Interventions & Catchwords
Adorno, T.W. (1963), Eingriffe - Neun kritische Modelle, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.
Adorno, T.W. (1969), Stichworte - Kritische Modelle 2, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.
Below, I have summarized a couple of articles from Adorno's books Eingriffe (Interventions) and Stichworte (Catchwords). Firstly, you can read my application of Adorno's thinking to safety practice, and secondly, you can read my summary of his articles.
Organizations should actively engage with and critically analyze the relationship between work and society. This can be done by integrating philosophy and science in work practices and actively resist the manipulation of thought by societal and material conditions. This can help organizations to promote autonomy and self-determination in their employees.
Considering safety education, the focus on specialized knowledge and scientific discipline is undermining a deep and holistic form of education and understanding. "This emphasis is at odds with the devotion of the mind to something that is external and challenging, which is necessary for true intellectual freedom."
The dominant approach to safety, which focuses solely on practical measures and compliance with regulations, is problematic because it lacks reflection and critical analysis. The object-oriented nature of safety practice, which is primarily focused on protecting physical objects, can undermine the overall goal of protecting human life and well-being. Pragmatism tends to legitimize existing safety conditions and may limit the understanding of safety management to its practical usefulness for the organization. In order to truly understand and improve safety, it is necessary to break free from these constraints and engage in critical reflection and analysis. If we fail to reflect and to find meaning in our work, safety practice remains 'tick-and-flick'-compliance. Safety practice should be more than that: it should also contain a critique of practice as unfreedom, and be based on ingenuity and creativity. Adorno's ideas suggest that safety practice should be approached with a more holistic and critical perspective, rather than blindly accepting its means and goals within the organization.
In "Wozu noch Philosophie?", Adorno discusses the purpose of philosophy. He writes that when this question is posed, the expected response is a line of reasoning that addresses all possible difficulties and reservations, ultimately leading to a conclusion that affirms the importance of philosophy. This conformist and apologetic attitude is characteristic of those who teach philosophy professionally and have a vested interest in its continuation. Adorno raises the question because he is not certain of the answer. Defending a field that is seen as outdated and unnecessary is a difficult position to be in, and the arguments in favor of philosophy may sound weak and insincere. Philosophy is no longer useful for techniques of mastering life, as it once was, and it is no longer a medium of education, as it was during the time of Hegel. Philosophy has fallen into crisis, according to Adorno, and is no longer a public concern, following its failure to be a positive science of nature and its association with specialized fields. Heidegger attempted to distance himself from metaphysics, which he defined as a way of thinking that separates "Being and beings, concept and concept-thing". Heidegger argued that this type of thinking, which destroys meaning through reflection, is a deviation from true philosophy and is predetermined in the nature of Being. Both positivism and Heidegger's later works reject speculation. Positivists denounce independent, interpretive thinking as empty and vain, while Heidegger argues that this type of thinking fails to grasp the truth of Being, which is a self-disclosing, appearing entity that can only be understood through receptivity. Attempts to combine positivism and Heidegger's concept of Being undermine the autonomy of reason and the concept of freedom and self-determination in human society. Being is no pure, unchanging concept separate from the concrete world. Like positivism, this concept of Being fails to consider the human element and the dialectical relationship between the immediate and the mediated. Dialectic is not a third standpoint but rather an attempt to critique and transcend the notion of standpoint thinking.
According to Adorno, philosophy should be committed to non-naivety, especially in a world that is so dominated by societal and technological forces. The integration of philosophy and science, which has been a goal since the earliest days of Western metaphysics, would protect the idea of the mind's active presence in all knowledge and the idea of evidence since Spinoza and help to dispel the illusion of the self-evident and the incomprehensible. Anthropocentrism is present in all idealistic conceptions. According to Adorno, philosophy's task should not be to simply align human understanding with scientific knowledge but to critically analyze the relationship between the two. Adorno emphasizes the importance of resisting resignation and blind acceptance of societal and material conditions and instead actively engaging with the world and actively resisting the manipulation of thought by societal and material conditions.
In "Philosophie und Lehrer", Adorno discusses his experience and concerns with the general examination in philosophy for the scientific teaching profession in the state of Hessen, Germany. The purpose of the examination is often misunderstood and fails to achieve its intended goals. Also, many candidates lack genuine interest in philosophy and are not well-suited for the profession. Many candidates focus on passing the exam and not on truly understanding the subject matter. The examination is a poor measure of their qualifications. Adorno proposes evaluating the examination process and to improve it to better assess the candidates' understanding and passion for philosophy.
