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The Improbable Slavoj Zizek - Pt. 1

Complexity of Zizek's Ideas, Zizek's Philosophical Influences, Ideology and Subjectivity, Analyzing Zizek's Communication Style.


The Improbable Slavoj Zizek - Pt. 1

So at the end of last episode I asked about the possibility of doing an interview with Slavoj Zizek in the coming weeks. And the response was overwhelmingly positive…but there WERE some people expressing their concerns… like don’t change the format of the show, Stephen West…don’t turn this into an interview show. And sorry I wasn’t more clear about it last time: we’re doing a SERIES of the show on zizek right now and then several OTHER big thinkers doing their work today that’s the direction we’re moving in… and I really just wanted to know if anyone was interested in a conversation totally ADDITIONAL to the podcast that i’d put out there if anyone wanted to hear it. I mean do you guys think I WANT to make this into an interview show, do you think I want to turn what we’re doing here into just… background noise, that people put on whenever they’re doing ACTUALLY important stuff? Please I LOVE this show…I love dhow much value we can pack into 30 mins. I just want to keep doing the stuff you fine people enjoy. That said, in retrospect, I PROBABLY should’ve waited to ASK if anyone wanted to hear Zizek until AFTER I did this first episode of the series. Reason being is with every ONE of these podcasts…there’s always a different CHALLENGE that comes up, specific to the episode, that needs to be solved…and the one that came up for Zizek was: how do you make someone as COMPLEX as Zizek can be sometimes…ACCESSIBLE to people who may not even know who he is or what he’s even talking about…but do that in a way that ALSO doesn’t make it too boring for people that are ALREADY fans of his work? So just keep in mind that’s what I’m trying to DO in this episode…as dumb as that may be you can never cover all of Zizek in a day. And because I’m writing this trying to be respectful to BOTH those audiences…I guess it just NEEDS to be said right at the start: that if you’ve never heard of the philosopher Slavoj Zizek before…well first of all he’s a Slovenian philosopher, alive today, he’s doing his work right now…and I guess the most ACCURATE way to describe what some people THINK about him as a philosopher… is that people are often CONFUSED about what it is that he’s trying to say when he says it. For a number of different reasons. In fact if you’re new to him as a thinker you should probably take a listen to him so you can get a frame of reference here. Good news is there’s TONS of him out there, just go to wherever you watch videos, type in Zizek… and I guess sit down and hold on to the sides of your chair really, really tight. This is a man who at first glance has a very bizarre method of delivering what it is that he’s trying to say, but it’s INTENTIONALLY bizarre…which we’ll get to by the end of this. This is a man that is FAMOUS for saying lines like Ghandi was more violent than Hitler. Or that Joseph Stalin was a very honest man. Or that Heidegger was not a great philosopher in SPITE of his time as a Nazi…he was great BECAUSE he was a Nazi. These are REAL THINGS that he has SAID. Now ANY intelligent person who HEARS this stuff HAS to assume well this is obviously an act. This is a schtick. He’s just SAYING this stuff to provoke people and to get a reaction out of them. And it’s TEMPTING at this point to just write OFF Zizek as some sort of philosophical troll. Not really saying anything of value. But if a troll online is someone just saying stuff so they can make people offended and then get a reaction…then the word troll doesn’t even come CLOSE to describing what Zizek is doing. Because part of the reason he USES this provocative style of communication is to purposefully disorient people, shake them out of a dogmatic slumber that they’ve been living in their entire life, where they’ve internalized ideology and typical ways of thinking, to the point where they’re not even totally aware of the ideological game that they’re participating in every day of their life. Zizek once said… that a worry of his when it comes to his work is NOT that he’s gonna be IGNORED by the masses…but that he’s gonna be accepted by the masses. Why would a philosopher be worrying about something like that? To try to understand it…we gotta try to see things from Zizek’s perspective as MUCH as we can which is what I’m here to try to do. And zooming out… as much as I can, I think, is the best place to START trying to do that. Because while Zizek NO DOUBT has a bunch of different takes on specific modern