What started as a catalyst project became an all too serious discussion with a professor over the abstract topic of repressive desublimation and its influences on protest and social change. Throughout my discourse with my professor, Peter Morelli, we’ve delved into some of the influences repressive desublimation has on academia. I believe the topic is strongly relevant and could contribute to making a more wholesome engagement for this year’s Catalyst Conference of 2018 (interview is available for viewing at the bottom of the page). This entire summary is a recount of our discussion about how repressive desublimation is crucial to the world today and what we can do to be aware of this issue.
What is Repressive Desublimation?
(A picture of Herbert Marcuse)
Originally coined in One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society by Herbert Marcuse, repressive desublimation refers to the way of which a highly advanced industrial society (e.g. the United States) liquidates oppositional and antithetical elements of contention through the tactic of technological rationality and then incorporating it into their own systems of belief. To simplify, it is the process of which the highly industrial society causes the “flattening out” of cultural value by incorporating it into a commodity of the society itself. As Marcuse puts it, “The music of the soul is also the music of salesmanship”.
(A cover of One-Dimensional Man)
Therefore, by modifying the nature of “change”, repressive desublimation is considered by Marcuse to have removed the energies required for social criticism, and thus functions like a conservative force under the facade of liberation. In essence, in a highly industrial society, repressive desublimation works to support desirable social change and immediately discourages any repercussion or debate, unless that idea itself is profitable or beneficial.
The relevance of repressive desublimation is one of abstract debate and its appearance in academia. Academia possesses a significant amount of importance to the way in which society advances as a whole. However, due to repressive desublimation, academia is unable to actually make significant social change because scholars are disillusioned into viewing themselves as independent thinkers. In this specific example, I will be drawing from Jordan Peterson and his campaign against gender studies. Specifically, I argue that Peterson’s crusade against gender studies is a shallow repetition of arguments that’s already been used against past gender rights movements, and actually produces no productive debate on the subject itself nor ultimately make any new claims in advancing academia and society as a whole while simultaneously representing the ways in which repressive desublimation suppresses the ability for academic debate to move forward.
In this discussion extracted from the Joe Reagan Experience #877 podcast, Jordan B. Peterson publicly expresses that of gender studies is a field of empowerment and myth. He accuses the institution of producing “ideologically minded counter-civilization political activists” that is being “subsidized by tuition and the public purse”. He argues against the relevance of Gender Studies by expressing that there has been no historical instance of patriarchy ever since the dawn of Judaism large because there is a lack of evidence that Jewish civilizations ever existed. The rest of the podcast boils down to targeting specific and unusual demographics of the Gender Studies institution that have no correlation with the subject and perpetrating acts of ad-hominem against straw hat entities.
In this analysis, we see two recurrent themes come from his refutations. One, Gender Studies is a field of oppression that silences the opposition. Two, there is no evidence that patriarchy ever existed historically and therefore Gender Studies is not relevant because it was never producing change in the first place. These main refutations are arguments used against the historical events of the First, Second, and Third wave of feminism. Peterson’s rehashed arguments lie as the central dogma of his philosophy. Thus, no new substantial rebuttals are explored against the field of Gender Studies, and no changes are made whatsoever to advance debate.
The specific reason as to why repressive desublimation is important is that it signifies the dome of limitation that Peterson and some other academics are trapped inside of whenever they attempt to shift debate forward. Rebellion is impossible because of the fact that Jordan Peterson is incapable of independent thought. Instead, he’s irritating established institutions and then producing the illusion of rebellion without ever having to challenge that system’s basic values. Ultimately, his actual voice fails to retain academic value because he’s simply reiterating historical arguments.
I strongly encourage everyone to read One-Dimensional Man if the discussion here intrigued you. It’s a wonderful read and really delves deep into the philosophy of politics and analyzes our daily struggles in the Western world with an in-depth look. My call to action here is to encourage students to actively read and criticize institutions with an educated approach. Doing this will strengthen students’ skills to analyze literature and have a deeper comprehension of the parallels between history and the present. Below, I have listed some related works of literature that were mentioned in my discussion with Peter Morelli.
Considered to be one of the many greatest works by Michel Foucault, Discipline & Punish explores the extent of which power is exercised throughout modern institutions. In this work, he specifically illustrates what entity and form “power” takes, and how it should be perceived.
Despite being published 2 decades before One-Dimensional Man, Erich Fromm discusses very similar subjects in his work Escape From Freedom where he explores the commodification of individuality in an industrial society.
Finally, The Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord explores the very realm of our existence today, the media. In this series of 221 short aphorisms, Debord presents the concept of the Spectacle and its relevance in popular media. There are a lot of concepts discussed here, but this is probably the best book available to understand digital society.
Again, my general advice for you is to read. Literature provides instances of euphoria in moments such as paint-drying competitions in the household. Understanding through reading really helps to attack the root of issues rather than applying band-aid solutions. Overall, please go spend some time in the sunshine, detach from society, and go read.
Interview with Peter Morelli on the truths of repressive desublimation: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1tlb0hxZKdldkMM4lf9Cyg72I4wMU6UhU/view?usp=sharing
Debord, Guy, and Ken Knabb. The Society of the Spectacle. Bureau of Public Secrets, 2014.
Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish the Birth of the Prison. Vintage Books, 2011.
Fromm, Erich. Escape from Freedom. Farrar & Rinehart, Inc., 1941.
Marcuse, Herbert. One Dimensional Man. Beacon Press, 1964.
Mattick, Paul. “Critique of Marcuse and ‘One Dimensional Man in Class Society’ – Paul Mattick.” Libcom.org, Libcom, 27 July 2007, libcom.org/library/critique-of-marcuse-and-one-dimensional-man-in-class-society-mattick.
Reagan, Joe, and Jordan Bernt Peterson. “Jordan Peterson on Women’s Studies (from Joe Rogan Experience #877).” Youtube, Powerful JRE, 1 Dec. 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=88KJ5rgCNmk. Accessed 18 Apr. 2018.