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Are liberals and populists just searching for a new master?

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https://www.economist.com/open-future/2018/10/08/are-liberals-and-populists-just-searching-for-a-new-master

A book excerpt and interview with Slavoj Zizek , author of “Like a Thief in Broad Daylight”

 

The rise of populism, nativism and nationalism in recent years has challenged perceptions of what ordinary people want from politicians. Some see the anti-establishment trend as a rejection of centralised power. Others suggest the real hunger is for a moral authority that appears to be lacking in today’s capitalism.

Among the latter group is Slavoj Zizek, a Marxist philosopher at the University of Ljubljana. He criticises the appeal of political correctness, questions the ability of markets to survive without state intervention and excoriates what he sees as the ulterior motives behind fair-trade coffee. 

His latest book, “Like a Thief in Broad Daylight”, explores the changing nature of social progress in what he calls an “era of post-humanity”. Mr Zizek responded to five questions as part of The Economist’s Open Future initiative. His replies are followed by an excerpt from the book. 

*      *      *

The Economist: What do you mean by “the era of post-humanity”? What characterises it?

Slavoj Zizek: It is not primarily the automatisation and robotisation of the production process but much more the expanding role of science, machines and digital media in social control and regulation. The detailed registration of all our acts and habits enables the digital machine to know ourselves, even our psyche, better than we know ourselves. In this way, social control no longer needs to be exerted in the old “totalitarian” mode, through open domination—we are already manipulated and regulated when we act freely, just following our needs and desires. 

But there is another feature which justifies the term “post-humanity”: the prospect of the direct link between our brain and the digital network. When this happens, we lose the basic distance which makes us human, the distance between external reality and our inner life where we can “think what we want.” With my thoughts, I can directly intervene in reality—but the machine also directly knows what I think. 

In the last years of his life, Stephen Hawking experimented with a technology to communicate with the world—his brain was connected to a computer, so that his thoughts could choose words and form sentences, which were then relayed to a voice synthesizer to be spoken aloud. Fredric Jameson noted that, today, it is much more easy to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. This sarcastic insight is today becoming reality: it looks that, in some new form, capitalism will effectively survive the end, not of the world, but of humanity.

The Economist: Brexit and the rise of populist politicians seem to show that voters want to be protected from the harder edges of globalisation. So, back to Jameson’s thought, is it still easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of the free-market consensus associated with Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan?

Mr Zizek: As with fascism, I think that populism is simply a new way to imagine capitalism without its harder edges; a capitalism without its socially disruptive effects. Populism is one of today’s two opiums of the people: one is the people, and the other is opium itself. Chemistry (in its scientific version) is becoming part of us: large aspects of our lives are characterised by the management of our emotions by drugs, from everyday use of sleeping pills and antidepressants to hard narcotics. We are not just controlled by impenetrable social powers, our very emotions are “outsourced” to chemical stimulation. What remains of the passionate public engagement in the West is mostly the populist hatred, and this brings us to the other second opium of the people, the people itself, the fuzzy populist dream destined to obfuscate our own antagonisms. 

The Economist: In 1968, Jacques Lacan told student protesters in Paris that “what you aspire to as revolutionaries is a new master. You will get one.” Does the appeal of populists and so-called strong-men reflect a desire for authority that liberal democracy can't provide?

Mr Zizek: Yes, but in a way different from the one that Lacan had in mind in his pessimist reading of the 1968 turmoil. For Lacan, the consequence of 1968 was the decline of the old (directly authoritarian) figure of the master and the rise of a new master figure, than of the expert—what Lacan baptised the “university discourse.” Just think about how today economic measures are justified—not as an expression of political will and positive social vision but as a consequence of neutral knowledge: it has to be done, this is how markets work.

Just recall how the experts in Brussels acted in negotiations with Greece’s Syriza government during the euro crisis in 2014: no debate, this has to be done. I think that today’s populism reacts to the fact that experts are not really masters, that their expertise doesn’t work—again, just remember how the 2008 financial meltdown caught the experts unprepared. Against the background of this fiasco, the traditional authoritarian master is making a comeback, even if it is a clown. Whatever Trump is, he is not an expert.

The Economist: Do you want a new master?

Mr Zizek: Surprisingly, YES, I do want it. But what kind of master? We usually see a master as someone who exerts domination, but there is another, more authentic, sense of a master. A true master is not an agent of discipline and prohibition, his message is not “You cannot!”, nor “You have to…!”, but a releasing “You can!”—what? Do the impossible, ie, what appears impossible within the coordinates of the existing constellation. And today, this means something very precise: you can think beyond capitalism and liberal democracy as the ultimate framework of our lives. 

