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Friday, 11 November 2016

SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK: AGAINST THE DOUBLE BLACKMAIL - A REVIEW

Slovenian philosopher, psychoanalyst, political activist, and all-round professional thinker Slavoj Žižek is an avalanche of thoughts at best, a chaotic whirl of ideas at worst. 

Like him or not, share his ideology or despise his attitude, Žižek is intriguing in his delivery. His style is akin to the guy in an Italian bar who talks above everyone else, exposing his ideas he doesn't know he's just had at the top of his voice, gesticulating and repeating his favourite parts. He's no fool either. His philosophy is radical but grounded on a lifetime of research and observation. 
Žižek's books go from the minimal to the bulging tomes. Having watched him live and through various interviews, I can see his writing mirrors his lecturing.

"Against the double blackmail" tackles head on the very topics and issues we so need to discuss, immigration, refugees and globalisation. The double blackmail is delivered, according to Žižek, by the liberal Left and the conservative Right. Laissez-faire from the former, intolerance from the latter. He's not proposing a middle ground either, but a structural revolution based on a progressive commons system that fights globalisation through the defence of basic values in order to stop people becoming refugees in the first place... or Communism 2.0, the beta version.
 Žižek strongly criticises the liberal Left, with what he calls inaction driven by ideological taboos of a politically correct society. At the same time he points out the paradox of the Right in dealing with immigration: the quest for less taxation and regulatory interventions empowers powerful corporations, thus feeding the very problems that feed immigration.

Globalisation has, since its inception in 1851 with the first world exhibition at Crystal Palace, rewarded the few within the capital system, while leaving three times as many people on the outside. Food, water, oil, they've all become commodities that are mass produced and passed around the globe by big corporations. These become so powerful that they dictate policies directly and elect leaders by proxy. Farmers who used to be connected to the land are now becoming workforce for the wealthy. In this scenario, the wealthy West has grown rich and relatively safe, where terrorism is sporadic and only partly lives in the public imagination, which is fuelled by mass media and political agenda. While for the rest of the world terror is part of the daily life and it is uninterrupted.

Religion becomes an actor in this comedy of errors, manipulated by the likes of ISIS, for instance, to eliminate the moderate Muslims and create the conditions for a civil war. It also reveals Islamo-Fascism as a reactive phenomenon, "an expression of impotence converted into self-destructive rage". Žižek view on religion is that we don't believe anymore, we simply follow "rituals and mores as part of the respect for the 'lifestyle' of the community to which we belong...", in the same way as we don't believe in Santa but we still celebrate Christmas with decorated trees.  

The refugee dilemma is further exacerbated by the politics of greed and gain. Bribing Turkey with €3bn, one of the main culprits of the rise of ISIS in Syria, says Žižek, is an obvious way to stem the flow of refugees towards Europe. But refugees are created by clashes of various civilisations, between Western Europe and Russia, Sunnis and Shias etc. We feed what we wish to stop, immigration. But, he continues, "the problem is not foreigners, it is our own (European) identity. Although the ongoing crisis of the European Union appears as one of economy and finance, it is, fundamentally, an ideologico-political crisis".

The solution? According to Žižek we should cut the link between refugees and humanitarian empathy and help simply because it is the ethical thing to do, not because we have an affinity with refugees. Otherwise, he goes on, it would break down the moment we realise refugees are not necessarily 'people like us', in the same way as 'we' ourselves are not 'people like us', we only believe we are.
And we shouldn't however despair in times of crisis and get on with finding solutions as "every crisis is in itself the instigation of a new beginning, every failure of short-term pragmatic measures... a blessing in disguise, an opportunity to rethink our very foundations". 

The main message of this book is a positive, albeit fairly utopian one: "our proper aim should be to try and reconstruct global society on such a basis that desperate refugees will no longer be forced to wander around".

Slavoj Žižek opens debates with neither taboos nor diplomacy. He tries to correlate the core causes of the great divide in our society with the impasse created by both the liberal inaction and the right wing intolerance. He sees globalisation as the main culprit in the 21st century economic and societal emergencies. Whether one agrees with his views or not, the lure to debate can only be a positive catalyst to solutions.

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