Current trends in self-reproach & guilt serve interests of elites – Slavoj Zizek

Slavoj Zizek
Slavoj Zizek is a cultural philosopher. He’s a senior researcher at the Institute for Sociology and Philosophy at the University of Ljubljana and Global Distinguished Professor of German at New York University.
Current trends in self-reproach & guilt serve interests of elites – Slavoj Zizek
Ethical and political “correctness” have reached extreme levels recently. This suits the powerful perfectly right now, but may come back to bite them soon.

In a recent commentary, writer Laura Kipnis addressed the ethico-political implications of film critic David Edelstein’s recent travails. Apropos the death of legendary Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci, Edelstein made a tasteless “joke” on his private Facebook page: “even grief is better with butter.”

The statement was accompanied by a still of Maria Schneider and Marlon Brando’s infamous anal rape scene from Last Tango in Paris. Edelstein quickly deleted it (before the public outcry broke out, not as a reaction to it!) but actress Martha Plimpton had immediately tweeted it to her followers, demanding “fire him. Immediately.

Of course, this happened the next day: NPR’s Fresh Air announced that they were cutting ties with Edelstein because the post had been “offensive and unacceptable.” Especially given Schneider’s traumatic experiences during filming, which left her battling depression and drug addiction.

So what are the implications (or, rather, the unstated rules) of this incident? First, “there’s nothing inadvertent about inadvertent offence,” it cannot be excused as a momentary mistake since it’s now treated as revelatory of the true character of the offender.

This is why one such episode is a permanent mark against you, however apologetic you might be. “One flub and you’re out. An unthinking social media post will outweigh a 16-year track record.” The only thing that might help is a long permanent process of self-critical self-examination: “Failure to keep re-proving it implicates you in crimes against women.”

Thus, you have to prove it again and again since, as a man, you aren’t trusted: “men are not to be believed, they will say anything.” And this leads to Kipnis’s bitter conclusion: “maybe it’s time to stop hiding behind the ‘speak truth to power’ mantra, when women have power aplenty – we can wreck a guy’s career with a tweet!

Different Levels

Naturally, one has to introduce some further specifications here: WHICH women have the power to wreck WHICH guys’ careers? But the fact remains that we are witnessing a tremendous exercise of power unchecked by what would have been otherwise considered reasonable (a fair trial, the right to reasonable doubt...), and if someone just points this out, they are immediately accused of protecting old white men.

Plus the barrier that separates public from private space disappears here: recently, several Icelandic MPs faced calls to resign after they were recorded using crude language to describe female colleagues and a disabled activist. They did this in a bar, and an anonymous eavesdropper sent the recording to Icelandic media.    

The only parallel that comes to mind here is with the brutal swiftness of revolutionary purges – and, effectively, many MeToo sympathizers evoke this parallel and claim that such excesses are understandable in the first moments of radical change.

However, it is precisely this parallel that we should reject. Such “excessive” purges are not indications that the revolutionary zeal went too far – on the contrary, they clearly indicate that the revolution was redirected and lost its radical edge.

In short, one should struggle to refocus MeToo onto the daily suffering of millions of ordinary working women and housewives. This emphatically can be done – for example, in South Korea, MeToo exploded in tens of thousands of ordinary women demonstrating against their sexual exploitation.

Only through the link between sexual exploitation and economic exploitation can we mobilize the majority: men should not be portrayed only as potential rapists, they should be made aware that their violent domination over women is mediated by their experience of economic impotence.

So, the truly radical MeToo is not about women against men but also about the prospect of their solidarity.  

Also on rt.com Slavoj Žižek: Until the rich world thinks 'one world,' migration will intensify

Migrant motives    

And exactly the same holds for our other big ethico-political problem: how to deal with the flow of refugees?

The solution is not to just open the borders to all who want to come in, and to ground this openness in our generalized guilt (“our colonization is our greatest crime which we will have to repay forever”). Such a stance provides a clinically perfect example of the superego paradox confirmed by how the fundamentalist immigrants react to left-liberal guilt feeling.

Here, the more European Left liberals admit responsibility for the situation which creates refugees, and the more they demand we should abolish all walls and open our gates to immigrants, the more they are despised by fundamentalist migrants.

There is no gratitude in it – the more we give, the more we are reproached that we did not give enough. And it is significant that the countries most attacked are not those with an open anti-immigrant stance (Hungary, Poland etc.) but precisely those which are the most generous.

READ MORE: Sweden turns Pippi Longstocking into homeless Roma migrant living in Stockholm ghetto

Sweden is reproached that it doesn’t really want to integrate immigrants, and every detail is seized upon as a proof of its hypocrisy (“You see, they still serve pork at meals in the schools! They still allow their girls to dress provocatively! They still don’t want to integrate elements of sharia in their legal system!”), while every demand for symmetry (but where are new Christian churches in Muslim countries with a Christian minority?) is flatly rejected as European cultural imperialism.

Crusades are mentioned all the time, while the Muslim occupation of large parts of Europe is treated as normal. The underlying premise is that a kind of radical sin (of colonization) is inscribed into the very existence of Europe, a sin incomparable with others, so that our debt to others cannot ever be repaid.

However, beneath this premise it is easy to discern its opposite, scorn – they loath us for our guilt and responsibility and they perceive it as a sign of our weakness, of our lack of self-respect and trust in ourselves.

The ultimate irony is that some Europeans then perceive such an aggressive stance as the Muslim “vitality” and contrast it to Europe’s “exhaustion” – again turning this into the argument that we need the influx of foreign blood to regain our vitality.

In other words, we in Europe will only regain the respect of others by learning to impose limits, to fully help others not from a position of guilt and weakness but from a position of strength.

Hopeful Gamble

What do we mean by this strength? Precisely such a strength was displayed by Angela Merkel when she extended the invitation to refugees to come to Germany. Her invitation exuded trust that Germany can do it and that it’s strong enough to retain its identity in accepting migrants.

By this thinking, although anti-immigrant patriots like to pose as strong defenders of their nation, it is their position which betrays panic and weakness – how little trust they must have in German society when they perceive a couple of hundred newcomers as a threat to German identity? Crazy as it may sound, Merkel acted as a strong German patriot while anti-immigrants are miserable weaklings.

If we remain at the level of self-reproach and guilt, we serve perfectly the interests of those in power who foment the conflict between immigrants and the local working class (which feels threatened by them) and retain their superior moral stance.

Indeed, the moment one begins to think in this direction, the Politically Correct Left instantly cries Fascism (see the ferocious attacks on Irish writer Angela Nagle for her outstanding essay ‘The Left Case against Open Borders’.)

To put it in old Maoist terms, the “contradiction” between advocates of open borders and populist anti-immigrants is a false “secondary contradiction” whose ultimate function is to obfuscate the need to change the entire economic system itself. Which, in its present form, encourages migration by creating vast regional inequalities and an endless search for “growth.

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