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Slavoj Zizek feat. Rammstein: ‘We have to live till we die’ is the Covid-era inspiration we all need

By: Slavoj Zizek

One piece of wisdom the media bombards us with is that the Covid-19 pandemic taught us about our mortality and biological limitation: we should abandon our dreams about dominating nature and accept our modest place in it.

Is there a more sobering lesson than being humiliated and reduced to near-impotence by a virus, a primitive self-reproductive mechanism which some biologists don’t even count as a form of life? No wonder that calls for a new ethic of modesty and global solidarity abound.

But is this the true lesson to be learned here? What if the problem with living in the shadow of a pandemic is exactly the opposite: not death but life, a strange life that drags on, allowing us neither to live in peace nor to quickly die?

So, what should we do with our lives in this predicament?

Maybe the Rammstein song “Dalai Lama” indicates the right answer. The song is vaguely based on Goethe’s «Der Erlkönig» («King of the Elves»), a poem which tells of a father and son riding a horse when the wind begins to hypnotize the child, who eventually dies. In the song, the child is on an airplane with his father; as in the poem, the travellers are menaced by a mysterious spirit which “invites” the child to join him (though only the child can hear it). However, in the poem, the alarmed father rides for help, holding the child in his arms, only to find that his son is dead; in Rammstein’s song, it is the father himself who causes the child’s death.

What does all this have to do with the Dalai Lama? The title of the song does not just make fun of the current Dalai Lama’s fear of flying – there is a more intimate link with the core of Buddhist teaching. The Dalai Lama’s fear of flying strangely echoes the words of the Lord in heaven in Rammstein’s song: “Man does not belong in the air / So the Lord in heaven calls / His sons on the wind,” to cause a strong turbulence that will kill the child. But how? Not just by crashing the plane but by directly haunting the child’s soul: “A choir drips from the clouds / Crawls into the little ear / Come here, stay here / We are good to you / We are brothers to you.” The devil’s voice is not a brutal cry but a soft loving whisper.

We have to live till we DIE

This ambiguity is crucial: the external raw threat is redoubled by a chorus of seductive voices heard only by the child. The child fights the temptation to surrender to these voices, but the father, holding him too tightly to protect him, does not notice his shortness of breath and “pushes the soul out of the child.” (Note the ambiguous ending of the song: the lyrics never say that the plane really fell down, just that there was strong turbulence.) The father (who obviously stands for the Dalai Lama) wants to protect the child from the external threat of reality, but in his excessive protection he kills his son – there is a deeper identity shared by the Dalai Lama and the “king of all winds”. The obvious implication is that the Buddhist protection from the pain and suffering mortifies us, excludes us from life. So, to quote a well-known ironic paraphrase of the first lines of the GDR anthem, the message of Dalai Lama effectively is “Einverstanden mit Ruinen / Und in Zukunft abgebrannt” (“In agreement with the ruins / and in future burned down”).

However, “Dalai Lama“ gives this standard pessimist wisdom an additional spin – the central refrain of the song is: “Weiter, weiter ins Verderben / Wir müssen leben bis wir sterben” (“Further, further into ruin / We have to live till we die”) – this is what Freud called the “death-drive” at its purest, not seeking death itself but the fact that we have to LIVE till we die, this endless dragging of life, this endless compulsion to repeat.

The refrain sounds like empty tautological wisdom – like “a minute before he died, Monsieur la Palice was still alive” – what in France they call a lapalissade. But Rammstein turn around the obvious statement that “no matter how long you live, at the end you will die”: till you die, you have to live. What makes the Rammstein version not an empty tautology is the ethical dimension: before we die we are not just (obviously) alive, we HAVE to live.

For us humans, life is a decision, an active obligation – we can lose the will to live.

This stance of “we have to live till we die” is the proper one to adopt today when the pandemic reminds all of us of our finitude and mortality, on how our life depends on an obscure interplay of (what appears to us as) contingencies. As we experience it almost daily, the true problem is not that we may die but that life just drags on in uncertainty, causing permanent depression, the loss of the will to go on.

We HAVE to live till we die

The fascination with total catastrophe and with the end of our civilization makes us spectators who morbidly enjoy the disintegration of normality; this fascination is often fed by a false feeling of guilt (the pandemic as a punishment for our decadent way of life, etc.). Now, with the promise of the vaccine and the spread of new variants of the virus, we live in an endlessly postponed breakdown.

Notice how the time-frame is changing: in spring 2020, authorities often said “in two weeks, it should get better”; then, in the fall of 2020, it was two months; now, it is mostly half a year (in the summer of 2021, maybe even later, things will get better); voices are already heard which place the end of the pandemic in 2022, even 2024… Every day brings news – vaccines work against new variants, or maybe they don’t; the Russian Sputnik is bad, but then it seems it works quite well; there are big delays in the supply of vaccines, but most of us will still get vaccinated by summer… these endless oscillations obviously also generate a pleasure of their own, making it easier for us to survive the misery of our lives.

As in “Dalai Lama,” Covid-19 is the turbulence which shattered our daily lives. What provoked the rage of today’s gods? Were they offended by our biogenetic manipulations and destruction of the environment? And who is the Dalai Lama in our reality? For Giorgio Agamben and many protesters against lockdown and social distancing, the Dalai Lama who pretends to protect us but in reality suffocates our social freedoms is the authorities, who while ostensibly seeking to protect us, choke out our ability to live before we have to die.

