Lacan at his best: The “arid era of scientism” and its relation to mass culture

A quote from Jacques Lacan’s Écrits, from the essay “The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis: 

The list of disciplines Freud considered important sister sciences for an ideal Department of Psychoanalysis is well known. Alongside psychiatry and sexology we find ‘the history of civilization, mythology, the psychology of religion, literary history, and literary criticism’. This whole group of subjects, determining the curriculum for instruction in technique, can be easily accommodated in the epistemological triangle I have described, and would provide an advanced level of instruction in analytic theory and technique with its primer. 

For my part, I would be inclined to add: rhetoric, dialectic, (in the technical sense this term takes on in Aristotle’s Topics), grammar, and poetics-the supreme pinnacle of the aesthetics of language-which would include the neglected technique of witticisms. 

While these subject headings may sound somewhat old-fashioned to certain people, I would not hesitate to endorse them as a return to our sources. For psychoanalysis in its early development, intimately linked to the discovery and study of symbols, went so far as to partake in the structure of what was called ‘the liberal arts’ in the Middle Ages. Deprived, like them, of a true formalization, psychoanalysis became organized, like them, into a body of privileged problems, each one promoted by some felicitous relation of man to his own measure, taking on a charm and a humanity owing to this particularity that in our eyes might well make up for their somewhat recreational appearance. But let us not disdain this appearance in the early developments of psychoanalysis; indeed, it expresses nothing less than the re-creation of human meaning in an arid era of scientism”. 

Before we follow up on this important observation, let me relate an incredibly interesting finding, one which I will write an entire article about. There is a function on Google dictionary where one can look up any word, and see immediately below the graph of its usage over time. Now I challenge you, the reader: take any word upwards of three syllables and look at its use over time. In my experiment, I could not find a single complex word that went up over time- there was always a decline in the later part of the 20th century. Some words, if you look them up, chart exactly as one would expect: the word “communism” finds its peak in the 1960s, and then returns back down, rising with the counterculture and anti-war movement. More descriptive words like “covetous” just show a general trend of decline. Simple words with the same meaning like “greedy”, meanwhile, have risen.

There are some outliers, like the word “reclusive”, which skyrocketed in the 1950s, but words like “solitary” show the characteristic decline trend. For this experiment, I purposefully chose words that weren’t archaisms, but merely words that we would associate as “literary” words, colorful words, words not used in common speech. Even so, we see general trends of decline for these literary words. “Apathetic” has declined, but “lazy” has gone up since 1950. Perhaps most interestingly, the word “self” has steadily increased in usage since 1900, perhaps reflecting our self-absorbed individualistic society…

What does this actually demonstrate? It represents the poverty of our current intellectual culture, or rather, the takeover of intellectual and literary culture by rapacious scientism. 

Lacan emphasizes that Freud, far from biologizing the mind, in fact introduces the idea that the unconscious is primarily related to discourse in texts such as the Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious. For Freud, unlike Jung, the study of mythology has far less to do with “archetypes” and “innate ideas” and far more to do with history. In this sense, when Lacan emphasizes the historicity of Freud’s theories, he is really emphasizing its relation to that concept anthropologists would call culture.

In David Harvey’s excellent book on Tolkien, The Song of Middle Earth, Harvey emphasizes that mythology is primarily a part of the literary tradition of a society- whether it be the Vedas and the Mahabharata for Indian society or Homer’s Iliad for Western Europe. When Lacan emphasizes that we should go back to the study of rhetoric, we are reminded of the difference between “classical” education of the 19th century and earlier and modern education. Rhetoric formed a part of the curriculum that emphasized what is now called the Classics, or philology- reading the writings of Horace or Cicero formed a part of the pre-modern European education not just in the formation of the “sensible and Enlightened” individual, but also one’s introduction into what has been called the “Western tradition”, the philosophical and literary culture which formerly was not voluntary.

