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The Postmodern subject and “ideology without ideology” (Zizek, Byung Chul Han)

Zizek says look, if I just say some wise sounding stuff in the right tone of voice…then all of a sudden… it passes to people as wisdom. he says watch I’ll do it, “why are we running after these miserable, earthly pleasures, the only true satisfaction is in eternity!” i say that in a certain way and it sounds like a totally wise thing to say. but now let’s say the opposite: “why…run after the specter of eternity? carpe diem! seize the day, grasp what you have here right now in this moment!” this also sounds wise! now how about the third option: why be caught in a contrast between eternity and temporary existence…true wisdom is to seek eternity in temporary earthly pleasures, this is wise. then i can say the fourth variation: we are forever condemned between these two things… a wise man accepts this…whatever i say, he says…you can sell it to people out a wisdom. isn’t it interesting that wisdom itself… can be used like that as sort of a tool.


The Postmodern subject and “ideology without ideology” (Zizek, Byung Chul Han)

Hello everyone! I’m Stephen West! This is Philosophize This! So…a clip you’ll likely see of Slavoj Zizek… if you’re scrolling through where ever you get your videos from is one where he says that the idea of WISDOM, as its often presented to people in media…is a conformist thing for people to be chasing. He even says that wisdom… is the most DISGUSTING thing that you can imagine. That’s an actual quote from him: but what did he MEAN when he said it? Well he continues: he says look, if I just SAY some WISE sounding STUFF in the right tone of voice…then all of a sudden… it passes to people as wisdom. He says watch I’ll do it, “Why are we running after these miserable, earthly pleasures, the ONLY true satisfaction is in eternity!” I say that in a certain way and it SOUNDS like a totally wise thing to say. But now let’s say the opposite: “Why…run after the specter of eternity? Carpe Diem! Seize the day, grasp what you have here right now in this moment!” This ALSO sounds wise! Now how about the THIRD option: why be caught in a contrast between eternity and temporary existence…TRUE wisdom is to seek ETERNITY in TEMPORARY earthly pleasures, THIS is wise. Then I can say the FOURTH variation: we are forever CONDEMNED between these two things… a wise man accepts this…WHATEVER I say, he says…you can SELL it to people out a wisdom. Isn’t it interesting that wisdom itself… can be USED like that as sort of a tool. Having four episodes on Zizek before this one should at least make you CAUTIOUS about judging what he’s saying here too hastily. He’s obviously NOT saying that he’s AGAINST developing your understanding about life and reality, and then EXPERIENCING that there are different, deeper levels to that understanding. What he’s AGAINST…is the CONCEPT of WISDOM itself…as a FIXED universal. The idea that there NEEDS to be some easy to digest, marketable, common sense THING that IS WISDOM…something that REGARDLESS of WHATEVER circumstances you FIND yourself in…that this WISE insight is gonna be the thing that GUIDES you to the right decision. Because to Zizek…this whole way of thinking about REALITY where we come up with COMMON SENSE takes on the way the world is…is just too simple. As much as it would be GREAT if it was: REALITY isn’t…a simple thing… the more and more you look at it. You’ll see parallels to OTHER things that he’s had a problem with people oversimplifying that we’ve TALKED about on this SERIES so far: your IDENTITY as a static, fixed thing, SOCIAL relations as static fixed things, INSTITUTIONS like a school or the government as static, fixed things. Well so too with wisdom. There is this OBSESSION that some people have with NAILING DOWN a STATIC UNIVERSAL definition to things. Coming up with some ULTIMATE DEFINITION that EVERYTHING seems to stem OUT of. People’ll do this with WISDOM, and when they DO it’s DISGUSTING to Slavoj Zizek. Cause think of what ACTUALLY happens. We WANT wise people in the world…we NEED people that have a DEEP understanding of life and people and the way the world works. But when you GIVE someone this easy to digest, marketable TAKE on what WISDOM is that fits into a youtube short or a tik tok video…when they feel SATISFIED by that and go and USE it in their lives…the REAL consequences of that is that FEWER people are ACTUALLY ENGAGING with the real COMPLEXITY of how the world works. You know they think HMM, if I can just MEMORIZE what CONFUCIOUS woulda said when HIS door dash took three hours to show up…you know if I can just COSPLAY as Marcus Aurelius all day, then I’ll HAVE to be wise! But again what REALLY happens is this effectively CUTS people OFF from the depth of the real PROBLEMS we FACE as people, and they end up LIVING at this surface level, FEELING very wise without any of the DEPTH of experience that true wisdom takes. People’ll do this with MORALITY. They’ll say there’s a COMMON