The majority of people spoil their lives by an unhealthy and exaggerated altruism – are forced, indeed, so to spoil them. They find themselves surrounded by hideous poverty, by hideous ugliness, by hideous starvation. It is inevitable that they should be strongly moved by all this. The emotions of man are stirred more quickly than man’s intelligence; and, as I pointed out some time ago in an article on the function of criticism, it is much more easy to have sympathy with suffering than it is to have sympathy with thought. Accordingly, with admirable, though misdirected intentions, they very seriously and very sentimentally set themselves to the task of remedying the evils that they see. But their remedies do not cure the disease: they merely prolong it. Indeed, their remedies are part of the disease. They try to solve the problem of poverty, for instance, by keeping the poor alive; or, in the case of a very advanced school, by amusing the poor. But this is not a solution: it is an aggravation of the difficulty. The proper aim is to try and reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty will be impossible. And the altruistic virtues have really prevented the carrying out of this aim. Just as the worst slave-owners were those who were kind to their slaves, and so prevented the horror of the system being realised by those who suffered from it, and understood by those who contemplated it, so, in the present state of things in England, the people who do most harm are the people who try to do most good; and at last we have had the spectacle of men who have really studied the problem and know the life – educated men who live in the East End – coming forward and imploring the community to restrain its altruistic impulses of charity, benevolence, and the like. They do so on the ground that such charity degrades and demoralises. They are perfectly right. Charity creates a multitude of sins. There is also this to be said. It is immoral to use private property in order to alleviate the horrible evils that result from the institution of private property. It is both immoral and unfair.
— Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man under Socialism
Melange. – The usual argument of tolerance, that all human beings, all races are equal, is a boomerang. It opens itself up to easy rebuttal by the senses, and even the most compelling anthropological evidence for the fact that Jews are not a race at all, will in the case of a pogrom hardly change anything at all, since the totalitarians know very well who they want to kill and who not. If one wished to proclaim the equality of all those who bear human features as an ideal, instead of establishing it as a fact, this would be of little help. The abstract utopia would be all too easily reconcilable with the most devious tendencies of society. That all human beings would resemble each other, is exactly what suits this latter. It regards factual or imagined differences as marks of shame, which reveal, that one has not brought things far enough; that something somewhere has been left free of the machine, is not totally determined by the totality. The technics of the concentration camps was designed to turn prisoners into guards, the murdered into murderers. Racial difference was absolutely sublated, so that one could abolish it absolutely, if only in the sense that nothing different survived anymore. An emancipated society however would be no unitary state, but the realization of the generality in the reconciliation of differences. A politics which took this seriously should therefore not propagate even the idea of the abstract equality of human beings. They should rather point to the bad equality of today, the identity of film interests with weapons interests, and think of the better condition as the one in which one could be different without fear. If one attested to blacks [Neger], that they are exactly like whites, while they are nevertheless not so, then one would secretly wrong them all over again. This humiliates them in a benevolent manner by a standard which, under the pressure of the system, they cannot attain, and moreover whose attainment would be a dubious achievement. The spokespersons of unitary tolerance are always prepared to turn intolerantly against any group which does not fit in: the obstinate enthusiasm for blacks meshes seamlessly with the outrage over obnoxious Jews. The “melting pot” [in English in original] was an institution of free-wheeling industrial capitalism. The thought of landing in it conjures up martyrdom, not democracy.
— Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia
Table and bed. – As soon as human beings divorce, even the most kind-hearted, friendly and educated ones, a cloud of dust enshrouds and daubs everything it touches. It is as if the sphere of intimacy, the inattentive trust of the common life is transformed into a poisonous substance, once the relationships are broken, in which they rested. What is intimate between human beings is compassion, patience, refuge for personal characteristics. If it is distorted, then the moment of weakness therein hoves into view, and during divorces such a turn towards the outside is unavoidable. Things which were once signs of loving care, pictures of reconciliation, make themselves suddenly self-standing as values and show their evil, cold and pernicious side. After separations, professors break into the dwellings of their wives, in order to carry off objects from the desk, and well-appointed ladies denounce their men for tax-evasion. If marriage afforded one of the last possibilities of constructing humane cells in the inhuman generality, then the generality revenges itself in its disassembly [Zerfall], by taking control of that which was apparently an exception, the alienated social orders of justice and property which underlies it and which pours scorn on those who thought themselves secure from it. Precisely that which is safeguarded turns into the cruel requisite of being sacrificed. The more “generously” the lovebirds originally behaved with each other, the less they thought of ownership and obligation, the more horrid the humiliation. For it is even in the realm of the juridically undefined, in quarrel, defamation, in the endless conflict of interests flourishes. Everything shadowy, on whose ground the institution of marriage is raised, the barbaric access of the man to the property and labor of the woman, the not less barbaric sexual oppression, which tendentially compels the man to take lifelong responsibility for someone with whom he once took pleasure in sleeping with – this crawls out of the cellars and fundaments into the open, when the house is demolished. Those who once experienced the good generality in the restricted belonging to each other, are now compelled by the society to consider themselves scoundrels and to learn, that they are the same as the generality of unrestricted nastiness outside. The generality proves itself in divorce as the mark of shame of the particular, because the particular, marriage, is not capable of realizing the true generality in this society.
— Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia
Grassy seat. – The relationship to parents is undergoing a sad, shadowy change. They have lost their awe through their economic powerlessness. Once we rebelled against their insistence on the reality principle, the sobriety which was always ready to recoil into the rage against those who do not renounce. Today however we find ourselves facing a presumably younger generation, which is in every one of its impulses unbearably more grown up than the parents ever were; which has renounced, before things ever came to a conflict, and which derives their authority from that, implacably authoritarian and unshakeable. Perhaps one always experienced the parental generation as harmless and disempowered, once the latter’s physical energy subsided, while one’s own generation seemed to be threatened by youth: in the antagonistic society, the relationship of the generations is also one of competition, behind which stands naked violence. Today however things are regressing to a condition which does not know the Oedipus complex, but only the slaying of the father. One of the most telling symbolic atrocities of the Nazis was the killing of the extremely old. Such a climate produces a belated and rueful understanding with one’s parents, similar to the one between condemned prisoners, disturbed only by the fear that we, ourselves powerless, may not be able to care for them some day as they cared for us, when they owned something. The violence which is inflicted on them makes us forget the violence they committed. Even their rationalizations, the once-hated lies with which they sought to justify their particular interest as the general one, show an inkling of the truth, the urge towards the reconciliation of conflicts, which the upbeat successor generation happily denies. Even the faded, inconsequential and self-doubting Spirit [Geist] of the elders is more approachable than the quick-witted stupidity of junior. Even the neurotic peculiarities and malformations of the older adults represent character, that which is humanly achieved, compared with pathic health, infantilism raised to a norm. One realizes in horror that when one previously clashed with one’s parents, because they represented the world, one was secretly the mouthpiece of a still worse world against the merely bad. Unpolitical attempts to break out of the bourgeois family usually only lead to deeper entanglement in such, and sometimes it seems as if the disastrous germ-cell of society, the family, is simultaneously the nourishing germ-cell of the uncompromising will for a different one. What disintegrates, along with the family – so long as the system continues – is not just the most effective agency of the bourgeoisie, but also the resistance which indeed oppressed the individual, but also strengthened the latter, if not indeed producing such. The end of the family cripples the counter-forces. The dawning collectivistic social order [Ordnung] is the mockery of one without class: it liquidates, along with the bourgeois, at the same time the utopia, which at one time drew nourishment from the mother’s love.
— Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia: Reflections From Damaged Life
Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory nature takes its revenge on us. Each victory, it is true, in the first place brings about the results we expected, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel the first. The people who, in Mesopotamia, Greece, Asia Minor and elsewhere, destroyed the forests to obtain cultivable land, never dreamed that by removing along with the forests the collecting centres and reservoirs of moisture they were laying the basis for the present forlorn state of those countries. When the Italians of the Alps used up the pine forests on the southern slopes, so carefully cherished on the northern slopes, they had no inkling that by doing so they were cutting at the roots of the dairy industry in their region; they had still less inkling that they were thereby depriving their mountain springs of water for the greater part of the year, and making it possible for them to pour still more furious torrents on the plains during the rainy seasons. Those who spread the potato in Europe were not aware that with these farinaceous tubers they were at the same time spreading scrofula. Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature — but that we, with flesh, blood and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly.
— Friedrich Engels