issues that certainly will get you THINKING about them in a different way than you ever have before…and we’ll TALK about those…there’s a sense in which…before we ever even get there.. we FIRST gotta know where he’s coming from with the method or the FORM of his philosophy. By the end of this episode we’ll understand why it may be useful to look at Zizek as a work of art…instead of just SIMPLY as a philosopher. So ONE thing you gotta know about Slavoj Zizek is that among other things, he is nothing short of INCREDIBLE when it comes to his knowledge of philosophical theory. And he’s even MORE impressive when you consider how WIDE of a range of thinkers he’s able to reference and bring IN to modern discussions to reinterpret culture like he does. The 101 VERSION of this if you were just searching for basic FACTS on Zizek is that there are three MAIN thinkers that are near and dear to his heart: there’s Hegel who we’ve talked about on this podcast, there’s Marx who’s useful when critiquing late stage global capitalism, and then there’s the famous French psychoanalyst named Jacques Lacan. That from here on out I’m just going to call Lacan…because I’m not french, and trying my hardest here not to sound like a pretentious douchebag saying Lacan. Now again Zizek interprets the world through FAR MORE than just these three thinkers, but there is some truth to them being particularly IMPORTANT to him. And there’s a million starting points we could pick here for talking about his work but I just want to pick one…GET us started… and ask a very general philosophical question where we can compare a typical way of viewing it… to the way Zizek sees it. Here’s the question: What is it like to BE someone who’s having conversations with other people about how to make the world a better place? As a person that’s participating in that…what has your experience of that BEEN like your entire life? Now I realize that this is a weird question. Because I’m NOT asking what IS it to make the world a better place…or what tactics do we use to MAKE social or ethical progress that would make the world a better place, but specifically: what is it like to BE a HUMAN SUBJECT that is PARTICIPATING in that process? We’re talking about human subjectivity here which Zizek spends a LOT of time on. Well there’s MANY answers to this question: a common ANSWER in the modern western world could be that someone thinks well I’m born, my life begins and I know almost NOTHING the world as a baby. But then AS my life went on I learned a lot of stuff about how the WORLD works: I got an education. I read newspapers, I watched documentaries, I listened to really smart people TALK about how the world works…and then FROM all this… I formed my opinions based on what the TRUTH seems to be and what I think the best path forward is for society. So to answer the question: when I’m TALKING to people in these political discussions…I’m really just testing MY understanding of the truth… up against OTHER people’s understanding of the truth. I’m a TRUTH SEEKER, really. That’s all that I am. And in the process of SEEKING truth I’ve gotten into some pretty heated political debates for sure. Come across someone who votes DIFFERENT than me… I try to point out contradictions in how THEY see things…they try to point out contradictions in how I see things…and while it’s pretty uncomfortable to BE in these debates, may get me riled up sometimes…ultimately, if the person across the table is a reasonable person who’s well educated: there is a CHANCE the two of us may be able to come to some sort of a resolution, there is a chance…I might be able to convince this person to come over to my SIDE on a couple things. That’s how social PROGRESS is made. That’s…if they’re REASONABLE, this person might say. But let’s be HONEST this person might also say…MOST of the people in today’s day and age that I COME across in these conversations are NOT reasonable people…MOST of the people that vote DIFFERENTLY than me these days…are ideologues. These are not people that are trying to CHANGE their MIND about anything…they’re people who have just DECIDED to BELIEVE in an ideology. They’ve FOUND the truth about the way the world is… and they ain't moving. They already GOT the truth from their pastor when they were eight years old, or from their favorite youtuber/podcaster, or from their cultural studies teacher in their sophomore year of college: these are people that have supposedly FOUND the gospel… and now they’re gonna spend the rest of their life like a fundamentalist in the public square screaming at everyone for being a heretic, for going AGAINST the gospel, how dare you not believe the things MY teacher told