getting better acquainted with Levinas, whose ethics resemble those of the more overtly theological Martin Buber.

John Searle and the Tenacity of Positivism

John Searle strongly objected to those who, like Paul Feyerabend, asserted the presumed notions of reason and reality ascribed to western culture are largely arbitrary and in the end, it’s all relative.  In Mind, Language and Society he tries to, “make progress toward getting an adequate theory,” that would help us get beyond, “the old conceptual apparatus of dualism, monism, materialism and all the rest of it.”  He begins by laying a foundation for realism as being not a theory but, “a framework within which it is possible to have theories.” He offers a doxology of sorts and rolls right into what damns the unbelievers, saying that denial of realism is about, “a will to power, desire for control, and deep abiding resentment.”  According to Searle, those who resent the success and earned privileged position of science (for which one may substitute science religion or scientism) have nefarious aims. He says that in challenging whether natural science yields objective knowledge of reality versus social constructs that claim to be such, the next step is to deny reality altogether.  Searle presumes that such critics are looking to make, “a diagnosis rather than a refutation,” since it is a logical fallacy to claim a view is false just because one has explained its causal origins. Searle goes on to assume his conclusion, stating that it is obvious that minds are biological phenomena of brains rather than the other way around, i.e. that brains are operating units of mind. He then says that language can’t be based on any “deep structure” (contra Chomsky) and that social rules and interaction arise from these realities and don’t transcend them.  His comments on money are interesting, as they reflect a nearly complete lack of sophistication on the origins and effects of fiat currency and hidebound nature of much of what passes as economic theory as applied by the geniuses at the Federal Reserve.

First let me state unequivocally that the use of scientific method, collegiality and rigor are not and cannot be limited or circumscribed by true believers in the church of reason or the current auto de fe of political correctness and globalist control. Second, there is a tradition, going back at least to right after WWII, to paint anyone who actually believes anything that does not accord with materialist, “liberal” (elitist) orthodoxy as mentally ill. Adorno & Horkheimer pushed this with aggressive propaganda supported by weak social science “research.” The important question here is whether common sense approaches to realism that claim to solve philosophical problems by playing language games that challenge other language games accomplish anything. Searle says he differs with the materialism of Daniel Dennett, who assumes consciousness is an emergent property that happens as a result of countless dumb processes including evolution itself. Searle’s answer is to challenge both materialism and Cartesian dualism by saying they rest on false premises. But this is not just a problem of definition as Searle would make it. Nor am I for one willing to grant him that “consciousness, with all its subjectivity, is caused by processes in the brain, and … conscious states are themselves higher-level features of the brain.” And so I can’t accept his solution to the mind-body metaphysical problem, nor do I accept that science has proven what he assumes.  There is no scientific basis at this point for claiming that scientism, which Searle is really out to defend from heretics like Feyerabend, is a truer religion than Christianity or Buddhism. You pays your money and you makes your choice. Unfortunately, one is then faced with whether to accept that, “it’s all relative,” or that there might be things that we know to be true that fly in the face of what the church of reason calls reason and which transcend culture, tribe or gender.  This last viewpoint was held by idealists like Hegel and Royce, and poets like William Blake, and is also consistent with Marcuse’s statements about Shakespeare, feminist truth and idealism. This notion is not consistent with Marcuse’s colleagues’ attempts to destroy other heretics whom they thought must be fascists because they were mentally ill people since they believed in God or Cosmic Consciousness rather than the prophets Marx and Freud. It is similarly out of line with Searle’s attempts to dust serious issues under the rug by confusing his own cherished beliefs with reality.

Re-Colonizing the Life World

Based on my 35+ years as a practicing social scientist in the growth and service of what Shoshana Zuboff now describes as “surveillance capital,” I have reached some conclusions that are not mere anecdotes about various bell curves in populations.  The following propositions seem to be law-like with respect to human behavior. I believe this will stand up to game theory, but have not rigorously tested it in that way, so here is as a provisional idea:

  • About 20% of the population at any given time and for any given choice represents leaders. This includes fools who rush into burning buildings to rescue survivors (physical courage) and others who blow the whistle on the illegality of their superiors (moral courage).
  • About 20% of the population comprises defectors who sometimes pose as leaders. These can be counted on to cheat in whatever way they think might be to personal advantage at the expense of the group, or for no apparent reason at all. Examples include Hitler, Mao, most U.S. presidents and control frauds who run corporations at the expense of employees, shareholders and customers to enrich themselves through financial engineering.
  • About 60% of the population comprises followers, whose next action depends mostly on what the herd is doing either with or without any reflection. These include the greater fools that most of the investment companies are telling to always buy and hold because, “stocks always return more,” and, “never fight the Fed.”

A word of caution: a common error (sometimes intentional) in research is to assume that the characteristic that statistically creates the cluster must always be equally represented by each data point. This is statistically a rookie move, but narrative controllers always depend on it.  It would be wrong to assume that because someone once saved a dog from drowning he will always behave this way or that he will exhibit moral as well as physical courage. It would also be incorrect to conclude that because some folks sometimes act like cheaters they always will because they are inherently “evil.”

