Venessa Miemis: Reflection – The Concept of Enlightenment

Venessa Miemis

Reflection: The Concept of Enlightenment

musings on Adorno & Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment.

When I review these passages, my mind speaks back – “the machine is using us”.The goal of the enlightenment was to free our minds, by favoring ‘rationality’ over myth and mysticism. Nature became something that was to be controlled by us, quantified, compartmentalized, labeled, manipulated.

But, this new scientific way of looking at things changed the way we THINK… or perhaps limited our ability to think at all. Instead of looking for greater ‘Truth’ or deeper meaning in things, identifying the essence of a thing, giving it ‘value’, it becomes a mere definition. The framework of thoughts are based in a soul-deadening logic and mechanicality. Everything that can be named and described and explained away can be somehow controlled, and there’s a power in that, but at the same time, something sacred is lost.

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The belief in positivism seems as irrational to me as mythology must have been for those that started the enlightenment movement. To place utmost value in what the senses can perceive, and call it Truth, is ridiculous. I think we’re finally coming around full circle, not to a return to mysticism, but at least allowing ourselves to say that there’s more to life than meets the eye. In some ways, science itself has pointed out its fallibility. The more we dive into quantum mechanics, the more incongruities and incompatibilities we find with what we think we know and what is. Perhaps there really is an unknowable universal. Is it really such a horrible thing to have a sense of awe of the world around us??

We become like slaves in invisible chains, our minds shaped into the pattern of a machine: efficient, mechanical, repetitive, causal, our thoughts on the conveyor belt of an assembly line – there are no alternative paths for them to take.

This machine-like way of thinking is tied directly to the division of labor – the mechanized process of thinking is merely a function of material production and the “all-encompassing economic apparatus”. By abandoning the cumbersomeness of formulating actual thoughts in favor of following a predetermined reified path, the greater machine/system of society can operate smoothly. At the same time, the smooth operation leads to a distillation of society, a loss of culture.

By treating nature as something outside of oneself, something that needs to be manipulated and controlled verse something with which to be in harmony, humans become isolated and estranged. Both the lowly worker and the ones in charge are victims – the dominated are resigned sheep, and the dominators are equally immobilized by their distance from the experience, the self imposed detachment and repression of novelty in favor of utility in order to ‘better’ perform their role of power.

(from the archives; friday february 6, 2009; media studies graduate paper)