me. This person might say you can start to feel bad for them…if it WASN’T for the fact that IDEOLOGY itself…is DERAILING this PROCESS of social and ethical progress. Look I’m a truth seeker, not an ideologue. And these people quite frankly are a problem for society. Now if you TAKE everything I just said there as ONE possible way to VIEW what you’re doing when you PARTICIPATE in the political process…Slavoj Zizek’s gonna disagree. He’s gonna say that what this person LACKS when they SEE themselves as a TRUTH SEEKER…is a deeper level of awareness about the GAME that they’re actually participating in everyday when they have these political discussions. He’d probably start with the oversimplified way that the word ideology is being used here. He’d say that it is NOT the case…that YOU are someone who’s REALLY SEARCHING for the truth and that ideology is just something reserved for people that have GIVEN UP on the search for truth. No matter HOW good your intentions are…no matter HOW much you DON’T follow some codified doctrine…no matter if you’re agnostic and say oh I’ll seek the truth my WHOLE life and I’ll never actually ARRIVE there…doesn’t matter: to Zizek…you are ALWAYS making SENSE of the world THROUGH the lens of an ideology. Or more accurately: a bunch of DIFFERENT ideologies STACKED on TOP of each other that have huge effects on your thoughts, values, desires and what you end up DOING in the world. The question to Zizek is NOT do you HAVE an ideology…but how self-AWARE are you of the ideological structures that dictate your thinking? And then from that place of self-awareness… how self-DETERMINING can your actions become? Let’s slow down for a second though. Let’s rewrite the story from before about what it is to participate in political discussions. Zizek would AGREE with at least the FIRST part of the story: we ARE born into the world as babies and don’t really know ANYTHING about it. But then Zizek is going to ask the question, INSPIRED by the psychoanalysis of Jacques Lacan…how does that BABY… FORM all these complicated things that it brings to those political discussions later ON in life, like its sense of identity, it’s views about how the world works, how it fits INTO social systems…how does that BABY in other words acquire its subjectivity? Well MOSTLY Zizek thinks from what Lacan called the Symbolic Order. It sounds super fancy, but just stay with me. A question in conversations about human subjectivity is: how can this BABY in our example ever HOPE to understand…the full, chaotic COMPLEXITY of BASE reality? How can it just be BORN into the world and then understand all that on its own? Well, it CAN’T. So what does the baby do? It learns to make SENSE of its reality through the mediation of SYMBOLS of all different types that SIMPLIFY reality. The symbolic ORDER. For example: language… is a collection of symbols. As we know: a word is a type of symbol that makes reference to something in reality…but as we ALSO know… words are limited and can never truly capture the full EXTENT of what something is. Words are not REALITY…but to most of us that doesn’t really MATTER that much…words do a good enough job to communicate MOST of the time, right? Well AS these words are combined and then systematized… they then give rise to OTHER types of symbols we use to make sense of things: things like rituals, traditions, social norms…these are undeniably things that help people organize the endless possibilities in life… BUT, we ALSO recognize that at another level there’s nothing OBJECTIVE about these things. Combine and systematize THOSE symbols… and eventually you land at symbols that are even MORE complex. How about political stances like conservative or progressive? How about social or economic policies? How about postmodernism, or classical liberalism, or pragmatism, or multiculturalism– NONE of these are harnessing the full TRUTH about reality. How COULD they be? They’re just elaborate collections of symbols that people have come up with to try to describe certain ASPECTS of reality in an incomplete way. And when these symbolic ways of simplifying reality…get unified under a framework that gives someone a comprehensive way of understanding BIG things like HOW society works overall, the ROLES of individuals in a society, the relationships between different groups…when YOUR collection of SYMBOLS starts to align you with OTHER people who feel the same way as YOU do, and you guys got your identical narratives that LED to your world view…and your shared lingo and special terms that you use together, terms that you CALL each other, where you share the same fantasies or desires about what you want the world to look like…to