A master is a vanishing mediator who gives you back to yourself, who delivers you to the abyss of your freedom. When we listen to a true leader, we discover what we want (or, rather, what we “always-already” wanted without knowing it). A master is needed because we cannot accede to our freedom directly—for to gain this access, we have to be pushed from outside, since our “natural state” is one of inert hedonism; of what Alain Badiou called the “human animal.” 

The underlying paradox here is that the more we live as “free individuals with no master,” the more we are effectively non-free, caught within the existing frame of possibilities. We have to be pushed or disturbed into freedom by a master.

The Economist: You have argued for the "occupation" of the digital grid, but how can ordinary people hold big tech firms to account if only a tiny fraction of us are capable of comprehending an algorithm?

Mr Zizek: True, we—the majority—don’t understand the details of algorithms, but we can easily understand how we are controlled by the digital grid. Moreover, I don’t think the experts themselves fully understand how the digital grid really works, plus those who exploit their knowledge also do not know the technical details. 

Do you think that when Steve Bannon mobilised Cambridge Analytica, he understood the algorithmic details of its work? Or take ecology: to grasp global warming and the ozone hole, you need science which most of us don’t understand, but we nonetheless can fight against the prospect of ecological catastrophe. 

There are risks of manipulation here, of course, but we have to accept them. We have to abandon the naïve faith in the spontaneous wisdom of everyday people as a guideline of our acts. That’s the paradox of our era: our most ordinary daily lives are regulated by scientific knowledge, and the dangers of this (often invisible) regulation can be fought only by a different knowledge, not by New Age wisdoms and common sense.    

*      *      *

From “Like a Thief in Broad Daylight: Power in the Era of Post-Humanity,” by Slavoj Zizek. 

In a hotel in Skopje, Macedonia, where I recently stayed, my companion inquired if smoking is permitted in our room, and the answer she got from the receptionist was unique: “Of course not, it is prohibited by the law. But you have ashtrays in the room, so this is not a problem.” The contradiction (between prohibition and permission) was openly assumed and thereby cancelled, treated as inexistent, i.e., the message was: “It’s prohibited, and here it is how you do it.” When we entered the room, a further surprise awaited us: an ashtray with the sign of the prohibition to smoke…

Maybe, this incident provides the best metaphor for our ideological predicament today.  I remember a similar incident from my military service 40 years ago. One morning, the first class was on international military law, them among other rules, the officer mentioned that it is prohibited to shoot at parachuters while they are still in the air, i.e., before they touch ground. In a happy coincidence, our next class was about rifle shooting, and the same officer taught us how to target a parachuter in the air (how, while aiming at it, one should take into account the velocity of his decent and the direction and strength of the wind, etc.). When one of the soldiers asked the officer about the contradiction between this lesson and what we learned just an hour before (the prohibition to shoot at parachuters), the officer just snapped back with a cynical laughter: “How can you be so stupid? Don’t you understand how life works?” What goes on today is that a dissonance is openly admitted and for that reason treated as irrelevant, like our example of the ashtray with the sign of prohibition of smoking. Recall the debates on torture – was the stance of the US authorities not something like: “Torture is prohibited, and here is how you do a water-boarding.”?

The paradox is thus that today, there is in some way less deception than in a more traditional functioning of ideology: nobody is really deceived. One has to avoid a crucial misunderstanding here: it is not that prior to our time we took the rules and prohibitions seriously while today we openly violate them. What changed are the rules which regulate appearances, i.e., what can appear in public space. Let’s compare the sexual lives of two US presidents, Kennedy and Trump. As we know now, Kennedy had numerous affairs, but the press and TV ignored all this, while Trump’s every (old and new) step is followed by the media – not to mention that Trump also speaks publicly in an obscene way that we cannot even imagine Kennedy doing it. The gap that separates the dignified public space from its obscene underside is now more and more transposed into public space, with ambiguous consequences: inconsistencies and violations of public rules and openly accepted or at least ignored, but, simultaneously, we are all becoming openly aware of these inconsistencies.

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"Liberals" are historically not slaves to leaders who rely on 'cult of the personality' to sway support. Populism, tribalism, nationalism, and identity-politics all tilt towards mob-rule and therefore are dangerous as a tool of the Right-Wing. Liberals --the more intellectual segment of the population-- tend to prioritize individual rights rather than herd-behavior.

In general, mob-rule tendencies are being exploited by Right-Wing politicians in this era mostly using immigration-fears to gain power. Britain, Germany, France, Spain, Italy and USA are all grappling with this.

See how it works (and see how it was foiled, by liberals) in Sweden's recent election:

See how it works, in Italy

https://tinyurl.com/y7u72vly
https://tinyurl.com/y9plset5

France:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Rally_(France)

 

Next: see this recent book

https://tinyurl.com/y76pj42s

Which is published by this leading thinker:

https://tinyurl.com/y87femaf

 

Academic articles galore. Here's just one.