SENSE THING that it is to be GOOD, for example…never tell a LIE, JUST TREAT PEOPLE NICELY simple as THAT! And then again when they DO this…it JUST ends up PREVENTING people from ENGAGING with the world at a deeper level, which is something we NEED people to be DOING right now. Because to Zizek as we’ve SEEN throughout this series so far: the world to him is NOT… just a collection of this COMMON SENSE…it is an ever-changing, evolving, ideological construct, that CONSTANTLY needs to be reexamined and re-understood by people. So those common sense takes may FEEL convenient to be able to simplify complicated discussions…but look as we’ve seen time and time again all throughout human history: the common sense of ONE particular TIME period…is often WIELDED like a GUN…used by whoever comes along POLITICALLY… DURING that time period. Just look AROUND you for OBVIOUS examples of people doing this…RIGHT NOW. It’s worth asking to Zizek: if somebody WAS… SO COMMITTED to writing a book about some UNIVERSAL way of LOOKING at something…WHY would somebody NEED that common sense, simplified take on something as complicated as morality, for example: we have to ask how might having this universal… BENEFIT this person ideologically? MORE than that we have to wonder: even if THEIR intentions are good writing it…how is this common sense, UNIVERSAL going to be USED by OTHER people in potentially bad ways? The JOB of a philosopher to Zizek is not to collect common sense, or to create FIXED UNIVERSALS about the way that things are. Its to QUESTION common sense, and if we have to CREATE universals… to ENGAGE with them CONSTANTLY. It’s to ACKNOWLEDGE reality AS that ideological construct, MADE of symbols, FILLED with contradictions, and tensions as it ALWAYS falls short of describing reality in full…and then a philosopher he says is supposed to quote FIND the CRACKS in the symbolic edifice that grounds our SOCIAL stability. And then to LIVE within THOSE CRACKS…to point them out, shine a light on them, to question them, to accept that a philosopher’s job is never done: that as we FILL IN those cracks we will ALWAYS be constructing a NEW reality on TOP of them out of that cracked raw material of symbols or ideology. In other words: the COMMON SENSE of ANY particular time period…is NEVER the full story to Zizek. And it’s a PHILOSOPHER’S job to point that out. This is why philosophy when it’s done well…almost ALWAYS makes SOMEONE out there…pretty uncomfortable. And its in THAT spirit…that the goal of the episode here TODAY is going to be to make quite a few postmodernists out there… feel at least a little uncomfortable. If that’s something you think describes the way you’re thinking: which seems very LIKELY. It’s the dominant subjectivity of the time we’re living in. Most of us LISTENING to this are going to have STRONG postmodernist tendencies. But what do I mean by the postmodernist subject from the title? I mean: on one hand it's a term that means almost nothing because of how many ways the term postmodernism is thrown around by people…and we’ve had I don’t know HOW many episodes of this podcast in the past talking about the transition from structuralism to post-structuralism and the postmodernism born of that, I realize all that on one hand…but on the OTHER hand I’m USING it here today because there’s a LOT of philosophers, that casually call postmodernism a very BROAD category of a WAY people THINK about the world that has EMERGED recently… that is DISTINCTLY DIFFERENT from the ways people USED to be thinking about the world. If people USED to be looking at the world in ways that were Patriarchal, or HIERARCHAL, or in Oedipal ways Zizek says sometimes…and if LOOKING at the world in that way was a PROBLEM…then the POST modern subject is someone who is gonna be in part REACTING to that history and thinks of themselves as look: I’m someone that SEES through… all those grand narratives of the past. I REALIZE the history of human thought has been FILLED with people who have constructed narratives and traditions that GIVE people around them their sense of identity. And I ALSO REALIZE… how arbitrary all those ultimately are. I REALIZE how these oversimplified, universals have led to a lot of social problems that I don’t think should continue. I mean call me crazy but I DON’T think people should be treated badly just by dint of birth. And look the GOOD news is as somebody alive today the way the WORLD’S set up: quite frankly… I don’t have to BELIEVE in any of that nonsense anymore. I’m not LIKE people in the past where I’m BORN into a family and from BIRTH I’m given a social role to fill like a peasant or an aristocrat or an artisan. In TODAY’S world people construct their OWN meanings. For better or worse that’s just HOW it is. And the way this all maps onto individual people and their IDENTITIES…is that when it comes to these UNIVERSALS that used to DEFINE people’s identities in the past: as a postmodernist…I reject them, and then I go a step FURTHER and I put an EXTRA emphasis on PARTICULARS and