Except from “The Catastrophe of Liberation” by Herbert Marcuse
Marcuse pours scorn on the notion of liberation. He seeks to digress from the discourse on liberation and instead inquires of the audience to exercise a critical thought as to the benefits of liberation. Critical concerns that Marcuse raises include whether the people are better off and whether the victims and collective sacrifice made in defence of the standard of living are worthy. He inquires of man and nature have effectively reconciled and gotten to the point of no return. One only needs to think within the confines of Marcuse’s philosophy to understand his frustration with life. Indeed, he criticises the entire notion of civility and the concept of liberation. He disdainfully remarks of the affluent of society who have abused the system and become its singular beneficiaries.
It is this paper’s contention that indeed as suggested by Marcuse our liberation was not pure and simplistic as it was intended. The questions as to oppression or liberation with the changes that man faces in the modern world inform the paper’s contention. One only needs to ask as much in seeking to get the truth. Marcuse appears critical of the affluent. This trajectory is also pursued by this paper. It is my contention that the affluent abused the system for their self-benefit. As Marcuse observes, technology was intended to liberate the masses within the society. However, what it has occasioned instead is the separation and gap between the rich and the poor. This is what informs the subject matter tackled by Marcuse. He seeks to ask critical questions concerning the relevance of technology and its application in addressing the expectations of liberation.
What Marcuse passes across is the insufficiency of technology and by extent science in address critical man requirements. While technology and modern science was to tame nature and make it conducive for man’s life, a task it achieved with equal progress and success, it remains critical whether man remained better off. This is the question Marcuse seeks an answer for. However, the question in itself is rhetorical. One easily makes of Marcuse’s analogies and line of argument that technology and science failed to liberate man. Critical questions that need answers include whether the change is ongoing? If so, will technology occasion a transformation of economics and technology itself? Will man’s problems receive full address? Will man be better off in the long run?
Later on Marcuse would pose the question as to whether civility was beneficial to man. It is my contention that while civility was indeed beneficial for it improved man’s situation in conduct, habitation and even feeding, the consequences it carries along are equally haunting and daunting in nature. The quest for liberation through application of science and technology was for the obtaining of a permanent solution to the problems facing mankind. However, it is regrettable that the said technology was accompanied by its own share of problems. This then introduces the question as to whether the technology really liberated mankind. Marcuse also pours scorn on the affluent. He places responsibility on their heads for the limitations of technology in providing a better society. He criticises the approach as to a consumerist society. The affluent continue to pour into the markets their products and rake profits out of their activities without any concern as to the situation that faces the common citizenry. This is why Marcuse assumes a critical approach to liberation. I concur with him on that front. In ought to be appreciated that technology was intended to remove the brutality of nature and make life better off for mankind. However, looking at economics of production, it is clear what technology did. It effectively reduced nature’s brutality. However, it transferred the brutality from nature to man. Man has become brutal to his own self. This economics of production called capitalism that technology spearheads in leaps has facilitated the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots. This eventually leads to the catastrophe of liberation that informs the subject of Marcuse’s analysis.
Finally the significance of this treatise should be appreciated in light of the critical thoughts it provokes as to the effectiveness of science and technologies in occasioning the needed economic transformation that was to liberate man. It comes out that in any system, there would be two outcomes, that is, the beneficial outcome and the detrimental outcome. What would change, however, is who bears the outcomes. The beneficiaries would be happy of the discovery while the others would feel betrayed and reduced to lamentations. This in this situation is replicated by the affluent who have managed to gain from the technological dispensation to the detriment of the poor who have no option other than to contend with the prevalent situation. In the long run, the big question of whether liberation made us better of has two answers from two different audiences. This depends on what side of the divide one belongs to.
Toscano, Alberto. Liberation Technology Marcuse’s Communist Individualism. Middlesex: Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy, 2005.