Reason & Freedom

C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination (chapter, 9)

Freedom & Bureaucracy

  • In an advanced capitalistic stage, a society becomes highly bureaucratized due to concentration of economic ownership and power.
  • The accumulation of advantages towards the very top, implants freedom only to a small Power Elite (Note that the top 1% of our society controls more wealth than the rest of the 99% combined)

The mass society’s

  • The mass society’s bondage (slavery) to the method of life generated from on high is so complete that the power of reflection itself is usurped from the individual- his/her work, leisure and even the kind of personality he or she is supposed to have is implanted into him (or her), by 1. the institutions that describe the routines of life, 2. The cultural apparatus controlled by the elite: the mass media and those sectors of formal education that are increasingly market oriented.

This lack of REAL

  • This lack of REAL (substantive) freedom in “advanced societies” like the U.S. was what sociologist C. Wright Mills had in mind when he talked about the rise of the cheerful robot and the technological idiot. The same theme is found in Max Weber’s writings on bureaucracy, power and authority. It is what the French sociologist Emile Durkheim described as the “extrinsic coercion” upon the individual, a coercion that has objective existence as social fact, which when taken within a bureaucratic framework, becomes massive and complete. A lack of freedom that Karl Mannheim described as functional rationality that guides every behavior towards predetermined goals where chances for substantive reason and independent reflection are few. Marx’s alienation points to something similar as well.

Free Speech ?

  • The so-called “free” speech in these circumstances of a bureaucratic maze is itself drowned in a sea of irrelevance and information overload. Only the elite have access to millions by domination of the media airwaves, while the rest of us reach almost no one and have no part in the production of information.

First Amendment

The First Amendment without information is not of much use. When the information that the public receives is being supplied by the mass media, controlled by a few corporations, the First Amendment, is de-facto rendered null and void.

C. W. Mills

  • “Rationally organized social arrangements (bureaucracies) are not necessarily a means of increased freedom- for the individual or for society. In fact, often they are a means of tyranny and manipulation, a means for expropriating the very chance to reason, the very capacity to act as a free man…

Only from a few commanding

Only from a few commanding positions (held by the elite of course), vantage points, in the rationalized structure is it ..possible to understand the structural forces at work in the whole which affect each limited part of which ordinary men are aware….man (woman) is thus with ‘rationality’ (in how he or she does his or her work) but without ‘reason’ (or subjective purpose).”
(C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination, 1959:169)

Life in a “mass society”

“ (The person in a “mass society” ) is not truly aware of his own daily experience and of its actual standards: he drifts, he fulfils habits, his behavior a result of the plan less mixture of the confused standards and the uncriticized expectations that he has taken over from others…He loses his independence, and more importantly, he loses the desire to be independent…He does not formulate his desires; they are insinuated into him. And, in the mass, he loses the self-confidence of the human being- if indeed he ever had it. For life in a society of masses implants insecurity and furthers impotence; it makes men uneasy and vaguely anxious; it isolates the individual from the solid group; it destroys firm group standards. Acting without goals, the man in the mass just feels pointless…”
(C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite, 1956: 320-323)

The Anti-thesis of Democracy

  • •“The society in which this man or woman, this cheerful robot flourishes is the antithesis of the free society- or in a literal and plain meaning of the word, of a democratic society.”
    (C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination 1959:172)

Explicit vs. Implicit Control

  • Explicit control is what one would expect in dictatorships. It is not complete and cannot reach the entire society. Further such control is “recognized” and “felt” by those that are being controlled
  • Implicit control is the kind found in bureaucratic capitalist societies like the US, where wealth and power are concentrated in the hands of a few who then define reality for people (both subjective reality through dominating the cultural apparatus, and objective reality through constructing the objective world and dominating its institutions). It is more thorough and complete, causing greater lack of freedom than that which exists under dictatorships. Those controlled do not recognize or “feel” this control. It is not direct but works through institutional mechanisms.

Bureaucratic control

Under the system of

  • “Under the system of explicit authority…the victim knew that he was being victimized, the misery and discontent of the powerless were explicit (as is the case in many “Third World” countries). In the amorphous (current-day)… world where manipulation replaces authority, the victim does not recognize his status…In the movement from authority to manipulation, power shifts from the visible to the invisible, from the known to the anonymous. Impersonal manipulation is more insidious than coercion precisely because it is hidden; one cannot locate the enemy and declare war upon him. Targets for aggression are unavailable and certainty is taken from men…”
    (C. Wright Mills, White Collar, 1951: 110)

Emancipating Humanity

  • Every day a few individuals recognize their condition of bondage, the fact that they live in a world they did not make and they realize that their actions and words have no real consequence for the structure of their society, regardless of the official platitudes. They come to understand and recognize the causes of their alienation, causes that were previously masked by the “opium” of mass consumption. They come to recognize the meaningless and narrow natures of their lives; the purpose of which, they were told through incessant media messages, was to maintain consumption at a maximal level. They now attain a position, a vantage point from which they can view directly the “puppet masters” that control their movements and determine their life-chances.
  • Such personality types are truly free, but are rare- unlike the cheerful robots who are many in number and use the “freedom” slogan but neither know what freedom is nor possess it.
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