We have to LIVE till we die

Agamben recently wrote a short poem titled Si è abolito l’amore, which makes his position clear. Here are two lines from his poem:

If freedom is abolished
in the name of medicine
then medicine will also be abolished.

If man is abolished
in the name of life
then life will also be abolished.

But one can also argue the exact opposite: is the stance advocated by Agamben – let’s stick to our social life as usual – also not a seductive voice of angels which we should resist? Agamben’s own words can be reversed and turned back on him: “If medicine is abolished in the name of freedom, then freedom will also be abolished. If life is abolished in the name of man, then man will also be abolished.”

The Rammstein conceit that “we have to live till we die” outlines a way out of this deadlock: to fight against the pandemic not by way of withdrawing from life but as a way to live with utmost intensity. Is there anyone more ALIVE today than millions of healthcare workers who with full awareness risk their lives on a daily base? Many of them died, but till they died they were alive. They do not just sacrifice themselves for us in exchange for our hypocritical praise. Even less could they be said to be survival machines reduced to the bare essentials of living. In fact, they are those who are today most alive.

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Zizek: There will be no return to normality after Covid. We are entering a post-human era & will have to invent a new way of life

By: Slavoj Zizek

It’s time to accept that the pandemic has changed the way we exist forever. Now the human race has to embark on the profoundly difficult and painful process of deciding what form the ‘new normality’ is going to take.

The world has lived with the pandemic for most of 2020, but what is our situation with regard to it now, in early December, in the middle of what the European media is terming ‘the second wave’? Firstly, we should not forget that the distinction between the first and second wave is centred on Europe: in Latin America the virus followed a different path. The peak was reached in between the two European waves, and now, as Europe suffers the second of these, the situation in Latin America has marginally improved.

We should also bear in mind the variations in how the pandemic affects different classes (the poor have been hit more badly), different races (in the US, the blacks and Latinos suffer much more) and the different sexes.

And we should be especially mindful of countries where the situation is so bad – because of war, poverty, hunger and violence – that the pandemic is considered one of the minor evils. Consider, for example, Yemen. As the Guardian reported, “In a country stalked by disease, Covid barely registers. War, hunger and devastating aid cuts have made the plight of Yemenis almost unbearable.” Similarly, when the short war erupted between Azerbaijan and Armenia, Covid clearly became less of a priority. However, in spite of these complications, there are some generalisations we can make when comparing the second wave with the peak of the first wave.

What we have discovered about the virus

For a start, some hopes have been dashed. Herd immunity doesn’t appear to work. And deaths are at a record level in Europe, so the hope that we have a milder variation of the virus even though it is spreading more than ever doesn’t hold.

We are also dealing with many unknowns, especially about how the virus is spreading. In some countries, this impenetrability has given birth to a desperate search for guilty parties, such as private home gatherings and work places. The oft-heard phrase that we have to ‘learn to live with the virus’ just expresses our capitulation to it.

While vaccines bring hope, we should not expect they will magically bring an end to all our troubles and the old normality will return. Distribution of the vaccines will be our biggest ethical test: will the principle of universal distribution that covers all of humanity survive, or will it be diluted through opportunist compromises?

It’s also obvious that the limitations of the model which many countries are following – that of striking a balance between fighting the pandemic and keeping the economy alive – are increasingly being demonstrated. The only thing that appears to really work is radical lockdown. Take, for example, the state of Victoria in Australia: in August it had 700 new cases per day, but in late November, Bloomberg reported that it “has gone 28 days with no new cases of the virus, an enviable record as the US and many European countries grapple with surging infections or renewed lockdowns.”

And with regard to mental health, we can now say, in retrospect, that the reaction of people at the peak of the first wave was a normal and healthy response when faced with a threat: their focus was on avoiding infection. It was as if most of them simply didn’t have time for mental problems. Although there is much talk today about mental problems, the predominant way people relate to the epidemic is a strange mix of disparate elements. In spite of the rising number of infections, in most countries the pandemic is still not taken too seriously. In some strange sense, ‘life goes on’. In Western Europe, many people are more concerned if they will be able to celebrate Christmas and do the shopping, or if they will be able to take their usual winter holidays.

Transitioning from fear to depression

However, this ‘life goes on’ stance – indications that we have somehow learned to live with the virus – is quite the opposite of relaxation because the worst is over. It is inextricably mixed with despair, violations of state regulations and protests against them. Since there is no clear perspective offered, there is something deeper than fear at work: we have passed from fear to depression. We feel fear when there is a clear threat, and we feel frustration when obstacles emerge again and again which prevent us from reaching what we strive for. But depression signals that our desire itself is vanishing.

What causes such a sense of disorientation is that the clear order of causality appears to us as perturbed. In Europe, for reasons which remain unclear, the numbers of infections are now falling in France and rising in Germany. Without anyone knowing exactly why, countries which were a couple of months ago held as models of how to deal with the pandemic are now its worst victims. Scientists play with different hypotheses, and this very disunity strengthens a sense of confusion and contributes to a mental crisis.

What further strengthens this disorientation is the mixture of different levels that characterises the pandemic. Christian Drosten, the leading German virologist, pointed out that the pandemic is not just a scientific or health phenomenon, but a natural catastrophe. One should add to this that it is also a social, economic and ideological phenomenon: its actual effect incorporates all these elements.

