Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Slavoj Žižek's Violence, Part II

The best part of Žižek's Violence is his brilliant analysis of the concept of tolerance. He shows us the scary possibilities implied in the blind worship of unconditional and unthinking tolerance:

"What lurks at the horizon. . . is the nightmarish prospect of a society regulated by a perverse pact between religious fundamentalists and the politically correct preachers of tolerance and respect for the other's beliefs: a society immobilised by the concern for not hurting the other, no matter how cruel and superstitious this other is."

The reason why we "tolerate" seeing Muslim men who lead women behind them on a piece of string, as if these women were dogs, is not respect for a different cultural tradition. The only truth behind this "tolerance" is contempt, lack of respect, and the desire to infantilize the menacing Other. How would you react if you saw a Western couple interact in this way? Would you sneer? Give them a piece of your mind? I know I would. But when somebody we can easily identify as the Other does things that offend our sensibilities, we are supposed to avert our gaze in an utterly hypocritical show of our worldiness and sophistication.

Otherness is always scary. Tolerance allows us to deal with our fear by treating the Other as a wayward child who is allowed all kinds of pranks we will never put up with if they came from an adult.


Anonymous said...

In general, I agree. It is, however, difficult to imagine the technical functioning of the "limited tolerance society" which will be an alternative.

Your example was quite blatant... What about a Muslim woman without a leash, but just wearing traditional clothing? Should we be intolerant of her because to us her clothes symbolize society policing female body? Obviously, limited tolerance policy cannot be directed only at Muslims... Is it OK then to be intolerant of religious Jews, who on Saturdays walk on the road ignoring my car? :) Or of those Jewish women who wear wigs - one surely can find some patriarchal symbols in that...

My point is - who is going to determine the reference point, the standard, the diversions from which will be considered a good reason to be intolerant? Majority vote? The enlightened few? Zizek?


Clarissa said...

I think that as long as we organize the discussion around "tolerance/intolerance", there will never be a solution to these issues. I'm not proposing that it "should be ok to be intolerant". Tolerating, in any case, does not mean accepting or understanding. It just means putting up with something reluctantly.

Instead of being or not intolerant, I am in favor of not being afraid of voicing my opinions. All kinds of fundamentalists are never afraid of voicing their opinions about me. I am, however, expected to shut up about everything that I find repugnant about them. And all this just in order to comply to some standard of tolerance and political correctness.

David Gendron said...

Québec's #1 fan of Zizek: