« Shaviro is right: vote for Obama | Main | Conditions of possibility of impeachment »

September 19, 2008


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


Hi Jodi,
Steve's comment about evil is certainly provocative. But it seems to me that the operative term in his argument is not "evil" but "stupid." The point about evil is foregrounded by his suggestion that the American "left" is wrong (stupid) to think simply that Republicans are "stupid" to vote for M/Palin. Implied there, I think, is this important point: the American left can be profoundly stupid, misrecognizing their higher morality as more distinctive reasonableness/intelligence. Urging people to be rational when one really wants to urge morality/ethics is just stupid. Politically speaking, then, the Obama campaign and the "left" more generally is just stupid not to focus on obvious moral issues. Obama wins if he talks, for example, about race (something that seems counter-intuitive to his campaign). There are plenty of "unsure" voters who are troubled by Obama's race but are not in the same racist category of those who simply won't vote for him because of it. And if he talks about the corruption of a government bailing out corrupt economic predators for the sake of the "common good" (that is, high end, institutionalized investors) rather than the need for a rational system of oversight, he wins. As for Palin herself and all the business about affect: focus a bit on hubby Todd and you shortcircuit the whole "she is a hockey mom just like me." Todd is actually the ugly brother-in-law that scares the shit out of all these families. There is a lot of room for hope here.


i dunno...i rarely think in terms of "evil." Jodi's post will get me to think more about it though. i can only say it is not so much about "morality" but power, and the nature of our problems, and what is decisive...and so, i'm acting on it at least within the voting booth, and, may i add, acting out against all the sisyphus of morons who berate me for not swallowing the "lesser evil" mantra. i'm in a safe state so I'm voting neither obama or mccain...yet democracy is just too sloppy a thing, too many remainders, to rationalize my measely vote as well as my heart and voice even if I weren't.


If one must choose between "evil" and "stupid" to describe Republican voters, then stupid has to be right choice. Actually they are neither: partly they just have different values; partly they have different interests; partly they have a different analysis of current situation the US finds itself (and one which is open to rational critique); but mainly they belong to different filiations and affiliations, which lie outside religious discourse concerning 'evil', any moral discourse concerning 'good', and any enlightened discourse concerning 'rationality'


"To my mind, Steve's evocation of evil is right in this moment, this context."

Does it take the luster off the conjunctural argument to know that he apparently thought the exact same thing four years ago?

"For make no mistake about it: the American people have willfully and knowingly chosen to embrace radical evil."

Doug Johnson

No it doesn't, Eric. That election was about evil too. In 2004 the American people knew, or should have known, full well that a cadre of Cheney and his cronies were draining individual accounts and the U.S. treasury into their pirate chests through Enron, Halliburton, and a host of other oil, energy, and warmongering outfits. I mean, I said at the time and still say it, that if John Edwards had mentioned Halliburton in every single response, Dick Cheney would have been forced to say 'fuck you' on national television during the vice presidential debate. Election would have been won right there.

In his debate, Obama should mention something about torture or seven, eight, nine, thirteen houses (he should literally use a different number every time - a different number that is viable given the multi-house properties). The goiters would eventually start jiggling uncontrollably. It would be helpful if he could also say something about illegal wiretapping. That would play well against western conservatism. Alas, Obama voted for FISA.


There seems to be a bit of a disconnect. The assumption seems to be that the American people will decide the outcome of the election, but what about the fact that the integrity of the election process is so compromised (especially in regard to electronic voting machines)? I'm not an American, but have done research on the integrity of the election process in the US, especially at the presidential level. It seems like the larger issue (than who one votes for per se) is that the elections themselves are likely to be much less than fair. Incidentally, I agree with Jodi's position in these debates, but it seems like the significant political issue is whether or not (and to what degree) the elections are 'real'.

Mehmet Çagatay

Hello Ms. Dean,

Steve’s frustration with Bush administration is understandable as it is like torture, arrogance, institutional stupidity and uncivilized aggression, etc has incarnated in the guise of a giant practical joke. For any sane person free from the ideological misrepresentation it is certainly embarrassing to be subjected to the power of primitiveness. Same goes for their Turkish counterparts. I’m not able to watch the appearances of the Prime Minister or any other members of the cabinet without fantasizing their death. This is understandable. But there is danger here of falling into a trap of a false ethical positions because our subjective desires generally distort our vision. What I learned from Badiou and Zizek is a genuine ethical stance is something like swimming against the current, unyielding fidelity to a cause targeting to break the vicious circle of current state of affairs, or, I suppose, the proper ethics is to promote dialectics. Otherwise, ethics function as the justification of status quo, as Badiou called “ethical ideology”, which at first arbitrarily introduces the voodoo doves of evil and than sticks little defensive pins into it (human rights, democracy, civil liberties, for instance in Turkey: modernism, western values: Theoretically, Turks love western values as thyself. Believe me, in a famous TV show where desperate souls are looking for a proper partner to get married, a girl wearing a headscarf told the indispensable qualification for her future husband: He must be educated by western values: What a symptomatic joke!). But logically the answer of the real to the ethical ideology is always as in Cohen’s song: “So you can stick your little pins in that voodoo doll / I’m very sorry, baby, doesn’t look like me at all”.

