Zizek and the Occupy Movement, Part II

The reason why I love Zizek in spite of all his outdated Marxist rhetoric is that he is great at coming up with pithy statements that summarize the issue perfectly. Take the following for example:

They are called losers – but are the true losers not there on Wall Street, who received massive bailouts? They are called socialists – but in the US, there already is socialism for the rich. They are accused of not respecting private property – but the Wall Street speculations that led to the crash of 2008 erased more hard-earned private property than if the protesters were to be destroying it night and day – just think of thousands of homes repossessed.

This is, in my opinion, a perfect response to many of the superficial critics of the movement.

Zizek also has something crucial to say about the false friends of the movement:

The protesters should beware not only of enemies, but also of false friends who pretend to support them but are already working hard to dilute the protest. In the same way we get coffee without caffeine, beer without alcohol, ice-cream without fat, those in power will try to make the protests into a harmless moralistic gesture.

I couldn’t agree more. There is nothing more potentially dangerous to the #Occupy movement than the attempts to drown the legitimate economic grievances and the important political message of the protesters in the sea of moralizing inanities about the evilness of greed. I know I’m beginning to sound like a broken record but this is a central concern. Morality cannot and should not be addressed by political means. A political movement that has any chance of succeeding needs to abandon the weepy personal stories (many of which are not even that weepy and make the protesters look like spoiled brats) and exhortations about compassion and voice concrete factual demands. These demands should be addressed solely and exclusively to the elected representatives of the people, not to some private citizens who have no obligation whatsoever not to be greedy or to show compassion.

Zizek, of course, disagrees:

What one should resist at this stage is precisely such a quick translation of the energy of the protest into a set of concrete pragmatic demands. . . What one should always bear in mind is that any debate here and now necessarily remains a debate on enemy’s turf; time is needed to deploy the new content.

I understand what Zizek is saying and why he believes it is too soon to begin to formulate what the practical demands can be at this stage. However, I’m not convinced that there is time. Winter is coming and it sounds like it will be a pretty harsh one. In Montreal, we are promised the coldest winter in 20 years, and New York always gets whatever weather Montreal does. Then, the holiday season will be upon us with its triple whammy of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. Who can judge the protesters if they decide not to show up when it’s cold outside and there are things to celebrate?

The #Occupy movement is the most hopeful, promising and wonderful thing to happen in the US public arena for a long time. People are waking up, getting angry, getting engaged. I watch the coverage that shows the protesters magnifying the voices of the speakers by repeating what they say in a ripple effect and I feel that finally, finally we are seeing the children and the grandchildren of those Americans who stunned the world with their dedication to social justice in the 1960s and 1970s.

Those of us who wept with joy during Obama’s election victory speech and then listened in stunned horrified silence to him appointing Summers and Geithner to key positions almost immediately after that don’t want another major disappointment. We bought into the vague rhetoric of hope and change but as soon as our “hopey-changey” leader got elected, we realized that hope and change meant completely different things to many of us. We need to abandon the meaningless feel-good slogan-making of “99% vs 1%” and “greed is bad” and start voicing concrete demands.

If we let this opportunity to get something done go to waste, we might not get another one.

37 thoughts on “Zizek and the Occupy Movement, Part II”

  1. In terms of a purely cultural (not political) analysis, the default American attitude seems to be emotionalism and wearing one’s heart on one’s sleeve. This is a very alien attitude, from my perspective — so alien that I do not comment on American issues or what should be done. Purely psychologically, I had to work my way from the outside of emotions, into them. Americans often require obedience to the opposite psychological imperative — to work themselves from a state of pure emotionalism posing as authenticity, to a position that allows them some psychological detachment.

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    1. This is what I call the Oprahfication of the country. People think that all problems are solved by sharing a weepy story, crying publicly and getting rewarded for it with a new car.

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  2. bloggerclarissa :
    This is what I call the Oprahfication of the country. People think that all problems are solved by sharing a weepy story, crying publicly and getting rewarded for it with a new car.

    I had a couple of people heavily projecting emotionality onto me tonight. I do think this is a cultural difference, as it always takes me by surprise.