DIFFERENCES…as the OPPOSITION to those universals. In other words the postmodern subject…is somebody who SEES identity as something more FLUID than its ever been in the past. And the JOB of the postmodern subject as we go throughout our lives is to create and RECREATE yourself…trying on different identities, expressing yourself in different ways, all of this…as a sort of RESISTANCE… against the way people lived in the PAST where they were GIVEN their rigid identities. Now for Zizek…the SAME WAY that HIERARCHICAL thinking of the past went on to create certain social outcomes when IT was the dominant form of subjectivity…this POSTMODERN subject is gonna have certain social outcomes as well. What HE’S trying to do is not to EQUATE these two ways of looking at the world. But again like we talked about last time, FIRST in an analytical way: he wants to LOOK at how the dominant form of subjectivity of a particular time ATTACHES itself to the institutions of that society…and then AFTER that he definitely wants to CRITIQUE postmodernism, for ALL the SAME reasons you might want to critique a friend. Because look NOBODY out there is perfect. And in order for society to keep moving forward…to Zizek…we HAVE to continue to critique ourselves…to find those cracks in the ideological ways we’re making sense of reality, and FINDING those cracks is uncomfortable sometimes. We have to CONSTANTLY ENGAGE with the assumptions we’re making…or else THINGS don’t move FORWARD. And it’s worth repeating so there’s no confusion here: Yes, Zizek would say, hierarchical, patriarchal, oedipal thinking is still out there and its something we should always be trying to identify where it DOES exist. But something ELSE we should acknowledge he says is that that way of thinking…is in many ways in full retreat, because of progress we’ve made in engaging with it…and as a philosopher that’s doing his work in real time here…we’d be letting ourselves DOWN and NOT doing the work of a philosopher if we didn’t critique this newer, POSTMODERN way of THINKING that’s been on the rise for the last few decades…where the RESULT of this way of thinking…RELIABLY…. leads to a TYPE of identity in a person… where they feel as though their existence is revolutionary when its not, that they’re more free than most of the human beings that have ever lived on this planet, and that they’re morally superior to the people around them…all while HIDING behind a false depiction of their own humility. THAT is going to BE something Zizek says that we see ALL OVER the place in the modern world in ALL SORTS of different kinds of people. It’s fascinating, actually for understanding where our world is at. Now a quick disclaimer: what’s about to follow are a lot of different ways that Zizek thinks this postmodern subjectivity shows UP in the world. And we’ll SEE the false revolutionary spirit, the moral superiority and the fake humility all throughout them. I just want to START this by saying that I fully realize there’s a common sense take on this postmodern subject that this is somehow a way of being that’s MOSTLY reserved for people on the left. But my hope is with this episode today I can show how to Zizek at least: this ISN’T a subjectivity where it’s divided by such clear lines politically. I mean for example he says to HIM…Donald Trump is one of the biggest postmodernists he’s ever seen…this postmodern attitude towards existence shows up in all SORTS of places that have nothing to DO with political views. Hopefully I can SHOW that with all these examples of different kinds of people. So on that note: maybe it’s good to START by saying that we’ve already TALKED on an episode about how this postmodern identity shows up in our lives in modern, neo-liberal, global capitalist society when we talked about the work of Byung Chul Han. For newer listeners, we talk about it on episodes #188 and #189 of this podcast. If you haven’t listened to them…I would go back and listen a lot of people liked what he had to say: either way I’m going to proceed NOW as though everybody HAS heard those before this one. Remember how Han was talking about how everything that binds or connects us in the world is slowly disappearing? From shared rituals that people used to have, to community BONDS, to a common pursuit of truth, from shared public spaces: there’s so many things that we USED to have that united us together as people… that living in modern neo-liberal society we just don’t have at our disposal anymore. Well Han is describing a VERSION of this postmodernist subjectivity. That when you’re BORN into a world where you don’t HAVE a set of traditions or universals to build your sense of identity out of…what are people left to DO in their lives? They have nothing EXTERNAL to them to focus on so they go to the ONLY place left there is to turn…they turn INWARD and focus on themselves. This is why NARCISSISM… is such a common lane that people GO down in postmodern society when trying to create meaning. They exist in what he calls an ACHIEVEMENT SOCIETY. What ELSE do