Needed Is A Radical Transformation Of Values

Exchange Theory, Critical Theory, And Radical Sociology

If Human Freedom Is To Flourish, What Is Needed Is A Radical Transformation Of Values

Exchange theory is a nearsighted theory and a wrong theory. It is near sighted because its focus is one of “as if people acted according to self interest alone,” and it is a wrong theory because it attempts to reduce the “principles of behavior” to purely deterministic cause and effect relationships. The act of exchange is consistent with the idea of synchronic freedom, but the “motives” behind exchange (liberation) are as varied as are the circumstances that define “the individual in his/her environment.”

Critical theory in sociology critiques the nature of 1) the concentration of power relationships in society and the influence these power relationships have in limiting the freedom of the individual, and 2) it highlights the inevitable servitude that awaits those people who refuse to take responsibility for their own freedom. Herbert Marcuse believed that given the above two conditions it would take more than a transformation of social structure to liberate the individual from his/her repressive conditions. He called for a whole new way of thinking that would teach people how to stop being a plaything in the hands of politicians, managers and generals.

Marcuse also held to the opinion that it was not enough for the repressed, culturally dwarfed, citizens of bourgeois society to recognize the possibility of a liberating freedom. They had to somehow become transformed in such a way as to “need” the liberating force of freedom. According to Marcuse:

“For the world of human freedom cannot be built by the established societies, no matter how much they may streamline and rationalize their dominion. Their class structure, and the perfected controls required to sustain it, generate needs, satisfactions, and values which reproduce the servitude of the human existence. This “voluntary” servitude (voluntary inasmuch as it is introjected into the individuals), which justifies the benevolent masters, can be broken only through a political practice which reaches the roots of containment and contentment in the infrastructure of man, a political practice of methodical disengagement from and refusal of the Establishment, aiming at a radical transvaluation of values. Such a practice involves a break with the familiar, the routine ways of seeing, hearing, feeling, understanding things so that the organism may become receptive to the potential forms of a nonaggressive, nonexploitative world.” [Herbert Marcuse, An Essay on Liberation, 1969, p. 6]

Radical Sociology takes a more Marxist approach to analysis than does Critical Theory. But, even here, there is a movement away from the more orthodox Marxist principles, — dialectics of knowledge and change, materialist historical analysis, capitalistic system analysis, and the transitional states of class conflict and consciousness. C. Wright Mills shifted the emphasis away from Marx’s economic determinate toward an analysis of the power elites as he proposed a more “structurally relevant” model of society. Mills approach to society was to demarcate the juncture of biography and history in society.

As I have suggested in this paper, I believe Marx’s thought proceeded according to a misguided understanding of the “way things actually are.” It is not that I believe a change in social structure and means of production would not benefit society; they would benefit society, especially if these changes encourage people to take advantage of their “inner strength,” as they provide realistic opportunities for the purpose of allowing a person to more fully develop the person he or she has a chance to choose to be. In the end, I believe a combination of Critical Theory and Radical Sociology is what’s needed if positive change is to be secured, positive change that, in principle, follows from the nature of synchronic freedom. In other words, in so far all people have a common source and a common end, they come together to form government, — not a government based in institutional power, or in the power to secure private property, or even in the name of national self interest, — but rather, men and women come together to form a more perfect union in which personal liberties are weighed against social harms; in which the individual’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, is weighted against freedom’s consistent expression—a freedom that is all-inclusive of living things and the nurturing environment that permits living things to exist. Yes, that would be a positive change, a positive change in government, a positive change in life, and a positive change in spirit!Orangutan cub


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