Zizek these are the FINGERPRINTS, the EVIDENCE… that you are making sense of the world through a framework of ideology. In other words: NOBODY is accessing the truth. Everybody’s reality is mediated by symbols, everybody has been internalizing ideology from the MOMENT they were born, where their identity, their social roles, how they see themselves, their SUBJECTIVITY COMES from the interaction they’ve had throughout their life with these SYMBOLS that simplify the world for us. Again the question to zizek is… NOT whether you HAVE an ideology…the question is how self aware are you of YOURS? So while the word IDEOLOGY being connected to someone’s thinking may most of the time carry with it a purely NEGATIVE connotation…to Zizek…having an ideology… is not FAR from just being alive and having THOUGHTS on the world in a type of human subjectivity where ideology… is inescapable. And from that perspective…ideology is not something that’s BAD necessarily. But again there ARE different degrees of self awareness ABOUT it. Zizek’s work…among other things… is a call to action for people to think critically and UNDERSTAND the TRUE nature of this game that we’re all participating in. See he’s NOT saying that everyone’s the same here. Religious fanatic, Nobel Laureate…SAME PERSON! No…obviously…there is a BIG DIFFERENCE between the people that uncritically ACCEPT an ideology, spend the REST of their lives being a foot soldier for it, thinking they’ve arrived at the truth with a capital T. Who needs thinkin’ anymore? Big difference between THAT person and someone who’s a bit more humble and open to SEEING the world differently. But you’re not off the hook just because you can point to somebody else around you and say look that person’s worse off than me! They’re the REAL problem I’m just a TRUTH seeker! But you are STILL living under the structures of ideology in BIG ways that you may not even REALIZE. Because no matter HOW HUMBLE you are…that’s the thing about ideology. To Slavoj Zizek: there will ALWAYS be a gap… between what symbols can explain about reality, and the REAL. Between our constant SEARCH for TRUTH and OBJECTIVE truth. Between some universal meaning to life… and the meaning that we can find in the world for short periods of time in our lives. There will ALWAYS be that lack. That negativity. And there’s USEFUL things ABOUT that lack if you’re Zizek, and we’ll get to them…but the point is: ideologies are DESIGNED… to be things that take that GAP that exists…and make the world look so simple that the gap isn’t there anymore. Ideologies give people a very NARROW lens to see the world through, and then convince them that what they’re seeing is just the TRUTH. And BECAUSE that LENS… will DISTORT and MASK the TRUE nature of social structures, and because people often are at the MERCY of how OTHERS view these social structures…that makes ideology to Zizek… a particularly DANGEROUS form of passively exploiting people…if it’s not well understood. So to HIM we gotta TRY to understand it. YOU have to try to understand YOURS. And you HAVE to try to understand it GENERALLY… because the same kind of TACTICS are often used across DIFFERENT ideologies. Turns out: there’s some common tactics that are very effective at CAPTURING people’s psychology. You gotta ask questions like: HOW exactly does ideology work? HOW does ideology affect the values, the desires, the beliefs of people? Where does it get injected? How does the language of an ideology MASK certain aspects of a reality…the SUFFERING of people a world is built on the backs of? HOW does ideology so EFFECTIVELY give the people immersed in it a more narrow worldview… where BECAUSE of how narrow their field of view is…they then PRESERVE that ideology despite the bad that its doing? You want a philosophical exercise to try to practice seeing the world a little more like Zizek sees it…try listening to a conversation between two people talking about the state of the world right now. Just if you LISTEN to podcasts or whatever it is… and you listen to one where two people have long form conversations on it…pull up an episode…listen to it and when you listen…don’t think about it as though these are just two people who are seeking the truth about the universe like I am…instead listen to it like you’re a detective or something… and you’re looking for evidence of the ideologies they’ve internalized… that they’re BRINGING into that conversation. Pay attention to the language or the metaphors they use to describe reality. Pay attention to the narratives they bring in about how society SHOULD be functioning. Notice how the values they believe in will be something they’re all FOR when it brings