Norm says false consciousness has acquired a bad name because of the way it has been used politically in defence of authoritarian politics. This is true, but irrelevant. We should judge ideas by their empirical validity, not by their consequences. People either have false consciousness or not, whether you like it or not.
But I’m not happy with Ms Glaser’s view either. She says:
Members of the upper echelons of our society act against their interests too. Lots of doctors drink too much, and bankers spend their cash on tat.
This threatens to reduce the idea of false consciousness to a mere matter of taste. One person’s “tat” is another’s art. It surely is not helpful to ascribe false consciousness to anyone who lacks our fine aesthetic judgments.
My bigger gripe, though, is that Ms Glaser seems to equate false consciousness with being “hoodwinked and manipulated by political and corporate elites.” This, though, is not the only way in which people acquire “false” beliefs. The can arise from systematic cognitive biases. Here, for example, are four ways in which such biases might generate a mindset excessively supportive of capitalist inequalities:
1. The status quo bias leads people to prefer existing evils; there’s a reason why “better the devil you know” is an old saying.
3. The just world illusion leads people to look for, and find, justifications for injustice.
4. A mix of the halo effect and outcome bias causes people to under-rate the role of luck and over-rate the role of agency when thinking about successful people. This leads to excessive deference towards rich businessmen.
But does all this amount to false consciousness? Not necessarily, for two reasons.
First, to know what false consciousness is, we must know what true consciousness is. And this we do not know. It is, of course, another cognitive bias (overconfidence) to think that true consciousness is what we happen to believe.
Secondly, just because beliefs are irrational does not suffice to show that they are wrong. It might be - given that a viable alternative to capitalism is not (yet) on the table - that people are right to support capitalism, even if they do so for the wrong reasons.
There is, though, a paradox in all this. On the one hand, research into cognitive biases has been fashionable in recent years. And yet on the other, as Eliane says, “false consciousness has disappeared from political debate.” Do the above reasons suffice to explain this paradox, or is something else going on?
Updated: link to Norm's post added.