Higher education has obviously abandoned these “liberal arts” ideals to which they still profess: even disciplines like philosophy have been “mathematicized” and scientized. And not that they shouldn’t talk about the philosophy of mathematics or science! But in their very character, analytical philosophy’s sensibility has colonized the terrain of the “literary”, and Nietzsche’s profound warnings about the Last Man, who echoes the assumptions of his age, have possibly come to pass. The Last Man is Nietzsche’s formulation of what Adorno called mass culture, or manufactured culture. It is a cliche to say that television and movies have replaced book reading, but the process is accelerating at an alarming rate: now the video game industry has surpassed the television and movie industry in terms of revenue, as well as the music industry! (link: https://www.nasdaq.com/article/investing-in-video-games-this-industry-pulls-in-more-revenue-than-movies-music-cm634585).

What even Adorno could not contemplate is what was considered “low brow” in his era (jazz) has become high culture, and we see a process of gradual “dumbing down” that is now becoming widely observed even in popular culture: the chords progressions of songs becoming more simple, etc. The connections are already made, the same ones Adorno made: the profit motive creates a kind of mass production of culture, of music, of television. The remake is overtaking the original production, the copy more successful than the original. Even the “indie” genre has been co-opted and marketed, everywhere the colonization of mass culture imminent to our very psyche- hell, even I like a good Blockbuster now and again- love me some Star Wars! But the cracks are starting to show: don’t believe I’ll be going to see the new Han Solo movie- the gimmick is too apparent.

What does all of this have to do with scientism? Scientism, for lack of a better word, is today’s intellectual zeitgeist. The popular “intellectuals” of the day, the ones doing the most harm, masquerade as simple arbiters of objectivity. The Sam Harrises and Jordan Petersons of the world offer their watered down versions of “race realism” and Social Darwinism to the internet, and the masses eat it up in droves. Never mind that “The Bell Curve” is junk science proved a million times over- the new motto of the Last Man is “facts are facts!” This manifests itself as a literal worship of Reason and Science, with science being synonymous with technology.

The 50s fascination for new technology has not dwindled, in fact it has only gotten worse with the advent of the computer age. No one is immune to it, but the obvious commodity fetishism and consumerism it generates is unprecedented. The lines for Apple products, and everything associated with “computer culture”: emojis, text lingo: these are the shared substance of our society.

Is there a kind of elitism in assuming that people should simply “read more Shakespeare” and get off their iPhones? On the contrary! It would be elitist to assume that Shakespeare is only for the elite! It would be elitist to assume that Shakespeare shouldn’t be made accessible to everyone from diverse backgrounds! Shakespeare in its day was the common man’s play. This is what our education system, to its credit, tries to do, but generally fails miserably to do, continually trying to “adapt” the curriculum to the needs of the time, introducing more computer coding classes. Is this inevitable? Am I being a kind of cultural grouch? Here’s the problem- you train all of our kids to be computer programmers, what happens when they all apply for those limited computer jobs? Who among them will be trained to be the next authors, the next Shakespeares? Will anyone care if they are?

One can take postmodern relativism too far in this case, saying that because Shakespeare and the Tale of Genji are equivalent, we should therefore teach neither. In fact, both are equivalent to Saturday morning cartoons! This is the road we are going down, and its not a pretty one.

And for the postmodern anthropologists in the crowd who point out my argument is somewhat “logocentric” in assuming that literary culture is the crowning achievement of society, I would merely point out that the oral high traditions of traditional societies are too being lost to the endless process of commoditization and the advance consumer capitalism that is eating away at the foundations of non-industrial societies. It would be great if we had any oral traditions to fall back on.

We live in an era of ever-expanding access to almost complete entertainment- 24/7 television, video games, and music on demand at our fingertips. The internet should be a tool to expand our access to the archive of classics: Project Gutenberg is a great resource to access all of the great works of literature which no longer have any kind of copyright. Unfortunately, if you compare the numbers of Project Gutenberg hits to videos of Lady Gaga, I’m sure the picture won’t be pretty.

I’m advocating for a new kind of entertainment, for a world in which one can seamlessly switch from rap to high literature, without any kind of stigma. As a huge contrast to my previous article, the “defense” of anti-intellectualism, in the sense of recognizing the value of “proleterian” and peasant values of hard work and the reproduction of society materially, here I’m offering a full throated endorsement of intellectualism, of the reclaiming of “mass education”, and not in the outdated Marxist sense of only being educated about Marxist orthodoxy. But as Marx stated, along with the alienation of the individual from the means of production, there is also a more fundamental alienation which accompanies capitalist material poverty that results in spiritual and intellectual poverty. These problems are just as real in our era of mass consumption. Never before has there been such an era of consumption for consumption’s sake: a kind of gilded prosperity where even the poor can live like king’s for a day, provided they go into heaping amounts of credit card debt. Once again, we see the value in Martin Luther King’s prophetic words about the Three Evils of Society: militarism, racism, and (MLK’s original wording) materialism, which he used interchangeably with poverty and capitalism.

We shouldn’t moralize this term materialism, but we should realize the structural problem that is materialist individualism in our late capitalist society, and realize its connection to intellectual poverty and the “mass culture” phenomenon. Rather than the endless postmodern process of combing through the classics for “racist and sexist” overtones, we should look for what is universal: stories of heroism, tragedy, loss, longing, belonging, and most of all, compassion, a word that too has declined in usage since the 1800s.

 

 

 

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Symbolic castration and the role of the Father- is Zizek a Father figure? Or are we Oedipalized subjects?

As my friend Landzek over at the Constructive Undoing blog has suggested, the academic propensity to continually reference what one says and back it up by an unending stream of authorities is a product of our culture, a culture that is trained to “go to the authorities”, thus reproducing power. Here I’m tempting to quote Foucault and Lacan, but I will try to “authentically” reproduce their arguments on my own, as well as synthesize them. The author, the omniscient third person narrator, conveys authority by virtue of being a kind of “wise detached figure” who replicates, in psychoanalytic terms, the detached Father figure. When authority is unquestioned by use of these micropractices, power replicates itself. To Zizek’s credit, he continues this psychoanalytic tradition by continuing to elaborate on the concepts of symbolic castration. But where does the source of symbolic castration come from? Is it a natural process that every child must go through, according to Freud? This is the heart of the anthropological critique of Freud, first made by anthropologists such as Bronislaw Malinowski, and later theoretically by radical psychoanalyst and one-time disciple of Jacques Lacan, Felix Guattari.

The video above by Zero Books correctly locates the source of the search for a Father figure in a societal event, in the lack of authority that currently evades the “establishment” -the bumbling buffoon in the White House, but also the weak opposition of the Democratic party. But it refers, by virtue of Zizek’s Lacanian pedigree, to a Freudian theory of the universality of the Oedipus complex (which as a rule, Zizek tends to evade in his theoretical work, due to certain improvements by Lacan).

It is here that the contribution of Bronislaw Malinowski to the debate about psychology must be brought into play. In all literature on this subject, with the notable exception of Deleuze and Guattari, contributions from the field of anthropology are, as a rule, ignored. Malinowski, in his book Sex and Repression in Savage Society, in addition to presenting his own concrete ethnographic material on the psychology of peoples from southeastern New Guinea, contended that the “Freudian dogma of the universality of the Oedipus complex” obscured the diversity of familial structures that existed across time and space in human societies. Despite having certain dated aspects to the work (the word Savage in the title being the most glaring) authors like Zizek tend to forgive Freud’s 19th century underpinnings in discussions about psychoanalysis. Malinowski was a staunch advocate of cultural relativism based on objective data. Any and all philosophizing about the nature of Man without reference to anthropology is, for me especially as an anthropologist, laughable, and bound to come from assumptions driven by our culture. Similarly, we may think- “is the Oedipus complex merely a reflection of our society?”

Surely, however, Zizek would contend this debate has no relevance to contemporary psychoanalysis, which has “transcended” these issues. I would argue that contemporary Leftist intellectuals, Zizek included, have all but ignored the contribution of Felix Guattari to the field of radical politics and “psychoanalysis”. Despite Zizek’s contention that the only salvageable parts of Gilles Deleuze’s legacy is his pure philosophical works, not his work with Guattari, Guattari’s break with Lacan marks an important point in the history of radical psychoanalysis, and is fundamentally rooted in the latter’s skepticism of the political revolution of May 1968 in France, something Guattari viewed as fundamentally reactionary. That debate being too deep to go into in the context of this article, it is important to note that while Lacan shared Guattari’s skepticism about reproducing structures of oppression in a social movement, Guattari took the line of direct critique of the Stalinist French Communist Party that was unwilling to condone the actions of the May 1968 protestors.