about that world…but then their values will CHANGE the second it becomes about ANOTHER type of person or ANOTHER world that may come about. Again that selective VISION. Notice how they’ll blame all the PROBLEMS of the world on some OPPOSING ideology, which they’ll CALL an ideology funny enough. THEIR’S isn’t but THAT one IS. Zizek has a great line about this he says, “The minimum necessary structuring ingredient of every ideology is to distance itself from another ideology, to denounce its other as ideology.” This is one of the tactics. Notice how often when people make claims about how the world is they’ll try to make things not a matter of opinion, this isn’t ME saying this…this is the nature and truth of the universe…or in OTHER cases they’ll make things into something that’s COMPLETELY undefinable, just an arbitrary social construction. Notice… how many times if you’re paying attention… somebody who makes their ideology PUBLIC like this will contradict themselves in the same calendar month…and again…NONE of this is something that MAKES these people CONSCIOUS, EVIL foot soldiers of an ideology. In fact if somebody had an attitude where they think that if you find contradictions in somebody else’s worldview…that they must just be stupid or misinformed…that’s ANOTHER thing Zizek would think is a little oversimplified. Contradictions and paradoxes…these are not the marks of someone being misinformed necessarily…to Zizek…these again are the marks of ideology. This is the EVIDENCE if you’re LOOKING for it...this is where you can SEE ideology REVEAL itself for what it truly is…not the TRUTH…but a collection of symbols trying to SIMPLIFY things that’s INCAPABLE of EVER fully capturing the REAL. You will ALWAYS have contradictions in the way you make sense of things…because of the WAY you’re making sense of things. In fact it can SEEM like if you are NOT AWARE… of the contradictions PRESENT in your OWN way of looking at the world…well, couple different options. One option is that you’re really just not TRYING very hard, you’re not truly AWARE of your own positions, maybe too busy trying to look for contradictions in other people. The other option is that for SOME people… who are pretty DEEPLY EMBEDDED into an ideology…while its not IMPOSSIBLE for them to see contradictions…it can be EFFECTIVELY impossible… because their field of view is so narrow that… they’ll just never HAVE the THOUGHT where they come ACROSS the contradiction in their own thinking. To THAT person their whole LIFE might just feel like…well there’s NOTHING wrong with MY thinking…I just see the TRUTH about things. So again finding a contradiction in your worldview is not something to be embarrassed of to Zizek…in fact if anything it’s a sign that you’re actually doing the work of critically thinking…you’re starting to understand the limitations of ideology. Zizek LOVES to point OUT these contradictions and paradoxes in people, ESPECIALLY in politics. Take the environmentalist that wants to solve the problems CAUSED by consumerism by just BUYING more environmentally conscious products or INVESTING in green companies. Solving a problem caused by consumerism with more consumerism. This is ideology OBSCURING the true NATURE of the problem. Or take the fan of capitalism that says capitalism is GREAT because look at all the CHOICES it gives people! They can buy anything they WANT! HYPER FOCUSING on the fact that people can yes, choose between 15 different kinds of barbecue sauce at the store, but IGNORING the LACK of choice that people have when it comes to participating in any OTHER economic system. Again, ideology limiting the very definition of choice. Now these are two examples that we recently used on the Anarchism series we just did and I’m sticking with them for right now because I don’t want to derail this more general conversation about Zizek’s work. Trust me though: These contradictions are EVERYWHERE to Zizek, and throughout this series we’re gonna be talking about ones he sees in SPECIFIC issues we’re dealing with today. And this is may be a good point in the episode to bring this back to the question of WHY Zizek DELIVERS his philosophy in the SPECIFIC ways that he does. How do we understand the FORM of Zizek’s philosophy…NOT JUST the content? Well FIRST I need to give an example of the format or STYLE that he often uses, you know confuse the everliving heck out of everyone, and THEN we’ll explain why he’s doing it that way GIVEN all that we’ve covered about Zizek so far. Here’s the format: He STARTS with a position…usually a position that’s held by people who see themselves as PROGRESSIVES in the western world…not just the LOADED term of progressive