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  3. I was down at the local encampment on Saturday and watched a CBC crew hunting around the very neat and tidy camp site looking for a piece of garbage to film which emblematic of the fact that most of the commentators have their narratives worked out before they even arrive on the scene. I watch and observe. Even then I hesitate to draw conclusions because I sense that this movement is in the process of becoming. Most observers treat the event as a Rorschach pattern onto which they project their own thoughts and hopes or fears.

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  4. bloggerclarissa :
    I think you are right. I often remain completely stunned by the degree of emotional involvement people try to develop with the words I write on my blog.

    One of them was berating me for diminishing the value of her ideas. I didn’t even mention her ideas, but she seemed very upset that I should have and I wasn’t. Another guy asserted his piece in the thread to the effect that it was very hard and courageous to accept that suffering was meaningless, rather than meaningful. On the surface, his statement supported this other lady and her persistent statements that she wanted to view the world atheistically and not, as she saw it, in my manner (with aesthetic regard for paganism).

    It was all very weird, because neither of these guys were addressing my actual position at all, but they both seemed to be implying that there was something about my views that was knowable inside and out (without further investigation) and that it was important for them to transcend “my views”.

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    1. This sounds very familiar. I often get accusing of failing to “validate people’s experiences”, whatever that even means, or “erasing them.” There is this entire new language that has been adopted by the many fans of the quasi-psychological shows on television.

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  5. bloggerclarissa :
    This sounds very familiar. I often get accusing of failing to “validate people’s experiences”, whatever that even means, or “erasing them.” There is this entire new language that has been adopted by the many fans of the quasi-psychological shows on television.

    I presume you understand it better than I, since you are in the middle of the culture, there.

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  6. llama :
    I would love to sit in a room listening to you two (Clarissa and scratchy888) talk

    Well Clarissa is very direct and employs rationality as a weapon, whereas I employ Jiu-Jitsu — which is less efficacious in the short term but can have good long term effects.

    For example, if someone really believes that I need to learn “suffering is meaningless”, so that I can somehow overcome some fabricated weakness of the mind, attributed to me as a result of my gender, I apply the principle of “meaningless suffering” whenever I encounter that person. They can suffer meaninglessly, if that is what has meaning for them. Maybe they can manage to transcend human communication, with my help.

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    1. ” They can suffer meaninglessly, if that is what has meaning for them. Maybe they can manage to transcend human communication, with my help.”

      -This is so brilliant! I wish I’d said it first. 🙂

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  7. I really like Zizek’s comments here.

    On US emotionalism, I guess it is part of the anti-intellectualism. It’s odd because you’re supposed to be emotional, but also stoical, yet never intellectual.

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  8. Very good comments by Zizek.

    In US you are supposed to be either very (falsely authentically) emotional, or if they don’t like that then very (supposedly) stoical. What you aren’t supposed to be is intellectual, etc.

    The whole thing about “validation” is really weird and it is seems to me to be some sort of management technique that people actually think is on their side, when it isn’t. I may want a situation recognized and remedied, but what I get instead is the allegation that since my emotions have been validated I should be satisfied.

    (it is not letting me log in, by the way, and it is having me post as anonymous, but i am z)

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    1. I guess, validating emotions is supposed to mean recognizing emotions as valid in this context. I’m baffled as to why anybody would need a complete stranger to recognize the validity of their emotions.

      This is all just weird psychobabble and I think you offered the perfect explanation of its goal.

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      1. I have a sense that it’s kind of a paradox. “Emotions” are a hot potato, which everybody wants to get rid of. That’s because to be deemed “emotional” is to be considered to have lowly status and to need others to command you at their will. So everyone wants their emotions “validated” so they can be rid of them. To refuse to “validate” someone’s emotions is seen to indicate that one does not see oneself as being equal to the other person. One won’t take their emotions from them and pass them along to the next person. They’re stuck with these emotions and have no means to get rid of them (mainly because of not having learned any strategies to cope by being with oneself). I think it’s this seeming refusal to play along that upsets people. It’s also why many people seem to resort to projection, in order to get rid of their emotions. That’s a way of forcing you to accept the burden of their emotions whether you want to or not. The situation with the two people today was a case in point. I had a different perspective that was very much divorced from populist ideology, and this seems to have been offensive. Therefore, the two characters behaved as if I must accept the price for my independent views in being left to carry the hot potato of both of their emotions. Specifically, a philosophical position was imputed to me that I did not hold.

