Savitri Era of those who adore, Om Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

Friday, November 27, 2015

There’s a macho aspect to Žižek

Wednesday, November 25, 2015 — Adam Kotsko
Žižek’s recent remarks on the refugee crisis have provoked considerable ire in online leftist circles. 

Žižek always names the specific Western values in question, and they are values that most on the left agree with: democracy, equality, and secularism. Of course, the meaning of all of these concepts is a site of significant contestation—or at least it should be. Many leftists are eager to invoke ideals of democracy and national sovereignty when the E.U. is dictating economic policy to member governments, but those same ideals are rejected as incipiently fascist when it is a question of determining who should be allowed to enter a given country. Such sheer opportunism represents an abdication of the task of articulating a genuinely leftist conception of the powerful master-signifier known as democracy.

If you think that the master-signifier of “Western” is not worth fighting for, I respect that—but it is very much in play in contemporary debates, and I see no reason for the left to unilaterally disarm in the struggle over a powerful and (to most people in Western countries) broadly positive symbol. Every cultural tradition is multiple and varied, and the Western traditions did in fact lead to the development of imperialism and fascism and Marxism and anarchism. The specific form of secular religious tolerance practiced in most Western countries is a contingent historical development that originated in contingent historical conditions in Europe, and as such they are naturally imperfect. At the same time, the critiques of those practices that want to remove their de facto pro-Christian bias amount to pitting one aspect of the Western cultural heritage against another. Does the corollary of recognizing the value of other cultures have to be the absolute rejection of everything stained by the taint of a Western genealogy?

Where the responses descend into the worst incoherence is on precisely these points of cultural difference. Often we seem to be in the vicinity of an ideological contradiction akin to Žižek’s famous example of the fantasy Mexican immigrant who is simultaneously a lazy benefit-scrounger and a workaholic who is stealing all our jobs. Here the contradiction is that we must respect cultural differences—but without ever specifying what those differences are. Furthermore, it’s insulting to Muslims to claim that they can’t assimilate… to our utterly worthless, oppressive culture.

This incoherence shows that leftists are stuck within the same West vs. the Rest dyad as the conservatives they denounce—it’s just that the left has inverted it. The real struggle, namely that against capitalism, runs diagonally through all of those cultural divides.

Adam Kotsko Says:

Having given Voyou’s question some thought: yes, that’s a commonplace in popular discourse, but Zizek is saying that intolerance is unavoidable as long as capitalism persists. I don’t know that we have time to abolish capitalism and still accomodate the refugees in a timely manner.
Emily Says:

There’s a macho aspect to Zizek. He’s a tough guy who is able to look reality straight on without flinching, without being confused or scared. He is willing to boldly act and courageously take on the burden of real freedom, alone, without help from anyone. He isn’t weak or hypocritical like the pathetic liberals he holds in such contempt. He’s willing to get his hands dirty and send his enemies to the Gulag. Is that also part of the over-identification strategy?

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