Last updated: 23 December 1998
That all men are alike is exactly what society would like to hear. It
considers actual or imagined differences as stigmas indicating that not
enough has yet been done; that something has still been left outside its
machinery, not quite determined by its totality.
Newness only becomes mere evil in its totalitarian format, where all
the tension between individual and society, that once gave rise to the
category of the new, is dissipated. Today the appeal to newness, of no
matter what kind, provided only that it is archaic enough, has become universal,
the omnipresent medium of false mimesis. The decomposition of the subject
is consummated in his self-abandonment to an ever-changing sameness.
An emancipated society, on the other hand, would not be a unitary state,
but the realization of universality in the reconciliation of differences.
Only a humanity to whom death has become as indifferent as its members,
that has itself died, can inflict it administratively on innumerable people.
So the experience of death is turned into that of the exchange of functionaries,
and anything in the natural relationship to death that is not wholly absorbed
into the social one is turned over to hygiene. In being seen as no more
than the exit of a living creature from the social combine, death has been
domesticated: dying merely confirms the absolute irrelevance of the natural
organism in face of the social absolute.
What has become alien to men is the human component of culture, its
closest part, which upholds them against the world. They make common cause
with the world against themselves, and the most alienated condition of
all, the omnipresence of commodities, their own conversion into appendages
of machinery, is for them a mirage of closeness.
The new human type cannot be properly understood without awareness of
what he is continuously exposed to from the world of things about him,
even in his most secret innervations.
The film has succeeded in transforming subjects so indistinguishably
into social functions, that those wholly encompassed, no longer aware of
any conflict, enjoy their own dehumanization as something human, as the
joy of warmth. The total interconnectedness of the culture industry, omitting
nothing, is one with total social delusion.
The idea that after this war life will continue 'normally' or even that
culture might be 'rebuilt' - as if the rebuilding of culture were not already
its negation - is idiotic.
The culture industry not so much adapts to the reactions of its customers
as it counterfeits them.
It's strange that so many American heroes die so young. Perhaps conservative
America can't face that idealism. The reality was that beneath the ice-cream-parlour
image, there was a festering pool of garbage. When waitresses in restaurants
said 'Have a good day', it somehow felt that they were either administering
the last rites or warning me that if I fucked up, I would get shot.
... each type of civilization has had diseases peculiar to it and at
each period the various social groups in any community also have differed
in this regard.
Each civilization has its own kind of pestilence and can control it
only by reforming itself.
To live in the universe of high modernity is to live in an environment
of chance and risk, the ineveitable concomitants of a system geared to
the domination of nature and the reflexive making of history. Fate and
destiny have no formal part to play in such a system, which operates (as
a matter of principle) via what I shall call open human control of the
natural and social worlds.
It is becoming plain that our liberal regime of equality and personal
freedom depends, more than most theorists of liberalism have been willing
to admit, on the existence and support of certain social assumptions and
practices: the belief that each and every human being possesses great and
inherent value, the willingness to respect the rights of others even at
the cost of some disadvantages to one's self, the ability to defer some
immediate benefits for the sake of long-range goals, and a regard for reason-giving
and civility in public discourse.
Social historians of the future no doubt will be amused by the fact
that we late-twentieth-century Americans found it acceptable to discuss
publicly in detail the most intimate aspects of personal life, while maintaining
an almost prudish reserve concerning the political significance of family
Everything comes to us in fifteen-second sound bites and photo opportunities.
All possibility for ambiguity - the most precious trait of any adequate
analysis - is erased.
We live in a profoundly nonintellectual culture, made all the worse
by a passive hedonism abetted by the spread of wealth and its dissipation
into countless electronic devices that impart the latest in entertainment
and supposed information - all in short (and loud) doses of "easy
It indicates a person who has not only good manners but who possesses
a sense of balance, a sure mastery of himself, a moral discipline that
permits him to subordinate voluntarily his own selfish interest to the
wider interests of the society in which he lives. The gentleman, therefore
is a cultural person in the noblest sense of the word, if by culture we
mean not simply wealth of intellectual knowledge but also the ability to
fulfil one's duty and understand one's fellow man by respecting / every
principle, every opinion, every faith that is sincerely professed.
