I recently came across Zizek’s (with apologies for the inappropriate orthography) post on The Philosophical Salon, in which he defends himself from tweeters and comment sectioners. I’m not terribly interested in the specifics of his rebuttal, except to say that it’s a fascinating state of affairs when the likes of Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift seem far better equipped to defend themselves than Slavoj Zizek. “The medium is the massage” and all that.
As always, though, Zizek has a way of turning the perfectly intuitive into something worth arguing. I’m referring to the following passage from Part Two of his defense:
The stance that sustains these tweet rejoinders is a mixture of self-righteous Political Correctness and brutal sarcasm: the moment anything that sounds problematic is perceived, a reply is automatically triggered—usually a PC commonplace. Although critics like to emphasize how they reject normativity (“the imposed heterosexual norm,” etc.), their stance itself is one of ruthless normativity, denouncing every minimal deviation from the PC dogma as “transphobia,” or “Fascism,” or whatever. Such a tweet culture, combining official tolerance and openness with extreme intolerance towards actually different views, simply renders critical thinking impossible.
Again, I have nothing to say about the specifics of this, as I have neither the expertise nor the ethos. But in general terms, he points to something I’ve been struggling with for a while: How does one separate an authentic political movement from just another iteration of populism? Although populism goes hand-in-hand with reactionary thinking and so mostly afflicts those who identify with the Right, that’s not always the case. Badiou has devoted much of his career to figuring how to draw the distinction between a properly transformative Event and a reactionary episode. However, Zizek points to something much simpler. Perhaps populism is just a multitude with an orthodoxy (which of course is a contradiction).
Or maybe I’m just looking to preserve my own ego, for instance, for having been a wheaty Bernie Sanders supporter without being a chaffy BernieBro.
Republicans spent the first few nights of their convention warming the cockles of their Republican hearts: Obama wants to take away your guns and give them to ‘illegal aliens’ so they can shoot your children. Obama is trying to atone for America’s greatness by giving Iran nuclear weapons so they can destroy Israel. Hillary personally issued a ‘stand down’ order at Benghazi because she wanted to respect the cultural sensitivities of the terrorists.
I’m of course making stuff up. But so were they.
Still, none of what was said in those first nights was new. And it’s not as if that stuff was only introduced with the Trump campaign. Republican leaders have been dealing that ideological cocaine for decades. The only difference now is how many of them are actually high on their own supply. The really new and surprising stuff came on the last night of the convention. Before the man himself got up on stage to bring us all back to a comfortable level of fear and acrimony, the night’s speeches read like a progressive’s wish list: paid maternity leave, equal pay for women, holding corporations accountable for bad behavior. The list goes on.
People have been decrying the fascistic tendencies of the Trump campaign since its golden escalator rollout a year ago. But I’m not sure it truly hit me until I heard last night’s progressive themes. It’s quite possible that those speeches were just a cynical play for the Bernie Sanders vote. On the other hand, it might be that the Trump crowd actually wants those things. And, strangely enough, that thought scares me even more. It scares me because those are all things that are nearly impossible to get outside the workings of a civil society…or, variously, a big government. Sure you could expand the police state to root out undocumented workers and other undesirables, but you need regulations and bureaucracy to ensure something like paid family leave–you know, like the kind they have in that post-apocalyptic hellscape, Sweden.
But these people have lost all faith in the ability of civil society to make life better for them. It is not just that civil society is corrupt and ineffective at the moment; civil society is, for them, inherently rotten and weak. I’m happy to discuss radical alternatives like Autonomist Marxism, but I get the feeling the Trump crowd is not at present considering those alternatives. The only other alternative within the limits of their imagination is to get the things they want through the will of an individual.
In other words, we might have finally come to our Hobbes vs. Rousseau moment, and it goes way beyond the ballots people punch in this November’s election. It’s about a decision on our national ethos: YES WE CAN vs. YES YOU WILL. I know what I heard last night.
Si kanagodi bilasho te del vorbis chorres pe mulende, mai kana o mulo sas ekh Nobel laureate, kaske vorbe, mai but ke fersave, delas la lumjake maturo ke mai baro beng ande manushikane historia. Numa vi sa peske zor i sa peske lashimos, sas maturo biperfekto. O Wiesel delas leske zurale literakani i rhetorikani butchi, kusa lesko zuralo ethos, nai feri kaste e lumja chi bisterel le Porrajmos, numa kaste e lumja serel le Porrajmos vi purposa. Chi zhanav kai kerelas le phraso “Never Again,” numa trobul te thol ekh faca angla peste, kam avel faca le Wiesel. Ke le Wieselske, “Never Again,” mothol nai palo karingodi–ande Bosnia, ande Rwanda, vor ando Darfur. Deke, si sostar Wieseleske legacia le Rromensa del mange but pushimata tai but problema.
It’s never good form to speak ill of the dead, especially when the dead is a Nobel laureate whose words, more than anyone else’s, gave the generations a witness to the worst evil in human history. But for all of its power and all the immeasurable good it has done through the years, Wiesel’s witness was an imperfect one. Wiesel dedicated his incomparable literary and rhetorical skills, along with his undeniable ethos, not just to making sure the world never forgot the Holocaust for its own horrors, but also to guaranteeing that the world would remember those horrors with purpose. It’s not exactly clear who coined the phrase “Never Again,” but if you had to put a face to the phrase, that face would most likely be Wiesel’s. For Wiesel, “Never Again” meant never again anywhere, whether it be Bosnia, Rwanda, or Darfur. And that’s why Wiesel’s legacy with regards to the Roma is so confounding, if not troubling.