The outcome of the examination often depends on factors that the candidates are not aware of. Some examiners do not try to help the candidates, despite it being their role to do so. Adorno writes that the exam should be designed to help the candidates understand the subject matter better and not just as a way to test their knowledge. The type of thinking and behavior in the described philosophy examination process is similar to that of totalitarian regimes, according to Adorno, which has serious implications. True education should allow students to make connections and associations between different subjects and ideas, and this type of education is lacking.
The philosopher Fichte has argued that the purpose of philosophy education is to give students a deeper understanding of all the other disciplines and to develop their ability to think critically. Therefore, a student of any subject should have a strong understanding of philosophy. The separation between philosophy and other disciplines is necessary, but reuniting them is not a simple task.
Next, Adorno writes about the relationship between education and language. Education is not effective in smoothing out regional language and dialects, and conflicts between standard language and dialects often ends in a stalemate. The connection between the speaker and the dialect is lost in the process of trying to achieve a standard language, with as the end result a distorted version of standard language that is unsatisfying for everyone involved. The use of high-flown language and expressions that are outside of the speaker's experience can also be a problem in the educational context; true education should involve urbanity and a natural use of language. Adorno suggests that one must be aware of one's provincial background and not trying to elevate it as a virtue, but instead working to become more cosmopolitan.
"Notiz über Geisteswissenschaft und Bildung". In the context of the humanities and education in the university system, the focus on specialized knowledge and scientific discipline is undermining a deep and holistic form of education and understanding (Bildung). This emphasis on scientific discipline is at odds with the devotion of the mind to something that is external and challenging, which is necessary for true intellectual freedom. Adorno wonders if the current narrow definition of science is actually serving the goal of education and intellectual growth. Adorno thinks the university system is in crisis and sees a need to re-evaluate the way in which education is approached in the field of humanities.
In "Prolog zum Fernsehen", Adorno describes the various aspects of television and its impact on society. The social, technical, and artistic aspects of television cannot be treated in isolation and are closely interconnected. The artistic nature of television is affected by the consideration of large audiences, and the social impact of television is determined by its technical structure and (in the 1950s) the newness of the invention itself. Television production carries both overt and covert messages that are transmitted to the viewer. Television is a part of the broader culture industry, which aims to control and manipulate the consciousness of the public by combining elements of film and radio, according to Adorno. He sees television as a way to duplicate the world, and to insert into the duplicate whatever is deemed beneficial for the real world. There is no longer a gap between private existence and the culture industry, because the industry now dominates the visible dimension of life. It is hard for sociologists to determine the exact impact of television on people, as the advanced techniques of empirical social research can only isolate certain factors that are specific to television and not the entire culture industry.
Adorno writes that television makes everything appear as if it belongs to the viewer, while at the same time causing them to feel alienated from themselves. The ease of access to television, and the lack of effort and expense required to watch it, leads to a devaluation of its content. Television is designed to be non-threatening and familiar, and it reduces the distance between reality and representation, making it difficult for viewers to distinguish between the two. The commercial aspect of television is regressive, not because of the content of the programs, but because it reduces the ability of viewers to engage critically with the world around them. The commercial aspect of television does not improve the quality of the content, but rather it lowers it, similar to the way the invention of sound recording lowered the aesthetic and social quality of films. The commercial aspect of television is regressive, and it forms the consciousness of the viewer, but not in a positive way. The ease of access to television and the way it is presented to the viewer make it seem like it is a part of their own personal reality, making them value it less. The commercialization of television avoids anything that could be interpreted as having a sacred or ceremonial aspect, making it more of a consumer product. Television is produced and presented to the viewer through stereotypes and formulaic content, which makes it harder for people to understand reality, rather than helping them to do so. This leads to people being more easily controlled by the ideologies presented to them through television.