All forms of evil is connected with the different processes of perversion of the truth, of course voting for the Republicans may be regarded as evil in the sense that it serves to the interests of those in power, it serves to the tyrannical oppression, etc. but the genuine evil here is to vote for Obama as the confirmation of the difficulty to remain faithful to the communist truth. It is downright betrayal, for Badiou it is one of the three main forms of perversion of truth. I mean, how ethical it may seems voting for Obama is the justification of the political pattern that arranges a circus of elections in every four years where elephants and donkeys competes by performing certain repetitive symptomatic tricks. As a result, voting for Obama indirectly means voting for a mysterious Republican candidate who bides his or her time at the present. The ethical solution might be to vote for no one, or to Nader, or to someone else. These are my thoughts about forthcoming elections in the U.S in brief, please bear in my that I’m not very into the U.S politics so forgive me if it offends anyone here.


Joe Clement

"The ethical solution might be to vote for no one, or to Nader, or to someone else."

How are you relating "the ethical thing to do" to voting behavior exactly?

On the one hand, sure, Zizek argues quite convincingly that contemporary ideology is in the doing and not the knowing of Marx's famous formula, "they do not know it, and yet they still are doing it." On the other hand, the "vote for no one, or to Nader, or to someone else" strategy as the solution "the ethical problem" of exactly what ZIzek is attacking as contemporary ideology.

Distancing oneself from the the Democrat-Republican matrix of politics (right now anyway) is as (in)effective as telling yourself (or worse yet, someone else), while in The Matrix (i.e. of the movies), that the bullet flying at you is simply a simulation. That is to say, it's a false distance, a distance that disavows its engagement all the while it supports it. In this sense, Zizek has not replaced Marx's formula, because it still functions at this level: said advocates do not know or do not think they are engaged the election, they think it is all a big game, and yet they are still engaged with it, still playing the game.

Shit, you mean "resistance is surrender," Zizek? That makes it sounds like you're fucked if you do or fucked if you don't. I don't though, and I have been repeating again and again what we can do. We can vote for Obama (because we must), but not without short-circuiting this false (ostensibly ethical) equivalence between our vote AND our support (of a candidate), which supports and is supported by a forced-choice between our vote OR our critique. That means not just voting for Obama, but voting for him and advocating others to do the same, not because it solves our problems, but because there is much more to be done.

Joe Clement

I'm sorry, Mehmet. That last posting of mine may not have been very clear. It looks to me now that I see it up that it reads more like a cross-reference of previous things I've said on this blog than a coherent response to what you said.

My point is that voting for Obama is not (or at least, need not be) some kind of Badiouian infidelity to Communism. What would be a bigger infidelity to Communism than to disavow (throw away, really) our engaged political-position in the name of an ethical purity functioning in terms of liberal democracy? I think you nail it on the head by contrasting "a genuine ethical stance" with "ethical ideology," but I do not think that what you end up suggesting is that genuine stance, but precisely that ethical ideology of which you disapprove.

Third-party politics and advocating not-voting are, at least in the current American situation, the electoral equivalents of the kind of "margins of power" Leftism Zizek has attacked for years. They already function within and for the status quo, even as and because they distance themselves from it.


Thanks, folks, for the comments. A few responses:

Ken--why choose? The choice is evil and stupid. The vocabulary of stupidity, though, leads to discussions of policies, of voting against one's interests, all those things. Weirdly, then, it invited debate with an adversary one has just referred to as incapable of debating (they're too stupid). Evil gives up the conceit of deliberation.

That said, Paul (my partner) has suggested using the term 'absolute wrong' as an alternative (I would think that Steve would reject the Hegelian tendencies here). I agree with this, analytically. I'm tempted to say that I could never advocate 'evil' as a term for political theory. Using it, then, would be to speak as a partisan in a conjuncture and to voice deliberately an exception.

Chris--I'm tired of acknowledging as 'different values' the views of clear fascists. It's like saying that racists just have different values: no kidding; their so-called values are wrong.

Eric--no; Old's answer is a good one. Mine would be simpler--I'm interested in now and now it is appropriate. Steve may or may not have been right 4 years ago.