Key feature of the new American populism: jingoistic saber-rattling against 'Islam'.

https://tinyurl.com/ybkrk9em

 

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15 minutes ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

Putting mynah birds and parrots to shame again. First thing to notice is the source of your article.

Next: "Liberals" are historically not slaves to leaders who rely on 'cult of the personality' to sway support. Populism, tribalism, nationalism, and identity-politics all tilt towards mob-rule and therefore are dangerous as a tool of the Right-Wing. Liberals --the more intellectual segment of the population-- tend to prioritize individual rights rather than herd-behavior.

In general, mob-rule tendencies are being exploited by Right-Wing politicians in this era mostly using immigration-fears to gain power. Britain, Germany, France, Spain, Italy and USA are all grappling with this.

See how it works (and see how it was foiled, by liberals) in Sweden's recent election:

See how it works, in Italy

https://tinyurl.com/y7u72vly
https://tinyurl.com/y9plset5

 

Next: see this recent book

https://tinyurl.com/y76pj42s

Which is published by this leading thinker:

https://tinyurl.com/y87femaf

and then, look at who he is and who he works for. (You "can trust him" since "he's on your side").

(sarcasm)

 

Academic articles? Galore. Here's just one.

Key feature of the new American populism: jingoistic saber-rattling against 'Islam'.

https://tinyurl.com/ybkrk9em

 

Conclusion: do you think about what you post, or do you just want to make noise? Remember, we liberals provided you with the means to live your entire life, we provided you with the means via which you enjoy everything in it. Some gratitude!

 

1.) By "liberals" he means supporters of liberal democracy in general. Liberal democracy engulfs both liberals AND conservative parties. Even Republicans are liberals under this definition. 

2.) Nowhere did he say anyone is a slave. The "searching for a new master" thing is specifically a reference to something Lacan said. Pls. read the question and answer that Zizek gave on Lacan. He says "Yes, but in a way different from the one that Lacan had in mind in his pessimist reading of the 1968 turmoil. For Lacan, the consequence of 1968 was the decline of the old (directly authoritarian) figure of the master and the rise of a new master figure, than of the expert—what Lacan baptised the “university discourse" and also "Surprisingly, YES, I do want it. But what kind of master? We usually see a master as someone who exerts domination, but there is another, more authentic, sense of a master. A true master is not an agent of discipline and prohibition, his message is not “You cannot!”, nor “You have to…!”, but a releasing “You can!”—what? Do the impossible, ie, what appears impossible within the coordinates of the existing constellation. And today, this means something very precise: you can think beyond capitalism and liberal democracy as the ultimate framework of our lives." 

3.) He's criticizing populism in the article and compares it to Fascism. He also mocks Trump in the article.

 

Jeez, remind me not to tick you off. 

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Surprisingly, YES, I do want it. But what kind of master? We usually see a master as someone who exerts domination, but there is another, more authentic, sense of a master. A true master is not an agent of discipline and prohibition, his message is not “You cannot!”, nor “You have to…!”, but a releasing “You can!”—what? Do the impossible, ie, what appears impossible within the coordinates of the existing constellation. And today, this means something very precise: you can think beyond capitalism and liberal democracy as the ultimate framework of our lives. 

-

This is the most important takeaway. "New master" in this context isn't supposed to imply a negative thing and he doesn't mean it that way.

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1.) By "liberals" he means supporters of liberal democracy in general. Liberal democracy engulfs both liberals AND conservative parties. Even Republicans are liberals under this definition. 

Boy is my face red. Putting liberals and populists together in his title, is what I objected to and moved to dispel. Thanks for the clarification. So this troll doesn't constantly use the word liberal as a pejorative and a slur? Only 99.999% of his posts? Goodness then, I'll really have to watch my step.

Quote

2.) Nowhere did he say anyone is a slave.

T'was I who said it--but without tight relationship to his posted article. It was just a random word choice on my part; in my summary of the question of populism.

Quote

The "searching for a new master" thing is specifically a reference to something Lacan said.

Again, interesting. However, it would not have stayed my hand on the keyboard. Why? Because, I despise the following French thinkers in general and to a deep degree, have no interest or trust in anything they have to say. Lacan, Kristeva, Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, Ricœur, and de Man. Post-structuralism, post-modernism, and/or relativism turns my stomach.

Here's an inkling as to why. (As I recall, this document is programmatically generated).

https://philpapers.org/archive/SHATVO-2.pdf

Quote

3.) He's criticizing populism in the article and compares it to Fascism.

Good, because that's exactly what it is aligned with. You wouldn't know it though, from most of the articles posted this year around the web. I'm beyond tired of it, because its 'dogma' throughout my neighborhood and many nights when I would otherwise be relaxing, I have this drivel poured into my ears instead. Ruination of many a fine evening.

Anyway thanks for the pickup Gershwin Fan.