they have to focus on? They don’t have a religion. So they worship at the altar of themselves. It’s like you’re the arch bishop of ramble about yourself for a while ism. It’s the situation we’re in: they CREATE their own identity as they GO…they focus on their CAREERS and productivity and self improvement, CONSTANTLY trying to INCREASE their market VALUE in the world. Their identity…is that they’re an ongoing PROJECT they’re working on. They actually have been led to believe they should be feeling BAD if they’re NOT constantly being productive, ACHIEVING as much as they can. Everything AROUND them in their life they start to see as a RESOURCE for IMPROVING this narcissistic project they’re working on, INCLUDING other people. And this leads to a DISTANCE created between them and people where they NEVER truly consider the opinions of the other…FURTHER locking them in their own narcissism. To Byung Chul Han: this becomes a very COMMON way that the LIFE of a postmodern, neo-liberal subject ends up playing out. And to Zizek…when you consider this postmodern attitude that identity is something that’s FLUID, where its YOUR JOB THROUGHOUT your life to constantly create and recreate yours…Zizek would say this is yet ANOTHER aspect of this new kind of subjectivity that more or less fits PERFECTLY within global capitalism as a religious, economic system more broadly. Because NOT ONLY does the STUFF we buy allow us to EXPRESS our identity in ONE way today…ANOTHER way next week…and not ONLY does the STUFF I buy DEFINE a big part of my position in the world, and not only is that an EXTREMELY malleable thing that can be CHANGED on a whim. But the market ITSELF ALSO fits perfectly into this setup…because from the MINDSET of somebody whose a business person or an entrepreneur, pretty normal kind of person these days… if that’s a big piece of your identity as a person…well what is VALUABLE or MEANINGFUL in the BUSINESS world…is something that’s ultimately determined by the market. And if the MARKET changes on a whim, then the VALUES of your COMPANY should change, YOUR values should change, the SERVICE you’re PROVIDING should change. In other words, again: there’s a fluidity or a plasticity of identity associated with global capitalism… that FITS in PERFECTLY here. But anyway keeping in mind how this all lines up well with the common CAREER paths of people…someone could ask: what are some OTHER examples of the way postmodernists line up with things we see around us? What’s an example of that moral superiority and false humility you were talking about before? I wanna hear about that. Well okay. The other day I was looking at a meme, it was a meditation meme, where the picture is of a guy, he’s in the lotus position, he’s got his fingers touching together on each knee because apparently that’s how you meditate when you reach a whole NEW level of transcendental cringe…but anyway the meme shows the inner dialogue of this guy who’s meditating. He says FINALLY! I’ve been meditating every day for two years of my life…and I’ve FINALLY gotten to the place where I have transcended my own ego, I now REALIZE how MUCH all of that is an illusion…heh look at all these morons around me are NEVER gonna get on my level. TRAPPED in their little monkey BRAINS. Meh meh. This is a great VISUAL example of the kind of inner dialogue that DOMINATES postmodern thought. It’s an EXTREME example for a reason…of COURSE I realize this isn’t what everybody’s thinking when they meditate. But if you consider how POPULAR meditation and contemplative practice has become recently and how much it APPEALS to people living today…is it a coincidence…that practices centered around the illusory nature of the ego or identity, OBSERVING your own thoughts, NOTICING how you’re ultimately not creating them, is it a COINCIDENCE this way of thinking has become so popular in marketplaces dominated by postmodern subjects? Zizek would say no. And look at the OTHER side of it: at least in our example that somebody felt was such a common experience that they would make a MEME out of it…this is a person that has a FRONT they’re putting up of humility about their own ego but that INTERNALLY… has a feeling of moral superiority over others…this person often feels like they’re more FREE than practically every human being who has ever lived because they’ve figured out the mind hack…to ESCAPE the PRISON of their monkey mind and these outdated ways of seeing their moment to moment identity. Once again: a fluid subject, seeing themselves as defining their identity from moment to moment, with a feeling of moral superiority hidden behind false humility, feeling as though they’ve achieved a level of FREEDOM that is unprecedented for the average person. Let’s give ANOTHER example of something that illustrates this… and ALSO gives us a place to talk about what Zizek thinks is the MISTAKE that’s being made in this way of thinking. How bout ANOTHER classic postmodern cliche…how about the kind of person that slaps a coexist bumper sticker on the back of their