Back to the debate about psychoanalysis. Deleuze and Guattari in Anti-Oedipus contend that our culture has been “Oedipalized” by existing power structures, and that behind every authoritarian father there is a patriarchal Boss, the dehumanizing bureaucratic apparatus, the mind numbing effect of the commute, etc. etc. Truly, then, we must contend that it is OUR society that is pathological, not primitive societies, as originally contended by evolutionary colonialist anthropologists. Malinowski and later Margaret Mead were the first pioneers of this line of thought, and even greater contributors to thinking about the ramifications of this than even radical French philosophers D&G.

But what does this mean for the Jordan Peterson v. Zizek debate? Peterson admits wholesale in the video clip that he is a psychologist who believes we should defend the existing social order, thus proving wholeheartedly Foucault and D&G’s point that the true gatekeepers of society are not its policeman or the army- it is the policeman of the mind, the psychologists, the philosophers even! “The maintenance of the social order is necessary”- society must be defended from intruders, internal and external! This is the paranoid mindset that Foucault defines as the archetypal “fascist psychology”. It is this paranoia that animated the Stalinist purges, it is this that truly defines what fascism is- the paranoiac belief that the Other is coming- right outside your doorstep! The Jew, the Muslim, the capitalist roaders even- it is this paranoia that should be outright rejected, even in the face of real onslaught by forces that seek to do harm on “society”.

So we should reject all Father figures then, including Zizek, while engaging in productive discourse, not accepting the party line. We should not allow microfascisms to colonize the mind of the movement toward social liberation. But is it New Age speculation to say that we have to move beyond even the “social revolution”? What if what is really necessary after all is a change of heart, a collective change of heart? It is hear that I go beyond critical theory, anthropology, psychoanalysis, or mythology as intellectual reference points, and appeal to general compassion. Human Compassion- not political ideology or Thought- to human sentiment, to Feeling. To define what is right, we need to delve deeper into the territory of compassion, something Peterson in his pseudo-Buddhist wisdom tends to forget about Buddhist philosophy. The absolute pacifist should remember that inaction is a form of silence and passive observance of the status quo, and forgets their ethical obligation to society. But the militant should also remember that the ends do not justify the means if one hopes to create a better social order, for another form of oppression will inevitably replace the existing one. This fuzzy line should be guided by the credo of compassion.

Therefore, in the interest of humanity, we should reject all Father figures- Mao, Jesus, Buddha, Marx, Freud (notice they are all men), and maybe, just maybe, we’ll get somewhere. There is no Big Other- this is Zizek and Lacan’s lasting contribution to psychoanalytic philosophy. We should be merciless in its application.

 

Edit: I embarassingly put the wrong Zero Books video link. Now its right

Zizek on Deleuze- link to great blog

http://www.shaviro.com/Blog/?p=229

 

This blog articulates my exact problem with Zizek’s critiques of Deleuze in Organs Without Bodies, and my problem with Zizek in general (his unexamined reliance on Hegel as the ultimate horizon of how he interprets everything). I haven’t read all of Organs without Bodies, but it seems like just a recap of Badiou in his book on Deleuze, The Clamor of Being.

My individual thoughts on Zizek and Deleuze that aren’t addressed in this blog:

Zizek’s strength is he tends to rely on history more than Deleuze, while Deleuze is more adept at the anthropological literature. This is representative of the essential divide between them- German/Eastern European dialecticism, materialism, historicism, rootedness, or the common sense attitude (even though Zizek would fiercely deny this), and Deleuze’s typical French concerns with “high” artistic culture, literature (Zizek deals a lot more with ‘lowbrow’ and mundane). But even beyond this divide. I really do believe Zizek, who has clearly tried to read all of Deleuze’s literature, did not understand it. He thinks that Deleuze’s poetics of “flows” can be easily reappropriated to capitalist apologetics, but he doesn’t understand that Deleuze was precisely making a model of capitalism when he introduces the concept of flows in Anti-Oedipus. Fundamentally, Zizek’s disdain for Anti-Oedipus is so obviously misplaced, because there is no fundamental engagement or “encounter” with it. He simply goes straight for the conclusions, does not bother with the theory.

Now as for their politics, its true that Deleuze disdains orthodox Marxism, and all hierarchies, while Zizek sees them as necessary for the creation of a new movement to oppose capitalism. But there is more agreement than meets the eye here, and as always, I think that a real dialogue (despite Deleuze’s dislike for this term) could have occurred, simply if Deleuze had lived!! But now we are talking at cross-purposes, because we are attempting to have a dialogue with the dead. It reminds of a quote from an X-files episode, “we always bury the dead alive”. They cry out to us, but we can’t understand them, we can only hear mumbles and imagine what they would have said.

What do I think Deleuze would have said to Zizek? I think he would have said:

Yes, yes, we must reimagine the Left, and capitalism is the enemy, but you yourself know the value of thinking outside the confines of a particular ideology, there are always unseen microfascisms at play, at best we can only make immanent critique, that is the job of a philosopher, this is why you yourself avoid prescription. A philosopher’s job is to create concepts, not be a historian- you have not understood your job description. In your books I see a consistent becoming in you Zizek, a becoming revolutionary, so many becomings, and your books act act as all books should, as rhizomes, as connections to so many territories of thought and culture. These territories are impossible to fully map, the map is not the territory itself. What we can only do, as philosophers, is point the way to certain territories, whether real or imagined. You, Zizek, your job should be that of a cartographer of the imagined territory of post-capitalist life

This is what I believe he would have said to Zizek, he would quickly see that Zizek’s greatest unfinished task is, as he admits, his greatest challenge- imagining the world without capitalism, which as he says is now more difficult than imagining the end of the world.

What rhizomes will form? What new territories will emerge? What is in the process of becoming? Is it too terrible for us to imagine? Deleuze and Zizek’s biggest point of convergence- ecology. Here Zizek has a lot to learn from Guatarri. Ecology- that’s all there ever is, or was. Ecologies- ecologies of ideas, ecologies of people. If all history is class struggle, all history and prehistory is also a complex web of interactions, flows, some that lead to arrangements of rigidity, some that lead to arrangements of plasticity. It is definitely not that Deleuze is not sufficiently Marxian- Marx was not sufficiently Deleuzian, or Nietzschean, or Conradian, or Sitting Bullian, or Black Elkian. What Marx missed is that for all the benefits of abstraction, immanence and detail is primary. Context, context, context, context

We should always attempt to be as Walt Whitman did, and contain multitudes

 

Electoral College Reform NOW

“We don’t want California and New York to decide our elections” they say. Nope, instead you want a couple of swing states to decide the elections. One vote should be one vote!!!

Thus a lone youtube commenter acts as the voice of reason against the army of troglodytes who refuse to think outside the bounds of established reason. I believe there are a basic set of principles that would make someone against electoral college reform, and is partly responsible for why it hasn’t happened yet. Hypothetically, if 100% of the American people were for it, there would be almost no likelihood that they would vote for a Congress who is opposed to it in majority. Sadly, we have some reactionaries who are actually for this outdated vestige of the era of slavery. Why? Let’s enumerate the reasons.

