Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Zizek's Protocols

Once again Zizek performs the Golovinsky trick of seeming to adopt an analysis only to vitiate it and discredit it. Consider Chris Hedges' explication of a fairly mundane leftist analysis of the Tea Party - it is channelling real grievances toward scapegoats, like populist right politics time out of mind, and can do so because of the utter betrayal of the majority population by the Democratic Party and mainstream bourgeois social democrats in electoral politics. Only the entertainment vendors of big media are paying any attention to the electorate (who are the audience) and making an effort to entertain and engage them, and so right wing demagogues have little competition for their emotional appeals and offers of understanding. It would be very hard even for guys with the wit and resources of Stephen Colbert and John Stewart to depict Chris Hedges as a raving maniac left pendant of the Christofascist American right he studied and wrote about.This is where Zizek makes himself useful. Hedges explains what this celebrity clown is for:

The liberal class wants to inhabit a political center to remain morally and politically disengaged. As long as there is a phantom left, one that is as ridiculous and stunted as the right wing, the liberal class can remain uncommitted.

Not Chris Hedges (and not Noam Chomsky, and not Gerald Horne, and not Glenn Ford, and not Winona LaDuke or Ralph Nader, and not Cynthia McKinney, nor Michael Parenti, nor Sharon Smith any other actual American progressive, anarchist or socialist) but Zizek - a D-list Glenn Beck with "I'm a Marxist! I love informers, secret police and firing squads! And chimères necklacing the rich!" magic markered on his gulag issue underwear costume, who runs around spluttering that Hitler wasn't violent enough! and who always needs a handkerchief but never has one (not allowed in looney bin?) - will be the ubiquitous figure delivering something like Hedges' Tea Party analysis, the image every university student and culture industry worker will have vividly in memory.

Zizek at once denounces his own (reactionary) image of this analysis as a "dirty sophistic trick":

The typical rhetorical trick here is in two moves. First, you of course condemn the far right—"no place in our developed democracy." But then you add, "But they are addressing the real worries of the people," and so on and so on. So, in precisely—that’s the dirty sophistic trick—in order to prevent hatred outbursts, we have to control the situation.

as innoculation - denouncing the very rhetorical trick he has played habitually and will immediately play again as he boasts of restoring anti-Semitic and sexist jokes to acceptability they didn't enjoy ten years ago (maybe in ten more years he can manage to restore some to funny) - and in its place deploys his Golovinski copy, (among other tactics inserting "left" and "Marxists" for bourgeois liberals as Golovinski put "Jews" in the place of the Napoleon III and his posse) close enough to be a substitute and to even be mistaken by his brain-damaged adorers for the same analysis Hedges offers:

My second point would have been that it’s absolutely crucial how this anti-immigrant explosion is linked to the withdrawal of leftist politics, especially in the matters of economy and so on. It is as if the left, being obsessed [1] by the idea that we shouldn’t appear as reactionary in the economic sense, that is to say that "No, no, no, we are not the old trade union representatives of the working class, we are for postmodern digital capitalism" and so on. They don’t want to touch the working class or so-called lower ordinary people. And here right-wingers enter. Do you know, the horrible paradox is that, apart from some small leftist fringe parties, the only serious political force in Europe today which still is ready to appeal to the ordinary working people are the right-wing anti-immigrants? So you see, we, the leftists, we have no right, absolutely no right, to take this arrogant view of offended tolerant people who are horrored—no, we should ask the question, how we enabled what is going on.