car, or their electric scooter. Now on one hand: salt of the earth this person…SAVING THE WORLD driving around modern, tolerant society saying how everyone out there should just GET ALONG better. Fine individuals for sure. But Zizek says THINK of what they’re ACTUALLY doing there…that’s a MOVE you’ll see throughout ALL these examples that’s KEY to understanding what they’re really doing: they’re TRYING to create a UNIVERSAL…out of the fact that SUPPOSEDLY there ISN’T any universal. In other words the coexistence bumper sticker says that there’s NO CULTURE that is universal…it’ll have a christian cross next to a hammer and sickle next to a star of david next to a mcdonalds logo. And we’re all supposed to LOOK at these different ways of SEEING the world that are battling AGAINST each other and think WOW these people are SO CONFUSED and NAIVE. Look at them all BATTLING it out for THEIR culture to be the UNIVERSAL way of thinking. But not me. I GET it! All these people are FIGHTING, but all of them are actually EQUAL! NONE of these are the UNIVERSAL! They’re all condemned to BATTLE against each other in a world where I at least realize the TRUTH that NOTHING is in fact universal, so I guess: maybe they should all just learn to get along better. But do you see what they did there? They just made a UNIVERSAL…out of there NOT being a universal. As Zizek says this post-patriarchal, NIHILISTIC type of subjectivity generally sees the world as MASS CHAOS, MASS DIFFERENCE, EVERYTHING ABOUT REALITY is ULTIMATELY ABSURD is another popular one. And again, they REALIZE the long HISTORY of people creating what they see as FALSE UNIVERSALS to try to MAKE SENSE of all that CHAOS. But again BECAUSE they DON’T want to DO that stuff any more…what a postmodernist DOES is claim to REJECT all universals and focus INSTEAD on particulars, differences, individual identities…it’s been called an identitarian movement before because it REJECTS those collective universals. This is also why, it’s been theorized, that IDENTITY politics is such an effective thing at controlling people’s thinking on BOTH sides politically during this particular era. We’ll get into that in a second but just to tie together the PHILOSOPHICAL side of this: to Zizek the mistake of postmodernism… is that in CLAIMING to REJECT all universals, they end up making the STRUGGLE BETWEEN DIFFERENCES into a universal of its OWN. So an important point to REALIZE here for Zizek is… if the common sense criticism of postmodernism these days is that it’s a problem because it just eventually devolves into relativism…then to Zizek No, that’s NOT actually what it is. The PARTICULARS and DIFFERENCES that they’re celebrating…are always meaningful against, a BACKDROP of a UNIVERSAL that they have set up, where there’s CONSTANT conflict between particulars AGAINST some universal. This is WHY so many postmodernist, emancipatory MOVEMENTS, to Zizek…just end up RECREATING a lot of the universal thinking and setups that they FEEL like they want to get rid of. Which again if you THINK about it is super clever from a winning ARGUMENTS perspective, but also really unfortunate if you actually want to CHANGE anything significant about the world: most of the time unknowingly…people are putting up a FRONT like they don’t HAVE one of these identities…like the hammer and sickle, cross, star of david…they put up a FRONT like they’re DENYING themselves of their OWN identity. When in FACT they’re UNIVERSALIZING that NONE of these are the right answer, and BEHIND that false humility, they CLAIM that moral superiority where they have it figured out BETTER than all these pathetic warring FACTIONS out there that don’t realize they’re CAPTURED by a universal. It’s BRILLIANT. Or unfortunate. Depending on whose doing it, and how AWARE they are THAT they’re DOING it. But to Zizek again WE HAVE to ALWAYS remain skeptical…because if you LOOK for it closely and you PAY ATTENTION…this is SO COMMONLY the struggle people seem to be engaged in in the world… the FIGHT for universality. Another example of this that Zizek finds personally pretty bad is in what he describes as the so-called deep ecologists. Deep ecologists… as Zizek describes them… are people that ON the SURFACE at least…are HIGHLY committed to protecting the environment. And in DOING so they make a SIMILAR sort of move to the one on the coexistence bumper sticker. They say WE HUMAN BEINGS…are just one species of MILLIONS on planet earth…and who are WE to be the SOLE things that have RIGHTS and make DECISIONS for everything else on this planet. Maybe what we should be DOING…is thinking of entities in NATURE…as having natural rights of their OWN. In other words to SOME deep ecologists out there: a RIVER is something that has rights, a MOUNTAIN should have rights, a giant FUNGUS would have rights…and again ON THE SURFACE this seems like a very humble, compassionate, outside the box sort of position…but the PROBLEM for Zizek is what comes NEXT? Who guarantees these rights and FIGHTS for the river and the fungus, it’s