  1. Pure ignorance- I’m not talking about ignorance in terms of someone having the opposite opinion as me which automatically makes them more stupid than me. No, according to a Washington Post poll, 52% of Republicans believe that Trump won the popular vote. Just outright won it. Not when you don’t count California or illegal immigrants (an outright lie by the way). No, just 52% of them BELIEVE he won the popular. Either they are completely ignorant of the electoral college, or living in a fantasy bubble whereby somehow Hillary manipulated the vote but Trump somehow won anyway? I chock it up to sheer ignorance, because 60% of non-college educated Republicans believe it as opposed to 31% of college educated Republicans.
  2. Self-interest- This is a reason I can’t really argue with on intellectual grounds. If you are a Republican, and you want the electoral college to stay because you know it gives more chance to Republicans, you are right. Just like how gerrymandering and purging voter lists also helps certain candidates. Problem is, you can’t claim to be for it intellectually and self-interestedly. Can’t have your cake and eat it too. So if you have one single shred of integrity, if you fall into this category, don’t claim that the electoral college is a good thing. Its just good for you
  3. Buying into crappy arguments/”the Founding Fathers”/”Federalism”- So I’ll chock this one up into a combination of crappy reasons and a sense of patriotism that involves never questioning authority. As one defender of the electoral college says, “its Civics 101 man, California and New York shouldn’t decide the election”. Ok: hypothetically, lets say New York and California each gained a million more people next year. Well the electoral college provides for them to get proportionally more electoral votes. Lets say California and New York each became so large that they would decide the election anyway. Well, do you still maintain that they shouldn’t decide the election if they have more people than majority of the country? Will you stand by your defense of rural states should matter, even if there is only 10 people in that state? Take Wyoming for example. Wyoming has a population of 584,153 people as of 2014. The city of El Paso has a larger population than Wyoming! I don’t see the state of El Paso getting 3 electoral votes anytime soon. **As it stands, the electoral college is nowhere near proportional to state population** If the number of electoral college votes was determined purely by proportion of population, Texas would have approximately 16% more electoral votes, and California would have 20% more. DO THE MATH. In short, the only reason people don’t accept that one vote should equal one vote in electing the highest office of our government is because they believe somehow “states rights” have to be protected. Sound familiar? Cough Cough the Confederacy. But in reality, they aren’t being infringed upon under a popular vote system. Their vote would count just as much as the next guy. In reality, the people whose votes don’t matter right now are- 1/6 of Texans, 1/5 of Californians, and arguably people that don’t vote for the majority party in non-swing states. That’s right! All you Republicans in California and Oregon, all the Northeastern Ivy League Republicans, all you Tennessee Democrats- your vote would actually matter! No wonder people feel as if their vote doesn’t matter- it doesn’t under the current system!
  4. Internet memes- this is a separate issue, but its pertinent. All of the sudden right after the election, I couldn’t believe. Hillary’s numbers kept rising and rising, provoking almost no outrage. Eventually she led in the popular vote by 2.5 million. Now it will just be a footnote in history. In fact this is a democratic outrage. Built into our system of democracy is a fundamentally undemocratic system. This would be the scandal of the century in Europe, where even Brexit had to be passed to respect the will of the majority. So how did people justify it 3-4 days later? Internet memes spread by right-wing news sites. Yes, you heard me correctly, internet memes. All of the sudden the old arguments start coming out in cut down internet meme format. “2 states shouldn’t decide an election” “If you come from these counties (shows map of rural states who vote Republican) you’ll understand why cities shouldn’t decide everything”. These memes basically are gut appeals to emotion- I’m from rural Kansas, that makes sense to me! In short, its parochialism writ large in 2016.
  5. No belief in democracy- There is also an argument I’ve heard defending the electoral college. “We were never meant to be a complete democracy, we are a representative democracy”. That’s right- you don’t make every foreign policy decision, the President, as our representative, does. That doesn’t mean the majority shouldn’t pick him! If you don’t believe in democracy, don’t defend the electoral college. It was made to satisfy Southern states, part of the same deal that got them the right to own slaves and the 3/5 compromise which gave them more representation equally 3/5 of the slave population. If you think the 3/5 compromise was unfair, then you should be against the electoral college, because everything the Founding Fathers put their hands on isn’t sacred. They were men, not gods.

In short, if the electoral college is abolished, your vote is exactly equivalent to anyone else’s vote. Not more, not less. Chances are, if you support it, it will give you even more voting power.

Don’t believe the establishment. Electoral College Reform NOW! I for one want my democracy back. If it continues, we live in a pseudo democracy. From a critical theory perspective, the electoral college is a system that maintains the current hegemony and gives people the illusion of power while simultaneously undermining it, an essential component of bourgeois democracy. That is how strongly I feel about this.

There will be those leftists among you who will say getting money out of politics or the class struggle is more important. Well, I say that you are probably correct, but this is an element of that struggle. By reforming these institutions, one can pave the way for larger social programs and efforts at reform. First, the people we elect truly have to be elected freely. We cannot sacrifice our will to the will of a party cadre. We must learn to live with American democratic institutions. Maybe someday we can get the Senate abolished as well and have only a House. Until that day, we must pick our battles wisely.

What’s wrong with Social Democracy?

Take a look at this comic. It’s humorous (its actually very funny) I know, I shouldn’t take it too seriously. Even though it is a leftist comic, and I’m a Leftist, I believe it perfectly encapsulates what Ideology is.

What is Ideology?