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  9. I may want a situation recognized and remedied, but what I get instead is the allegation that since my emotions have been validated I should be satisfied.

    All these expressions are weasel words, they mean absolutely nothing concrete. I would like to see real protests about this misuse of language.

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    1. I was not picking on what Z said. Rather all this crap about validating peoples experience / emotions. I wish someone would erase the next person that wants their emotions validated.

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      1. Well, today I got a perspective in the opposite direction. We have this new administrator whose response to everything always seems to be, “OK, I see the problem. What can be done / how can I contribute to fixing this?” Which is a helpful response but someone actually said, “I want him to validate my feelings, not make me figure out what to do!”

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  10. Jennifer Frances Armstrong :

    I have a sense that it’s kind of a paradox. “Emotions” are a hot potato, which everybody wants to get rid of. That’s because to be deemed “emotional” is to be considered to have lowly status and to need others to command you at their will. So everyone wants their emotions “validated” so they can be rid of them. To refuse to “validate” someone’s emotions is seen to indicate that one does not see oneself as being equal to the other person. One won’t take their emotions from them and pass them along to the next person. They’re stuck with these emotions and have no means to get rid of them (mainly because of not having learned any strategies to cope by being with oneself). I think it’s this seeming refusal to play along that upsets people. It’s also why many people seem to resort to projection, in order to get rid of their emotions. That’s a way of forcing you to accept the burden of their emotions whether you want to or not. The situation with the two people today was a case in point. I had a different perspective that was very much divorced from populist ideology, and this seems to have been offensive. Therefore, the two characters behaved as if I must accept the price for my independent views in being left to carry the hot potato of both of their emotions. Specifically, a philosophical position was imputed to me that I did not hold.

    – This is brilliant and insightful. One of the marks of psychological maturity is, in my opinion, learning to handle one’s own emotions without resorting to these childish attempts to exorcise one’s emotions in the way you describe. But hey, immaturity is in vogue nowadays. And people who refuse to play this game are branded as unfeeling and cold. Or autistic. Which is, of course, the same thing.

    I also agree that “being with oneself” is a skill that is disappearing fast. I don’t believe that a psychological balance can be reached without this skill, though.

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  11. I also agree that “being with oneself” is a skill that is disappearing fast. I don’t believe that a psychological balance can be reached without this skill, though.

    That’s why I put the emphasis in shamanism on the intra-personal — the sense of doubling or having a relationship with oneself.

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      1. The mathematician in me wants to get all recursive on the next person who wants their emotions validated.

        I might ask that they validate the emotions that I have due to their asking that their emotions be validated.

        My only concern is that this might at some stage result in self erasure.

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      2. I have to admit I still don’t quite get what a shamanistic strategy is. I have read a fair amount of Jennifer Frances Armstrong writing (and always enjoy it). But don’t yet think I have a complete handle on the idea.

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  12. bloggerclarissa :
    Maybe I’ll share the only shamanistic strategy I know in my next post.

    Please do! My main shamanistic strategy is to make the best use of whatever energy is directed at me in a hostile way. Sometimes this produces insights into mental states, sometimes it gives me the will to fight on in a particular way.

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  13. llama :
    The mathematician in me wants to get all recursive on the next person who wants their emotions validated.
    I might ask that they validate the emotions that I have due to their asking that their emotions be validated.
    My only concern is that this might at some stage result in self erasure.

    One thing for sure — there is never any point in getting involved, intellectually or otherwise, with someone who comes to you to have their emotions (or ideologies) validated. It took me the longest time to realize this, but the reason why some people seem so forceful or compelling is that they’re out of balance. It’s like in the martial arts training we do, if somebody is leaning against you with all their weight, they feel very powerful. If you step aside unexpectedly, they are no longer powerful, but fall over.

    This is what you have to do. You have to facilitate the person’s sense of their own imbalance by taking away the props.

    So many women become props. It’s almost their job in Western society. I always remove myself as the prop, to help imbalanced people and patriarchs alike to realize where their problems lies.

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    1. @JFA Thanks for the explanation, this makes perfect sense. But like Judo something that would take practice to make it instinctual.

      So many women become props. It’s almost their job in Western society.

      I am going to sleep on this one and mull it over. I can see the most obvious cases but I am sure it goes quite deep.