Dismissing the actual left as "fringe" and baptising the "centre" neoliberals "the Left" - the left denounced as without programme, but also as mirror image, enabler and indeed father of the far neofasho right - Zizek undertakes to defend fasho mobs in a wholly confused context of his concocted fantasy, fashioned of clichés and sensational stereotypes. Like Hedges - who in contrast seeks to explain real right wing populists in our real historical moment accurately depicted - Zizek says there are real grievances motivating them. But whereas Hedges recognises the scapegoats toward which the ruling class deftly and usually at least somewhat successfully directs white male anger (communists, foreigners, women, immigrants, black folks, Muslims, Jews, gays) are not the origins of the real grievances, Zizek insists they are, that these groups - humanity in general, with some small exceptions - are real threats to the privileged minority which presents itself as universal, causing everything from a "race to the bottom" in wages, through state crimes from Abu Ghraib to TARP, to the "failure" and "humiliation" in Iraq, against which the fasho mobs, representing a mythically monoethnic "white working class", justly arise to defend themselves. Zizek seems to a casual listener to echo, but really expropriates and transforms, Hedges' analysis, which he almost simultaneously also denounces as the dirty mendacious rhetoric of sinister liberals who want to disguise the real threats posed to the fasho mobs by those whom these mobs assault (as ZizneyCorp shows, purely in self-defence) - immigrants, ethnic minorities, homosexuals who are indispensible to authoritarian clique/tribe bonding. Thus while one might imagine Hedges or others sharing his analysis conjecturing that the anti-Roma pogroms multiplying in Europe reflect the fury of populations at the pain of the economic depression, Zizek declares the Strojan family, the victims of a pogrom, are the criminal menace itself against which liberals in their egoist ecstasies of hedonist permissiveness are insufficiently vigilant. The Strojan family, Zizek discovers, is the real source of the real grievances of the racist mob that terrorised them, but he cunningly positions the Strojans, and all Roma, also as the instruments of "the liberals in the big cities", that is, they are the violent, destructive forces unleashed by liberal decadence. (This is not a new script).

(But for another audience, the liberals themselves, who will not be attracted to their vilification that Zizek offers their rebellious children (an audience that is older, higher status, less tormented by masculinine insecurities about virility than his acafanboys), Zizek explicitly equates the rightwing "politics of fear" that incites fear of Roma or immigrants with its counter, the defence against fascists also labelled a "politics of fear", creating his version of the scylla and charybdis-flanked "sanity" of Time Warner's Comedy Central stars, assuring his liberal audience they can and must remain in that passive centre, "daring to do nothing" because the fearmongering, frightened and frightening EDL and Tea Partyers on the right are balanced by fearmongering, frightened and frightening mobs on the left: "political correctness is the exemplary liberal form of the politics of fear".)

In this way Zizek can champion a pogrom as a "critique of liberalism" and denounce all dissenters from this view as liberals obsessed with diabolising "violence"; those who would protect the Strojans from the armed mob must be those decadent, shapeshifting liberals who prefer the structural violence which afflicts the white villagers and of which the Roma themselves are the instruments and never the victims.

Like "immigrants" in the UK and call center workers in India are idenified by Zizek as scabs in league with big capital against the real working class, the virtuous and deserving white male breadwinners, so the Roma are exposed by him as in league with the liberals to pollute Slovene society with crime, violence and an alien way of life. In the same way, Tea Party candidate Angle positions the threatening Mexican immigrants as instruments of and in league with Harry Reid:

"The liberals", Zizek agrees furiously, are on their side -- the side of the ethnic inferiors and intruders with their criminal "way of life" which the liberals want you good white people to tolerate and "open [your]selves to" because their criminal nature is the result of centuries of "mistreatment" and it wouldn't be fair to judge them by the civilised standards you judge eachother and yourselves by. These are the moralising and legalistic liberals and "the Left" who are always at a safe distance from these vexatious and harrassing others with whom they force you to live. These leftists are all bourgeois and want to see these others only serving them in ethnic restaurants, but they want you to send your kids to school with them, work with them, let them marry your daughters, and they even plot to make it a crime for you to refuse such proximity. And these liberals will not even let you demand their conformity to your leading culture, your superior civilisation and your values. Zizek understands, as does Glenn Beck and the Tea Party candidates, that you are not the "racist" that the legalistic moralising left calls you, you are just trying, like these frightened villagers, to defend yourselves from the criminal others who have infiltrated to destroy your prosperity. But the liberals tie your hands and demand tolerance, and this is why you find yourself, scared and desperate but determined to act, out in the middle of the night:

