No theory forbids me to say "Ah!" or "Ugh!", but it forbids me the bogus theorization of my "Ah!" and "Ugh!" - the value judgments. - Theodor Julius Geiger (1960)

The Managed World

The Managed World – Adorno, Horkheimer & Kogon

 Theodor W. Adorno, Max Horkheimer and Eugen Kogon speak about the nature of modern humanity, focusing on the effects of living in an ‘administered world’ as described by Dostoevsky. Though every creature harbors a spark of the divine, it seems increasingly difficult to believe in this spark amidst societal conditions.

Modern humans are lost in their search for freedom. Characters in novels are portrayed as if their actions still have significant personal freedom, which contrasts with the reality that most people are now reduced to mere functions within a vast societal machine. This reduction to mere functionality eliminates the true essence of living.

The entire world has transitioned into a system of administration and control. Despite the greater potential for freedom today, people are under immense pressure from societal mechanisms, a pressure not limited to the lower classes but pervasive across all social strata. Max Horkheimer has addressed this issue, suggesting that modern individuals have become incapable of making decisions for themselves. Adorno challenges this notion, arguing that people do make choices but these choices often perpetuate the very systems that constrain them. People have become agents of their own administration, further entrenching the managed state of society. This managed state results in a loss of personal freedom and a kind of societal conformity that reinforces administrative control. While past societies had more overt forms of slavery, modern society’s managed state is a subtler but equally constraining form of enslavement. The illusion of freedom exists, but it is heavily managed and controlled by economic and administrative systems.

The current state of administration is irrational; what is perceived as rational planning is actually a rationalization of chaotic and blind social processes. This planning serves particular interest groups rather than society as a whole, leading to a false sense of freedom that is used to better control the populace. This control is evident even in places where competition is supposedly abolished, such as in socialist states, where political ideologies are often a facade for power struggles and competition among individuals.

In the ‘free market', many entrepreneurs claim to support free competition but in reality engage in extensive planning and organization, which can be seen as a form of small-scale planned economy. This planning is often disguised as free competition, but from a societal perspective, it represents disorder and undermines true competition.

While both Western and Eastern regions of Germany faced similar fundamental problems, the East did so with overt brutality and terror, whereas the West hided its contradictions under a veil of hypocrisy and ideological cover. This difference in approach does not change the underlying global condition of fear and manipulation.

Bureaucratic expansion is not new, but what is significant is how individuals are increasingly transformed into administrative objects, losing essential human qualities like passion and character. The modern era, characterized by psychology and psychoanalysis, further entrenches this condition by teaching individuals to manage their instincts and passions, thereby ensuring their adaptation to the prevailing reality. Psychoanalysis, which once aimed to liberate individuals by making them aware of their repressed drives, now serves to help people adjust to societal pressures. This process undermines true freedom and individual decision-making, as psychoanalysis today often reinforces the status quo rather than challenging it.

The superficial individualization promoted by modern society masks the true standardization and control of individuals. Real individuality and values, such as love and moral integrity, are increasingly absent from daily life, as the economic and social structures erode family and personal security.

The enduring potential for genuine human qualities and freedom survive despite the overwhelming forces of standardization and control. The true essence of humanity, which includes the capacity for free choice and moral decision-making, remains latent in individuals, even in the face of pervasive societal constraints.

Contemporary humans are pre-adapted to fit into a managed world, exhibiting contradictory qualities of rigidity and flexibility. These individuals, compared to screws that can be moved from place to place, lack spontaneity and operate more like automatons, functioning wherever needed to avoid the threat of unemployment. This adaptability comes at the cost of true individuality and creativity.

The increasing tendency to categorize people strictly as friends or enemies stifles genuine human interaction. This is a byproduct of an over-administered society where people see each other as objects to be managed rather than as human beings. Despite the Christian moral distinctions between good and evil, Christians are equally trapped in this administered world. This world is maintained by continuous appeals to human potential and the promise of progress and freedom, which are manipulated to uphold the status quo.

Adorno and colleagues call for awareness and vigilance against the dangers of living in such a managed world, urging a shift from personal integrity to collective, objective actions to bring about real change. They acknowledge the conveniences and advancements brought by this administered world but emphasize the enormous cost paid in terms of human authenticity and freedom. Despite the overwhelming nature of this managed existence, the potential for good remains within individuals and can be realized through conscious effort and collective action.