not like have little arms and legs to be able to do it themselves. Well the ANSWER obviously is…that WE have to as human being. Well again…do you SEE what they DID there to Zizek? BEHIND a sort of FALSE HUMILITY…what they’re REALLY saying is that HUMAN BEINGS should be the ambassadors for every OTHER species on this planet. It’s a GLARING contradiction. It’s presenting itself as being AGAINST a universal… but in fact just ends up creating a more COVERT version of a universal. And here’s the thing: AS an outsider to any ONE of these little subgroups where people are making this postmodernist, contradictory move…you can SEE these positions that people have…think of them as weird, like something FEELS OFF about saying that we should have PEOPLE representing RIVERS and MOUNTAINS in the Parliament of the EARTH… and you can start to think that maybe YOU’RE the problem. Like maybe YOU are just not as revolutionary as you SHOULD be…maybe YOU are someone caught up in these outdated, patriarchal ways of thinking and you just need to open your MIND up a little bit more. But then on the OTHER SIDE of that ACTUAL humility you can still find yourself feeling like, ehhh, but something STILL feels a little OFF here. Well in any ONE of these examples and many more…this could JUST be you FEELING that contradiction or tension that GROUNDS this particular worldview. Zizek has TONS of great stuff he’s written over the years about the social outcomes of this BEING the dominant way people are thinking. One of the more INTERESTING ones, and a KEY POINT that explains a LOT of the behavior of people WHEREVER this comes up is that it’s obvious what the people of today often want is what he calls ideology…without ideology. Let’s talk about what he means by that. He’d probably START by saying that if you look around you in the postmodern world of global capitalism…it is INCREDIBLY common for people to WANT things that in commodity form… are a THING…but its a THING that LACKS the MAIN component that MAKES that thing what it originally was. Such a clear description…this is why you keep coming back to this podcast. The example he gives is decaf coffee. I mean what IS that? Originally you want coffee as opposed to any OTHER drink on this planet because it has caffeine in it. But now some people want the EXPERIENCE of coffee, but they want it decaffeinated, again getting rid of the MAIN THING that MAKES coffee, coffee. Tons of OTHER examples of this in our culture though. Non alcoholic beer. Lactose free milk. Gluten free bread. Vegan Leather. But this extends into other things: video games as a type of warfare without having to actually die. Watching streamers and people playing video games, getting the enjoyment out of playing without having to develop the skills or having the emotional risk of playing the game. Travel shows where you FEEL like you get to experience the place without having to take the risk to leave the house. You want to throw on a safari helmet you got for Halloween and go out to the African savannah, see all the lions and elephants without having to be in any real danger. There’s SO many examples of this though one of the BIG ones for Zizek is pornography…which in itself is designed to allow you to live out on a surface level whatever it is that its DOING for you… without having to deal with the complex interpersonal dynamics that MAKE that activity what it is. In other words: JUST LIKE wisdom from our example at the beginning of the episode…where an easy to digest, surface level, marketable understanding of wisdom REPLACES ACTUAL wisdom…these are examples of surface level experiences…that replace the REAL ones that come with risks and require a deeper understanding of the world. The LONG story short here for Marx and for Zizek is that what this REALLY produces for the postmodern subject then…is a PROFOUND sense of alienation…where big parts of your LIFE become about CONSUMING the RAW SIGNIFIERS of an experience like the taste of coffee or the surface feeling of knowing the wise thing to do…and in doing so we DISTANCE ourselves from the broader CONTEXT or IMPLICATIONS of that activity. And what this BECOMES…is the DEFAULT EXPERIENCE of the postmodern person and their experience of ideology. Just like coffee without caffeine…it’s ideology…without ideology. Think about it…the BASE ASSUMPTIONS a postmodernist MAKES about reality…PREDISPOSES them to THINK of themselves, as someone that’s BEYOND grand narratives. They START from a place… of feeling like they’re BEYOND needing universals. To Zizek in a fetishistic sort of way, they AVOID universals. Which then without them even REALIZING it…ends up PUTTING them in a worse place than they’d otherwise be when it comes to blindly being immersed in ideology. Because what ideology DOES BEST…is OBSCURE the fact that it’s GIVING you a universal…by EXCLUDING all the OTHER ways of looking at things. So this whole setup… creates a perfect storm where the postmodern subject is PARTICULARLY at risk for not SEEING the limitations of their own