How We Learn to Love Our Chains

one dimensional man

One Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society

Herbert Marcuse (1964)

Book Review

Free PDF: One Dimensional Man

Philosopher and sociologist Herbert Marcuse uses One Dimensional Man to explain how advanced industrial society has caused human beings to lose their individuality, their ability to dissent and their ability to control their own destiny.

He blames this on a pernicious “false consciousness” that pervades western society. Largely thanks to modern education and the mass media, citizens are pre-conditioned to accept security and material comfort (labor-saving devices, relaxing, having fun, accumulating status symbols etc) as a substitute for self-determination.

In other words, modern man becomes so comfortable he can’t imagine any other way of life. In Marcuse’s words, the ruling elite “removes the need for liberation by making servitude palatable.”

According to Marcuse, the majority of the population are systematically trained to think the thoughts their political and corporate masters want them to think. This results in enormous pressure to conform to public opinion, and any dissent, genuine opposition or negative thinking are viewed as extremely threatening. Marcuse refers to this pervasive and systematic ideological indoctrination as “non-terroristic totalitarianism”.

He writes at length about the “false needs” superimposed on Americans by corporate interests seeking to control and suppress them. He also writes about the tendency of our universal indoctrination to merge opposing forces and ideas, ie the de facto merger of the Republican and Democratic Party, the collusion of labor unions with big business and the mass media’s transformation of class society into a one happy homogeneous mass of consumers.

As Orwell portrays so vividly in 1984, opposing concepts are merged. Worsening oppression and loss of civil liberties is portrayed as “freedom” from an external threat (ie “communism,” “socialism” or “terrorism”); destruction of nature is portrayed as “productivity”; and regression (loss of moral values and personal competence) is portrayed as “growth.”

Marcuse also writes at length about the effect of mass communications in homogenizing art, literature, politics, religion and philosophy as advanced industrialized society transforms all of them them into commodities.


10 thoughts on “How We Learn to Love Our Chains

  1. I agree with this Marcuse fellow, we have learned to love our chains since we are under an illusion that we have freedoms and rights and that justice will always prevail. We haven’t seen hide nor hair of real freedoms and rights in decades. And every other day, we are told that there is yet another bogeyman who needs to be dealt with and the only way to deal with them is to rescind more of our rights; spy on us daily because by doing so, that is keeping us safe. So, check our emails, listen in on our phone calls, follow us on ‘social media’ to make sure that we are not unwittingly engaging in terrorist activities while the real terrorists, the ones who are watching us, are the very ones we should be the most afraid of to the point where we rise up and do something about it. But we can’t because then we would lose even the illusion of freedom and rights that we have long since given up and our lives might not be so cushiony. As long as the lights are on, the TV is working, the smartphone is there and the sluts of Hollywood are entertaining us, all is good!


      • Your comment is spot on as well futuret! As long as folks can get their Whopper fix, all is good. And no, they don’t care to know just what is actually considered, a burger these days. As long as it looks like ground beef and tastes like ground beef, forget about the growth hormones in it and the antibiotics and other chemicals added to the animal feed and then when ‘humans’ get sick off that mess, they’re somewhere looking cross-eyed and expecting Big Pharma to the rescue when they’ll only get price-gouged, writhe in agony and then drop dead. But not so fast, the tax man still cometh and so does the bill collector.

        Sad state of affairs and yet, we put up with it without a whimper.


    • Shelby, Marcuse was Angela Davis’s mentor for many years so I think she takes a lot of her political analysis from him. My experience listening to Davis as a young activist was that she had this ability to set off constant explosions in your brain by turning the world on its head and showing you totally new ways of thinking about things. I still really enjoy listening to her – especially when she talks about Donald Trump.


  2. “Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
    Time held me green and dying
    Though I sang in my chains like the sea.”

    Not sure if its relevant – but I love that poem 🙂


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