musings on Adorno & Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment.
The goal of the enlightenment was to free our minds, by favoring ‘rationality’ over myth and mysticism. Nature became something that was to be controlled by us, quantified, compartmentalized, labeled, manipulated.
But, this new scientific way of looking at things changed the way we THINK… or perhaps limited our ability to think at all. Instead of looking for greater ‘Truth’ or deeper meaning in things, identifying the essence of a thing, giving it ‘value’, it becomes a mere definition. The framework of thoughts are based in a soul-deadening logic and mechanicality. Everything that can be named and described and explained away can be somehow controlled, and there’s a power in that, but at the same time, something sacred is lost.
The belief in positivism seems as irrational to me as mythology must have been for those that started the enlightenment movement. To place utmost value in what the senses can perceive, and call it Truth, is ridiculous. I think we’re finally coming around full circle, not to a return to mysticism, but at least allowing ourselves to say that there’s more to life than meets the eye. In some ways, science itself has pointed out its fallibility. The more we dive into quantum mechanics, the more incongruities and incompatibilities we find with what we think we know and what is. Perhaps there really is an unknowable universal. Is it really such a horrible thing to have a sense of awe of the world around us??
We become like slaves in invisible chains, our minds shaped into the pattern of a machine: efficient, mechanical, repetitive, causal, our thoughts on the conveyor belt of an assembly line – there are no alternative paths for them to take.
This machine-like way of thinking is tied directly to the division of labor – the mechanized process of thinking is merely a function of material production and the “all-encompassing economic apparatus”. By abandoning the cumbersomeness of formulating actual thoughts in favor of following a predetermined reified path, the greater machine/system of society can operate smoothly. At the same time, the smooth operation leads to a distillation of society, a loss of culture.
By treating nature as something outside of oneself, something that needs to be manipulated and controlled verse something with which to be in harmony, humans become isolated and estranged. Both the lowly worker and the ones in charge are victims – the dominated are resigned sheep, and the dominators are equally immobilized by their distance from the experience, the self imposed detachment and repression of novelty in favor of utility in order to ‘better’ perform their role of power.
Hi Venessa, this is nicely written. I am finding people now very receptive to the new more organic thinking as there is so much desire to really understand chaos and complexity at a deeper level. You may be interested in this article by me where I try and explain how I am teaching these new subjects to business students:
Love your blog by the way – I get updates by email.
Is this separation the price we pay for consciousness?
However – truly advanced consciousness may be indistinguishable from nature – check out Kevin Kelly’s post on invisible technology
Alvis Brigis said:
I think this piece could be called “The Agent”. 🙂
“The dream of reason produces monsters. Imagination deserted by reason creates impossible, useless thoughts. United with reason, imagination is the mother of all art and the source of all its beauty” – Francisco de Goya
Venessa Miemis said:
Christian Flores-Carignan said:
The Enlightenment age was a beautiful one from an intellectual perspective. Many of its thinkers melded ethics and the use of reason wonderfully. By the second half of the Enlightenment, Utilitarianism was THE ethical philosophy: The maximization of human happiness was recognized as the rational ethical goal we should pursue. What happened after the Enlightenment had nothing to do with it’s great thinkers, it had to do with the industrial revolution and the pursuit of profit. Unfortunately, philosophers are not in charge of business. Moreover, philosophers are a tiny minority. Most people have a very weak conception of what ought to be and why. But these are the people that dominate the institutions that most of us depend on for survival. So what you end up with are people more or less looking out for their own material self-interest rather than aiming to maximize collective happiness. We all suffer because of it. The masses’ blind, conformist, fear-driven behavior sediments the profit-maximizing bureaucratic structures that undermine our happiness. If we lived in an age of Universal Enlightenment this would not be the case. We would recognize the importance of innovation and efficiency, but we would understand the need to balance this with the goal pleasurable work experience. We would therefore live in a world dominated by humanistic organizations that put the well-being of the workers above technical efficiency. If a great effort is made to educate the world about Enlightenment philosophy in a comprehensive manner, perhaps we will be able to reach this ideal state of affairs.
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