So with Zizek's substitute analysis, his fascist changeling "critique", this fact-free, consistency-destitute, no-logic, disinformation-enriched, decaffeinated analysis, the dual purpose is accomplished: Zizek discredits the analysis typified by Hedges by denouncing it as the dirty deceptive rhetoric of the liberal fronts for right wing interests, the malicious ruse of the right. At the same time he takes its basic form and stuffs it with racist mythology, fearmongering, incitement to violence, directly peddling racist fables and fantasies insisting on the criminality of the "way of life" of the scapegoats and the innocence and goodness of the distinct way of life (ours, with our Hegel and Bach, our individualism, work ethic, irony, intellectualism and social harmony) of the terrorist fasho mobs - insisting those victims both concrete and symbolic the Hedges analysis easily identifies as scapegoats or surrogates presented by the ruling class as objects for popular anger are really the source of the legitimate grievances, in league with the liberal establishment, those intruders who always go about in disguise: Obama who is "a white guy blackened by a few hours suntanning" but also appears "sterile...with his diluted black skin" and the "communist" George Soros who is "a lie embodied". The Mexican gangs, the welfare queens, the reverse racists like Shirley Sherrod, the Bal'more crack dealers, the thieving Roma children are all the factotums and diabolical familars of these "liberals" who protect them and let them walk all over you, you the salt of the earth, the checkered shirt and denim dude, Joe the Plumber, the white working class.

Some fanatically devout Zizekians may be unable even to distinguish between Hedges' analysis and Zizek's ersatz substitute. But many can tell the difference and find in Zizek's invitation to self-pity and ressentiment, and his putting forward of conveniently weak targets on which the ressentimentalists can take some revenge, exactly what they were looking for. Beck is not for them because he has the wrong style - corny, suburban, fogey, and Zizek's fans are hip urban culture industry conoisseurs, the ironic, subversive, revolutionary television audience. But they are members of the same class and share much experience, perspective and concrete interests, and these shared interests account above all for the abundance of shared material of their fantasies, beliefs and preferred cocaculture.

1. Zizek is the first of course to denounce "the Left" for being and appearing what he claims we/they are obsessed with not being or seeming:

SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK: OK, this is an old French tradition, and I wouldn’t even overestimate it. You know why? Because—this is what makes me sad. There is no alternate—again, we are always returning to the same problem—there is no global alternate vision. They are—sorry, but now I will appear like anti-worker, but I’m not, please believe me. They just think, "Oh, no, we want this. We want our piece of cake" and so on. Well, what the left is missing is a kind of a more global idea of how to restructure entire economy. I mean, they are not addressing the true causes. This makes me very sad. This is typical. All that the left can do today is to propose—sorry, oppose—protest against reductions. The left is, let me be very frank, in this social sense, a conservative force. In the social sense of social, fast changes and so on, it’s capitalists who are today the revolutionary class. This makes it very sad, the situation.

The business about being "so sad" is rather hilarious, really on the edge of outright clowning like "look at my big red frown and this great big tear! I am the sad Marxist now." It is important not to miss also the distinction Zizek makes between "the real grievances" of the working class that should be respected and facilitated by "the Left" - their desires to kill Roma - and those demands that are only working class selfish, greedy narrowminded conservativism which are despicable and which "the Left" should ignore -the demands for material prosperity and their "piece of cake". Zizek slips himself into Hedges' place to advocate for the precise opposite of Hedges demands: Hedges says the people want a decent standard of living and the liberal managerial class in politics which once made its living trying to get this for the people are now in the pay of the ruling clique of the ruling class carrying out a total class war without mercy. Zizek says, the European working class is selfish and greedy and pampered, but the white male part have legitimate gripes against immigrants and feminists etc; the liberals have betrayed them by instituting multiculturalism, polluting the society with permissiveness and alien valiues, covering the Alps with minarets, criminalising flirting as harrassment and giving their money to victimologist black folks. It is the liberals fault that the far right has so much support because it was the liberals who foisted these alien menaces, this hedonism and permissiveness, these burqas and curry, these castrating women and frightening African men, on the white working class and so it is up to the liberals now to help get rid of them. Of course this is all very familiar, and the overlapping elements and topics of the socialist and the fascist critiques of liberal democracy are nothing new either; now as in the past the fascist critique and the fascist programme is offered as a substitute for revolutionary socialism.

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