Let’s take a few somewhat amorphous quotes from Slavoj Zizek:

“The stepping out of (what we experience as) ideology is the very form of our enslavement to it”

“Every ideology attaches itself to some kernel of jouissance which, however, retains the status of an ambiguous excess”

“The form of consciousness that fits late-capitalist “post-ideological” society – the cynical, “sober” attitude that advocates liberal “openness” in the matter of “opinions” (everybody is free to believe whatever she or he wants; this concerns only his or her privacy”

Let’s take the first quote. First of all, in and of itself, it’s very profound. Let’s say you have a political ideology. When you view things through the lens of your political ideology, and try to subject another’s ideology to your lens, then you are just enslaved to Ideology IN GENERAL.As in, if you say to yourself, “I have a viewpoint”, that viewpoint is fixed, solid, immutable. You are now trapped by ideology, you can now never question your dogmatic beliefs.

Now you chime in and say, “now Stephen, that’s quite unfair, anyone has the right to their opinion!”. This is a typical American statement. The third quote captures the problems with this belief. You can believe whatever you want! Ultimate freedom! What a great society we live in when we get to express and believe whatever we want! Underlying that whole belief structure is the belief that the society we live in has allowed us to form opinions that are rational in the first place. This is Foucault’s “Regime of Truth” problem if you will. At every moment, you have chosen to believe that what you believe is ultimately true and comes from yourself, without recognizing the ways society has influenced you to have a certain belief.

Now let’s ideologically analyze the comic using this method:

The cartoon is titled “Social Democracy in one Senate seat”. You see some young people watching Bernie Sanders speak. They have a preformed idea of what socialism is. The funny part comes from the juxtaposition of them being excited about “real” socialist ideas, then hearing old cranky Bernie talk about Norway and Sweden (which are still capitalist countries, strictly speaking). They walk away feeling depressed.

Here’s where you should start getting suspicious of this comic: the underlying message is- where’s the excitement??? I wanted real Socialism, not Larry David talking about how great the Scandinavian welfare state is! This is the “ideological kernel of jouissance [enjoyment]” Zizek talks about. Why were they disappointed? Bernie wasn’t ideologically pure! He wants a model from a country with a working economy and the highest standard of living in the world- what a sellout!

It’s almost as if the students were expecting him to say “Long live the Soviet Socialist Republic!” or something to that effect (I’m being unfair to the creator of this comic, I know that’s not the socialism he envisions). But it gives the reader with no knowledge of Leftism the impression…”what do those students actually want?”. This is the “Occupy Wall Street” problem, or the day after the revolution problem. Even though the comic does not go on, say to a different panel where they explain what kind of socialism they actually envision, you are left with the impression, “ok they disagree with Bernie because of his support of the invasion of Yugoslavia, and that jobs need to stay in America, and the military jets thing”. But that’s not what makes the comic funny. The underlying funniness is that Bernie is a lame old guy, he’s not “with” the real Leftism of the students.

So what about the positions Bernie advocates for on the podium. “Let’s keep jobs in America”. Well what’s wrong with that?

The problem with that statement in today’s PC culture is that it smacks of jingoism. The fact that Bernie is running for President of the US doesn’t make a difference. The fact that it would be a completely socialist policy of economic protectionism and intervention in the free market doesn’t make a difference. The reason it’s not a “pure enough” belief for the students is its all about America. The policy doesn’t “care” about the Third World enough. Now there’s a lot of ins and outs to what happens to other countries when free trade is adopted, but in general when companies outsource jobs, it exploits horrible labor laws in other countries and moves their factories over there. It kills jobs in the US, and overseas creates an economy based sometimes virtually on slave labor. It’s like when those on the far-left criticize Bernie for not being open borders- that position is very easy to take when you ignore the American economy. It is a position of extreme hypocrisy, where you claim to have the morally righteous position- the poor immigrants! All the while, a permanent underclass grows in America…that could be topic of a whole other long post on the immigration debate in the US. I’m willing to consider arguments from open borders people, but it seems to me that its too idealistic. And there would be nothing the capitalists would like more than for cheap labor to be able to migrate across borders at will. That’s not good for immigrants, its not good for us.

So either the students are pro-free trade socialists, because at least the poor Chinese children have jobs that way (an obvious contradiction), or they don’t think at all.