For example, CNN reports that in Japan, more people died from suicide in October than from Covid during the entirety of 2020, and women were impacted most. But the majority of individuals committed suicide because of the predicament they found themselves in because of the pandemic, so their deaths are collateral damage.

There is also the impact the pandemic is having on the economy. In the Western Balkans, hospitals are pushed over the edge. As a doctor from Bosnia said, “One of us can do the work of three (people), but not of five.” As France24 reported, one cannot understand this crisis without reflecting on the “brain drain crisis, with an exodus of promising young doctors and nurses leaving to seek better wages and training abroad.”  So, again, the catastrophic impact of the pandemic is clearly caused also by the emigration of the workforce.

Accepting the disappearance of our social life

We can therefore safely conclude that one thing is sure: if the pandemic really does proceed in three waves, the general character of each wave will be different. The first wave understandably focused our attention on the health issues, on how to prevent the virus from expanding to an intolerable level. That’s why most countries accepted quarantines, social distancing etc. Although the numbers of infected are much higher in the second wave, the fear of long-term economic consequences is nonetheless growing. And if the vaccines will not prevent the third wave, one can be sure that its focus will be on mental health, on the devastating consequences of the disappearance of what we perceive as normal social life. This is why, even if the vaccines work, mental crises will persist.

The ultimate question we are facing is this: Should we strive for a return to our ‘old’ normality? Or should we accept that the pandemic is one of the signs that we are entering a new ‘post-human’ era (‘post-human’ with regard to our predominant sense of what being human means)? This is clearly not just a choice that concerns our psychic life. It is a choice that is in some sense ‘ontological’, it concerns our entire relation to what we experience as reality.

The conflicts over how best to deal with the pandemic are not conflicts between different medical opinions; they are serious existential ones. Here is how Brenden Dilley, a Texas chat-show host, explained why he is not wearing a mask: “Better to be dead than a dork. Yes, I mean that literally. I’d rather die than look like an idiot right now.” Dilley refuses to wear a mask since, for him, walking around with a mask is incompatible with human dignity at its most basic level.

What is at stake is our basic stance towards human life. Are we – like Dilley – libertarians who reject any encroaching upon our individual freedoms? Are we utilitarians ready to sacrifice thousands of lives for the economic wellbeing of the majority? Are we authoritarians who believe that only a tight state control and regulation can save us? Are we New Age spiritualists who think the epidemic is a warning from nature, a punishment for our exploitation of natural resources? Do we trust that God is just testing us and will ultimately help us to find a way out? Each of these stances relies on a specific vision of what humans are. It concerns the level at which we are, in some sense, all philosophers.

Taking all this into account, Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben claims that if we accept the measures against the pandemic, we thereby abandon open social space as the core of our being human and turn into isolated survival machines controlled by science and technology, serving the state administration. So even when our house is on fire, we should gather the courage to go on with life as normal and eventually die with dignity. He writes: “Nothing I’m doing makes any sense if the house is on fire. Yet even when the house is on fire it is necessary to continue as before, to do everything with care and precision, perhaps even more so than before – even if no one notices. Perhaps life itself will disappear from the face of the earth, perhaps no memory whatsoever will remain of what has been done, for better or for worse. But you continue as before, it is too late to change, there is no time anymore.

One should note an ambiguity in Agamben’s line of argumentation: is “the house on fire” due to the pandemic, global warming etc? Or is our house on fire because of the way we (over)reacted to the reality of the pandemic? “Today the flame has changed its form and nature, it has become digital, invisible and cold – but precisely for this very reason it is even closer still and surrounds us at every moment.” These lines clearly sound Heideggerian: they locate the basic danger in how the pandemic strengthened the way medical science and digital control regulate our reaction to it.

Why we cannot maintain our old way of life

Does this mean that, if we oppose Agamben, we should resign ourselves to the loss of humanity and forget the social freedoms we were used to? Even if we ignore the fact that these freedoms were actually much more limited than it may appear, the paradox is that only by way of passing through the zero point of this disappearance can we keep the space open for the new freedoms-to-come.

If we stick to our old way of life, we will for sure end in new barbarism. In the US and Europe, the new barbarians are precisely those who violently protest against anti-pandemic measures on behalf of personal freedom and dignity – those like Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in- law, who, back in April, bragged that Trump was taking the country “back from the doctors” – in short, back from those who only can help us.

However, one should note that in the very last paragraph of his text, Agamben leaves open the possibility that a new form of post-human spirituality will emerge. “Today humankind is disappearing, like a face drawn in the sand and washed away by the waves. But what is taking its place no longer has a world; it is merely a bare and muted life without history, at the mercy of the computations of power and science. Perhaps, however, it is only by beginning from this wreckage that something else can appear, whether slowly or abruptly – certainly not a god, but not another man either – a new animal perhaps, a soul that lives in some other way…

Agamben alludes here to famous lines from Foucault’s Les mot et les choses when he refers to humankind disappearing like a figure drawn on sand being erased by waves on a shore. We are effectively entering what can be called a post-human era. The pandemic, global warming and the digitalisation of our lives – including direct digital access to our psychic life – corrode the basic coordinates of our being human.

So how can (post-)humanity be reinvented? Here is a hint. In his opposition to wearing protective masks, Giorgio Agamben refers to French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas and his claim that the face “speaks to me and thereby invites me to a relation incommensurate with a power exercised.” The face is the part of another’s body through which the abyss of the Other’s imponderable Otherness transpires.