Old--I can't figure out why the campaign isn't following your advice; it's almost as if they don't believe in themselves.

Pat--fair enough. On the one hand, we have to assume that the elections are real if we are going to talk about them; it's a rule of the game. On the other, I have friends trying to appeal to the UN to send in election observers.

Mehmet--you say, "the genuine evil here is to vote for Obama as the confirmation of the difficulty to remain faithful to the communist truth." Over here (this part of the blogipelago) no one thinks that voting for Obama confirms the difficulty of remaining faithful to the communist truth. It's voting for appearances that make a difference, appearances that make torture appear as a crime, that make unlawful detention appear as unlawful, that make hideous corporate greed appear as hideous corporate greed. It's an argument for a minimal difference.

Joe--your second comment is a nice clarification of what you've been saying.

Mehmet Çagatay

Hello Mr. Clement,

I completely agree with your proposition that distancing ourselves from the political engagement is the real betrayal to Communism and Zizek’s statement that this is a false distance. My point was, one can enumerate numerous reasons to vote for Obama against Republicans and one might or must prefer him over any republican candidate but an ethical justification to this preference is doomed to lead us to compromise with the status quo. Since it would be arbitrary to decide what is good or evil before the emergence of a truth which will introduce its own ethics, (Although it seems defeated and outworn we have one truth at the present: Communism), the genuine ethical stance is to act in favor of the process of truth that will destroy the imperatives of the ethics of current ruling ideology, thus in this sense it is anti-ethics.

The problem with Zizek’s position regarding the election race in the U.S is in a strange fashion, he presents Democrats as the leftist option against the right-wing knavery of Republicans, and he compares Obama with Latin American socialist leaders who initially aroused excitement among people and addressed their desire to change but eventually succumbed to the necessities of global capitalism. I oppose this portrayal since in my opinion of course the Republicans are the embodiment of right-wing knavery which leads to a collective foolery among people but their Democrat colleagues are the ones who appeal to the collective knavery of the other half of the citizens which feeds on the foolery of the shallow fragments of the half forgotten halfhearted leftist discourse. As an example from Turkey: Here is there are numerous central right-wing parties that take turns to taste the fruits of power, and there is a Republican Kemalist party (Republican People's Party) which is supported by certain ethnic groups and the citizens possessing some quasi leftist sentiments, some of them are my friends or I know some of them, the collective hypocrisy of these people is astonishing. They oppose American imperialism yet they applaud the intrusion of Turkish Army to Northern Iraq in a much more agitated manner, they disdain religion and yet they get pleasure from the peculiarities of another religion: Alevism, they are secular for not running the risk of unnecessary consequences of being an Atheist, apparently they are devoted democrats but they hate democracy on behalf of the immorality of the scandalous Turkish state, etc. etc. Here we have fake engagement with politics and my anger is towards to this quasi-leftist collective knavery, that is to say, what I had in my mind is not directly the politics of the U.S. but the universal evil which is also prevalent in my country. What I’m proposing is not to cynically distance ourselves from political struggle, as Zizek points out, it is a fake distance and it is impossible anyway, but we have to invent new forms of political engagement where the old form ends up with the continuation of our obsessive political occupation whose aim is to ensure that everything will remain same… new forms of organizations and new candidates other than the sons of corrupted two party system, etc. I don’t know. All I know is, voting for Obama with the ethical verdict that I did the “right” thing or I vote for the good guy is ethically wrong.

Joe Clement

I understand the nuance of your stance here, Mehmet. It is much like mine in that first comment above where I mentioned some uncertainty about how we moralize, or I guess ethicize, this electoral decision.

"My point was, one can enumerate numerous reasons to vote for Obama against Republicans and one might or must prefer him over any republican candidate but an ethical justification to this preference is doomed to lead us to compromise with the status quo."

I agree, which is why I'm cautious about casting the "vote for Obama" rhetoric in ethical terms. I think the ethical thing to do is not merely one of variety of electoral actions, but the stance we take towards them. Our choices are not as free as is popular to think, so there has to be something else we can do to constitute this ethical stance so many seem to want. That something else, I've been arguing, is a particular disposition we maintain vis-a-vis voting (for Obama) as such. I won't re-hash it all here again, but what I offer is a response to both those who do not like Obama and therefore are not voting for him and those who are not happy about Obama and cannot seem to become *at ease* about voting for him. The point isn't to be happy about voting for Obama, but to hold onto exactly what is so disconcerting about it, what isn't "enough" about it. The ethical stance the Left should seek ought to be characterized by tension and not resolution.


those who vote for the Republicans in this election choose evil.

Eggz-f-n-zactly. Vote for whoever expedites Destruction, chaos, & death, and most effectively invokes thanatos. Viva McPain

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo