Thursday, September 4, 2014

Zizek Tries to Explain ISIS

Famed Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek is here to tell to you that ISIS has disgraced the name of religious fundamentalism.

Does he mean it? Yes and no.

After all, the leadership of al Qaeda has already taken its distance from ISIS because its tactics are discrediting the jihadi cause.

Does that mean that Zizek prefers real fundamentalism of the al Qaeda variety? Yes and no.

Double talk means that you are never wrong.

Of course, al Qaeda defends the sacred truths of Islam while Zizek, like our pusillanimous president, refuses to say that ISIS has everything to do with Islam.

As David Goldman has said, Islam is a failed and dying civilization. Its adherents refuse to accept this and want to deconstruct the culture, especially the Judeo-Christian cultures that have defeated it.

Zizek argues that the failure involves fundamentalism. He explains it here:

The public statements of the ISIS authorities make it clear that the principal task of state power is not the regulation of the welfare of the state’s population (health, the fight against hunger) — what really matters is religious life and the concern that all public life obey religious laws. This is why ISIS remains more or less indifferent toward humanitarian catastrophes within its domain — its motto is roughly “take care of religion and welfare will take care of itself.” 

To be slightly less rough about the motto, ISIS seems to believe that if their submission to Allah is sufficient, the Allah will provide for their welfare.

Clearly, Zizek's point is germane. If the proper role of a father is to protect and provide for his children then Islam has failed. Surely, a religion that practices honor killings and that led the people of Gaza to squander their wealth on terror tunnels instead of promoting economic development rejects the duty to protect and provide.

So, while waiting for Allah to come smite the Jews, Gazans can do no better than macho posturing, a false version of masculinity. The same applies to ISIS, for now on a grander scale.

Zizek is correct to see that such an attitude defines a form of religious fundamentalism. Islam has failed in competition with other cultures, especially with cultures that see God doing his good works, providing for his people, acting with benevolence, through the medium of the free enterprise system and liberal democracy.

Just as al Qaeda denounces ISIS, so too does Zizek believe that it does not represent true fundamentalist religious belief.

Allow him to explain:

What they lack is a feature that is easy to discern in all authentic fundamentalists, from Tibetan Buddhists to the Amish in the United States — the absence of resentment and envy, the deep indifference towards the nonbelievers’ way of life. If today’s so-called fundamentalists really believe they have found their way to Truth, why should they feel threatened by nonbelievers. Why should they envy them? When a Buddhist encounters a Western hedonist, he hardly condemns. He just benevolently notes that the hedonist’s search for happiness is self-defeating. In contrast to true fundamentalists, the terrorist pseudo-fundamentalists are deeply bothered, intrigued and fascinated by the sinful life of the nonbelievers. 

Of course, Zizek would reject any dispute with his argument. He would say that any group of religious believers that is intolerant of those who sin with impunity is not truly fundamentalist.

In the real world the history of Western religions, for example, has seen more than a few examples of people who were persecuted, indicted and destroyed for hedonist practices, to say nothing of witchcraft, heresy and apostasy.

Nonbelievers have not always had it so good in the fundamentalist Christian west. To think otherwise is to ignore the obvious, willfully.

Zizek engages is a little of psychoanalysis when he denounces ISIS as weak and insecure. Surely, there is truth to the denunciation, but it will take more than interpretation to destroy ISIS:

Deep in themselves, terrorist fundamentalists also lack true conviction — their violent outbursts are a proof of it. How fragile the belief of a Muslim must be if he feels threatened by a stupid caricature in a low-circulation Danish newspaper. The fundamentalist Islamic terror is not grounded in the terrorists’ conviction of their superiority and in their desire to safeguard their cultural-religious identity from the onslaught of global consumerist civilization.

But, do they really lack true conviction? In truth, all they have is conviction. You may think that it’s an irrational conviction, even that it is delusional, but to say that they lack conviction is an interesting ploy, but one that does not bear very much scrutiny.

They might even understand that they have lost the war for economic and political progress and success. But they might also conclude that their defeat was a sign of their superior religious purity. They refused to compromise with Mammon. In the end Allah will recognize their superior piety.

To me that feels like true conviction.

Zizek notwithstanding, the fundamentalists are fighting a culture war to force the world to respect their god. They are not afraid of a few cartoons, but they believe that if they allow their god to be blasphemed with impunity, this same god will not rescue them by destroying their enemies.

Muslim extremists are not merely trying to safeguard their religious identity against what Zizek calls the onslaught of consumerism—that is, free market capitalism—but they believe that in the long run decadent capitalism will destroy itself and that they will prevail.

Zizek believes that the ISIS jihadis secretly believe themselves inferior to us. One will have to forgive the great Freudian thinker for using a concept that he borrowed from one of the great Freudian heretics, Alfred Adler, but if Zizek is saying that they know that they have failed and that their civilization is dying, then he is getting close to the truth. If he is saying that they merely need a dose of insight into their inferiority complex he is blowing smoke.

I am surprised, however, that Zizek has failed to recognize the Hegelian basis for jihadi practices.

How could he not have noticed that the jihadi practice of extreme brutality manifests a complete fearlessness about death and that this attitude takes a page out of Hegel’s famous master/slave dialectic.

In case you forgot, Hegel began his story with two men engaged in a fight to the death. At some point, one of the men gives up and becomes the slave. Presumably, he loves life so much that he is willing to live it as a slave. The winner, the man who becomes the master, is therefore the one who fears death less.

Think of this simple philosopher’s story when you wonder why so many jihadis choose death and why they insist on showing that they do not fear death.

You might believe that they are saying that they have nothing worth living for. But clearly, their fanaticism or fundamentalism lies in the fact that they believe their religion, their faith has taught them to conquer death, if not the fear of death.

You are not going to get through to such people with cheap psychobabble.


Mat said...

Surely you are a columnist somewhere?

Ares Olympus said...

Good reflections all around.

Conviction is an interesting word, allowing confidence in an otherwise vulnerable position. So "false conviction" might mean "false confidence", so you may feel an urge to break their bubble with a little shock and awe, or whatever.

Like in Star Wars, Obi-wan says in the final fight "You can't win Darth. If you strike me down, I'll become more powerful than you can possibly imagine."

So we don't have "The Force" on our side, but "war of attrition" is a true predicament, against an enemy willing to die for its cause. That's true conviction, even if they also need good strategy to survive the transition period.

I remember my history teacher saying the British won every battle with the American revolutionaries, but they still lost the war, because the Americans knew how to retreat and knew time was on their side, and that every abuse of power expressed by British soldiers created more sympathy for the rebellion.

And when you consider less than a dozen men with box cutters took out 4 passenger jets, and used 3 of them to hit their intended targets, doing even more damage, and death, AND provoking another $4-6 trillion dollars in war costs, that's what conviction can get you. And then you provoked acts of inhumanity like the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuses, or civilian slaughter from helicopters, all proves the depravity of your enemies. How many thousands of new recruits can any Islamic or Arabic movement gain on that sort of easy propaganda. And no matter how many times the Americans apologize, it doesn't matter, the evidence is there, and that's what they want.

Myself, I accept the only reason we care about the Middle east isn't our love for Arabic culture, but our oil that sits under their sands. It's not 100% true, but close enough for me.

The real enemy for me is a world economy that is dependent upon cheap fossil fuel energy, and someday oil will be too expensive to burn, and we're going to have to find another way to live.

So I figure if we're rich enough to handle a $4 trillion dollar war, we're rich enough to handle a carbon tax, and then we can make oil "too expensive to burn" before we have to.

I don't know how to run a modern economy without oil, but I think we have a vested interest in finding out, and when we do, then we can not only save ourselves from dependence, but everyone else as well.

Unless of course there are no alternatives, and when fossil fuels dry up, our civilization falls. And then groups like ISIS can be correct in their conviction about our vulnerability.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Ares Olympus @September 4, 2014 at 3:39 PM:

"So I figure if we're rich enough to handle a $4 trillion dollar war, we're rich enough to handle a carbon tax, and then we can make oil "too expensive to burn" before we have to."

