Are Horrible Acts Always Horrible?

Reader Kinjal says:

People ought to be judged according to the times and social mores they lived in.

I disagree with this statement profoundly. I believe that horrible acts such as rape, murder, torture, abuse of children, and pedophilia are always horrible. Their evilness is immanent and does not depend on when the perpetrator lived and what his or her society sanctioned. If you abstain from doing horrible things only because you are afraid of retribution, what is the value of your morality?

Tolstoy raped his wife. In my eyes, he is as much of a vile rapist as anybody who lives today and does the same thing. He saw a human being in pain, crying, begging him to stop, suffering because of what he was doing to her. And he somehow didn’t know that it was wrong because nobody told him that it was? And then he continued doing it many times over because he kept not knowing? I just can’t buy that.

Major crimes like the one I listed are not relative. Some people are capable of them and some aren’t. Different times and changing social norms are just an excuse used to justify perpetrators and disgusting creatures who mask as human beings.

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The reason why I love Zizek in spite of all his outdated Marxist rhetoric is that he is great at coming up with pithy statements that summarize the issue perfectly.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