In "Fernsehen als Ideologie", Adorno writes that the specific content and the presentation of television shows are closely related. Analyzing the content of television scripts can reveal the intended effects on the audience. Standardization of television production and the uniformity of scripts makes it likely that a content analysis would not yield fundamentally new results. A significant portion of television programming is made up of films. Television plays are similar to films in many respects, but are shorter in duration, which affects their quality. The ideology of realist portrayal in television and its repetition of crime dramas impacts the audience's perceptions of reality, leading to a distorted and false sense of reality where crime is normalized, according to Adorno. The repetition of stereotypes and rigid adherence to certain schemas in TV scripts leads to a further reinforcement of these stereotypes and a lack of true realism. The narrative structure of television plays often relies on a simplified and distorted version of psychoanalytic concepts, which reinforce harmful stereotypes and perpetuate false ideas about the human psyche. The time constraints of television plays often require the condensation of complex psychological processes into simplistic and formulaic actions, which further undermines the veracity of the psychological content depicted on television. Adorno critiques a television program in which the main character, a woman, is encouraged by her therapist to abandon her attempts to save her child and instead submit to authority and religion. Adorno asserts that the portrayal of power in the program is brutal and physical, and that the use of religion in the program is revolting. The program's portrayal of religion is a form of conformity and convention, which ultimately undermines its own message by using religion as a means to psychological ends. The use of religion in this way is hypocritical, according to Adorno; it is a form of hygienic advertising that is disrespectful to religion.
In "Sexualtabus und Recht heute", Adorno writes that the theorist that intervenes in practical controversies often finds that what they have to say has already been said before, and often better the first time. Not only has the amount of written and published material increased greatly, but society itself seems to be regressing in terms of law and politics despite its expansive nature. When it comes to sexual taboos, it is hard to say anything new about them with the intention of enlightenment, as most of it has already been recognized and then forgotten. The situation itself contributes to the preservation of the old and bad. The second enlightenment that is being promoted today (1960s) is only the abolition of the first. Sexual taboos in Freud's era were linked to pre-capitalist or upper-class forms of authority, patriarchalism of the nuclear family, and repression by the father. While the individual psyche is secondary to real societal processes, societal changes have occurred that affect the specific form of sexual taboos. Genital sexuality, which traditional castration threats were directed against, is no longer the primary target of attack. While the SS state was not a realm of erotic freedom, the current (1960s) sexual libertinage is also not a true expression of erotic freedom. True erotic life and relationships, in which pleasure is realized, is not the healthy sex life promoted by modern industries. Rather the partial libido, repressed by societal expectations, survives in genital sexuality.
Societal taboos, particularly those related to sexuality, can be mobilized and used for political gain. These taboos may be a way for individuals to deflect responsibility for their own autonomy and dissatisfaction with their current lives onto issues related to sexuality, rather than addressing larger societal issues. These taboos are particularly powerful in the present moment, e.g. the continued persecution of sex workers shows that these taboos have not been fully dismantled, despite some progress towards sexual liberation. Taboos are used as a justification for oppressive actions taken against sex workers, such as raids and closures of brothels. These actions are not truly motivated by a desire to improve the lives of sex workers, but rather by a desire to restore societal control over sexuality.
The continued existence in the 1960s of laws criminalizing homosexuality is unjust and serves only to perpetuate fear and discrimination against gay individuals, Adorno writes. Even the slight modification of the laws to exempt minors from prosecution is problematic, as it opens the door for extortion. Societal pressure may stifle the productivity of gay individuals, particularly those who are intellectually gifted. In societies where homosexuality is less stigmatized, gay individuals appear to be less neurotic and less characterologically deformed than in German society, Adorno observes.
The strongest taboo of all is currently (1960s) the one surrounding the sexual exploitation of minors. Paragraph 174 of the German criminal code addresses sexual taboos. Adorno argues that this paragraph, among others, can be used to politically and otherwise unjustly target individuals. The overall legislation is too lenient, and some laws, especially those related to violent crimes, should be strengthened. Acts of physical violence against minors are often punished less harshly if committed by parents or teachers, and the legal system often excuses violent behavior when it is committed under the influence of alcohol. In Germany, there is a cultural tendency to view vehicular manslaughter as a minor crime, and this attitude is a remnant of the fascist ideology of the Nazi era which held that human life was of little value. The legal system tends to excuse violence committed in compliance with laws and regulations, and this concept of legality has been used to justify the atrocities committed under the Nazi regime.
