Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The chocolate laxative

From Žižek's Iraq: The Borrowed Kettle (ellipses and italics in original):
The structure of the 'chocolate laxative', of a product containing the agent of its own containment, can be discerned throughout today's ideological landscape. There are two topics which determine today's tolerant liberal attitude towards others: respect for otherness, openness towards it, and obsessive fear of harassment--in short, the other is all right in so far as its presence is not intrusive, in so far as the other is not really other. . . . In strict analogy with the paradoxical structure of the chocolate laxative, tolerance thus coincides with its opposite: my duty to be tolerant towards the other effectively means that I should not get too close to her, or intrude into her space--in short, that I should respect her intolerance towards my overproximity. This is what is increasingly emerging as the central 'human right' in late-capitalist society: the right not to be 'harassed', that is, to be kept at safe distance from others. A similar structure is clearly present in the way we relate to capitalist profiteering: it is acceptable if it is counteracted with charitable activities--first you amass billions, then you return (part of) them to the needy. The same goes for war, for the emergent logic of humanitarian or pacifist militarism: war is permissible in so far as it really serves to bring about peace and democracy, or to create conditions for distributing humanitarian help. The same holds increasingly even for democracy and human rights: human rights are to be defended if they are 'rethought' in order to include torture and a permanent state of emergency; democracy is a good thing if it is cleansed of its populist 'excesses' and limited to those who are 'mature' enough to practise it.

This same structure of the chocolate laxative is also what makes a figure like George Soros ethically so repulsive: does he not stand for the most ruthless financial speculative exploitation combined with its counter-agent, humanitarian concern about the catastrophic social consequences of the unbridled market economy? Soros's very daily routine is an embodied lie: half of his working time is devoted to financial speculation, and the other half to 'humanitarian' activities (providing finance for cultural and democratic activities in post-Communist countries, writing essays and books) which ultimately combat the effects of his own speculation. Figures such as Soros are ideologically much more dangerous than crude direct market profiteers--this is where one should be truly Leninist, that is, react like Lenin when he heard a fellow Bolshevik praising a good priest who sincerely sympathized with the plight of the poor. Lenin retorted that what the Bolsheviks needed were priests who got drunk, robbed the peasants of the last remnants of their meagre resources, and raped their wives--for they made the peasants clearly aware of what priests in fact were, while the 'good' priests only confused this insight. (pp.151-153)

1 comment:

Andrew said...

The love of Lenin for the people...charming.