Leftist Criticism of Leftism

I have made no secret of my strange obsession with Slavoj Zizek. With philosophy being firmly entrenched in the world of academia, his presence and method of discussion are jarring. He’s eccentric, occasionally incoherent, and uses combative phraseology. Zizek is truly the last of his kind and I imagine his method of discussion is similar to the methods of a Socrates or Diogenes.

That is how REAL philosophy is made.

Although he comes from a leftist tradition, he really spends a good majority of his time attacking liberal methodology. This has caused many to misinterpret him and idiotically label him a ‘fascist’. But I believe such criticisms stem from an unwillingness to venture down his thought. Indeed, this is probably why many philosophers are misunderstood. The truth is strikingly difficult to handle and often requires us to make changes.

But none of this is done to undermine liberalism and leftism. It’s all done to enhance it. If liberalism is to prevail, it must handle criticism and followers must be willing to venture down some inconvenient paths. An attempt to distract ourselves from the horrors of terrorism and inequality (as enabled by ‘political correctness’) is akin to burying our heads in the sand.

You must stare at the problem and confront it. This is basically the common message of Slavoj Zizek today.

In this video, Zizek addresses the issue of globalization and multi-culturalism. The common liberal orthodoxy is that the reason why we have trouble with cooperation among culture is a lack of understanding. Specifically, understanding the exact nature of how the ‘other’ lives. If we understand that, then the notion of ‘the enemy’ or ‘the other’ goes away because we would have the understanding that people from other cultures live as we do (or something to that effect). So to fix this problem, all we have to do is have an open dialog with one another.

While these things are fine in-themselves, Zizek seems to indicate that doing those things alone won’t solve the problem. Why? Because we don’t understand ourselves.

I’ve mentioned previously that there’s a whole side of our consciousness that’s not well understood. This is not only true from a neurobiological perspective, but this is also true from the perspective of the self. This is why dreams and hallucinations can sometimes be terrifying, because there’s a side to ourselves that we didn’t know was there. And we usually dismiss these images (especially in the form of dreams) because we believe that they’re just random images collected in the brain (or they don’t emanate from us altogether). What we fail to comprehend is that these images are a part of us that are embedded deep down in the brain.

I’m not sure that that’s what Zizek was getting at, the last paragraph was entirely my addition to this thought. But, even in a very conscious way, we do not understand what WE are capable of. And we fail to understand that change itself does not stem from without but comes from within. In our highly digital and social world, we want to remove this step. We want to believe that in order to create change, we must post things online and ‘enlighten’ others on the struggles of the less fortunate.

But that’s only one aspect towards solving the problem.

It has to take more than telling others that they’re the problem. You have to be willing to see you own relation to the problem. You have to be willing to understand that all of the maladies that mankind suffers are also affecting you. Once again, no one wants to address this problem because that involves having to admit your own ignorance.

You’re the problem. I’m the problem. The guy on the other side of the world is the problem. This is why this takes more than understanding ‘the other’.

Simple understanding doesn’t change much. It also doesn’t make much sense. As Zizek stated (either in the video above or somewhere else)…simply understanding Hitler won’t legitimize his actions. Some things are truly bad, with or without understanding. There are truly bad aspects to cultures. ALL cultures. And under liberal orthodoxy, it is only polite to assess the bad aspects of Western culture.

Does that mean that Western culture doesn’t have any deep seated problems? Of course American and European culture is as bad and corrupting as everyone says it is! No sane person would debate otherwise. But that doesn’t mean that that minimizes the anti-humanitarianism, anti-liberalism (or any other -ism) that is found in other non-Western cultures. There aren’t any saints. There are bad people, ideologies, and practices that are present in all cultures and countries.

I suppose a really negative person could say that it is human nature to be anti-humanitarian. That sentiment is a little too strong for me. But anti-human practices are not monopolized to one side of the world. They are, in fact, present everywhere. And anyone is capable in engaging in them.

I would venture to say that political solidarity of sorts is necessary to remedy these problems. But I’ll leave that speculation to Zizek. Again, he once claimed (either in this video or elsewhere) that states should dictate laws concerning human rights rather than just citizen’s rights. But such methods of political solidarity are above my pay grade.

The point that I find important is that it takes more that understanding the other in order to solve the liberal issues of multi-culturalism and globalization. You (We) have to look inside. Zizek seems to indicate that perhaps the question shouldn’t be “how can we best live together?”, but “how can we ignore each other peacefully?”. I don’t take this to mean any sort of isolationist bullshit, but because culture is so ingrained into our self-conscious and identity…that it’s not as easy as just blending our cultures together to form a single unifying existence. That (in this argument) doesn’t appear to be realistic. The cultural revolution to make this happen can’t go on indefinitely. There has to be a time when people (as individuals, as families) have to LIVE their lives, and it’s the freedom of THESE actions that we are most concerned with.

And these are the new questions we must ask within liberalism.

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