A philosophy that aims to fully control and conform to practice is as flawed as a practice that disregards theoretical reflection. The “healthy common sense” approach of simplifying things to make them more practical, actually harms the truth. Philosophy should not be transformed into legislation and legal procedures, as they are not capable of handling the complexities of philosophy. The legal system should exercise some humility in light of the current state of knowledge. Instead of thinking in simplistic terms, the legal system should strive to reach the highest level of knowledge in psychology and sociology. Science occupies the field of naive consciousness everywhere, but in the area of the law, sociology and psychology actually have more data than legal experts are aware of. The legal system uses a pedantic-logical systematization and a mindset that ignores the discoveries of science in determining factors and allows everyone to choose their own philosophy. The philosophy used for practical purposes today, specifically existential ontology, is reactionary. Adorno suggests to study the relationship between sexual prejudices, criminal fantasies, and ideological dispositions and authoritarian tendencies, by using his F-scale of the Authoritarian Personality and organizing it by different dimensions of sexual attitudes.
In "Was bedeutet: Aufarbeitung der Vergangenheit", Adorno writes how "dealing with our history" has been used as a catchphrase, after the second World War. This phrase does not mean to truly process and understand the past, but rather to put a stop to it and possibly even erase it from memory. The tendency to avoid addressing guilt and responsibility is often practiced by those who have committed wrongs and this is a contradictory approach to dealing with the past. The past is not something we can simply leave behind and the legacy of National Socialism still has an ongoing impact today (1960s) It is potentially more dangerous than fascist tendencies against democracy. The past in Germany has not been fully dealt with yet and there is a lot of anger surrounding it. People's reactions to history are not always rational, but are influenced by societal trends and align with the zeitgeist. People tend to conform to the public opinion and avoid making "unnecessary thoughts" that might disrupt the status quo.
The resistance movement in Germany lacked a mass base. The introduction of democracy in Germany after the Second World War did not improve the relationship between the people and the government. People tend to view democracy as a system among others, rather than as an expression of their own agency.
People who conform to societal norms and have a relationship to the levers of power are often encountered in everyday life and this is not due to any inherent evil in the world or in the German national character, but rather to their identity as conformists.
The Nazi regime was not only about fear and suffering. Many people actually benefited from it. The Nazi regime brought a sense of security and protection for many people, despite the fact that it was violent and ultimately led to the downfall of the regime itself. The memories of the Nazi era continue to be idealized by many people and this is difficult to change even with logical and compelling arguments. Fascism is still present today in the form of nationalism movements in developing countries.
The idea of nationalism is outdated because the idea of a sovereign nation is no longer relevant in the face of the power of large blocs and the development of weapons technology. Nationalism is still used though, as a tool to mobilize people for objectives that do not necessarily align with their own interests. Nationalism today has taken on a more violent and destructive form. It is often fueled by paranoia and a desire to scapegoat others. The rise of fascism in the past cannot be attributed solely to the inherent evil of the world or to alleged characteristics of the German national character, but rather to the conformist individuals who had access to the levers of power and were potential totalitarian followers. The Nazi regime brought prosperity to many of its followers. The idea of a "Volksgemeinschaft" (people's community) was both a lie and a fulfillment of an old, sinister dream of the bourgeoisie. The current (1960s) form of nationalism is outdated and yet still politically useful as a means to mobilize people towards outdated ideals. Education, particularly in the field of sociology, history, and criminal psychology is lacking in Germany, and this is an area that needs to be improved in order to prevent the resurgence of fascism in the future.
Adorno's article "Meinung Wahn Gesellschaft" describes the relationship between public opinion and the ideology of nationalism. Public opinion is widely accepted as positive despite its ambiguity. Philosophers, starting with Plato, have traditionally held that opinions can be correct or incorrect; pathological or aberrant opinions exist, often associated with prejudice. This simple dichotomy suggests that there is a normal, healthy type of opinion on one hand and extreme, eccentric or bizarre opinions on the other. This distinction is not so clear cut and the idea of normal opinion necessarily prevailing over aberrant opinion is suspect. The glorification of mere opinion, particularly dominant opinion, is problematic because it cannot consider anything other than what everyone else thinks. Furthermore, the supposed pathological opinion, deformations of prejudice, superstition, rumors, and collective delusions that history and mass movements are full of, cannot be separated from the concept of opinion. It is difficult to determine a priori what belongs to one category or the other and history also contains the potential for opinions considered hopelessly isolated and eccentric to become dominant. It is important to be aware of this complexity and not to take the concept of normal opinion for granted.