One must speak for a struggle for a new culture, that is, for a new
moral life that cannot but be intimately connected to a new intuition of
life, until it becomes a new way of feeling and seeing reality
Common sense is not something rigid and stationary, but is in continuous
transformation, becoming enriched with scientific notions and philosophical
opinions that have entered into common circulation. 'Common sense' is the
folklore of philosophy and always stands midway between folklore proper
(folklore as it is normally understood) and the philosophy, science, and
economics of the scientists. Common sense creates the folklore of the future,
a relatively rigidified phase of popular knowledge in a given time and
The people themselves are not a homogeneous cultural collectivity but
present numerous and variously combined cultural stratifications which,
in their pure form, cannot always be identified within specific historical
I give culture this meaning: exercise of thought, acquisition of general
ideas, habit of connecting causes and effects ... I believe that it means
thinking well, whatever one thinks, and therefore acting well, whatever
Because we have put ourselves in our own zoo, we find it difficult to
1. The way in which people handle synchrony is both rooted in biology
(bio-basic) and modified by culture.
The classification system is an excellent example of how the majority
of Western peoples have been trained to think. Since the days of Linnaeus,
the system has been highly respected and occupies a prestigious niche in
the edifice of Western thought. Things could not have developed in any
other way. The result has been, however, that whichever way we Westerners
turn, we find ourselves deeply preoccupied with specifics (remember the
neurons in the eyes), to the exclusion of everything else. This is true
today of our four main institutions, which absorb most of the energy and
talent of this country: business, government (including defense), science,
and education. Even the ecologists, who should know better, are frequently
in dispute because each of the leading figures thinks he has a corner on
the truth. The questions that must be answered are: Where do we go for
the overview? Who is putting things together? Who are the experts in the
high-context integrative systems? Who knows how to make the type of observations
necessary to build integrative systems of thought that will tell us where
We are only peripherally tied to the lives of others. It takes a long
long time for us to become deeply involved with others, and for some this
Each culture has its own characteristic manner of locomotion, sitting,
standing, reclining, and gesturing.
There are hundreds if not thousands of different situational frames
in cultures as complex as our own. These frames are made up of situational
dialects, material appurtances, situational personalities, and behavior
patterns that occur in recognized settings and are appropriate to specific
situations. Some common settings and situations are: greeting, working,
eating, bargaining, fighting, governing, making love, going to school,
cooking and serving meals, hanging out, and the like. The situational frame
is the smallest viable unit of a culture that can be analyzed, taught,
transmitted, and handed down as a complete entity. Frames contain linguistic,
kinesic, proxemic, temporal, social, material, personality, and other components.
[Culture] refers to the codes with which meaning is constructed, conveyed, and
understood ... cultures are maps of meaning through which the world is
made intelligible. Cultures are not simply systems of meaning and value
carried around in the head. They are made concrete through patterns of
The success of Prozac says that today's high-tech capitalism values
a very different temperament. Confidence, flexibility, quickness, and energy
- the positive aspects of hyperthymia - are at a premium.
Wilderness is the raw material out of which man has hammered the artifact
[M]odern society is indeed often, at least in surface appearance, nothing
but a collection of strangers, each pursuing his or her own interests under
If the linguistic behavior blocks conceptual development, if it militates
against abstraction and mediation, if it surrenders to the immediate facts,
it repels recognition of the factors behind the facts, and thus repels
recognition of the facts, and of their historical content. In and for the
society, this organization of functional discourse is of vital importance;
it serves as a vehicle of coordination and subordination. The unified,
functional language is an irreconcilably anti-critical and anti-dialectical
language. In it, operational and behavioral rationality absorbs the transcendent,
negative, oppositional elements of Reason.
If mass communications blend together harmoniously, and often unnoticeably,
art, politics, religion, and philosophy with commercials, they bring these
realms of culture to their common denominator - the commodity form. The
music of the soul is also the music of salesmanship. Exchange value, not
truth value counts.
The functional language is a radically anti-historical language: operational
rationality has little room and little use for historical reason.
Under the repressive conditions in which men think and live, thought
- any mode of thinking which is not confined to pragmatic orientation within
the status quo - can recognize the facts and respond to the facts only
by "going behind" them. Experience takes place before a curtain
which conceals and, if the world is the appearance of something behind
the curtain of immediate experience, then, in Hegel's terms, it is we ourselves
who are behind the curtain. We ourselves not as the subjects of common
sense, as in linguistic analysis, nor as the "purified" subjects
of scientific measurement, but as the subjects and objects of the historical
struggle of man with nature and with society. Facts are what they are as
occurrences in this struggle. Their factuality is historical, even where
it is still that of brute, unconquered nature.
This (functional - E.W.) language controls by reducing the linguistic
forms and symbols of reflection, abstraction, development, contradiction;
by substituting images for concepts. It denies or absorbs the transcendent
vocabulary; it does not search for but establishes and imposes truth and
The abbreviations (e.g. NATO, UN, USSR - E.W.) denote that and only
that which is institutionalized in such a way that the transcending connotation
is cut off. The meaning is fixed, doctored, loaded. Once it has become
an official vocable, constantly repeated in general usage, "sanctioned"
by the intellectuals, it has lost all cognitive value and serves merely
for recognition of an unquestionable fact.
