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January 14, 2011


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I take it you are responding to Zizek's latest article: "Good Manners in the Age of WikiLeaks"? If so, I wonder if it really matters whether any of them believe what they say? I remember having this debate at Long Sunday during Bush's presidency - did it matter whether the neo-cons believed their own bullshit justifications for war? Whether they did or not, they embraced a revolutionary language (if not a revolutionary ethos).

I suspect you also don't accept Zizek's general claim that ideology is strongest when I know the system is fucked but I go on as if it actually works anyway - to break past this we could "no longer pretend we don’t know what everyone knows we know." And this seems impossible at the moment.

The Mathmos

I don't know if I believe that the Davos Men you point to generally believe in every details of their professional spiel. But then again, are such questions about their psychology really relevant to understanding and resisting the current power relations? What if the workaholic nature of most ruling positions actually precludes any prominent actor of arriving at the self-consciousness necessary to even questions the premises of their environment?

Most probably, at some cut-off point structure takes over, and then we're no longer dealing with individuals, but elements of an institutional network whose motivation is so diffuse as to be unquestionable.


"Each believes what he or she says. It's harder to fight against an adversary who believes in their cause..."
I'm not sure whether the people you mentioned believe so much in their cause as believe very strongly in themselves. Whatever Barack Obama thinks is right. Whatever Sarah Palin thinks is right. And so forth.


I wonder if some of the elites really believe or "only imagines that they believes in themselves" and the system they seek to preserve?


Jodi, what are your views on the notion of the bicameral mind views of Julian Jaynes and McGilchrist in relation to the type of thought you express here:

"Each believes what he or she says. It's harder to fight against an adversary who believes in their cause--and I think that is what we are up against."

What do zizek and Lacan have to say about the bicameral mind?

Jodi Dean

Alain--I think it matters because folks are more likely to fight for something they believe than for a cynical idea. You raise a good question though, regarding revolutionary language. On the one hand, I am arguing that folks believe in the language they use. On the other, I argue that our setting is one of the decline of symbolic efficiency. Can both ideas be true? I think so (but I could be wrong here). Palin believes her blood libel claim. She invokes it in keeping with rhetoric already present on the far right. Others reject the rhetoric, saying that the term can't/shouldn't be used so easily. The term has different efficiencies in each setting. Another example: the left--some would say there is radical rhetoric but not radical belief. Yet the right takes left radical rhetoric seriously, even as both sides have fundamentally different notions about what the rhetoric means. On your Zizek point: I think that his idea about ideology being the strongest when one no longer believes is not correct. Or, better, I think he is stronger when he describes the way beliefs persist underneath what we know.

The Mathmos--I don't think this discussion is primarily about individual psychology but rather about an ideological disposition.

Scepticus--I don't think Zizek talks about it. He talks about brain stuff in The Parallax View, but the primary issue involves the unconscious and the minimal gap between brain and mind. I don't know the folks you mention in your remark and haven't thought about the bicameral mind. I should say, though, that my remarks on belief don't imply that someone lacks an unconscious or doubt. Again, it's more a matter of subjectivity within a larger ideological setting.


Thanks Jodi. I think you are correct that the right takes left radical rhetoric seriously - but it is the rhetoric of the 1960's and earl 1970's. What comes to mind is Glenn Beck's obsession with Cloward and Piven's work on the National Welfare Rights Movement. I remember reading their work in college and thought that it was fairly bold, and at least somewhat effective. Today, liberals defend her and can't understand the attacks - of course she has no relevance for today's democratic party but her ideas would certainly be considered radical today.

So while I agree with you i think it is instructive that someone like Beck has attack political movements and theory from 40 years ago to make his larger point. There is no academic today with comparable impact. The fact that Obama attended some conference where she was the key note speaker in 1983 is asserted as proof that he is under her spell and wants to destroy capitalism is absurd. It helps not only distract from what is actually happening today, but also reconfirms the desire for an alternative. Glenn Beck in this respect does more to keep socialism alive that any leftist could.


Does Zizek really suggest that people in power (especially on the political right) are necessarily cynics? I didn't think that he did...

I mean, I know he says that the dominant ideology today is one of cynicism, but I didn't think that he was trying to suggest by this that the Sarah Palin's and Glenn Beck's of this world (or the Sarkozy's and Obama's) had to, by this thesis, be cynics themselves.

On the contrary, I actually thought that his thesis of pervasive cynicism was in, many ways, directed -against- this kind of idea.

Explaining: let's say, that I, as a leftist, was under the impression that Bush is a puppet whose strings were pulled by an intensely 'knowing' "Other of the Other" (let's say a cabal of neo-con Machiavellis whose rhetoric about democracy and freedom, was never anything more than a cynical ploy.) The problem with this kind of belief, according to Zizek, and, in a sense, irrespective of its truth is that it contributes to my own tendency to equate my resistance with something with my ability to 'see through it'. (I actually thought that you brought this point out brilliantly, on several occasions, throughout your book on 'communicative capitalism')

Rephrasing: just because I can listen to a politician mouthing the shibboleths du jour and think: "Hmm, that guy's probably talking complete bollocks, doesn't mean, that I am =actually-
resisting the political situation that said politician (and his cronies, ideology, policies, et cetera)ends up imposing upon the world, just as, my ability to say of an advertisement 'this is a tawdry, manipulative piece of nonsense that's making an obscene attempt to use my secret dreams for love, sex, redemption, friendship, universal adoration, the warmth of a community et cetera" to sell me holidays, or chocolates or fizzy drinks is
any kind of testimony to my abilities to -actually- ignore the imperatives of advertising. (I don't 'buy' (figuratively) the ad, but I still (literally) buy the product.)

I mean, I know that you know that this is the point of point of Zizek's endless quotation from the title of that Mannoni article "Je suis bien, mais quand meme..."