Let’s move on to the intervention in Yugoslavia. A true Leftist would never use the military!…would they? Obviously, from a hardcore non-interventionist perspective, the intervention was unjustified by its very nature. Unfortunately, this removes all context about the war in Yugoslavia (which I may write a whole other post about). The war in Yugoslavia was a war of aggression waged by a genocidal Serbian regime. Everyone agrees about that (if you are a sane person, and not brainwashed by the Serbian government). However, over the course of my internet adventures, I have encountered some strange pseudo-Leftists who argue that the intervention in Yugoslavia was a pretext by NATO against the completely innocent Serbian regime, who was actually going after Islamic terrorists. Ayiyi! I don’t have time to explain why that’s a complete crock of shit, anyone with any knowledge or time to watch an hour long documentary would know Milosevic was a genocidal maniac who wanted nothing more than to incorporate Bosnia into a greater Serbian state. The problem is, the people who that advocate position do so from a position of, “the American government is evil and has to be doing something wrong”. There are some who even claim NATO bombings killed more people than Milosevic! Do some research man!! These sort of gross ideological mystifications are the same sort of problems Chomsky ran into when he claimed the Khmer Rouge was being unfairly persecuted by the imperialist West and the genocide figures were inflated. It is true that the secret bombings of Cambodia were horrific. The problem comes when one equates that action under the Nixon administration, by all accounts a criminal administration, to the actions of the Clinton administration. “It’s all just imperialism” is a cop out.

Now would I have supported the NATO intervention in Yugoslavia? No, with some caveats. I think retroactively some sort of stronger UN intervention was necessary instead. But it is interesting how it is THAT issue that comes up over and over. It always seems to return to the Balkans, that bastion of ideological confusion. There were some who even claimed that the NATO intervention would just strengthen Milosevic’s hold on power- that didn’t end up occurring, but the fierce partisans of non-intervention in Serbia (coming at just the right time of an ethnic cleansing) seem to have held their tongues after the fact. No surprise that an actual committed leftist from the former Yugoslavia, was not as critical of the NATO intervention. He criticized NATO for depoliticizing the conflict on “humanitarian” grounds, but here’s what he said about its opponents:

“But it’s not only NATO that depoliticized the conflict. So has its opponents on the pseudo-Left. For them, the bombing of Yugoslavia played out the last act of the dismemberment of Tito’s Yugoslavia. It acted out the end of a promise, the collapse of a Utopia of multi-ethnic and authentic socialism into the confusion of an ethnic war. Even so sharp-sighted a political philosopher as Alain Badiou still maintains that all sides are equally guilty. There were ethnic cleansers on all sides, he says, among the Serbs, the Slovenes and the Bosnians. “Serbian nationalism is worthless. But in what respect is it worse than the others? It is more popular and it goes back further in time, it has more weapons at its disposal and in the past it doubtless had more opportunities to act out its criminal passions . . Certainly, Milosevic is a brutal nationalist, just as much as his colleagues in Croatia, Bosnia or Albania . . . From the beginning of the conflict the West has been on the side of the weaker nationalisms (the Bosnian, the Kosovar) and against the stronger nationalisms (the Serbian and, by means of subtraction, the Croatian).” (Zizek, NATO, the Left Hand of God).

So here, the specter of nostalgia for the old Communist bloc (or Tito’s Yugoslavia, which was outside Soviet influence) rears its ugly head. It begs the question: are the students in the comic secret Titoists who would throw Bernie in the gulag?

Here is where there is a kernel of truth in the comic for me. Social Democracy, in Europe, has failed to always not intervene in unjustified wars (Tony Blair invading Iraq), and has only promised to retain the welfare state, while all too often capitulating to the Right in their austerity policies. It’s “program” has failed to galvanize support- even the Jeremy Corbyn wing of the Labour Party has not attracted enough support in Britain. So what is to be done, in the words of Lenin?

What is to be done is to recognize that Bernie Sanders represents a REAL alternative to the extremely conservative ideological atmosphere in the United States, in the Democratic and Republican party. And not to judge him on the basis of so-called purist principles and subject him to ridiculous ideological purity tests.

We should also to recognize that Social Democracy is not a cure-all alternative, and it has its own problems, but I believe they are largely the result of neoliberal influence into those parties. REAL social democracy, like in Norway and Finland, does and should work. That’s my view. The Left of today should not be so quick to judge those who fight the existing powers that be, completely removed from solving the concrete problems of today.