Agamben’s obvious conclusion is that, by rendering the face invisible, the protective mask renders invisible the invisible abyss itself which is echoed by a human face. Really?

There is a clear Freudian answer to this claim: Freud knew well why, in an analytical session – when it gets serious, i.e. after the so-called preliminary encounters – the patient and the analyst are not confronting each other face to face. The face is at its most basic a lie, the ultimate mask, and the analyst only accedes to the abyss of the Other by NOT seeing its face.

Accepting the challenge of post-humanity is our only hope. Instead of dreaming about a ‘return to (old) normality’ we should engage in a difficult and painful process of constructing a new normality. This construction is not a medical or economic problem, it is a profoundly political one: we are compelled to invent a new form of our entire social life.

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Zizek: Covid crisis sparked fear of communism & China’s rise as superpower. But best way to prevent communism is to FOLLOW China

By: Slavoj Zizek

Across the world, the establishment is aware of the radical social consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. That’s why we’re seeing leaders introduce strategies and thinking that could be interpreted as fascist in principle.

story picked up by the UK media at the end of September passed almost unnoticed. As The Guardian reported, “The government has ordered schools in England not to use resources from organizations which have expressed a desire to end capitalism. Department for Education guidance issued on Thursday for school leaders and teachers involved in setting the relationship, sex and health curriculum categorized anti-capitalism as an ‘extreme political stance’ and equated it with opposition to freedom of speech, anti-Semitism and endorsement of illegal activity.”

As far as I know, this was the first time such an explicit order had been given; nothing like this happened even in the darkest periods of the Cold War. One should also note the words used: “a desire to end capitalism.” Not an intention, a plan, a program, but simply a desire – a term which can be applied to almost any statement (“True, you didn’t say it, but it’s what you desire…»).

Plus, of course, there was the (now usual) addition of “anti-Semitism,” as if a desire to end capitalism is in itself anti-Semitic. Are the authors aware that their prohibition is in itself anti-Semitic: it implies that Jews are in their essence capitalist?

Why this sudden panic reaction to communism? Is it fear that the pandemic, global warming and other social crises may provide an opportunity for China to assert itself as the only remaining superpower? No, China is not today’s Soviet Union; the best way to prevent communism is to follow China. While the Soviet Union was the external enemy, the threat to liberal democracies today is internal, from the explosive mixture of crises that beset our societies.

Let’s take an extreme but clear example of how the ongoing pandemic pushed our societies in the direction of what we associate with communism, and for some even the worst part of it.

In his Logiques des mondes, Alain Badiou elaborated on the idea of the politics of revolutionary justice at work from the ancient Chinese ‘legists’ through Jacobins to Lenin and Mao. It consists of four moments: voluntarism (the belief that one can “move mountains,” ignoring “objective” laws and obstacles), terror (a ruthless will to crush the enemy), egalitarian justice (its immediate brutal imposition, with no understanding for the “complex circumstances” which allegedly compel us to proceed gradually), and, last but not least, trust in the people.

Does the ongoing pandemic not require us to invent a new version of these four features?

Voluntarism: Even in countries where conservative forces are in power, decisions are taken which clearly violate “objective” laws of the market, like the state directly intervening in industry, distributing billions to prevent hunger or for healthcare measures.

Terror: Liberals are correct in their fears. Not only are states forced to enact new modes of social control and regulation, but people are even solicited to report family members and neighbors who hide their infection to the authorities.

Egalitarian justice: It is commonly accepted that the eventual vaccine should be accessible to everybody, and that no part of the world population should be sacrificed to the virus – the cure is either global or inefficient.

Trust in the people: We all know that most of the measures against the pandemic only work if people follow the recommendations. No state control can do the work here.

But much more important than this is the partial socialization of economy imposed by the pandemic. Such a socialization will become even more urgent with the ongoing rise in infections. This is how one should also interpret the ‘fascist’ tendencies of Trump and other populists. As Walter Benjamin said long ago: “Behind every fascism, there is a failed revolution.”

These ‘fascist’ tendencies signal that the establishment is silently aware of the radical social consequences of the pandemic. The establishment acts preventively by trying to quash them before they acquire full political form.

Although it is too simple to dismiss Trump as a fascist, the danger he embodies is even worse than outright fascism. From my youth, I remember a classic East German joke: Richard Nixon, Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker confront God, asking him about the future of their countries. To Nixon, he answers: “In 2050, the US will be communist.” Nixon turns around and starts to cry. To Brezhnev, he says: “In 2050, the Soviet Union will be a Chinese province.” After Brezhnev also turns around and starts to cry, Honecker finally asks: “And how will it be in my beloved GDR?” And God turns around, and starts to cry…

We can easily imagine a version of the same joke if Trump and those similar to him prevail in our world. Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Donald Trump confront God with the same question. To Putin, God answers: “Russia will be controlled by China,” so Putin turns around and starts to cry. To Xi, God answers: “Mainland China will be dominated by Taiwan,” so Xi does the same. When Trump finally asks the same question, God turns around and starts to cry…

What we are getting today – not only in China – is the combination of strong authoritarian states with wild capitalist dynamics. The most efficient form of capitalism today is what Henry Farrell called “networked authoritarianism”: if a state spies on people enough and allows machine-learning systems to incorporate their behavior and respond to it, it is possible to provide for everyone’s needs better than a democracy could. Here, Xi, Putin and Trump are joining hands.