On the carbon tax note, primitive activists have been saying we're going to run out of oil for decades. There's more of it available today than there ever was. The argument then descends into policy recommendations that we create artificial scarcity so as to wean ourselves off fossil fuels because.. we're going to run out. It's silly. And the idea that we're rich enough to handle a carbon tax is a cosmopolitan canard of chattering Bobos. Only rich, college-educated environmentalists are ruthless enough to impose end-run regressive taxation on the poor they claim to speak for. The poor are the ones who lose out under such elitist feel-good schemes. Not to mention that many of the fears about oil are emotional fear tactics by the climate change crowd that said the Arctic ice cap would be gone by now. Instead, it's bigger. Who knew?

"I don't know how to run a modern economy without oil, but I think we have a vested interest in finding out, and when we do, then we can not only save ourselves from dependence, but everyone else as well"

Save the planet, eh? No, Ares, YOU have a vested interest in finding out, and don't seem to care about the real economic devastation such crackpot theories will yield. You're correct: you don't know how to run a modern economy, but you have clearly thought through how to destroy one, leaving us all equally miserable.

"Unless of course there are no alternatives, and when fossil fuels dry up, our civilization falls."

What are you talking about? Have you never heard of nuclear power? The reason we don't use more nuclear power in America is that we have activists running around scaring people about nuclear power and creating massive litigation roadblocks that make it expensive. Environmentalists only like solar and wind, which are temperamental at best, can never deliver enough energy, and have negative environmental impacts of their own. I love the Lefties who tell us we we'd to be more like the sophisticated Europeans, like France... which gets 85% of its electricity from nuclear power plants.

"And then groups like ISIS can be correct in their conviction about our vulnerability."

They can talk about our vulnerabilities all they want. What about their vision for society. Ever read about the caliphate? Romantic. But what about the flagging fortunes of Islamic civilization? Iran sits on vast amounts if oil, but can't refine it. Gazans throw rocks and demand independence from an Israel that has achieved a fully-developed economy in four generations (yet we all know that, generations from now, Gazans will still be throwing rocks). Egyptians practice widespread female genital mutilation. Kuwait is ruled by an Emir. Syria's controlling party is modeled off the Nazis. Saudi women can't even drive themselves around. The Islamic world has no significant banks, even though it is awash in trillions upon trillions of petrodollars. Need I go on? What do they care about OUR vulnerability? They've got plenty to worry about in their own backyard. Which is the real reason why their leaders point to the Jews and the Great Satan as the source of all the Muslim's problems. Otherwise, they'd have to look at themselves and take responsibility for the state of their sclerotic civilization. If they didn't have oil they'd be selling pistachios, rugs, cedar seeds, designer burkas and trips to see the pyramids... and little else. I suggest they'd be better off paying attention to their own vulnerabilities. They can focus on our vulnerabilities and social depravity all they want, but at the end of the day they've gotta go back home.

Ares Olympus said...

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD, I'm glad you're so confident. Your facts might need a little work, but as long as they seem credible to you, carry on.

I certainly have no bets in favor of ISIS or Islam. I'd just prefer to not be dependent upon their failed experiment in theocratic rule, and getting off our oil addiction seems a darn better goal than anything else I can think of. And I'm very proud I don't live in a theocrazy I mean theocracy where my opinions can get me executed.

Yes, carbon taxes are necessarily regressive. Its okay to have regressive taxes on liquor and cigarettes, because vices are optional, but having poor people use less energy would be declaring an end to the American Dream, which might make people unhappy.

I do believe economic ruin will be the explanation future historians will make explaining our present insanity before the fall, but I say our path was paved by fossil fuels, and for every nagging concern we had on that road to hell, we doubled down on it as our only option.

So the remaining problem is how to live in a doomed system, and to not be too bitter about it, and certainly I have nothing personally to complain about.

For me it's just all a shame we're so poor we can't face an honest reality of our collective predicament.

But we're still not under complete domination by a doomed central state, so local governments still matter, and we're all responsible for something not quite right close to home that we can help change.

Anonymous said...

