“One-Dimensional Man” by Herbert Marcuse
“We may distinguish both true and false needs. “False” are those which are superimposed upon the individual by particular social interests in his repression: the needs which perpetuate toil, aggressiveness, misery, and injustice. Their satisfaction might be most gratifying to the individual, but this happiness is not a condition which has to be maintained and protected if it serves to arrest the development of the ability (his own and others) to recognize the disease of the whole and grasp the chances of curing the disease. The result then is euphoria in unhappiness. Most of the prevailing needs to relax, to have fun, to behave and consume in accordance with the advertisements, to love and hate what others love and hate, belong to this category of false needs” (Marcuse, 2013, p. 7)
Over the course of history, people have come to an implicit agreement that the notion of democracy as a desirable destination for societal patterns is equal to the ideas of ultimate human freedom and autonomy. However, the inability to teel between the complexity of the information bubble and liberty has made this process of striving for freedom misleading and sometimes even deceitful for many people. Indeed, when choosing one’s path to freedom, people are driven by their needs and ability to satisfy them in their own way. According to Marcuse, these needs became divided into the good and the bad ones, with the latter being dictated by the government and corporations.
While some people may think that the desires and needs imposed by the government resemble the plot of George Orwell’s novels, the reality disguises this dictation by the illusion of choice. In the quote, Marcuse mentions that people fall for the belief that they cannot live without false needs because they do not let themselves recognize the demand to demystify the illusion. As a result, they find euphoria in feeling miserable because they observe misery as one of the driving forces of society’s freedom. Similarly, modern perspective follows the same pattern of people failing to identify the trap of false needs because they become used to living in deception. Moreover, the primary challenge for today’s society is the plurality of choices that becomes a fake manifestation of freedom.
When looking at the frameworks of decision-making adopted by people, it may seem that they have already become overwhelmed with the freedom of choice presented by media and corporations through the benefit of the free market. However, when looking at this process closely, it becomes evident that people’s algorithm of making a choice does not correlate with one’s true needs. Instead, people are doing their best to make their choices accepted by society.
Even when speaking of non-conforming groups as ones making a statement against societal praise and herd instinct, one may note how their choices are made in order to be accepted as non-conforming. Thus, however harsh it may sound for people, the idea of social repression outlined by Marcuse did not go away with today’s social modifications. In its turn, the repression lost itself among the plurality of possible choices imposed by global trends and political powers all over the world.
As a result, the tendency of euphoria in unhappiness has become even more evident than ever. What the author means by that is the fact that the modern illusion of happiness may be defined as people’s satisfaction with falling into the imposed behavioral patterns instead of pursuing the dream of finding true happiness through questioning the established societal dogmas.
In the modern context, this issue finds its relevance in the process of defining happiness through the media pressure, making it hard for people to embrace the deviation from standards because of the fear of being unaccepted. Thus, although the idea of critical thinking is widely promoted in today’s educational system and many people find pride in themselves for being able to assess the situation from a variety of perspectives, the prevalence of one-dimensional thinking is still implicitly prioritized and promoted by the government. Indeed, when providing people with an illusion of satisfying their true needs, politics and corporations eventually grow to have more power over the ones drowning in the euphoria of unhappiness.
Marcuse, H. (2013). One-dimensional man: Studies in the ideology of advanced industrial society. Routledge.