Two conclusions impose themselves here, a short-term one and a long-term one. The short-term one is that the task of (whatever remains of) the radical left is now, as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pointed out, to save our “bourgeois” democracy when the liberal center is too weak and indecisive to do it. ‘Shame on them; we have now even to fight their battles!’

Obsessed by Trump’s provocative eccentricities, liberals miss the key point, developed by Michael Sandel: Trump is not a dictator, he only plays one on television, and we should not play along as his supporting cast. This is what we do when we criticize him as some kind of fascist, instead of focusing on his failures which he obfuscates by his dictatorial excesses and provocations. His typical strategy is to provoke the liberal ire which attracts wide attention and then, out of sight of the public at large, enforce measures which limit workers’ rights, etc.

And the second conclusion? During the protests that erupted in Chile in October 2019, there was graffiti on a wall which read, “Another end of the world is possible.”. This should be our answer to an establishment obsessed by apocalyptic scenarios. Yes, your old world is coming to an end, but the options envisaged by you are not the only ones: another end of the world is possible.

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Slavoj Zizek: Politically correct white people who practise self-contempt are contributing NOTHING in the fight to end racism

By: Slavoj Zizek

Smashing up monuments and disowning the past isn’t the way to address racism and show respect to black people. Feeling guilty patronizes the victims and achieves little.

It was widely reported in the media how on June 21, German authorities were shocked by a rampage of an “unprecedented scale” in the centre of Stuttgart: between 400 and 500 partygoers ran riot overnight, smashing shop windows, plundering stores and attacking police.

The police – who needed four and a half hours to quell the violence – ruled out any political motives for the “civil war-like scenes,” describing the perpetrators as people from the “party scene or events scene.” There were, of course, no bars or clubs for them to visit, because of social distancing – hence they were out on the streets.

Such civil disobedience has not been limited to Germany. On June 25, thousands packed out England’s beaches, ignoring social distancing. In Bournemouth, on the south coast, it was reported: “The area was overrun with cars and sunbathers, leading to gridlock. Rubbish crews also suffered abuse and intimidation as they tried to remove mountains of waste from the seafront, and there were a number of incidents involving excessive alcohol and fighting.”

One can blame these violent outbreaks on the immobility imposed by social distancing and quarantine, and it is reasonable to expect that we’ll see similar incidents across the world. You could argue that the recent wave of anti-racist protests follows a similar logic, too: people are relieved to deal with something they believe in to take their focus away from coronavirus.

We are, of course, dealing with very different types of violence here. On the beach, people simply wanted to enjoy their usual summer vacation, and reacted angrily against those who wanted to prevent it.

In Stuttgart, the enjoyment was generated by looting and destruction – by violence itself. But what we saw there was a violent carnival at its worst, an explosion of blind rage (although, as expected, some leftists tried to interpret it as a protest against consumerism and police control). The (largely non-violent) anti-racist protests simply ignored the orders of the authorities in pursuit of a noble cause.

Of course, these types of violence predominate in developed Western societies – we’re ignoring here the more extreme violence which is already happening and will for sure explode in countries like Yemen, Afghanistan and Somalia. “This summer will usher in some of the worst catastrophes the world has ever seen if the pandemic is allowed to spread rapidly across countries already convulsed by growing violence, deepening poverty and the spectre of famine,” reported the Guardian earlier this week.

There is a key feature shared by the three types of violence in spite of their differences: none of them expresses a consistent socio-political program. The anti-racist protests might appear to, but they fail in so much as they are dominated by the politically correct passion to erase traces of racism and sexism – a passion which gets all too close to its opposite, neo-conservative thought-control.

The law approved on June 16 by Romanian lawmakers prohibits all educational institutions from “propagating theories and opinion on gender identity according to which gender is a separate concept from biological sex.” Even Vlad Alexandrescu, a centre-right senator and university professor, noted that with this law, “Romania is aligning itself with positions promoted by Hungary and Poland and becoming a regime introducing thought policing.

Directly prohibiting gender theory is, of course, part of the program of the populist new right, but now it has been given a new push by the pandemic. A typical new right populist reaction to the pandemic is that its outbreak is ultimately the result of our global society, where multicultural mixtures predominate. So the way to fight it is to make our societies more nationalist, rooted in a particular culture with firm, traditional values.

Let’s leave aside the obvious counter-argument that fundamentalist countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar are being ravaged, and focus on the procedure of “thought policing,” whose ultimate expression was the infamous Index Librorum Prohibitorum (List of Prohibited Books), a collection of publications deemed heretical or contrary to morality by the Sacred Congregation of the Index, so that Catholics were forbidden from reading them without permission.

This list was operative (and regularly updated) from early modernity until 1966, and everybody who counted in European culture was included at some point. As my friend Mladen Dolar noted some years ago, if you imagine European culture without all the books and authors who were at some point on the list, what remains is pure wasteland…

The reason I mention this is that I think the recent urge to cleanse our culture of all traces of racism and sexism courts the danger of falling into the same trap as the Catholic Church’s index. What remains if we discard all authors in whom we find some traces of racism and anti-feminism? Quite literally all the great philosophers and writers disappear.

Let’s take Descartes, who at one point was on the Catholic index, but is also regarded today by many as the philosophical originator of Western hegemony, which is eminently racist and sexist.

We should not forget that the grounding experience of Descartes’ position of universal doubt is precisely a ‘multicultural’ experience of how one’s own tradition is no better than what appears to us as the ‘eccentric’ traditions of others. As he wrote in his ‘Discourse on Method’, he recognized in the course of his travels that traditions and customs that “are very contrary to ours are yet not necessarily barbarians or savages, but may be possessed of reason in as great or even a greater degree than ourselves.”