but people that generally think I have a policy that’s gonna make the world a better place. He starts with a progressive position. And he will state their position. And he will make it sound super appealing… as though its so TRUE that it’s practically common sense, like who could EVER disagree with it…and then as QUICKLY as he does that… he will FLIP the position on its head, show it from a completely different angle by interpreting it through a DIFFERENT ideological framework… and then make a case for how in REALITY the position is actually the OPPOSITE of what it first seems to be. Showing that getting a deeper understanding about something…is going to come from finding the meaning that exists hidden in the margins… BEYOND what was CONSCIOUSLY intended by the person who held the position… BECAUSE of the limitations of what their ideology ALLOWS them to see. And you may think he’s done but THEN he starts to go in on the MEAT of his arguments! Then he’ll point out contradictions and paradoxes…at this point he’ll most likely make MULTIPLE references from ALL over the place in the media landscape…for example he’ll compare the abortion debate to Lacan’s view of the Oedipus complex, which he will then compare to the peloponnesian war in ancient Greece, which he’ll then flesh out a bit with a comparison to an episode of South Park he saw the other day, and then he’ll bring everything together, really hammer the point home by giving his Hegelian interpretation of the book eat pray love. That’s a CLASSIC structure of Zizek doing what he does best…and the POINT is that this TYPE of analysis can all be… so disorienting. People can feel like after listening to him…they’re having a hard time understanding EXACTLY what it was he was trying to say. But what they often times DON’T realize…is that THAT was his entire point. That if you DIDN’T feel disoriented by what he just said…then Zizek REALLY didn’t do his job. BECAUSE of how he sees ideology…the way it DICTATES so MUCH about how people see the world…his GOAL when he speaks… is NOT to give you neatly packaged together little FACT… that teaches you something NEW about the world that you can easily TACK ONTO and APPROPRIATE into your existing ideology. He KNOWS that a lot of people are watching looking for a CLEAR takeaway of a BETTER ideology the start BELIEVING in. But his goal isn’t to take the world, chew it up in his mouth and momma bird it OVER to you like hey, take this BETTER ideology I have! No the REASON he targets PROGRESSIVES in PARTICULAR…is because he’s trying to WAKE UP the people who COULD be revolutionaries… if ONLY they SAW the RIGID ideological structures that LIMIT their thinking. Think of all that they could do if ONLY they were more aware of the GAME they’re actually participating in. As odd as it is as a way of going about it: Zizek is trying to be inspiring. He’s like if Hegel and Tony Robbins did in vitro fertilization and then moved into a time share in new york city. You know how Simone Weil would sit her students under a tree while she was teaching geometry… and when she was giving these lessons…she wouldn’t just ask a bunch of geometry questions and ask people to give answers…the goal WASN’T for students to find CONCLUSIONS, but to instead: discover new LINES of thought ABOUT geometry. New ways of seeing the questions themselves. UNDERSTANDING the questions at a deeper level rather than just memorizing answers. And to her it was like this is the way you DO it because if when you’re trying to learn about the world if you set out and you’re looking for ANSWERS as to what the TRUTH is, you’re gonna FIND those answers…but sadly those answers are not the TRUTH. In many ways the answers you find just become FALSE IDOLS that you SETTLE for along the way. Well Zizek in a similar sort of way is ALSO TRYING to get people to SEE the world differently… by encouraging them to…see, the world…differently. To see something like a social issue for example TAKE any one that you like to debate…one that you FEEL like you’re ALREADY very FAMILIAR with…and by FAMILIAR, that means you have PLENTY of ideological tools that have allowed you to “understand” the issue FULLY, (though its an oversimplification)...and when Zizek TALKS about it…by INTERPRETING the issue from a TOTALLY FOREIGN ideological LENS…the hope for him is that this shows how ideology can be used to interpret the world in a MILLION different ways…and the hope is to illustrate that the specific IDEOLOGY that you are INTERPRETING the world through has a MASSIVE impact on the selective VIEW you have of the issue you’re discussing. There’s always WAY MORE to understand about these issues…perspectives that you