False Consciousness is Still Endemic in Modern Western Society (Chewing at the Bit)
‘In complex societies, the power of organisations to construct social codes is considerable but not overwhelming. The definition of the self and the biological and motivational structures of human action become targets for intervention. The generation of meaning is subject to systematic regulation and control.’ (Alberto Melucci, Nomads of the Present)
One-dimensional man is unaware of his state of exploitation: he has to be.
It is my conviction that false consciousness: the deliberate misleading of the general public by our dominant institutions- not only governmental but also media and economic- create a complicity in us that serves to power a system in which we meet the interests of the elites of these organisations. It is a form of ideological control that we are unaware of otherwise we, the workers and energisers of the societal structure, would be conscious supporters of a system that is adverse to our own interests – and that is illogical. My argument is that this form of subverted reality is as much an influence on the way we live our lives today as it was when Herbert Marcuse hauled this Marxian concept from the 19th century and applied it to the social conditions of the 70s.
In today’s world we live in an even more relatively smooth and comfortable un-freedom. Our western, capitalistic society is organised around the performance principle: the incessant competition to produce and consume. We are organised to perpetuate a system, which ultimately rewards those at the top of the relations of production. Our centralised government makes the conditions easier for the inhibition of our freedom. We rarely get given the chance to vote on public policy, nothing stops the British government passing through legislation that makes us work harder, for instance opting out of the E.U’s working time directive which ultimately serves to enrich the few by further exploiting the mass.
Advanced capitalism has created a technological veil which covers the brute presence and operation of the class interest in production. Technology has become part of our actualisation. Our luxuries have become our basic needs. As we work harder to achieve higher levels of material wealth we are forced to pay prices of which a huge proportion is usually the profit margin for greedy corporations.
Modern rationalisation shapes the experiences and actions of man so as to make them calculable in terms of cost and benefits. This new kind of rationalism favours the ruling elite but manages to assuage the sorrows of the exploited by allowing a relative affluence. You only need to look at the development of the high street to see that we are able to consume more and choose between much of the same- or look at how many satellite dishes are on the sides of tower blocks.
The world is dominated by technological rationality which has the effect of limiting the moral and intellectual resources of individuals and marginalises critical agendas. It’s a way of thinking of ourselves that suits the purposes of monopoly capitalism. It seeks to increase productivity and production particularly through the instrumentalities of automation like Henry Ford’s innovation, the production line. Instrumental reason is repressive, capitalist progress reduces the ‘open space’ to be critical. We have become unthinking machines; batteries powering a system that ultimately disempower us.
Our reality now has too many constraints on drives that are excessive to the controls required to sustain and advance human civilisation, why? We live lives of contentment without liberation. We aren’t mindful of our domination as long as our individual choices are preserved. Who really benefits from this?
It is clear; in order to keep control and perpetuate this system the elites have created a world of hypocrisy and cultural subversion. But we, as complicit citizens, accept this hyper-reality that ultimately entrenches in us one-dimensionality. Mass media, i.e. red tops, soaps and all other vapid forms of entertainment have adjusted our rational and emotional faculties; it no longer informs public opinion but forms it. We are influenced to support the ‘free’ market and this makes us servile to the current political economy’s agenda.
Our civilised constraints modifies, controls and limits our bestial urges and teaches us to gratify these through consuming products that make us feel free, sexy and sated but we are never truly gratified from consumption so we carry on earning to keep on consuming.
The need for repression then through societal structure is to maintain the socio-economic order.
Capitalists realised that they needed to change the levels of prosperity of its workers; we now live in reasonable conditions and this has blunted our expectations- would we not revolt if we had nothing to lose? But now we have material goods, we have a ‘stake’ in the system. There is no longer a capacity for change in the proletariat as capitalism manages its exploitation of us much more efficiently. Our accustomed levels of wealth create in us collusion to the current system despite its obvious inequality. We have become conformists as we’ve had to conform to be increasingly rewarded by the system.
In this modern world we will never reach true gratification if we constantly strive to seek that gratification from the attainment of false needs. But this is exactly the kind of dynamic that presses us into repeat consuming. We can never reach an end at which we can sit back and be gratified by what we have bought, why should we? The capitalists would have a demand that would bottom out and their goods would be left to gather dust on the shelves and in storage units. They need to keep us consuming, they have to offer the carrot to the donkey and never let the donkey reach the carrot for fear of the driving force of their economy- that we consume the products we produce- will slow down and stop.