This is why, for a Cartesian philosopher, ethnic roots and national identity are simply not a category of truth. This is also why Descartes was immediately popular among women: as one of his early readers put it, cogito – the subject of pure thinking – has no sex.

Today’s claims that sexual identities are socially constructed and not biologically determined are only possible against the background of Cartesian tradition; there is no modern feminism and anti-racism without Descartes’ thought.

So, in spite of his occasional lapses into racism and sexism, Descartes deserves to be celebrated, and we should apply the same criterion to all great names from our philosophical past: from Plato and Epicurus to Kant and Hegel, Marx and Kierkegaard… Modern feminism and anti-racism emerged out of this long emancipatory tradition, and it would be sheer madness to leave this noble tradition to obscene populists and conservatives.

And the same goes for many disputed political figures. Yes, Thomas Jefferson had slaves and opposed the Haiti revolution – but he laid the politico-ideological foundations for later black liberation. And yes, in invading the Americas, Western Europe did cause maybe the greatest genocide in world history. But European thought laid the politico-ideological foundation for us today to see the full scope of this horror.

And it’s not just about Europe: yes, while the young Gandhi fought in South Africa for equal rights for Indians, he ignored the predicament of the blacks. But he nonetheless successfully led the biggest anti-colonial movement.

So while we should be ruthlessly critical about our past (and especially the past which continues in our present), we should not succumb to self-contempt – respect for others based on self-contempt is always, and by definition, false.

The paradox is that in our societies, the white people who participate in anti-racist protests are mostly the upper-middle class white people who hypocritically enjoy their guilt. Perhaps these protesters should learn the lesson of Frantz Fanon, who certainly cannot be accused of not being radical enough:

Every time a man has contributed to the victory of the dignity of the spirit, every time a man has said no to an attempt to subjugate his fellows, I have felt solidarity with his act. In no way does my basic vocation have to be drawn from the past of peoples of color. /…/ My black skin is not a repository for specific values. /…/ I as a man of color do not have the right to hope that in the white man there will be a crystallization of guilt toward the past of my race. I as a man of color do not have the right to seek ways of stamping down the pride of my former master. I have neither the right nor the duty to demand reparations for my subjugated ancestors. There is no black mission; there is no white burden. /…/ Am I going to ask today’s white men to answer for the slave traders of the seventeenth century? Am I going to try by every means available to cause guilt to burgeon in their souls? /…/ I am not a slave to slavery that dehumanized my ancestors.”

The opposite of guilt (of the white men) is not tolerance for their continued politically correct racism, most famously demonstrated in the notorious Amy Cooper video that was filmed in New York’s Central Park.

In a conversation with academic Russell Sbriglia, he pointed out to me that “the strangest, most jarring part of the video is that she specifically says – both to the black man himself before she calls 911 and to the police dispatcher once she’s on the phone with them – that ‘an African American man’ is threatening her life.  It’s almost as if, having mastered the proper, politically correct jargon (‘African American,’ not ‘black’), what she’s doing couldn’t possibly be racist.”

Instead of perversely enjoying our guilt (and thereby patronizing the true victims), we need active solidarity: guilt and victimhood immobilize us. Only all of us together, treating ourselves and each other as responsible adults, can beat racism and sexism.

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Slavoj Zizek: Greta and Bernie should be leading in these troubled times, but they are NOT RADICAL ENOUGH

By: Slavoj Zizek

With everything that’s plunging the world into chaos right now, one thing surprising me is, why are Greta Thunberg and Bernie Sanders comparatively quiet? Make no mistake, racism, climate issues and the pandemic are all connected.

Except for a short note from Greta that she thinks she survived the Covid infection, the movement she has mobilized has failed to avoid getting drowned out by the Covid-19 pandemic panic and the anti-racism protests in the US. As for Bernie, although he advocated measures (like universal healthcare) which are now, amid the pandemic, recognized as necessary all around the world, he is also effectively nowhere to be seen or heard. Why aren’t we seeing more, not less, of the political figures whose programs and insights are today more relevant than ever?

In the last months, the topic of Covid totally eclipsed ecological concerns and was only overshadowed in the last weeks by anti-racist protests which spread from the US all around the globe. The crucial ideological and political battle that is going on these days concerns the relationship between the three domains: Covid epidemics, ecological crises, racism. The pressure that comes from the establishment is to keep these three domains apart, and even to hint at tensions between them. One often hears that our main task now is to get the economy moving, and that to do this we should neglect ecological problems a little bit; one hears that chaotic anti-racist protests often violate social distancing and for that reason contribute to spreading Covid infections… Against this line of reasoning, one should insist on the basic unity of the three domains: epidemics explode as part of our unbalanced relationship with our natural environs, they are not just a health problem; anti-racist protests were also given the additional boost by the fact that racial minorities are much more threatened by the epidemics than the white majority which can afford self-isolation and better medical care. We are thus dealing with crises which erupt as moments of the dynamics of global capitalism: all three – viral epidemics, racial unrests, ecological crises – were not only predicted but were already accompanying us for decades.