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24 minutes ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

Boy is my face red. Putting liberals and populists together in his title, is what I objected to and moved to dispel. Thanks for the clarification. So this troll doesn't constantly use the word liberal as a pejorative and a slur? Only 99.999% of his posts? Goodness then, I'll really have to watch my step.

Well his philosophy is inspired by Marx and Althusser so of course he's going to be deeply opposed to liberal/ bourgeois democracy. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberal_democracy#Dictatorship_of_the_bourgeoisie

The fundamentals of his ideas are opposed to it.

26 minutes ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

Again, interesting. However, it would not have stayed my hand on the keyboard. Why? Because, I despise the following French thinkers in general and to a deep degree, have no interest or trust in anything they have to say. Lacan, Kristeva, Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, Ricœur, and de Man. Post-structuralism, post-modernism, and/or relativism turns my stomach.

Here's an inkling as to why. (As I recall, this document is programmatically generated).

https://philpapers.org/archive/SHATVO-2.pdf

 

Well I have to disagree with that. I don't think there are as many objectives to dialectic as many people argue. That said, even though I disagree I will respect your opinion and will read the link. Thanks for not taking a harsh tone. I think the article is relevant to the rise of populism in democratic nations and the "post humanity" idea I find interesting. I didn't mean to disparage anyone or cause any problems. It is okay to disagree.

33 minutes ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

Good, because that's exactly what it is aligned with. You wouldn't know it though, from most of the articles posted this year around the web. I'm beyond tired of it, because its 'dogma' throughout my neighborhood and many nights when I would otherwise be relaxing, I have this drivel poured into my ears instead. Ruination of many a fine evening.

Here is his description from the article btw-

As with fascism, I think that populism is simply a new way to imagine capitalism without its harder edges; a capitalism without its socially disruptive effects. Populism is one of today’s two opiums of the people:

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Ehh, no worries. I don't have a harsh tone in my bones. I don't have ill-will towards anyone. The web is a faceless and impersonal environment as far as I'm concerned; its not a place for 'taking offense'.

When it comes to politics, (always so highly subjective) sure...I might pounce on an article or trounce on someone's argument but its really just their post I'm looking at. Not them. Two of my best buddies are rabid libertarians but I still drink with them. I like people.

In the end, I'm glad to find a site to "kill some time at" during slow periods at the workplace. That's the only axe I'm grinding here. Boredom.

p.s.

Quote

Well his philosophy is inspired by Marx and Althusser so of course he's going to be deeply opposed to liberal/ bourgeois democracy. 

Just to clarify, who are you talking about here, Oliver Lacan?

And actually I just now realized you (Gerswhin Fan) are the OP of this thread. Right? I'm sure now I have gotten mixed up somewhere. I though the thread was another by 'BogartFan56' or whatever his name is? My apologies.

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6 minutes ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

Ehh, no worries. I don't have a harsh tone in my bones. I don't have ill-will towards anyone. The web is a faceless and impersonal environment as far as I'm concerned; its not a place for 'taking offense'.

When it comes to politics, (always so highly subjective) sure...I might pounce on an article or trounce on someone's argument but its really just their post I'm looking at. Not them. Two of my best buddies are rabid libertarians but I still drink with them. I like people.

In the end, I'm glad to find a site to "kill some time at" during slow periods at the workplace. That's the only axe I'm grinding here. Boredom.

p.s.

Just to clarify, who are you talking about here, Oliver Lacan?

And actually I just now realized you (Gerswhin Fan) are the OP of this thread. Right? I'm sure now I have gotten mixed up somewhere. I though the thread was another by 'BogartFan56' or whatever his name is? My apologies.

I meant Zizek. The article is from an interview of his with "the Economist" magazine that happened recently. 

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Well his philosophy is inspired by Marx and Althusser so of course he's going to be deeply opposed to liberal/ bourgeois democracy.

Taking more time to read his remarks (admittedly I should have done this on the first pass) I still don't see much optimism in his suggestions. Some of his points are okay but overall it strikes me as overly-simplistic and vague remedies being prescribed. How many books echoing his which I've read...whew. Anyway, not enough distinguishing between USA and Europe, to start. Then, throwing together too many disparate strands of theory. The issues he skirts are enormously complex, well beyond that of just our leadership choices, or our vague yearnings and dissatisfactions. And, he's concerned with people's chemical dependencies too?

 

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23 hours ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

Two of my best buddies are rabid libertarians but I still drink with them. 

Hey,  what is wrong with libertarians?  (ha ha).

I define myself as leaning libertarian in that I'm a social liberal but also feel government should tread lightly as it relates to laws regulating commerce.      Of course 'tread lightly' is vague and that rabid libertarians are often unrealistic in believing the government shouldn't tread at all.

Either way I'm enjoying reading the exchanges above.    You're a very welcome 'newbie'.

Do you play an instrument?   I hope not otherwise I might end up liking you too much! 

 

 

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