Žižek is the kind of philosopher who never stoops to triviality. He challenges every preconceived notion we might have. This is the reason why he mocks the concept of tolerance that enraptures liberals, criticizes Mahatma Gandhi as somebody whose struggle to protect the rights of the Untouchables ended up perpetuating the caste society, and ridicules the familiar trope that "globalization threatens local traditions and . . . flattens differences." Those who acquire an ironic distance from ideology and laugh at its tenets are - according to Žižek - most fully under the control of ideology. It is precisely Žižek's willingness to analyze critically every concept that others tend to hold as holy that has led him to be vituperated by pretty much every political group imaginable. If you want a book that will tell you things you already believe, Living in the End Times is not the kind of reading you will enjoy. If, however, you want to be forced to question and to think, Žižek is the philosopher for you. If anger motivates your analytical capacities, then rest easy: Žižek is guaranteed to shock you out of an intellectual aporia.
According to Žižek, we are living through a moment of crisis that our global capitalist system is undergoing. Žižek uses the well-known scheme of the five stages of grief in order to address our collective responses to the crisis. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance give name to the chapters in Žižek's book. There is a certain sense of discontent with the way the system in question functions, says Žižek. There is a danger that this discontent will be appropriated by nationalist populists. The Slovenian philosopher believes that the main task of the progressives is to avoid this and find a way to articulate this discontent in progressive terms.
Žižek's criticism of "today's ethical-legal conservatives" is convincing and incisive, as usual. Their struggle is futile because what they are trying to recreate simply did not exist in the first place:
In wanting to recreate the lost order. . . they will sooner or later be forced to admit not that it is impossible to restore. . . the old traditional mores to life, but that the corruption they are fighting in the modern permissive, secular, egotistic, etc. society was present from the very beginning.Try analyzing pretty much any aspect of the moralistic agenda of the Conservatives and you will see how they are trying desperately to "preserve" a system that - unlike what they would have us believe - isn't time-hallowed in the least. Take, for example, their fervent insistence that women should stay at home and not work. While a tradition of women working and playing an important role in society actually exists, housewifery as women's only role is not that "traditional" at all. A fairly small but extremely vocal group of people in the industrialized societies of the XIXth century (and then again for a couple of decades in the XXth century) could afford to acquire and keep non-productive women. Of course, today a whole ideology exists aimed at convincing us that this way of life has always existed and, hence, should be maintained in perpetuity. [This line of argument obviously comes from me and not from Žižek. He, as I already mentioned, is not hugely feminist.]
Žižek begins the first chapter of his book with a topic that is normally the most likely to antagonize me: he criticizes the recent measures by the French government to outlaw public wearing of burqas. This is an issue where Žižek 's Lacanian male chauvinism comes through. He is simply incapable of imagining the feelings of a Western woman confronted with such a visible reminder of how pervasive brutalization of women still is. Consequently, his entire analysis of the anxiety provoked by the burqa in Westerners is completely unconvincing. So you can imagine how good this author must be that not even this completely misogynistic start to his new book would put me off reading it.
The good news is that the philosopher abandons this cul-de-sac line of reasoning soon enough in favor of a much more fruitful discussion of what kind of a response should the progressives offer to the current systemic crisis. Zizek points out that in spite of their internal contradictions the conservatives are pretty successful at channeling the growing popular discontent with the current state of affairs to their own ends. He calls the progressives to stop being afraid of radical change. Nobody can guarantee that the revolution will "work", he says. And we'd be wrong to ask for such a guarantee. But we are nearing the apocalyptic moment of a complete disintegration of the current global order. Zizek insists that the only responsible thing for today's progressives to do is to be ready to provide a viable and radically different alternative. We have to come out of our state of denial and recognize that trying to modify the existing system so that it would be somehow "better", "fairer" or "more just" is a completely useful enterprise.
[To be continued. . .]