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    2. “So many women become props. It’s almost their job in Western society. I always remove myself as the prop, to help imbalanced people and patriarchs alike to realize where their problems lies.”

      -YES! But there is a payout in this, too. If you agree to serve as a prop, you don’t have to bear the responsibility of being a full-fledged human being. Objects are never required to do as much as human beings.

      😦

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  14. llama :
    @JFA Thanks for the explanation, this makes perfect sense. But like Judo something that would take practice to make it instinctual.

    So many women become props. It’s almost their job in Western society.

    I am going to sleep on this one and mull it over. I can see the most obvious cases but I am sure it goes quite deep.

    Well, I have just finished work, too. I think, like judo, once you have been bruised a number of times through doing things the wrong way, you learn to do them correctly.

    I had another analogy way back, that women are encouraged to behave like the gooey stuff that holds together the rigid structures of some kind of edifice. Males are encouraged to be all anti-emotional and rigid. Women stop their brittle structures from falling down by being pliant and giving. This whole thing is of course quintessentially Western and premised on the assumption that it is not desirable to have emotions at all, for they make one of a lower status. This means that neither the men nor the women are healthy, as they both come to represent approximately one half of the function of a normal human psyche. They both also project into each other like crazy. It’s insane.

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  15. llama :
    I have to admit I still don’t quite get what a shamanistic strategy is. I have read a fair amount of Jennifer Frances Armstrong writing (and always enjoy it). But don’t yet think I have a complete handle on the idea.

    I really do think that you have to hit rock bottom in order to get it. You don’t develop shamanistic strategies unless you have no other recourse and unless you are severely marginalised. And shamanistic strategies are the close cousin of pathology although they are arguably not pathological at all in that their intention is to produce redemption — and in this they often succeed, if not in whole then at least in part.

    In effect, shamanism is a strategic kind of madness — a controlled madness. One allows oneself to go mad. One watches oneself go mad. But the madness is never out of control, but rather strategic, as a way of counteracting powerful political, military and other interests, that exert themselves directly on one’s life.

    The shamanistic “doubling” introduces a level of complexity into the psyche that makes one’s behaviour hard to calculate and therefore one is less manageable and less able to be controlled by draconian authorities. One also gathers unusual perspectives in this way and it can open up the psyche to some very creative and innovative insights.

    This article puts shamanism into fairly easy to understand, conventional terms:http://www.jstor.org/pss/3176383

    But it is misleading, because shamanism is not a cultural category at all, but something that happens to the psyche, if the psyche is on the ropes and fighting for its life. It’s a form of health obtained by the severely oppressed. It’s not recognised as such, but that is what it is.

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    1. “In effect, shamanism is a strategic kind of madness — a controlled madness. One allows oneself to go mad. One watches oneself go mad. But the madness is never out of control, but rather strategic, as a way of counteracting powerful political, military and other interests, that exert themselves directly on one’s life…it can open up the psyche to some very creative and innovative insights.”

      Someone once said (I don’t remember who, maybe someone else does) that the only difference between a mad person and an artist is that the mad person is drowning while the artist is swimming.

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  16. Isabel :
    “In effect, shamanism is a strategic kind of madness — a controlled madness. One allows oneself to go mad. One watches oneself go mad. But the madness is never out of control, but rather strategic, as a way of counteracting powerful political, military and other interests, that exert themselves directly on one’s life…it can open up the psyche to some very creative and innovative insights.”
    Someone once said (I don’t remember who, maybe someone else does) that the only difference between a mad person and an artist is that the mad person is drowning while the artist is swimming.

    Yes! And http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anton_Ehrenzweig makes a similar point.

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  17. Z :

    Well, today I got a perspective in the opposite direction. We have this new administrator whose response to everything always seems to be, “OK, I see the problem. What can be done / how can I contribute to fixing this?” Which is a helpful response but someone actually said, “I want him to validate my feelings, not make me figure out what to do!”

    Seriously? Would people really prefer this feeling validation to actual action?

    To me, that’s just sad.

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  18. Z :
    Yep, sad, but it explains a lot.

    I can think of some situations where validation might be preferred, but in that case I wouldn’t call it “validation” so much as humanisation. I’ve walked away from jobs in the past with utter contempt, due to the dehumanisation of the workplace. These are the kind of situations where “changing something” or even financial compensation would not have worked.

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