Nobody really knows how much of the phenomenon related to the above division is a result of nature versus nurture, but I suspect it is more the former than the latter because it generally holds up across time and cultures and seems to generally describe humans.  Now it gets really interesting. The above can be viewed as essentially a natural baseline in populations and can be perturbed up or down by culture, example and coercion. If we expect people to behave this way, reward the good and provide moral censure including shunning to the defectors, the equilibrium is generally maintained and violent coercion is seldom necessary. The NRA is probably correct when they say there are two million cases in the U.S. each year when a gun is brandished for defense against violence and in the vast majority of cases the incident ends with no shots fired (wolf meets armed sheep, sheep wins, nobody dies). However, if we create deliberate distortions, such as arming a few and disarming the rest, we get conquistador mentality – not sometimes but every time. The greatest disruptor of the natural equilibrium (the state of nature, if you like) is the concentration of power enabled but not created by technology. It used to be a truism that an armed society is a polite society but also one that automatically checks tyranny, which is why the United States Constitution includes the Second Amendment and why Switzerland became what it became. This is also why leaders in pyramidal organizations are most likely to be high functioning sociopaths or  psychopaths. Anyone who could become the president or CEO is probably a few cards short of a full deck. So far I am pretty close to Rousseau here and appreciate him for the same reason Kant did. However, I am also much closer than either to both Hume and Montesquieu in that I don’t believe people are at base rational creatures. Rather it is the cultivation of virtue or nobility along with the frustration of concentrated power, and not the promulgation and coercive enforcement of rules or laws by a central authority or group of experts, that enables both justice and freedom. Basically, the cheaters win when too much authority chases out virtue, not because of mythology or the absence of “rule of law.” Whistleblowers are destroyed where there is an absence of actual rule of law because they are an existential threat to rule by the most corrupt.

The greatest distortions have happened when “reason” was elevated above the other core aspects of humanity. It was scientism more than racism that gave us the Tuskeegee Syphilis Experiment, Josef Mengele and Japanese Unit 731, performing “value free science” on humans without which many subsequent medical breakthroughs might have been forestalled. Recall that in Kant’s terms, the great moral failing is treating others as means, not ends and so de-humanizing them. Hitler was unmistakably rotten, but he probably would have remained an obscure thug in a Munich jail who wrote a bad book had he not first got the backing of globalist bankers and later the technology of IBM, without which the Holocaust might have been orders of magnitude smaller. Nobody was indicted for these latter crimes against humanity because the “reasonable” people who ran corporations and governments and depended on their largess needed to have people looking the other way — at Christianity, for example, or for some presumed flawed element of the Germans or American working class that made them incipient authoritarians.

The information explosion and the surveillance state are lineal descendants of the Holocaust. They are not the product of a few errant companies (rotten apple theory), nor are they proof that late stage capitalism has morphed and the true knights of Marxism who work for the government and universities must save the future from it at last but keep the technology for “peaceful purposes.”

If work is to be re-humanized this will have to emerge from below and not be forced from above. The universities and colleges will not cause this any more than they sponsored the dotcom revolution that they learned to co-opt years later but with very few exceptions didn’t understand or participate in when it was happening. The early leaders were college dropouts who learned by doing and inventing.  Education, at least as much as capital formation, will need to be rescued by voluntary associations at local levels using new tools in ways the big companies won’t see until they are once again disrupted.  The good news is there is evidence that this can happen, both from the annals of the DIY movement and the emergence of a new class of Mugwumps among YouTubers and others who left or were discarded by the upper echelon parasites who only care about the 10-20% among the corporate elite and managerial class who create value for them, if only through creative accounting.  A more fitting example of this than the products of Harvard, such as napalm; or Google, such as election rigging through search manipulation and de-platforming, is Naomi Wu, who tests new technology and uses it to create fun products while entertaining and inspiring millions by being sexy, smart and funny.

Implications of Critical Theory for Current Realities in Academia and the World of Work

Marcuse was jarringly inconsistent when it came to support for materialistic church of reason talking points and trenchant criticism of the same.  His problem may have been inherent in the Marxism he sought to rehabilitate.  His associates and followers largely accomplished their mission, with the result that higher education has become a self-parody rather than a place where free persons learn how to think critically and act virtuously as was intended by the likes of Boethius.  Smart people will have to invent something else without help or guidance from the class of experts working in the pyramids of power who cannot be trusted.

Whether ethical, autonomous actors work for governments, universities or big companies, they must start with the right questions. How to help control frauds perfume the pig with woke advertising or a framework that presumes the laws are lawful, or that the government or business leaders have a clue about justice or fairness, is not the place to begin.  First they must take the red pill and wake up. Next they must create, decide and act while forgetting about buying to be happy. Another good choice would be to pray for God’s mercy for those who believe in that sort of thing.



By vitruvius1

Formerly an integrated marketing and customer experience consultant. Writer on moral philosophy and current affairs.

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