As we have covered in class previously, in Eros and Civilization Marcuse makes a distinction between surplus and basic repression. That is, repression that is necessary for domination and repression which is necessary for humans to live in society (Eros and Civilization, 35). However, it seems that in our reading for today Marcuse takes a different view. In this essay he seems to lean, in "Some Social Implications of Modern Technology" more towards the position taken by Horkheimer and Adorno whereby we are always inescapably dominated by the systems in which we exist. In particular I am thinking of Marcuse's discussion of the matter-of-fact attitude. Marcuse states (referencing Lewis Mumford) that in the machine age
Man [can be characterized] as an 'objective personality,' one who has learned to transfer all subjective spontaneity to the machinery which he serves, to subordinate his life to the 'matter-of-factness' of a world in which the machine is the factor and he the factum. Individual distinctions in the aptitude, insight and knowledge are transformed into different quanta of skill and training, to be coordinated at any time within the common framework of standardized performances. (Social Implications, 44)
Marcuse argues that the rise of modern technology causes human thought to become standardized and mechanized. That is to say, creativity gives way to coordination of thought with pre-established procedures. Thinking then seems to be transformed in to certain "skills and training" which are in line with these given ends. Marcuse provides an example when he talks about what one experiences when he or she drives on the highway. The following are some statements which he makes with regards to this point, each of which comes from page 46 from the "Some Social Implications" essay.
 The countryside is shaped and organized by the highway: what one finds en route is a byproduct or annex of the highway. Numerous signs and posters tell the traveler what to do and think; they even request his attention to the beauties of nature or the hallmarks of history. Others have done the thinking for him, and perhaps for the better.
 And all of this is indeed for his benefit, safety and comfort; he receives what he wants... He will fare best who follows its directions, subordinating his spontaneity to the anonymous wisdom which ordered everything for him.
 There is no personal escape from the apparatus which has mechanized and standardized the world.
In manipulating the machine, man learns that obedience to the directions is the only way to obtain desired results... There is no room for autonomy.
I think these statements bring out a certain ambivalence which I find difficult to place. In  he seems to affirm that highway signs are an example of something affects our actions deterministically, while also suggesting that this is a good thing. This can be seen also in  where he posits that such determination of our action is for the benefit of our "safety and comfort." However, in  and  he seems much more pessimistic stating there is "no escape from the apparatus" and the even more radical statement that "there is no room for autonomy." In these passages this man seems to be a victim of the inescapable domination of the patriarchal highway system which dictates his route. My question is which of these groups of statements ( and , or  and ) should we take as more seriously espousing his view.  and  are more in line with what we saw in Eros and Civilization where we need some "basic repression" to ensure that society runs smoothly. However,  and  seem to suggest a view closer to that of Horkheimer and Adorno, that we are inescapably trapped by the system we participate in.
I think interpretation of these statements requires knowing (i) how serious is Marcuse when he says that, in the "Social Implications" essay, these types of repression are beneficial and (ii) what is meant by autonomy. With regard to (i), if Marcuse is being serious when he speaks of these benefits then that would be in accordance with his view in Eros and Civilization. However, reading him in this way is difficult given the amount of time he spends in this essay talking about how such restrictions remove even the possibility for autonomy (which presumably is a good thing, although Marcuse could avoid the issue if he then stated that nothing is wrong with having no freedom). Therefore, it may also be possible to think he is being ironic with this statement. That he is pointing out the fact that we think such systems are beneficial, but are not generally cognizant of their dominating effects. If that is the case then it leads us to concern (ii). We need to wonder what sort of notion of freedom, or agency, that Marcuse is working with. If it really is the case that he thinks the highway system is an example of something which eliminates autonomy, then I think his notion of agency is fundamentally flawed. First, assuming that he is not trying to enter the more general debate of free will/determinism which I don't believe he is, the account is factually flawed. One can drive off of the highway, or subvert any traffic rule, at any time. This is not to say that such actions can be performed without consequence; however, we need to keep in mind that  makes an extremely strong claim. He states that "there is no room for autonomy." Thus, despite the fact that one may face legal consequences for refusing to following the rules of the road the choice is still present, and as such there actually is some autonomy (again, assuming he is not concerning himself with the more general free will debate).
Secondly, I would find such an account flawed because it seems to distort the very purpose of autonomy in the first place. Generally, we do not wish to be free so that we can perform actions which will harm us, or make our lives unnecessarily difficult. Even if it was the case that the highway system necessarily prevented someone from taking an alternative route, what would be one's motivation for doing so? It seems strange to lament a highway system which allows one to pass easily through a mountain range, without having to expend arduous labor in climbing over it. The larger point here is that for a coherent theory of agency (one in which the agent has some orientation and does not just act arbitrarily) the actor needs some context which guides his or her action and thought. An agent which is deprived of all context of choice cannot compare one option to another, cannot weigh costs and benefits, and in effect cannot actually make a decision. However we would describe such an actor it does not seem that we could describe him or her as autonomous. This is not to say that every system provides for agency in a beneficial way, or that there are not ways in which these systems restrict our autonomy. I would point us to Freud when he noted that advances of modern technology often restrict us in ways which we did not foresee or intend, or Habermas who claimed the welfare state, while intended to restrict capitalism, actually upholds it. The point is rather that the extreme view that all such systems eliminate the possibility for autonomy seems incoherent.
Whether or not Marcuse holds this extreme view I cannot be sure, because as I have stated he seems ambivalent with regards to this point. Certainly, it is reasonable, even perhaps obvious, that social structures affect human thought. The rise of modern technology shapes the manner in which we interact with the world in constantly evolving ways. However, in agreeing with this claim I am never sure exactly what I am assenting to. As I said it seems obvious that technology and social structures shape the way we think, but it does not seem to follow from this claim that autonomy is impossible.