ideology. They’re not LOOKING for the false universals in their own thinking, because from THEIR perspective…their ENTIRE WAY OF THINKING is in AVOIDANCE of universals! And then you PUT these people in a world that is FILLED with the INTERNET and common sense takes…when you plant them in a world with people talking about HUMAN NATURE and saying hey lets just look at reality PRAGMATICALLY for a second…what you get… are people that are FULLY immersed in ideology…but TRULY think they are POST-ideological…you get people thinking that what THEY’RE doing is just looking at the world in a PRAGMATIC, REAL sort of way…not an ideological one. Philosophers are just people overthinking everything, they’re ADDICTED to THINKING and finding overly complex rabbit holes to go down, but the reality of the world is right there! And ideologues…those people that are EASY to spot…because from MY vantage point…their assumptions are CLEARLY always connected to universals that I can spot a mile away. But not me…I don’t HAVE universals. Again ideology…without ideology. Another trap that it’s COMMON for a postmodernist to fall into…is the trap of moderation. They can think that when it comes to any political situation that’s going on…well the PROBLEMS… are ALWAYS in the EXTREME people on either side of an issue that are captured by a universal. That you can always SPOT when someones WAY too far to the left or WAY too far to the right. But what I’M gonna do…as someone who’s BEYOND grand narratives…if I just stay somewhere in the middle, seeing the merit of both sides, constantly playing the peace keeper, saying let’s all get along…well it CERTAINLY may keep things calm right this second…but to Zizek all you’re REALLY doing in PRACTICE… is supporting whatever the CURRENT political party is that’s in power right now. Moderation becomes a universal of its own. But sometimes to Zizek when things are bad ENOUGH in a society…sometimes we NEED to be able to embody radical positions if we want things to continue getting better. But that said…there’s ANOTHER way to get OUT of this difficult place of seeing bad in the world and feeling like you NEED to take revolutionary action. Something far DIFFERENT than moderation, and as it turns out its something far more common among people today than moderation. JUST LIKE there’s coffee without caffeine, and there’s ideology without ideology, for Zizek, when it comes to changing the world for a lot of people with this post-patriarchal nihilism…what they end up seeking is REVOLUTION without REVOLUTION. Where as much as people GENUINELY CARE about the struggles of other people…BECAUSE their life is MEDIATED by having these surface level, commodified experiences of the ACTUAL things in the world…people end up looking for surface level experiences TOO when it comes to their revolutionary efforts. This is ALL the OBVIOUS things you no doubt suspect when HEARING that…the superimposing of the flag on your profile pic in solidarity. The donation of money to a charity claiming to help victims. Going to a protest, marching down the streets blocking traffic, coming up with a nice little rhyming Dr Seuss poem to chant about how upset you are. This is surface level, marketable revolution… without all the risks and implications and WORK required for ACTUAL revolution. And this detached, disenchanted SPIRIT of revolution gets captured by larger social processes as well. Slavoj Zizek talks about Martin Luther King. And he says if you read his speeches and his books…he barely EVER actually TALKS about TOLERANCE. There’s this confusion Zizek says that most white liberals have where they think the MAIN GOAL to bring about racial equality should be for problematic WHITE people to become more TOLERANT of black people and their differences. But Zizek says Martin Luther King wasn’t marching around saying that white people need to be more tolerant of black people. If you pay attention…he was asking for SPECIFIC, CONCRETE CHANGES to law and to economic policy that would ADDRESS this inequality DIRECTLY. It was a very CLEAR thing to ASK for by Dr. King. And by the way if there was MORE effort to bring about REAL, concrete economic changes like that…maybe things would look very different today. But INSTEAD what happened Zizek says, quoting the work of Dr. Nikki Houston, is that white liberals CHANGED the discussion from a question of CONCRETE economic policy…to one of TOLERANCE. Where NOW the problem exists UP IN PEOPLE’S HEADS somewhere…in a place where no one can see, it’s ambiguous, even if you SAY you’re not racist, well maybe you just need to go to your therapist and try to work out some of these implicit biases that you don’t even know you’re carrying around…the PROBLEM becomes this UNSOLVABLE thing where its NAMELESS and FACELESS and now people’s job is to go around POLICING OTHER PEOPLE’S THOUGHTS…rather than actually bringing about structural change. Again revolution without revolution…and not SURPRISINGLY to Zizek the EXACT kind of situation that emerges where it expresses ALL the OUTRAGE