may ALREADY FEEL at a certain level, but again the CONFINES of your ideology don’t allow for you to see it. The result is that you feel CONFUSED. I’ve never HEARD these kinds of CONNECTIONS being made before about these issues that I FEEL like I have a pretty solid grasp of. When Zizek says Ghandi was more violent than Hitler. It’s not that he’s on some sort of campaign AGAINST Ghandi. It’s that WHEN he says that the person listening has to confront some difficult questions. What is violence then? What are we trying to accomplish when we oppose violence? How does the ideology that I’m subscribed to get me to ignore CERTAIN kinds of violence? Even if these questions are EASILY answered by ideological tools…it AT LEAST gets people THINKING about the ASSUMPTIONS that they bring to bear on everything. Assumptions that otherwise may just sit around passively never being looked at. To Zizek…the GOAL is to SHAKE PEOPLE OUT… of the common ideological lanes that people fall into by default when they’re born into the world as those babies that internalize symbols. From a PROBABILITY standpoint…what are the most COMMON ones that people fall into? There’s of COURSE religions that give people a TOTALIZING worldview but this is a philosophy podcast: how bout the ones that are more cleverly disguised than that? Postmodernism, pragmatism, classical liberalism, socialism, capitalism…you can keep going down the list but you GET it from a PROBABILITY standpoint…these are the SYMBOLS people use to make sense of the world, and then cordon themselves off into GROUPS of like minded people. The HOPE is… that by getting people to SEE things OUTSIDE of these narrow takes…that a higher level of clarity about the issue overall will be arrived at because you will understand the TRUE stakes of whatever the conversation is about. And it doesn’t matter WHICH one it is they ALL have their different justifications for why THEY’RE REALLY the truth seekers of the world, THEY’RE not doing what everybody ELSE is doing, they’re SPECIAL! Say you’re a PRAGMATIST for example. You can say look, I don’t FOLLOW any of these isms…I don’t have a DOCTRINE…that’s why I’m a PRAGMATIST! Those post-modernists out there want to say that everything is a grand narrative, but where does that leave society? So instead of being lost in DOUBT for the rest of my life I just want to go with what WORKS for a society! I mean, don’t we HAVE to keep moving forward? But to Zizek…you know he’d probably predict that if you’re a PRAGMATIST…that’s PROBABLY because things are going PRETTY WELL for you with the way things are currently set up. But how about all the people that things AREN’T going very well for that you probably never have to SEE that much given your ideological limitations and position in society? The REALITY of what’s WORKING for society all of a sudden becomes VERY DIFFERENT when the problems are on your doorstep…and the fact that some policy is WORKING in a PARTICULAR way that things are currently set up…says NOTHING about whether the system overall is ethical. A pragmatist, to Zizek, is often too UNCRITICAL of the status quo…they just want it to keep working. But anyway it’s been said by some…that Slavoj Zizek is kind of like a modern day socrates. And before you think that’s too crazy of a statement just CONSIDER it for a second. What does he do? Like Socrates, he is absolutely BIZARRE to someone EMBEDDED into one of these common ideologies. They DON’T understand him. Like Socrates when he goes into public in the Athenian Agora… Zizek in OUR time makes himself public by doing interviews and media appearances. And when he ENGAGES with people IN these conversations…one of his big GOALS is to inspire DEEPER levels of critical thinking about things that people often take for granted. Another similarity…is that by HAVING these conversations and TAKING the positions he does…he pisses a lot of people off in the process. Because in OUR time…the MEDIA he’s taking advantage of for exposure…can’t really PLACE him POLITICALLY into a NEAT category where they can always RELY on him to AGREE with their politics. For every issue they may agree with him on there will be ANOTHER position he takes that is COMPLETELY outside the ideology of people trying to make a show where we’re all buddies, and we’re fighting against the bad guys and here’s our super smart philosopher friend to confirm to us that we’re all right. Let’s be SILLY together! We got our friend Zizek on the line with us! Hey, can you say marxist superstructure three times fast for us, GO! No he isn’t gonna be APPROPRIATED into the system like that… as another TOOL that can be easily absorbed and wielded around as a smart