Saturday, February 28, 2009

Marcuse and Taylor

Marcuse’s theory, outlined in his book One Dimensional Man, is that in the future, people will learn to identify their own ¬needs and desires with those that will benefit the whole of society. Marcuse is commenting on our present and past tendencies to be more individual. He uses the term “pacified existence” to label the reassessment of the technological logos. The dialectical transformation of technological rationality, by socially reworking the values to which technology is ordered is what will result, according to Marcuse, in “pacified existence.” It is the point at which humanity can only be productive, and the struggle for day-to-day survival is no longer the first thought in people’s minds. Marcuse believes that is well within humanity’s reach to go beyond natural instinct.

The transformation of technological rationality is the same thought process humans might go through several times a day to forgo the mental strain of reality. Rationalizing is an innate human function that allows humans to coexist with each other and to be able to accept all of the terrible things the human race does to itself. Rationality is a defense mechanism, and after rationalizing so many times it can alter the way we automatically think about things. I ride in a new automobile. I experience its beauty, shininess, and power, convenience--but then I become aware of the fact that in a relatively short time it will deteriorate and need repair; that its beauty and surface are cheap. Its power unnecessary, its size idiotic; and that I will not find a parking place. I come to think of my car as a product of one of the Big Three automobile corporations. The latter determine the appearance of my car and make its beauty as well as its cheapness, its power as well as it's shakiness, it's working as well as its obsolescence. In a way, I feel cheated. I believe that the car is not what it could be, that better cars could be made for less money. But the other guy has to live, too. Wages and taxes are too high; turnover is necessary; we have it much better than before. The tension between appearance and reality melts away and both merge in one rather pleasant feeling.

Marcuse’s term “pacified existence” is the human race’s balance between its natural disharmonies and harmonies in regard to technology. For example Marcuse talks about the Welfare state in “pacified existence” as a natural disharmony. Labor naturally opposes total mechanization because it means the loss of jobs. Marcuse anticipates that labor’s resistance to mechanization will be effectively placated by government spending on programs designed to compensate workers whose quality of life would otherwise be damaged by the mechanization trend. In this sense, welfare provisions are another form of repressive satisfaction, because they ease workers’ discomfort just enough to prevent them from protesting the loss of individual freedoms.

An example of natural harmony would be academia because it is constantly pushing forward technologically. Academia, and science specifically, can be viewed as a tool of domination and it is going with the grain of technology’s inevitable push forward. “It serves to coordinate ideas and goals with those exacted by the prevailing system, to enclose them in the system, and to repel those which are irreconcilable with the system” (Marcuse). As long as humanity has forces countering technology’s takeover, and that balance of push and pull is constant, “pacified existence” will occur.

“All tranquility, all delight is the result of conscious mediation, of autonomy and contradiction” (Marcuse). The logical end of technological progress, the point at which production is so efficient that all vital needs of all individuals can be met, so that the struggle for survival is no longer primary motivation for all human action. While this stage would not mean the end of all work or the dissolution of the technological scaffolding that made it possible, it would mean the end of all wasted work and overproduction, so that people would have free time to direct their mental and physical energies toward other pursuits. Marcuse believes that highly industrialized societies have reached a point at which pacification is within reach.

If we consider Taylor’s theory on Scientific Management, we can argue that Marcuse’s “pacified existence” has already permeated throughout humanity’s societal structure. From Henry Ford’s assembly lines, to the placement of buttons on a stopwatch, Taylorism is the beginnings of Marcuse’s utopia. It is not Taylor’s theory that is the utopia per se, but the effects that we are feeling today in places like Super Wal-Mart, Super-Target and Super K-Mart shipping and storage containments. Taylor’s ideas of Scientific Management, if taken literally, amounts to the dehumanization of the workplace and while it can be argued that this has occurred in the Wal-Marts of the world, what we have taken from Taylor to our benefit, is the human to machine relationship, on which is becoming more and more of a balance.

Some may argue that the Taylor way puts so much of an emphasis on efficiency that machines will replace humans entirely in the work force. What it is really doing is forcing humans to be more knowledgable about the machines that are doing the labor. It is that balance that Marcuse refers to in his theory, that of humans and machines. As long as humans have machines there will be a balance of the human knowing more, and the machine being able to do things better.

1 comment:

Adam Johns said...

Your engagement with Marcuse is very interesting, and your discussion of cars is particularly good (although you ought to cite Marcuse when you quote or slant-quote him). Your overall argument is less than clear, though, and I'm bothered by the way you conflate "rationality" with "rationalizing", which could have used a little more explanation - it's witty, but it's also arguably a mistake.

Your example of academia starts out interesting -- many academics would argue that academia can be a tool of domination -- but your line "As long as humanity has forces countering technology’s takeover, and that balance of push and pull is constant, “pacified existence” will occur." is really problematic - your paper so far is basically an exaplanation of Marcuse, but here you show your understanding faltering (Marcuse believes we need to thoroughly oppose and reimagine our existing system). Now, Marcuse is hard, and I don't expect perfect comprehension - but since all there is here is a recitation of Marcuse, I don't know what else to even look for.

I don't follow your argument of how Taylorism = Marcuse. For Marcuse, the direction of the world (including Taylorism, Fordism, etc.) was monstrous, but had great potential, hence his discussion of "pacification" as the ridiculed end of the technological enterprise -- your engagement with what pacified existence actually means, and how it relates to Marcuse's post-Taylor reality, isn't there.

"Some may argue that the Taylor way puts so much of an emphasis on efficiency that machines will replace humans entirely in the work force. What it is really doing is forcing humans to be more knowledgable about the machines that are doing the labor." -- this is an important moment in your paper, and a potentially interesting argument, but I have absolutely no understanding of how you're getting any of this from Taylor.

Overall: Your initial discussion of Marcuse was interesting, although a little literalistic, or a little too close to Marcuse's text. I'm not entirely satisfied that you ever really defined "pacification of nature," though, and you certainly didn't convincingly relate it to Taylor, the details of whose text you seem to be completely ignoring in favor of something else. These issues could have been dealt with better in a full-length paper.