“WHAT HUMAN BEINGS SEEK TO LEARN FROM NATURE IS HOW TO USE IT TO DOMINATE WHOLLY BOTH IT AND HUMAN BEINGS. NOTHING ELSE COUNTS.” – HORKHEIMER AND ADORNO
By Paccelli Zahler
In the first chapter of their book DIALECTIC OF ENLIGHTENMENT (2002), Marx Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, analyzed “The Concept of Enlightenment”. For them, “Enlightenment, understood as the widest sense as the advance of thought, has always aimed at liberating human beings from fear and installing them as masters.” But, actually, “what human beings seek to learn from nature is how to use it to dominate wholly both it and human beings. Nothing else counts.” And we cannot deny that this claim is true.
Horkheimer and Adorno referred to Bacon that “well understood the scientific temper which was to come after him.” Knowledge is power and bring technology. The country, the company, the person, who dominate knowledge and technology have the power. For them, “power and knowledge are synonymous”.
In their vision, for Enlightenment, anything that does not conform to the standard of calculability and utility must be viewed with suspicion. This make Enlightenment totalitarian, because it stands the same relationship to things as the dictator to human beings. Besides that, they think that Enlightenment is a myth that works against human beings and comes to dominate them.
The practices of Enlightenment produce knowledge, and knowledge produces technology. And Horkheimer and Adorno claims, for instance:
“Technology is the essence of this knowledge. It aims to produce neither concepts nor images, nor the joy of understanding, but method, exploitation of the labor of others, capital.”.
This statement reminds Rousseau’s “Discourse on Arts and Sciences” (1750):
“But so long as power remains by itself on one side, and enlightenment and wisdom isolated on the other, wise men will rarely think of great things, princes will more rarely carry out fine actions, and the people will continue to be vile, corrupt, and unhappy.”
Despite being written during the World War II, the book Dialect of Enlightenment , by Horkheimer and Adorno, in my opinion, is very current; and I agree when they wrote in the Preface (1944-1946):
“What we had set out to do was nothing less than to explain why humanity, instead of entering a truly human state, is sinking into a new kind of barbarism. We underestimated the difficulty of dealing with the subject because we still placed too much trust in contemporary consciousness.”
And we see this tendency in the world news by mass media everyday.