Philosophize This! - Episode #144 ... Max Weber - Iron Cage

<p>Today we discuss some of the work of Max Weber in preparation for an upcoming series. </p>

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00:00:00
Hello everyone. I'm Stephen West. This is philosophize this I get all the people out there that support the show on patreon can never do this without you. Also. There's a new way to contribute on the website people have been requesting an option like this for a long time. Finally decided to make it happen. It's sort of a one-time pay what you think the show is worth to you model. The idea is the patreon the way to support the show with new episodes moving forward. This is a way for people to contribute based on what they think the back catalogues done from so far. So thank you for everything. Today's episode is one in a series on the work of Henri bergson and we begin today by offering some important context by looking at the work of Max Weber. I hope you love the show today. So when the enlightenment begin the Hope was that through the process of scientific rationality, we would be gradually but steadily moving forward towards several very important goals freedom on a level never before witnessed by human beings the promise of societies with levels of equality.

00:00:59
Never before witnessed process of using science to refine the systems of thought that surrounded us the enlightenment promised higher levels of efficiency more sophisticated levels of Technology. What do you like men stole the people was the expectation that every day that a human being live henceforth would be a day lived in the direction of progress constantly moving forward towards a better world. Now one thing that's absolutely clear is that when it comes to delivering on a lot of these promises credit where credit's due the enlightenment did what it set out to do and it did it pretty well. Not many people question the level of impact the enlightenment hat because quite frankly if it produced little to no results not only what they're not be as many naysayers, but there be no reason to delineate between pre-modern and modern if we weren't talking about two very distinct eras. Make no mistake.

00:01:51
The enlightenment delivered like an essential worker here science was all the rage in the early Enlightenment. And when people saw the kind of results it was getting there was a Feeling by some that maybe it would be a good idea to apply this new type of scientific rationality to everything scientific rationality leads to efficiency and accuracy. We know this why not have a scientific approach to the government scientific approach to the economy a scientific approach to understanding human cognition. Why not have a scientific understanding of the historical forces that dry Society or a scientific understanding of how people interact with each other within a society what we're talking about here is a movement at the end of the 19th century that will eventually become known as the birth of the social sciences.

00:02:39
One of them being sociology and one of the founding members of it was a guy were going to be talking about today Max Vapor don't you be said right off the bat that this focus on hyper efficiency when it comes to our social institutions not always been the way that we do things. For example in the pre-modern world generally speaking. They did the best they could when it came to efficiency, but a more primary concern of theirs was to put together a society that endured what combination of things has worked for us in the past. This is why they were so adamant about tradition Max Weber would say that these pre-modern societies were like little art projects. There were a bunch of different parts cobbled together into something that worked and this entire process of applying scientific rationality to every piece of the world to try to make it the most efficient this process breaks the society's down into their component parts. In other words scientific rationality is not looking at society as a whole in trying to make it more efficient each piece of sass.

00:03:39
Heidi ends up having its own rationality when scientific rationality looks like government it has its own unique rationality and unique set of premises that is beholden to the economy was the same way the Arts had their own goals that they were going for all of this in an attempt to make each of these respective fields and many others for that matter as efficient as possible. That's what the goal was. Now more generally Weber saw the whole project the prime to use scientific rationality to make everything is efficient as possible to know everything about the natural world to be able to offer total freedom and equality for every person in the world. This was ultimately Humanity's attempt at what he called a sort of world Mastery. We want to master the world now neighbor might say you hear the term World mastery.

00:04:28
Doesn't really sound too bad. I mean who wouldn't want to live in a world where we've mastered it who wouldn't want to live in a world where every day that passes is civilization progressing further and further into a level of existence. No human being has ever experienced before then again, he would say think of the weight that you live under that also no human being has ever experienced think of the weight of feeling like every day that you live needs to be a step forward. This is not the way most societies throughout history of felt that thing I did right there were no matter how good something sounds at first or maybe unintended side effects that necessarily go along with it that's going to be common in this episode cuz it's a Hallmark of vapors work being a sociologist at the end of the 19th century. One of his primary goal was going to be looking at the lives of the people of modernity. He's going to consider no matter how good it sounds when you talk about all that. The enlightenment is produced technology efficiency equality knowledge freedom.

00:05:28
How has mastering the world in these areas created brand new challenges for the people that have to live in this present era that's going to be one of those big questions. So I want to start with a quality cuz it's obviously an issue that's on everyone's mind lately. But before we get started there a couple of very important disclaimers. I want to make that are relevant for the entire episode but particularly relevant for the subject of a quality just cuz of all that's going on. First of all when Max Weber says something like we had progressed since the enlightenment when it comes to the subject of equality when he says that he is by no means saying that we have reached some sort of in point in that area this same point actually applies to many of the things you might be produced take knowledge for instance.