In August, we witnessed events that shocked the establishment, the media and ourselves- the ordinary citizen. The ‘riots’, sparked by an event that snowballed into widespread civil disobedience. The public sphere was awash with all kinds of people denouncing the actions of the rioters and all sorts of professionals, experts and politicians dithering about what caused it, what does it all mean and what should be done. The courts since, with pressure from the politicians, have turned medieval in their sentencing and police presence have been stepped up to make London look like a Daily Mail reader’s wet dream.
‘There is no political message, this was just mindless thuggery’ I heard one news night guest say. Now I admit there wasn’t a coherent political message but this very public act has a significant political issue attached- if we lived in a happy, sane society would this have happened? Or is it the false consciousness imposed by consumerist ideology biting us, itself, from behind?
There is no doubt in my mind that if we did not suffer an overly oppressive system of constraints and if the only avenue of ‘gratification’ wasn’t pushed as the endless consumption of products, then when the fragile social contract broke down, as it did on those three nights, the repressed natures of its citizens wouldn’t have manifested themselves in the most gross act of consumerism- looting. Amongst these gross acts there was an absurdity and irony- there were pictures of people in a trainer shop queuing up for a masked person behind the counter to ‘de-tag’ trainers. Whatever lawless acts were taking place our social conditioning still affected how we committed these acts.
Most public reaction to the riots, however, has been dictated to us by our mass media. It is part of the bed sharing of the elites that mass media forms rather than informs our opinions- as pointed out by the sociologist and philosopher Jürgen Habermas in his work ‘The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere’- its interest isn’t in the spread of unbiased information like it should be, it has its own interests to look after. Unfortunately, owners of large media groups have their interests in making huge profits; they are capitalistically-run organisations with a very special part to play in the domination of the popular mind as they have the trumpet to our ears.
The phone hacking scandal blew open a common practise of the media that was a shocking insight into the true nature of this social institute. Political, media and constabulary elites were all caught giving each other the reach around. Most upsetting was that our elected representatives, those we have trusted to protect the public’s interest, have been too scared to stand up for the true public good in case media bosses unduly affect the public against them. Since as early as 2006 politicians were made aware of this and other unethical procedures in a report by the Information Commissioner after evidence uncovered by ‘Operation Motorman’. It begs the question ‘how much have the media been able to influence our government because they can affect how we vote?’ The influence of Murdoch, for example, on the electoral legacies of a number of our prime ministers is extensive. Even the failure of at least one, Neil Kinnock, can be argued. The silence of our politicians, their reluctance to stick their necks out for us to save their careers plus the awful exposure of the expenses scandal all add up to the blatant corruption that is usually reserved for undeveloped democracies in third world countries.
The above reveals the extent to which capitalist doctrine has affected how our current societal system has been organised around ruthless profiteering. That the effect of this isn’t only on our economic elites, but also our politicians and our informational bodies. It reaches down from the top-level and takes on a smoke-screen effect on the minds of ordinary man. Our public sphere, the structure of our arena is not organised in our interests; what was created to order the freedoms of its individuals has become a leviathan with a double face. We should not blame the individuals at the helm of it, however. Capitalism has become a global body that we are all a part of, it affects the minds of man at all levels of the social structure; it affects them in different ways according to where one is placed. Therefore it controls different levels of our consciousness.
The issue that I’d like to explore further is whether or not, like man, this global system also has a seething unconscious of its own which often, like us, has more effect on its behaviour than its conscious elements.
When man is as disenfranchised from the system he is meant to obey, when he only gets to influence it once every four years and even then he can’t be sure of the sanctity of the motives governing those whom he elects, we see a violent assault, like the riots, on the dominant products of society. We are experiencing another awakening on the scale of the 60s and 70s: we are coming out of a period of political apathy that lasted almost 20 years and now the world is sitting up. The Arab spring and the recent occupation of Wall St is an example to us all that our media is failing to bring to our attention- because they want us to remain as homo ignoramus. But please do not underestimate the ability for capitalism to adapt and the lengths it will go to keep us enslaved as we slave to power it.
‘One-dimensional Man’ illustration by JMC