Understanding as a Mode of Resistance

Most everyone knows by now that it was the late Marshall McLuhan who told us that “the medium is the message” and who also first alerted us to the emergence of the “global village.”  He is widely recognized as a communication and media theorist of abiding significance and among the most astute observers of our technological age.  Not surprisingly, in its 1993 debut issue, Wired magazine adopted McLuhan as its patron saint .

Depending on how familiar one is with McLuhan, however, the following exchange from an interview he gave in 1966 may be a bit surprising:

Fulford:  What kind of a world would you rather live in?  Is there a period in the past or a possible period in the future you’d rather be in?

McLuhan:  No, I’d rather be in any period at all as long as people are going to leave it alone for a while.

Fulford:  But they’re not going to, are they?

McLuhan:  No, and so the only alternative is to understand everything that is going on, and then neutralize it as much as possible, turn off as many buttons as you can, and frustrate them as much as you can.  I am resolutely opposed to all innovation, all change, but I am determined to understand what’s happening because I don’t choose just to sit and let the juggernaut roll over me.  Many people seem to think that if you talk about something recent, you’re in favor of it.  The exact opposite is true in my case.  Anything I talk about is almost certainly to be something I’m resolutely against, and it seems to me the best way of opposing it is to understand it, and then you know where to turn off the button.

(Understanding Me:  Lectures and Interviews, 101-102)

7 thoughts on “Understanding as a Mode of Resistance

  1. It’s true that one needs to know one’s “enemy” to conquer, or resist, him. It’s interesting, however, that McLuhan seems to admit that he has opposed something BEFORE understanding it.

    Very often we make the same mistake, only to change our opinions about the thing to which we were “resolutely opposed” after learning more about it.

    Very thought provoking. Thanks!

  2. He makes a valid point. If you are against something, it’s often important to know all you can about it if you want to defeat it.

    He seems to be dismissing all change, though. I understand the argument implicit in his words that change does not equal progress, that not all change is good change, but that doesn’t mean we should give up change entirely.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s