at the way things could be a lot better, but in a way that DOESN’T mess with the global capitalist, economic status quo. Again, NOT in a conspiratorial way, but this is the aggregate of everyone’s DECISION making when they’re ALSO just trying to do the best for their family while ALSO caring about others in this TYPE of system. This postmodern trap, though, leads to OTHER big problems he thinks in things like political correctness…where he thinks the reflex to SAY things in a way that removes the HARMFUL REALITY of things…MIRRORS the sort of surface level engagement that is embodied by wisdom without real wisdom or coffee without caffeine. ON my LinkedIn page…I have to put a JOB history on there, because its REALLY important to. And before I did the podcast full time I just worked at a grocery store, for the first year I was there I was a courtesy clerk where a big part of my job was cleaning the bathrooms. For my JOB title, DESCRIBING what that job was…I said that I was a toilet scrubbing manager, extraordinaire or something like that. Just having fun with these euphemistic, politically correct job titles. But to Slavoj Zizek the REALITY of that job was that for $7.35 an hour, which was pretty good at the time, I was scrubbing human feces off the toilet, then bagging people’s groceries and sending them home so they’d have something ELSE for me to scrub off the next week that they came in. This was the REALITY of the situation, and toilet scrubbing manager doesn’t really CONVEY the REAL PLACE I existed in the economic setup of the time. Now that example aside: think of ALL the WAYS political correctness is used to SHIELD people from the TRUE reality of what is otherwise being said. Should we just not talk about it? Find more easy to digest, marketable language that makes people feel better about the way the world is or the ways REAL people refer to things in the world? Political correctness, just like wisdom often in PRACTICE becomes a TOOL to keep things exactly how they are. Cancel culture to Zizek…in the name of diversity, equity and inclusion…just ends up doing the opposite EXCLUDING the people who are truly diverse from the common, universalized narrative. Let’s talk more about that tendency…because that’s maybe the BIGGEST thing that we need to be aware of to Zizek, AS these postmodern subjects…it’s that thing we ended LAST episode talking about that makes him a moderately conservative communist. What we NEED to always be considering: is that political movements, ALWAYS have the ability to and often to DEVOLVE…into their opposites. Even a movement like Buddhism he says that of every grand narrative on planet earth is one of the MOST committed to simply the elimination of suffering…even BUDDHISM…is capable of being captured by political forces in the world and used as a justification for violence and suffering. He cites the situation recently in Myanmar where Buddhist rhetoric and symbology was used as a rallying point to justify violent action against Muslims. His POINT is not to call out Buddhism or paint it with a broad brush…this stuff in Myanmar was MASSIVELY condemned by Buddhists everywhere, but the point is a dialectical one. No matter WHAT your cause is, no matter HOW FAR it seems away from something that could EVER justify bringing the world into a worse place than it is now…it is the NATURE of ideology to OBSCURE the possibilities latent in EVERY way of thinking. And the ONLY antidote if there even IS one is for us to be AWARE of these things before they come up. But again this is why there’s reason to be concerned…about the postmodern subject in particular. Because again they are PARTICULARLY susceptible to thinking they’re BEYOND any sort of unexpected turn into violence. It is ONLY through this sort of engagement with the pitfalls of the current dominant way of thinking that it will eventually evolve into something else, that thing having it’s own problems, and so on and so on. But we STILL have the question of FREEDOM. HOW does the postmodern subject see themselves as MORE FREE than EVERY other generation before them? HOW does this subjectivity change the parameters that people use to think of what makes them free? Are we really free? Well the short answer from Zizek another direct quote is yes, OF COURSE we’re free…I’m not stupid. But the REAL question he thinks we should be asking is what has CHANGED about the ways that we are free? What has changed about the framework that we EXERCISE our freedom within that makes the ways we’re NOT free seem to us like MORE freedom? Also, what would it take to CHANGE the world if we wanted to? What does the FUTURE look like to Zizek? Why is global capitalism something he thinks is doomed to fail? ALL of these questions will be answered next time. Hope you have a great rest of your week. And I hope you enjoyed this episode. By the way thanks for all the great ratings lately on the podcast apps. It helps a lot. Thank you for listening. Talk to you next time.

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