As for the anti-racist protests, here is how Spike Lee answered the question “Why did eight years of Obama fail to make substantial enough change to race relations in the US?”: “Very good question. But you have to understand: race relations – which have gotten worse – are a direct response to having a black president.” Why? Not because Obama was “not black enough,” but because he embodied the image of a black American advocated by the liberal Left, a black American who succeeded while fully respecting the rules of the liberal game. Protests are a brutal reply to “Now you have a black president, what more do you want?” It is our task to articulate this ”more.” Just remember that, during the eight years of Obama’s presidency, the general tendency of the last decades went smoothly on: the gap between the rich and the poor widened, big capital got stronger. In one of the episodes of ‘The Good Fight’, to follow-up series to ‘The Good Wife’, the heroine awakens in an alternate reality in which Hillary Clinton won the election in 2016, defeating Trump. But the result is paradoxical for feminism: there is no ‘Me Too’, there are no wide protests against Weinstein because moderate establishment Left feminists fear that if there is too strong a protest against male harassment of women, Clinton may lose male votes and not be re-elected, plus Weinstein is a great donor to the Clinton campaign… Did something similar not happen with Obama?

The point is not just (or primarily) that black people should be given more financial support to help their economic situation. There is a wonderful detail in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X: after Malcolm gave a speech in a college, a white female student approaches him and asks him what she can do for the black struggle for liberation; he coldly answers her, “Nothing.” And walks away… When I used this example decades ago, I was criticized for implying that we whites shouldn’t do anything to support the black struggle; but my (and, I think, Malcolm’s) point was more precise. White liberals should not act as if they will liberate the black people, they should support black people in their own struggle for liberation – treating them as autonomous agents, not as mere victims of circumstances.

So, back to our starting question: the disappearance of Greta and Bernie from our public space does not mean that they were too radical for our time of viral crisis when more unifying voices are needed. On the contrary, they were not radical enough: they did not succeed in proposing a global new vision that would re-actualize their project in the conditions of epidemics.

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Slavoj Zizek: In American protests, victims of Trump’s policies help the criminal erase the crime

By: Slavoj Zizek

Be they against the Covid-19 lockdown or police brutality, the protests gripping the US stem from a ‘money or life’ choice, where people are forced to choose money. The poor are victims, helping to cover up the crime against them.

Our world is gradually drowning in madness: instead of solidarity and coordinated global action against the Covid-19 threat, not only are agricultural disasters proliferating, raising the prospect of massive hunger – locusts are invading areas from Eastern Africa to Pakistan – but political violence is also exploding, often ignored by the media. How little do we read about the military border clashes between India and China, with multiple wounded?

In such a desperate age, one should be excused for escaping from time to time into good old formulaic crime series, like the British-French show ‘Death in Paradise’.

In one of the later episodes, the killer’s motive is the brutal humiliation and torment the victim had subjected him to in high school. Mortally wounded, the victim realizes what suffering he had caused, and uses the last ounce of his strength to alter the scene so that it would seem a third person had perpetrated the murder, in order to exonerate the real killer.

There is something noble in such a gesture, a trace of authentic redemption. But ideology finds a way to pervert even such noble gestures; it can compel the victim, not the criminal, to voluntarily erase any traces of the crime and present it as an act of his or her own free will. Is this not what thousands of ordinary people who demonstrate for an end to the lockdown are doing in the paradise called USA?

‘Money or life’ is not a free choice

Returning too quickly to ‘normality’, as advocated by Trump and his administration, exposes many people to the deadly threat of infection – but they nonetheless demand it, thereby covering up any traces of Trump’s (and the capital’s) crime.

In the early 19th century, many miners in Wales rejected helmets and other expensive protective equipment, even though this gear greatly reduced the possibility of deadly accidents which abounded in coal mines, because the costs were deducted from their salaries.

Today we seem to regress to the same desperate calculation, which is a new inverted version of the old forced choice ‘money or life’ (where, of course, you choose life, even if it is life in misery). If you now choose life against money, you cannot survive, since you lose money and life, so you have to return to work to earn money to survive – but the life you get is curtailed by a threat of infection and death. Trump is not guilty of killing the workers, they made a free choice – but Trump is guilty of offering them a ‘free’ choice in which the only way to survive is to risk death, and he further humiliates them by putting them in a situation whereby they must demonstrate for their ‘right’ to die at their place of work.

One should contrast these protests against the lockdown with the ongoing explosion of rage triggered by another death in the American paradise, the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Although the rage of the thousands of black people protesting this act of police violence is not directly linked to the pandemic, it is easy to discern from their background the clear lesson of the Covid-19 death statistics: black and Hispanic people have a much greater chance of dying due to the virus than white Americans. The outbreak has thus brought out the very material consequences of class differences in the US: it’s not just a question of wealth and poverty, it is also quite literally a matter of life and death, both when dealing with police and when dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

And this brings us back to our starting point from ‘Death in Paradise’, to the noble gesture of the victim helping the perpetrator to erase all trace of his act – an act which was, if not justified, at least understandable as an act of despair. Yes, the black protesters are often violent, but we should show their violence a little bit of the same leniency as the victim does towards his killer in the ‘Death in Paradise’ episode.

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Slavoj Zizek: el futuro digital de Schmidt-Cuomo es una autopista hacia Matrix

Por: Slavoj Zizek

Las funciones básicas del estado de Nueva York pronto podrían «reinventarse» bajo la alianza del gobernador Andrew Cuomo y la personificación de Big Tech. ¿Es este el campo de pruebas para un futuro distópico «sin contacto»?

