Self Under Siege (1993) Lecture 4: Marcuse And One-Dimensional Man
I didn’t want these lectures to turn into some kind of funky… kind of Tony Robbins course in self development. Like “now I know who I really am” kind of crap. Because when we are through, we won’t know! I don’t know. If I had known who I was, I probably wouldn’t have shown up. Now, I mean, you know this is not… I mean, it’s an important part. It’s not a cynical thing to say. But it’s an important part of finding out about the self in this part of history, that we don’t have all the answers, that we have not even formulated all the questions correctly. In fact, Tony Robbins and people like him are part of the problem themselves. They are banalisation. I love it when I hear someone say: “I’ve listened to Tony’s tapes, and now… I used to be fat and unhappy, and now… I am skinny and happy” It just makes me want to cut someone up with a chainsaw. I mean, that’s ridiculous. I mean, you know, that’s not why humans think. They because they have to think. It’s a felt necessity. It’s the weight of the world, the complexity of it. And you can avoid it, I admit, with drugs. But at some point in your life, you are going to come across the need to think.
Marcuse comes from a period; and its back in style, back in fashion I have to admit that the 60s are back in style. They will probably be out of style by the time these tapes are out. But people are back, listening to Jimi Hendrix, wearing bell-bottoms and tie-dyes. I suppose you have noticed that. Of course this would have nothing to do with banalisation. Well, of course it would. But anything that is a threat to the system can be banalised. I’ll give you two examples in the sphere of politics. The way they turned Jesse Jackson from a serious social actor, into sort of a banal caricature of himself in the media. They have banalised a real threat to the system, which was the Rainbow Coalition. A real threat – populist threat to the system – banalised into a joke. It’s even sicker to realise this: that if, ah, something tragic happened to Jesse Jackson, there would be a picture of him up next to Malcolm X and Martin Luther King in all of our schools, ten years from now. No-one doubts it, see. But now, while he is alive, he has to be banalised. This is… it’s obviously a form of control. This is social control I am talking about. It’s not a conspiracy, I mean; it’s just something that happens in the process of a society working out its own internal logics, in systems of incredible complexity.
Banalisation is a way to reduce complexity. It’s also a systematic way to be an idiot. And I have to say this, many of our complaints about the educational system fall under the critique of Marcuse as well. Where we produce student after student in this condition I have described. Which is not really despair, because it’s beneath that level. In other words they would have to be more excited to be in despair. They’d have to be like more thrilled to be forlorn. Like they’d have to be in love with something before they could have their heart broken, to make a more simple example out of it. No, it’s beneath that level. It’s frighteningly beneath it. It cannot be defended. Herbert Marcuse, while he lived, made these arguments, and as I say, looking back on them from this point in history from this point in time it’s hard not to feel a little nostalgic for them. But I have a feeling they’ll come back, along with tie-dyes, Jimi Hendrix, and who knows. They may even have someone like me tour, and denounce the system as the warm up act for a rock and roll band. I mean, who the hell knows.