Contemporary Political Philosophy
February 19, 2004
Herbert Marcuse was known as one of the best known philosophers and writers of the 1960s. He was born in Berlin but would leave in 1933 for the United States; he died in 1979 during a visit to Germany. In 1964, Marcuse would publish his most influential and to many his most important book, One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society. In this book, Marcuse explains the concept of one dimensional society and how it is a form of social oppression that uses production and consumerism as tools to abolish critical thought and opposing behavior. He argues that our society is distorted due to the misuse of our resources in an effort to obtain false needs while commonly ignoring our true basic needs as human beings. This would gradually make the difference between true and false needs less and less apparent to society.
Marcuse argues that there are only few vital basic human needs that every society must meet to function properly. Those needs being: nourishment, clothing, housing, and an attainable level of culture. But because organic food is more expensive, clothing has become more about trends instead of purpose, housing is no longer a given, and the culture we live in has become so infatuated with the glamorous and expensive style of living, we lose are sights as to what is truly important and what is not. If those basic human needs (nourishment, clothing, housing, and level of culture) were openly and equally available to everyone is society, there would be less injustice and oppression in the world. But more importantly, individuals would be free from themselves and abandon their pursuit of false happiness. This would make available more time for leisure and greater appreciation of life’s natural beauties. Marcuse explains that societies create particular ways and guidelines to meet the vital human needs then attempts to convince the citizen that its chosen ways and guidelines are a necessity to follow for those needs. Different societies make different ways and guidelines that differ in values outside of vital needs. And so every society adds on to the vital needs with social and material needs that are not basic human necessities to survive.
According to Marcuse, this causes a society to produce a large amount of unneeded goods and services, which because they are included in that society’s ways and guidelines, are seen as basic necessities. And so individuals replace their value of vital needs with value of what is socially acceptable. This creates petty individual’s complaints such as certain clothing no longer being in style. In response to such a complaint, we keep doing unneeded work so that we can earn funds to purchase those unneeded goods and services. This is the fundamental groundwork of our values and needs today. We accept these values and needs as true and necessary and because of that, our way of life is constructed and bound by useless labor and overconsumption. We internalize our values and construct our sense of personal identity on it. Marcuse states that individuals experience themselves as consumers, overall. Because of this, we define ourselves in terms of the unnecessary goods we consume. Individuals learn at an early age to need all kinds of unnecessary consumer items that have been advertised by society as important. We’ve come to believe that everything we need to live a fulfilling life can be purchased at places like malls or car dealerships. We have also come to believe that we need to purchase the most socially acceptable (often most expensive) item available in such places. Rarely do individuals ask themselves if they really even need things like a PS3, or a new smartphone. Our sense of individual identity is molded by these and other socially created needs; and so our positive self-image thrives on an endless cycle of buying and consuming.
This presents a huge difference in the...
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