Puede parecer que la opción básica que tenemos para hacer frente a la pandemia es la del camino de Trump (retorno a la actividad económica en condiciones de libertad de mercado y rentabilidad, incluso si esto significa miles de muertes más) y lo que nuestros medios denuncian como a la manera china (control estatal digitalizado total de individuos).

Sin embargo, en los Estados Unidos, el gobernador de Nueva York Andrew Cuomo y el ex CEO de Google Eric Schmidt propagan una tercera opción, con Michael Bloomberg más Bill y Melinda Gates en el fondo: Naomi Klein de Intercept calificó esta opción como una «Screen New Deal». Promete seguridad contra las infecciones y al mismo tiempo mantiene todas las libertades personales que los liberales cuidan, pero ¿tiene la oportunidad de trabajar?

Cuomo y Schmidt anunciaron un proyecto para «reimaginar la realidad post-Covid del estado de Nueva York, con énfasis en la integración permanente de la tecnología en todos los aspectos de la vida cívica». Desde el punto de vista de Klein, esto conducirá a un «futuro permanente – y altamente rentable – sin contacto», en el que no hay efectivo y no es necesario salir de la casa para gastarlo. Todos los servicios y productos posibles se solicitan en línea, entregados por drones, «y luego se ‘comparten’ en una plataforma mediada». Y hacer que este futuro avance sería las masas explotadas de «trabajadores anónimos escondidos en almacenes, centros de datos, fábricas de moderación de contenido, talleres electrónicos, minas de litio, granjas industriales, plantas de procesamiento de carne y cárceles».En una de sus meditaciones sobre la muerte, el comediante Anthony Jeselnik dice sobre su abuela: “Pensamos que murió feliz mientras dormía. Pero la autopsia reveló una verdad horrible: ella murió durante la autopsia «. Este es el problema con la autopsia de Schmidt de nuestra situación: su autopsia y sus implicaciones hacen que nuestra situación sea mucho más catastrófica de lo que es.

Hay dos características clave que inmediatamente llaman la atención en esta descripción.

Primero, es la paradoja de que aquellos privilegiados que pueden permitirse el lujo de vivir en el espacio sin contacto también son los más controlados: toda su vida es transparente para el verdadero asiento del poder, el Big Tech y el gobierno se combinan. Si las redes que son el alma de nuestra existencia realmente están en manos de compañías privadas como Google, Amazon y Apple, compañías que, fusionadas con las agencias de seguridad del estado, tendrán la capacidad de censurar y manipular los datos disponibles para nosotros o incluso para desconectarnos del espacio público? Recuerde que Schmidt y Cuomo exigen inmensas inversiones públicas en estas empresas: ¿el público no debería poseerlas y controlarlas? En resumen, como propone Klein, ¿no deberían transformarse en servicios públicos sin fines de lucro? Sin un movimiento similar,

En segundo lugar, el Screen New Deal interviene en la lucha de clases en un punto muy preciso. La crisis viral nos hizo plenamente conscientes del papel crucial de lo que David Harvey llamó la «nueva clase trabajadora»: cuidadores en todas sus formas, desde enfermeras hasta aquellos que entregan alimentos y otros paquetes, vacían nuestros contenedores de basura, etc. Para aquellos de nosotros que pudimos aislarnos, ellos continuaron siendo nuestro contacto principal con otros en su forma corporal, un fuente de ayuda pero también de posible contagio. The Screen New Deal es un plan para minimizar el papel visible de esta clase de cuidador que debe permanecer no aislado, en gran parte desprotegido, exponiéndose al peligro viral para que nosotros, los privilegiados, podamos sobrevivir con seguridad, algunos sueñan que los robots lo harán incluso cuidar a los viejos y hacerles compañía … Pero estos cuidadores invisibles pueden contraatacar, exigiendo una mejor protección: en la industria del envasado de carne en los EE. UU., miles de trabajadores ya contrataron a Covid y murieron docenas, y están sucediendo cosas similares. en Alemania. Nuevas formas de lucha de clases explotarán aquí.

Al final del Screen New Deal, si llevamos este proyecto a su conclusión hiperbólica, existe la idea de un cerebro conectado, de nuestros cerebros compartiendo directamente experiencias en una Singularidad, una autoconciencia colectiva divina. Elon Musk, otro genio de la tecnología percibido de nuestro tiempo, dijo recientemente que cree que el lenguaje humano quedaría obsoleto dentro de 10 años, y si algunos aún lo usarían, sería «por razones sentimentales». Siendo el jefe de Neuralink, dijo que planea conectar un dispositivo al cerebro humano dentro de los 12 meses.

En Chile, durante las protestas que estallaron en octubre de 2019, uno de los graffitis en las paredes dijo: «Otro fin del mundo es posible». Esta debería ser nuestra respuesta al Screen New Deal: sí, nuestro viejo mundo ha llegado a su fin, pero un futuro sin contacto no es la única opción, es posible otro fin del mundo.¿Esta visión, cuando se fusionó con el futuro confinado en casa extrapolado por Klein de las ambiciones de los simbiontes Big Tech de Cuomo, no recuerda la situación de los humanos en ‘The Matrix’? Protegidos, físicamente aislados y sin palabras en nuestras burbujas aisladas, estaremos espiritualmente unidos más que nunca, mientras nuestros señores de alta tecnología se benefician y una masa multimillonaria de humanos invisibles trabaja en la carpintería, una visión de pesadilla si alguna vez hubo una. .

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