The problem of radical Islam is the problem of Islam itself.

Many are afraid that if Islam is the problem there can be no solution. That terrifies them. So they do all they can to avoid engaging with the evidence that Islam is the problem.

Anonymous said...

Jews still seem to regard Christians/white Europeans as their main enemy.

"When Muslim mobs attacked supermarkets that carried kosher, the editor of a Jewish chronicle, Stephen Pollard, never mentioned the fact it was an all-Islamic mob, leaving the impression that it was Christian. The American Deborah Lipstadt, a litigious woman who sees anti-Semitism everywhere, wrote in the New York Times about the same incident, suggesting it was anti-Semitism on the part of the British public, somehow failing to mention it was pure and simple Islam at work."

Jocker said...

ISIS is a conservative paradise. Why don't you like it?

Anonymous said...

But couldn't Fundamentalism be good for the economy in some ways?

If people favor moral values over social welfare, they will be more self-reliant and industrious. The Amish are fundamentalist but they work hard, mind their own business, and believe in work ethic.

In contrast, a whole bunch of people in Detroit, Chicago, and St. Louis believe it's the role of state to provide all sorts of goodies, and what do you have?
Family breakdown, girls acting like whores, guys listening to rap music all day, failing schools, and etc.

Also, even though Liberal secular Jews are richer than Orthodox Jews who stick to tradition, it's the latter who are having more children.

Also, the Middle East isn't as simple as Goldman makes out. There is no single Muslim civilization.
Saudi Arabia has been fundamentalist, but most Saudis are doing pretty good. So are most Kuwaitis.
As for Iran, we have to keep in mind that it's been under tremendous pressure due to international sanctions. When the great powers are out to destroy your economy, it doesn't matter if your nation is religious or secular. Hussein was secular, but Iraq in the 90s was destroyed by sanctions.

Though ISIS is crazy, it isn't what most Muslims are about. It isn't even what most Muslim fundies are about. If Alqaeda wants to distance itself from Isis, then you know Isis is cuckoo -bananas crazy.
Similarly, not every communist movement was the same. While East Germans and Hungarian communists were crazy, they were nothing like crazy Maoists in the 60s and the Khmer Rouge in the 70s.
Also, not all nationalism is the same, i.e. they are all not Nazis.
Just about any ideology can be taken to extremes. There are some crazy Jewish sects too who say nutty things.

There are clearly problems with Islam, but then, Muslims still have intact families and have children.
In contrast, Christianity is dead in the West. Or it's all about 'gay marriage' or mega-mall churches of idiots like Joel Osteen.

Also, the problems of water and population in the Middle East aren't just about religion. Same problems exist in parts of China and much of Africa, even in non-Muslim Africa.

And if Christian civilization is so successful, why do so many Christians in Latin America flee to North America?

And then, there's the issue of immigration. Muslims, crazy or not, are coming in huge numbers to the West, but the West is too PC to do much about it.

In the end, demography rules. So, even if the West is richer, who shall inherit those riches?

There was a time when South Africa was only 3/4 black. But due to demographics, blacks became over 90% of the population. Whites couldn't beat those odds.
Indeed, if Zionists hadn't expelled all those Palestinians in 1948, the Palestinian population could be over 50% of Israel, in which case... how can Jews have a democratic Jewish state?

Look at Europe, and the demographic trends are dire. Massive floods from the failed states of Middle East and Africa are washing into every European nation.
And Christian ethos of 'good will unto man' and all that stuff about 'guilt' and 'atonement' for the historical crime of imperialism has made the West defenseless against the foreign tide.

Quality doesn't always win. Quantity will win in huge numbers.

Anonymous said...

"Quality doesn't always win. Quantity will win in huge numbers."

White Californians did a much better job economically, socially, culturally, and politically than Mexicans south of the border with their dysfunctions and corruption, but which group has taken over California?

Demography rules in the end.
Muslims are the Mexicans of Europe.

Jocker said...

ISIS is bettet than psychoanalysis :)

Anonymous said...

"ISIS is bettet than psychoanalysis :)"

They certainly know how to take your mind off things, especially your own body.