Individuals are often constrained by societal norms and their own self-interests, which can lead them to adhere to destructive forms of nationalism ideology. According to Adorno, the idea of national interest as a justification for violence and oppression is a false one; the belief in the nation as inherently good and superior is a dangerous path. Adorno suggests that the conditions of society often lead individuals to feel powerless and to seek validation through identification with their nation, which can further fuel this dangerous ideology.
The article "Glosse über Persönlichkeit" is a reflection on personality and how it is perceived. Personality has long had a negative connotation, particularly in relation to people who are self-important and pretentious. The word has a history of being used in a way that suggests a person's social standing or success is directly connected to their worth as a human being. The philosopher Karl Kraus has exposed the negative aspects of this kind of thinking. Personality's historical association can be traced back to Immanuel Kant, who determined its meaning on freedom and independence. People in positions of power are often consumed by their own publicity, Adorno writes. The idea of character is not viewed positively in Anglo-Saxon countries, and anyone who resists societal pressures to conform is seen as a deformed or weakened individual.
Adorno states that the social space that once allowed for the development of a personality no longer exists, and that personality has become a mask for one's true self. He concludes that the goal of education should not be to foster the development of a personality, as it is an impossible and undesirable goal in modern society. Rejection of the empty pathos of personality turns into acceptance of universal adaptation.
In his article "Freizeit", Adorno explores the relationship between leisure and non-leisure time, and how societal conditions shape the way we use our leisure time. Despite increased productivity in work, leisure time may not bring true freedom as long as societal conditions remain unchanged. Adorno also delves into the pressure to conform to certain appearance or level of activity in leisure time, and how the advertising industry contributes to this pressure. He suggests that true productive leisure can only exist for individuals who have autonomy and self-determination. In addition, Adorno examines the effect of sports on individuals, and how it may be training them to conform to the behavior expected of them in the workplace. The culture industry is also discussed as a means of control and integration, regulating the consumption of culture and the desire for leisure and distraction. Overall, Adorno's article provides a thought-provoking examination of the relationship between leisure time and societal conditions.
In his article "Fortschritt", Adorno critiques the concept of progress, stating that when we examine progress closely and critically, it loses its appearance of being self-evident and it is difficult to give a clear definition of it. Those who try to define progress risk destroying what they are trying to achieve. Progress is not always good and it is not always clear what is meant by progress. True reflections on progress should immerse themselves in it while maintaining distance from it; today such reflections are particularly important for preventing catastrophe. Progress is affected by historical relegations and the idea of humanity as a concept is flawed. Stoic and Augustine's concepts of it are problematic. The idea of reconciliation as an end goal for all things cannot be derived from the immanent process of enlightenment and the concept of humanity can only be understood by recognizing the delusion that is a prerequisite for reconciliation. He suggests that the natural constraints in which progress is embedded should not have the final word.
In his article "Zu Subjekt und Objekt" (About subject and object), Adorno talks about the difficulties of defining the terms subject and object, that can refer to both individuals and general concepts, such as consciousness; their meanings are interdependent. The best way to understand these terms is to take them as they are used in philosophical language, but to critically analyze them further.
The transcendental subject - an entity that knows and stands in relation to an object, the thing known - is more relevant for understanding real human behavior and society than individual psychological individuals. But, the transcendental subject is not truly evident in reality. It is a construct of abstract, rational relationships.
The subject's ability to experience and understand the world is limited by its own preconceptions and biases. True understanding of the world can only be achieved through a process of self-reflection and critique.
In his article "Marginalien zu Theorie und Praxis", Adorno writes about the relationship between theory and practice, and how it is linked to the distinction between subject and object. The Cartesian dualism of subject and object has led to the portrayal of practice as problematic because of its tension with reflection. Practical reason, even in its most earnest form, is as objectless as the world, and the object-oriented nature of practice undermines it. American pragmatism has legitimized existing conditions and has limited knowledge to its practical usefulness. Adorno argues that theory, in order to be meaningful, must not be constrained by practical considerations; only by breaking free from these constraints can theory truly understand the whole. The failure of practice is, according to Adorno, due to the failure of reflection and the inability of the individual to find meaning in their own existence.