Dienstag, 30. März 2021

Slavoj Zizek on white liberals

In a talk found on Youtube from 2019 philospher Slavoj Zizek talks about white liberal hypocracy and why this eventually leads us into long-lasting anti-liberalist rule. With regard to the currently ongoing discussion on identity politics his thougts havent't lost any of their relevance.

Since he is a bit difficult to understand (which actually applies to me, too, please forgive me some minor [...] gaps), here's a transcript of his words.

It's a well-known, I'm sorry if you know it, I've used it two-three times in my books, it was also used already by many philosophers, even Derrida, used it. A joke about Jews gathered in a synagogue on sabbat to publicly declare their failures, and first a mighty rabbi says: "forgive me, oh God, I'm nothing, not worth of your attention". After him a rich Jewish merchant says: "forgive me, oh God, I'm a worthless nothing", and then a poor ordinary Jew steps forward and says: "forgive me, God, I'm also nothing". At that point, it doesn't matter who, the rich merchant slaps the rich rabbi and says: "who is that guy who dares to claim that he is nothing - we are the nothing!" That's a white-liberal-like debate.

I literally experienced the same situation already 25 years ago at a very politically-correct conference where white liberals were excelling each other into who will humiliate himself more. "We are to blame, everything: Euro-Centrism, we brought slavery-nightmare, we are guilty of everything, christianity, the worst part, it was invented to screw other races and so on, and so on". And then a black friend of mine, not to embarrass him I don't mention his name, said "wait a minute, guys, we're not so innocent, we also had our [...] black racism and so on". And I noticed that the mighty white liberal professors explained with embarrassed gazes: "no, sorry, guy, we are to blame, we are the nothing, who are you to say that you are also nothing". The message was clear: precisely when white liberals humiliate themselves, and I notice this again and again, like "we are worthless, we don't have the right", like, that's subtle racism expressed in this form.

If you are an exotic nation like Native Americans, dance their tribal dances and so on - that's perfect, they are something, a particular identity. If I say: "let's assert German identity" - "Oh, you are a Nazi, you are a fascist". OK, I know in what sense this is true. But nonetheless there is something false in it. Why? Because denying you the right to your particular identity, in this false sense humiliating yourself means that in a much more subtle way you reserve for yourself the universal position. I notice again and again how this same white liberals were ready again and again to humiliate themselves, "we are the worst, we are guilty of everything", and they like to play this game, like whenever something horrible goes on in third world countries, it must be a consequence of colonialism. A black friend I have from Nigeria, once he exploded and said that this is the worst racism he can imagine. "They treat us", he told me, "like children. We are not even allowed to be evil on our own. If we are evil it must be effect of colonialism and so on, and so on". And that's why I claim that white liberals love identity politics. It means minorities can have their particular identities, but we renounce our identity, but we keep this role as guardians of universality. This is fine. I wonder if this is also your experience. It's my regular experience. This same self-humiliating: white liberals have no problem correcting minorities [...], like sorry guys, [...] this is not the right way to talk about this and so on, and so on.

That's why my advice is the one, already elaborated, I've written about this a lot, I will not repeat myself, it's the one of Malcolm X who was a true universalist, I'm sorry if I repeat myself here. Malcolm X, it was a [...] stroke of a genius. He emphasised it: "X" doesn't mean "oh, white people stole from us our roots", yes, but his point is not "so let's regain our roots and look for some original tribal identity in Africa". No, he saw this being deprived of roots, "X", like "we don't have our particular identity" as a unique chance for the black people to propose a new universality which will be much more authentic and radical than white people's universality which is still a false universality. Always remember this: the true struggle is the struggle for universality, and liberals like to transform, mystify this struggle into the struggle of particular identities where they then can play their game of, you know "your particular identity, my particular identity, let them coexist and so on, and so on". 

No, and again, the problem today is the struggle of universalities. We have traditional liberal universality which is the universality of particular modes etc., but the problem is: how do you define the universal dimension? The problem with particular identity politics is that it never can be all of your position. Every particular identity politics implies a universal dimension of how you construct the space in which particular identities coexist. The traditional version is the one of legal illusion. This was [...] Richard Rorty's position, that people should be allowed their particular identities, and the only universal frame is liberal law which organises society in such a way that we all tolerate each other and so on, and so on. I find this vision of particular identities and universality catastrophic. I think that precisely - here I remain a Marxist - what interests me is not my particular identity against your particular identity, it's the antagonism of my particular identity, the antagonism of your particular identity, and can we link our struggle against our own oppression, domination with yours? Can we link my antagonism with your antagonism?

That's why, to conclude, in spite of all his failures and so on I see something nonetheless unique - I don't have any great hopes of it, [...] - but I like this idea of Bernie Sanders plus The Squad. Because we get what? We get young non-white women, radical, relatively radical politics, and then we get Bernie Sanders, an old white man. It's a winning coalition. What Bernie Sanders got, I know, I was not in contact with him, but in Burlington I often go there with people and they said "his obsession was for long years for us we should precisely also aim to get the votes of those disappointed poorer white people who would have otherwise voted for Trump or whoever there". That's the winning coalition to them. Don't sacrifice any of the two sides. If you do sacrifice old white men, not in the racist way but in the sense of all those who will be betrayed, then you will get with all your political correctness and so on, you will get Trump reelected again and again. Again, I don't want just to get rid of Trump. My message, and that is what caused so much misunderstanding, is "Don't just fight Trump. Ask the crucial question.

We lived still maybe 10 years ago or even less in something like liberal hegemony. We had right-wing version, left-wing version, Republicans, Democrats. But basically it was a very homogenieous space. Then Trump happened. How could this have happened? What was wrong with the white-liberal hegemony? The only way to really defeat Trump is to ask this self-critical question. If you just focus on Trump, you get caught in liberal nostalgia for the good-old principles and so on, and so on. That's to conclude with my usual story. That's why I don't agree, I find it deeply problematic The Handmaid's Tale, the novel. It's I think what - of course I am also horrified by this convincing depiction of male fundamentalists, terror and so on, and so on, but what bothers me is this one: I think The Handmaid's Tale is basically a work of what Fredric Jameson called "nostalgia for the present". It paints a near future of fundamentalist rule, and it makes us feel well - you see, haha, we are not yet there, we are still in a liberal societey... No! The true question is - and it's never addressed in the novel - but how comes that out of this liberal paradise republic of Gilead exploded. Or, for us, how comes that Trump exploded. We should be critical towards ourselves, otherwise Trump, if there will not be some catastrophy which would be a nightmarish new world war or whatever, Trump will get reelected.

So my paradox is that it's not what Democratic establishment is telling us: the only way to win against Trump is to be more right to get centrist votes - no! This is what Hillary tried! And she lost! The paradox is that the only way to really win over Trump is to get the votes of all those - metaphorically called - old white men! Poor guys who feel disposessed and so on, and we can only get their voices by moving more to the left.

Text: Slavoj Zizek

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