guy political weapon. He has a quote where he says: "I like to occupy a position where even if I am attacked and rejected, I am not contaminated." His FEAR is NOT that the masses will REJECT him…his FEAR is that he is appropriated to the extent that he is ACCEPTED fully. He is a walking paradox…and he KNOWS it. He is a piece of artwork where you need to understand both the form AND the content to be able to capture the true meaning of what it is. And in a world where people fall into COMMON WAYS of symbolically interpreting things and grouping up…Slavoj Zizek REFUSES to see the world through these common lanes because he UNDERSTANDS how ubiquitous ideology truly is. This is WHY he points out SO many examples of IDEOLOGY in basically EVERY MEDIA TYPE. In movies, books, cartoons, music…THIS IS…the ideology that we’re internalizing everyday…and he wants to NOT ONLY SHOW people that it’s going on…but at a deeper level show how we can use DIFFERENT MEDIA, DIFFERENT SYMBOLS, to re-interpret social issues in a DIFFERENT WAY, that will allow us to SEE the issues more broadly. GREAT philosophers…when you look at the sources they read that INSPIRED them…some of the most INTERESTING thinkers will have a lot of stuff that is OBSCURE…and NOT part of a typical western philosophical education. Simone Weil comes to mind of teaching herself Sanskrit so she could read the Bagavaghida. Or her Gnosticism or neo-Platonism. Walter Benjamin comes to mind with his mysticism or German Romanticism. If philosophy is a matter of thinking THOUGHTS that other people haven’t THOUGHT of before about the world…then one way to try to help yourself DO that…is to LOOK at reality through ideology and media that ISN’T the most COMMON ideology and media that people are falling into during your time. Of COURSE you’re gonna think just like everyone else if you do that. But try interpreting reality through a DIFFERENT…less PROBABLE ideological lens. It reminds me of the semi-recent episode we did on ChatGPT. Where when you ASK a Large Language Model a question…BECAUSE it is TRAINED on text data made up of conversations that people have ALREADY HAD…what it’s DOING is generating an answer made up of the most PROBABLE words that seem like they should FOLLOW based on all the other ANSWERS that it has seen in its training data. It produces conversation that LOOKS A LOT LIKE other conversations it has seen. And Chomsky would say that’s wonderful and all but we CAN’T RELY on this thing IN it’s current form to be something that’s going to give us anything that leads to PROGRESS. Scientific progress often doesn’t come from whatever scientists think is the most PROBABLE thing to come next in a scientific paradigm…but through highly IMPROBABLE theories that come from people questioning the ENTIRE ORDER of things. Well in a world with a LOT of people who believe in the same COMMON FORMS of a world of highly PROBABLE interpretations of all the problems we’re dealing with…this is the highly IMPROBABLE take of Slavoj Zizek. Because philosophy to Zizek is not about coming up with the SOLUTIONS to the problems necessarily…it’s about getting people to ask the RIGHT questions, so that progress CAN be envisioned. We NEED people reinterpreting this historical moment, and finding a way OUT of the digital panopticon, that from WITHIN the COMMON ideological frameworks to some seems impossible. Now again, Rome wasn’t built in a day. And nobody ever understood Zizek in a day so there’s only so much we can cover on this episode. Lot of questions to answer…but one of the FIRST ones I’d imagine if it were ME listening to this and I had never thought about Zizek before…is if everything is ideology essentially…in the current philosophical climate…how can he make ANY sort of claims about political or ethical PROGRESS? What’s his foundation for MAKING those sort of claims? I mean why wouldn’t he just be considered a post-structuralist or a post-modernist? We’ll be ANSWERING this on the next episode of the Zizek series, very soon. But first, even sooner…we’re going to be dropping an episode on the new book from a philosopher whose a friend of the show, you remember him from our episode on panpsychism, Phillip Goff and his book released at the end of last year called Why? So we have a FEW episodes coming out in the next few weeks, keep your eyes open for them. And oh yeah, about this interview with Zizek still working out the details but KNOWING what we know now after THIS episode: if you were asking the guy a question…what would you want to hear his thoughts on in an interview? Let me know. Thank you for listening.Talk to you next time.

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