The unification of opposites which characterizes the commercial and
political style is one of the many ways in which discourse and communication
make themselves immune against the expression of protest and refusal.
Propositions assume the form of suggestive commands - they are evocative
rathern than demonstrative. Predication becomes prescription; the whole
communication has a hypnotic character. At the same time it is tinged with
a false familiarity - the result of constant repetition, and of the skillfully
managed popular directness of the communication. This relates itself to
the recipient immediately - without distance of status, education, and
office - and hits him or her in the informal atmosphere of the living room,
kitchen, and bedroom.
Where these reduced (operational - E.W.) concepts govern the analysis
of the human reality, individual or social, mental or material, they arrive
at a false concreteness - a concreteness isolated from the conditions which
constitute its reality. In this context, the operational treatment of the
concept assumes a political function. The individual and his behavior are
analyzed in a therapeutic sense - adjustment to his society. Thought and
expression, theory and practice are to be brought in line with the facts
of his existence without leaving room for the conceptual critique of these
This society turns everything it touches into a potential source of
progress and exploitation, of drudgery and satisfaction, of freedom and
In the realm of culture, the new totalitarianism manifests itself precisely
in a harmonizing pluralism, where the most contradictory works and truths
peacefully coexist in indifference.
Without meaning, without substance, without aim: a mere 'public opinion'.
The Germans are incapable of any conception of greatness: proof Schumann.
As far as Germany extends it ruins culture.
I believe only in French culture and consider everything in Europe that
calls itself 'culture' a misunderstanding, not to speak of German culture.
Cultures are not the source of all morals, only a limited set of morals.
Cultures can be graded and judged morally according to their contribution
to the evolution of life.
The paradigm of Western culture is that the essence of persons is dangerous;
thus, they must be taught, guided, and controlled by those with superior
If the time comes when our culture tires of the endless homicidal feuds,
despairs of the use of force and war as a means of bringing peace, becomes
discontent with the half-lives that its members are living - only then
will our culture seriously look for alternatives.
From the moment we are born our culture encourages us to believe that
outer well-being is the source of inner fulfillment ... Wherever we turn
the principle is confirmed, encouraging us to become 'human havings' and
'human doings' rather than human beings.
The self-talk of the ego-mind is so busy describing what is happening,
judging whether it is good or bad for us, and telling us what we should
think and do, that there is little opportunity for our inner knowing to
be heard. Instead we remain attached to our assumptions, dreaming of the
fulfillment we believe they will bring.
Looking to the material world for the satisfaction of our inner needs
is the source of much fear. All fear is, in essence, fear of the future.
We are afraid of things that have not yet happened, but which if they did
might bring us pain, suffering, or some other discomfort - or stand in
the way of some future contentment. And we are afraid that circumstances
that are already causing us displeasure may continue in the future.
We tell ourselves that the more time we have at our disposal, the more
opportunity we will have of finding greater happiness. But again we are
looking to the future, to the times we will create. Again we miss the enjoyment
of the present moment.
Self-worth and financial worth become indistinguishable.
The more ways we discovered to manipulate and change the world, the
more our belief that we were individuals in control of our own destiny
was strengthened. As our abilities grew we seduced ourselves into believing
that such prowess could satisfy all our needs, psychological as well as
This is our most dangerous addiction - our addiction to things. For
it is this addiction that underlies the materialism of our age. And nowhere
is this addiction more apparent than in our addiction to money.
But I cannot forgive those who did not care about more than their own
glory or well-being. They thought they were civilized. They were despicable.
Damn them all.
... Oceanic malaise. I never saw anyone reading anything more demanding
than a comic book. I never heard any youth express an interest in science
or art. No one even talked politics. It was all idleness, and whenever
I asked someone a question, no matter how simple, no matter how well the
person spoke English, there was always a long pause before I got a reply,
and I found these Pacific pauses maddening.
How people act or feel on specific occasions had been reduced for Mr
Bonner to the way in which he had been told people do act and feel.
To confess to the sin of not enjoying was something she would never
have dared, so she pretended that she did not believe.
More than half of modern culture depends on what one shouldn't read.
I spent most of my time thinking, because I didn't have enough energy
to do anything else.
That's really what the mall is all about: money. At the mall the rule
is: Credito, ergo sum - I shop, therefore I am.
Copyright © by Eberhard Wenzel, 1997-2001