I just that I'm saying: surely, no-one, from a "Zizekian" perspective could make the mistake of thinking that 'imputing cynicism' to one's opponents was the right thing to do, just because making such an imputation is such an obvious sign of one's own cynicism, and (more importantly) one's tendency to equate cynicism with 'resistance'.

Following on from this, I was thinking that there might even be room in Zizek's theory to account, even, for some of the success of the right, i.e. that by 'believing' their own dogmas (even, as in the case of Beck or Palin it's completely incoherent on its own terms), they exert a power in a cynical age, by garnering the support of one the 'true believers' (as we say in Australia), the fervent ideologues, 2) the people who 'don't believe', but would like to believe, i.e. those people who think 'this seems like nonsense', but I love the idea of believing in stuff and, by a more circuitous route, c) those people who don't believe and who don't want to believe (sounds Rumsfeldian no?), but who by mistaking their non-belief for resistance still end up surrendering the field to the other side in all its moral squalor and political destitution...

So, on this note, I think you can easily combine (and even equate) your point with Zizek's, i.e., we should probably try to assume (even when it's false) that the enemy means what he says, just because if we don't do this, we too easily fall into the complacency of thinking that because we can 'see through' 'him', this actually accounts as some kind of blow for our own side...



Jodi Dean

Mal--I particularly like your point number 2 re getting the support of people who want to believe. I think this applies to an extent to some US anti-Muslim sentiment: by engaging in religious war, they (US anti-Muslims) prove that religion still matters more than life and death. The interesting trick is how to distinguish between this kind of belief and fidelity to a truth, particularly in so far as fidelity would not rule out doubt and uncertainty.

On your point c -- do you have in mind something like an atheist or secularist? Or something else? It's hard for me not to see how your point c is close to cynicism: the mistake that non-belief is resistance is the error of the non-duped. Also, do you think that the mistake you describe in point c (you also describe it, I think, in the para that precedes it) is widespread? I also wonder how it works when we think of belief in terms of practices.

thanks for the comment


No, thank -you- for replying, Jodi: my blog comments (like most people's, I suppose) mainly evoke little beyond the sound of tumbleweeds rollin' down an empty street. Nice to hear the occasional voice on the other side of the saloon... (Will desist with Western imagery immediately)

As to your points, above:

On "2", yes, and thank you. I do think that sections of the U.S. right have this complicated (and in a sense, cynical) 'will-to-believe'. Starting from the Right's persistent suggestion that Muslims are a danger (because they 'really believe' and will die for their beliefs), you get this mad (but also M.A.D.) scenario where war becomes necessary to prove that 'we' also really believe the things that we believe in, even if the things we're supposed to believe in are more moderate beliefs......

From here, wonderful ideological contradictions abound: on the one hand, a sense that, "we" (the Right, the U.S.) are proving our own lack of nihilism by advocating war ("if we didn't believe in democracy, or liberty, or God, would we really send so many of our countrymen to their deaths), while AT THE SAME TIME implying that Islam is a religion of fanatics who believe too much, too uncritically, and who are thus at once 'dangerous', 'primitive', and 'nihilisitc' (insofar as the fervent nature of 'their' belief suggests a will-to-believe).

As Zizek would have pointed out the person motivated by anti-Islamic hysteria thus gets to have it both ways and chow down a few cakes en route to the T-intersection: on the one hand, she's proving that she's "not simply decadent, liberal nihilist" (because she's willing to die, or to have others die for a cause), but on the other hand, tut, tut, she takes a principled opposition to "those crazy terrorists" whose willingness to die for a cause is to be explained by perversion. (Martin Amis and, especially, Christopher Hitchens strike me as exemplars of the above...attitude)

As for "c", you're right, that was the least well-expressed (and most poorly thought out) of my points, above. But it was particularly bad, actually, as it was supposed to be the -least- original and controversial one. I definitely wasn't thinking of anything to do with secularism/religion there: I was just trying to evoke what I thought of as a sort of...archetypal target of Zizekian polemics, those (mythical or otherwise) "liberal" leftists who pride themselves on their ability to see through the mystifcations of the right, but who mistake this (cynical) 'seeing through' for opposition, when it in fact, the system functions on having both willing compliance and ...cynical compliance, on the Republican party faithful, and people like, well, me...who are preposterous enough to 'see the madness' plus a few 'interpassive' acts as a kind of inner emigration. (And, see, now I'm even trying to get kudos for 'knowing' that...cynicism on cynicism.)

Anyway. I suppose, I just meant (Zizek's gloss on) the 'beautiful soul': the person who says 'the world's bad, but insofar as I know this, and am against actively contributing to it, I can keep doing what I'm doing without having to feel that I'm complicit in its badness: after all I have -knowledge- of said badness et cetera. I just meant that it seemed to me that Zizek couldn't put forward a thesis of universal cynicism (EVERYONE's cynical even the 'true believers') without repeating the logic of his much derided 'beautiful soul' character, who I would assume, is cynical enough to assume that everyone else is cynical too.

As, for how many, people really fit this? A while ago, I would have (cynically) said something like 'almost everyone', and especially 'most left liberals'. But I don't know, I feel -- maybe stupidly -- that something's changed in the last few years, that I've just seen more people (like the protesters in Britain and elsewhere) sort of just...cut the Gordian knot, and say, 'we know this is bad, ergo, now we must get organised/not only rest content with 'seeing through' the ideas we don't like, but attempting to remain faithful to the ideas to which we do subscribe (equality, justice &c.)

Another discussion, but I thin Badiou is really excellent on this sort of thing: i.e. of changing the focus from 'how can we best diagnose the world's illness', to 'how can we stay committed to bringing about another world, when the tide turns against us..."



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