00:06:13
That we have undeniably made progress when it comes to our scientific understanding the universe since the beginning of the Enlightenment, but there's obviously still an enormous amount of work that needs to be done in that area take technological progress. We definitely come a long way since the days of the early Enlightenment when it comes to the technology we have at our disposal but clearly we are not at some sort of endpoint hear clearly. There's always more progress if we can make in that area if we dedicate resources to doing it, well same thing with a quality when you compare the wife of the average person living in medieval Europe with the life of the average person living during Vapors time still a lot of work that needs to be done of course, but we've been generally moving in the right direction. So if over the course of the episode you hear Max baber say things that sound critical of the idea of equality. Please understand that he's not making the case against the idea that we should be making our society's more equal. He's ultimately weighing the pros and cons of pre-modern approaches and modern ones that as we continue marching forward towards making our society.

00:07:13
As equal as we possibly can for everyone in society their will undeniably be great things that come from it for Vapor. That's a sociologist. He also wants to point out that you need challenges. The people of modernity are going to have to figure out how to deal with along the way as we inevitably move closer and closer to that goal. So what are some new things to people in modern to you're going to have to experience as a result of us making a quality one of our major priorities will Max baber would say that with increased levels of equality within our social institutions the more truly equal everyone. It's the closer we get to that ultimate goal. We will always have to deal with two things one a higher level of dehumanization and to increased levels of bureaucracy the classic example of this you can find in tons of essays on favors work. It's a think I have things work at the Department of Licensing for the DMV.

00:08:03
What is the first thing you do when you walk inside the DMV? You take a number and you sit down until your number is called outside the doors of the DMV. You are an individual person. You have friends. You have a family you have a Social Status values all those things but inside the doors of the DMV, you become just a number now. Let's say the reason you went to the DMV that day was because of some sort of emergency situation. What's a your mom was sick need someone to take care of her. She lives Upstate. Your license is expired. You got to get it reinstated. So you can drive up there and take care of her. Now. Let's say you go up to the counter and the person behind the counter tells you that there is a 48-hour waiting. For them to be able to renew your license.

00:08:45
There are serious number of people out there that would lament the fact that the DMV wouldn't look at their individual situation and make an exception for them. Maybe put their form at the top of the pile one of the back real quick and fix my license right now while I'm right here, why can't this person behind the counter? Just treat me like a human being why can't they smile at me? Why can't they say? How you doing in the DMV on this nice Tuesday after I'm so sorry to hear about your mother here. Let me help you out. Why can't this person take things on a case-by-case basis? Why must I be a number instead of a name Max Weber would say so in other words what you want is a privilege status.

00:09:27
Preferential treatment over everyone else some people are more charismatic or good looking than other people. What if the person behind the counter just like people with blue eyes more than brown eyes. What would happen at that point? Is anyone born with brown eyes would instantly be part of some underprivileged class. It doesn't get their form put at the top of the pile for their entire lives because of something they were born with this completely out of their control. How is that people would say that as are imperative for the greater and greater levels of equality progresses. So too must the citizens of modernity learn to deal with just being a fellow number and not some special human being. Once again, these great things that we want to implement in our society is often come with a price. The question is can people think of themselves a little less paid that price and be consistent in our values at citizens rather than individuals nevertheless. This was a new thing that the people of modernity had to deal with that the people of prematurity never had to consider.

00:10:26
Pick another example of something the enlightenment is produced greater levels of freedom for the average person. Now, once again, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone living in today's world. That would have a problem with trying to progressively find better and better ways to make people as free as is prudent, but they were would say consider the potential downsides to having the societal imperative of Freedom. See if you were living in a pre modern society in the Middle Ages from the moment you are born you may know a lot of things about what you're going to be for the rest of your life. You may know you're never going to hold political office. You never going to start a business fact is you may know you're going to be in that Village for the rest of your life working the land hearing to the will of God whose decree you were born into rather than chose. You may know pretty much kill your significant other is going to be you may know the answer to whether or not you're going to have kids, but for all this lack of Freedom that may sound horrible to people living in modernity.

00:11:24
Vapor would say in this position you would at least be able to know who you are your identity at. The very least would not be something that ever caused you too much stress mascot to modernity. How many people have you met that agonize for years trying to figure out the answer to these enormously complex life questions. See when we seek to guarantee as much Freedom as possible to our fellow citizens undeniably many great things that are going to come out of that but the flip side to being able to go anywhere be anything. Do anyting is it now it is your exclusive responsibility to choose from the billions of different decisions at your disposal and also to constantly worry about whether or not you made the right choice. Once again, let's keep going on our journey. Let's make people as free as we possibly can in our society's but they were saying this is also something that people in the journey are going to have to learn to deal with along the way.

00:12:19
Let's look at another example technological progress again. Most people would see increased levels of Technology as a good thing because of all the different things that allows us to do not to mention the lies that allows us to save but Vapor would say consider the fact that as technology progresses, it produces a sense of alienation when it comes to our connection to the world around us. Here's what he means the nature of technology. Is it the current state of Technology always produces the next generation of Technology. We didn't have better technology that used to produce the Next Generation the speed of technological progress increases as the level of sophistication increases in the technology that builds it you could compare this to a snowball rolling downhill constantly picking up speed and getting larger and larger.

00:13:06
Don't consider what a new technology does when it displaces an old technology. The older piece of technology is rendered obsolete which in turn means for the people of modernity that pieces of our lives are then rendered. Obsolete Let me Give an example say you're a computer programmer imagine you went to school for years to learn how to code using a particular coding language. Now imagine you graduate get a job in two years later a brand new coding language becomes a standard and it's clear to everyone including you that this new language is just clearly better than the one you are currently using. I can do things more efficiently than that old language could ever even aspire to know on the surface. This is just the world getting an upgrade technology is progressing and making people's lives easier, but think about it from the perspective of the programmer this person spent years of their life essentially writing digital poetry into special language that they speak.

00:14:03
Dave Express themselves with it. They took things that were at one point just pictures and their minds and created it in reality with this language whatever connection they had to the real world was made possible by that language is gone. Now in other words, they have one less thing to feel connected to in the world. But the thing is this isn't just the case with computer languages their countless examples of this picture not being able to watch old home movies because nobody sells VCRs any more picture going back to your childhood home to see the second that you grew up in only to find that it was replaced by high-rise condominiums for some new house with far better structural Integrity because construction methods of improved drastically since you were a kid what we love about technology is that it subverts the current world as it is what the flip side to that is it often times. It is subverting the things that have meaning to us and this whole process is only speeding up by the way.

00:14:59
And as the rate of change becomes faster and faster, it becomes next to impossible for anything to endure in this world long enough for us to feel any sentimental value the world starts to change so fast. We can't even locate pieces of ourselves within it. This is another thing that people of modernity are going to have to learn to deal with

00:15:18
let's talk about one more thing the enlightenment promised and absolutely delivered on increased levels of efficiency. The idea was that we could take scientific rationality. And in the same way. We applied it to the task of trying to understand the universe better. We could apply to things like agriculture the economy government the farming of animals manufacturing of consumer goods. There was a sense in which there wasn't any process that can be made more efficient compared to how it was done in the pre-modern world. If only we look at it scientifically and Trust the numbers and data. No keep in mind if you were living in the pre-modern world. These things are usually carried out by yielding to tradition good portion of the time there are rituals and ceremonies that people come up with over the years that not only commemorate the whole process but allow for human beings to feel a sense of connection to these aspects of maintaining their society. But in the modern world Vapor would say we're making things as efficient as possible has become the chief priority these Traditions ceremonies and rituals.

00:16:18
Become just unnecessary in efficiencies to make things as efficient as possible oftentimes. We need to get rid of any sort of pesky human feelings that get in the way so that the numbers can look as good as possible.

00:16:31
So we talked about several examples of what Weber thinks our new challenges. The people of modernity are going to have to learn to deal with what do all these sacrifices we've been talking about add up to.

00:16:42
Vapor would say that every one of these things we've been talking about is an example of humanity trying to apply what he calls rationalization to the component parts of a society all of this in an attempt to eventually achieving World Mastery science and rationalization is undeniably great at doing all these things were asking it to do the question the plagues the people of modernity is when everyday needs to be a day moving forward towards progress no civilization has ever gone before when you try to make everything as rational and efficient as he possibly can do we inadvertently end up creating societies were people work at an extremely efficient workplace. They have a sweet iPhone 16 X Plus Max plus they have a billion options at their disposal in terms of what they can be. They know more about the universe than any other human being that ever lived before do we create societies where people have all these things but feel utterly disc.

00:17:42
connected and completely empty inside

00:17:44
Beaver says that to live in modernity is like living inside of an iron cage. He describes the people of modernity and one of his most famous quotes ever. He says quote. We are Specialists without Spirit sensuous without heart is nobody imagines that it's a pain to level of civilization never before achieved in quote at a certain level. We're fooling ourselves to Weber. We think we've achieved the level of civilization that so Advanced because we've learned to understand the external world around us and make a super-efficient profit and loss sheet. But often times when you have this progressively enormous understanding of the natural world around you when you aim for World Mastery, the only thing it really starts to do for the average person is demystify the world as he says,

00:18:33
What do you means is people in former societies have been capable of looking at the universe around them and reveling in the wondrous nature of it, but rationalization as a process the longer we make it one of our chief priorities. It removes the mystery out of human life, which is again on one hand the exact reason we love it. We're trying to do this, but on the other hand it progressively distant chance the universe that we live in for people once again for Weber, there's pros and cons to every strategy and we would do well to consider both sides of things before we ever decide to implement something new.

00:19:08
Now it's with this understanding of the work of Max Weber that I think it's important to Pivot and begin talking about another thinker from around this time Henri bergson, simply put just to pick one of many entry points into the upcoming series will be doing on simply put Berks and thought that we as human beings try way too hard to relate to everything in the universe spatially when we look at the universe around us and we try to understand it better. We almost always begin by asking questions. Like what are the special properties of this thing? What are the three spatial Dimensions that Define this thing? What's its length width and height? What's spatially definable material is this thing made out of what's the volume of this thing? What's the mass? What's the relationship between these two things that we have the special definitions of how did they spatially interact?

00:19:58
But all this spatial bookkeeping eventually only leads us down the road if they can get to further understand these things. We need to break things up into their component parts, in other words understanding things deeper means breaking space down into smaller pieces for us to examine more closely but birds it's going to say that there is no reason to assume that special considerations are necessarily the way the universe should be broken up and under hood. In fact, he's at all this talk about space greatly Shades the way we see everything about the universe around us and it's limiting us famous example of this that we'll talk about briefly now is how we view the concept of Time. How do we typically view this concept of time in a scientific World obsessed with measurements and defining everything spatially?

00:20:44
Well, we break down time into tiny increments seemingly infinite succession of present moments seconds minutes and hours. We love this way of looking at time because it allows us to continue using the same methods. We used to try to understand everything else. We look at in the universe we can measure time we can rely on its consistency. Maybe you can come up with an equation that can predict it we can think about time in terms of visual units all stacked up next to each other and neatly into the Horizon. But Burton would say this isn't how time works time is a process much like when you're in the movie theater on your watching a movie you don't experience what's on the screen as tens of thousands of little snapshots being run through a projector behind you. The story is just unfolding into the future when you think about what it is, you're experiencing when you're watching that movie. There's a sense in which trying to break it down into a bunch of different present moments all lined up next to each other misses out on something crucial about our Human Experience.

00:21:45
Time is a process consider another example of scientist or mathematician tried to measure levels of sadness in people say to people go into a lab and they're in a competition and they're trying to find out who is more sad between the two of them that we both say I am really really sad. They both right there sadness levels 10 out of 10, we could give these people questionnaires. We could ask a million questions would you do brain scans all day long, but how can we ever really scientifically quantify if this person is more sad or that person is more sad what measuring stick can we use to get to the bottom of how much suffering they feel in their internal subjective Human Experience?

00:22:31
More than that could we ever really pin down a person's level of sadness just by measuring it is though, it works that way as though I experience life through the static level of sadness that doesn't change or are these things more like processes waves that are constantly unfolding into the future and unknown directions.

00:22:50
As important as understanding the external world is this internal world is just as much a domain for philosophy to explore. These questions are just as much a part of existence as the volume and weight of a slab of limestone.

00:23:06
Berg's and thinks that when you look at things like time or internal experience or thousands of other things we'll talk about me upcoming series. When you look at these is start to understand that the fundamental building blocks of the universe may be processes rather than anything that static and easily measurable the best metaphor I've seen use to describe. This is a common one and it goes like this picture you're out in the desert and you come across a giant sand dune on a fairly windy day that sand dune is the universe and you represent Humanity's attempt so far to try to understand it now picture you try to measure it it right away it you pull out your measuring tape and get started and there's a sense in which by the time you've even gotten done taking the first measurement that sand dune is a different thing than when you began.

00:23:54
Halfway through that sand dune is transformed into a completely different thing. You could be out in that desert for a billion years trying your hardest to get the measurements and pin down what exactly that sand dune is and still fail through no fault of your own. That sand dune is a process not a static thing that can never be measured. This idea would form the basis of what would eventually become known as process philosophy and I'll explain more on next episode. Thank you for listening. I'll talk to you next time. Stay safe.
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