Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Barbarism with a Human Face

Slavoj Žižek

Again and again in television reports on the mass protests in Kiev against the Yanukovich government, we saw images of protesters tearing down statues of Lenin. It was an easy way to demonstrate anger: the statues functioned as a symbol of Soviet oppression, and Putin’s Russia is perceived as continuing the Soviet policy of Russian domination of its neighbours. Bear in mind that it was only in 1956 that Lenin’s statues started to proliferate throughout the Soviet Union: until then, statues of Stalin were much more common. But after Krushchev’s ‘secret’ denunciation of Stalin at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party, Stalin’s statues were replaced en masse by Lenin’s: Lenin was literally a stand-in for Stalin. This was made equally clear by a change made in 1962 to the masthead of Pravda. Until then, at the top left-hand corner of the front page, there had been a drawing of two profiles, Lenin’s and Stalin’s, side by side. Shortly after the 22nd Congress publicly rejected Stalin, his profile wasn’t merely removed but replaced with a second profile of Lenin: now there were two identical Lenins printed side by side. In a way, this weird repetition made Stalin more present in his absence than ever.

There was nonetheless a historical irony in watching Ukrainians tearing down Lenin’s statues as a sign of their will to break with Soviet domination and assert their national sovereignty. The golden era of Ukrainian national identity was not tsarist Russia – where Ukrainian national self-assertion was thwarted – but the first decade of the Soviet Union, when Soviet policy in a Ukraine exhausted by war and famine was ‘indigenisation’. Ukrainian culture and language were revived, and rights to healthcare, education and social security introduced. Indigenisation followed the principles formulated by Lenin in quite unambiguous terms:

The proletariat cannot but fight against the forcible retention of the oppressed nations within the boundaries of a given state, and this is exactly what the struggle for the right of self-determination means. The proletariat must demand the right of political secession for the colonies and for the nations that ‘its own’ nation oppresses. Unless it does this, proletarian internationalism will remain a meaningless phrase; mutual confidence and class solidarity between the workers of the oppressing and oppressed nations will be impossible.

Lenin remained faithful to this position to the end: immediately after the October Revolution, when Rosa Luxembourg argued that small nations should be given full sovereignty only if progressive forces would predominate in the new state, Lenin was in favour of an unconditional right to secede.

In his last struggle against Stalin’s project for a centralised Soviet Union, Lenin again advocated the unconditional right of small nations to secede (in this case, Georgia was at stake), insisting on the full sovereignty of the national entities that composed the Soviet state – no wonder that, on 27 September 1922, in a letter to the Politburo, Stalin accused Lenin of ‘national liberalism’. The direction in which Stalin was already heading is clear from his proposal that the government of Soviet Russia should also be the government of the other five republics (Ukraine, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia):

If the present decision is confirmed by the Central Committee of the RCP, it will not be made public, but communicated to the Central Committees of the Republics for circulation among the Soviet organs, the Central Executive Committees or the Congresses of the Soviets of the said Republics before the convocation of the All-Russian Congress of the Soviets, where it will be declared to be the wish of these Republics.

The interaction of the higher authority, the Central Committee, with its base was thus abolished: the higher authority now simply imposed its will. To add insult to injury, the Central Committee decided what the base would ask the higher authority to enact, as if it were its own wish. In the most conspicuous case, in 1939, the three Baltic states asked to join the Soviet Union, which granted their wish. In all this, Stalin was returning to pre-Revolutionary tsarist policy: Russia’s colonisation of Siberia in the 17th century and Muslim Asia in the 19th was no longer condemned as imperialist expansion, but celebrated for setting these traditional societies on the path of progressive modernisation. Putin’s foreign policy is a clear continuation of the tsarist-Stalinist line. After the Russian Revolution, according to Putin, the Bolsheviks did serious damage to Russia’s interests: ‘The Bolsheviks, for a number of reasons – may God judge them – added large sections of the historical south of Russia to the Republic of Ukraine. This was done with no consideration for the ethnic make-up of the population, and today these areas form the south-east of Ukraine.’

No wonder Stalin’s portraits are on show again at military parades and public celebrations, while Lenin has been obliterated. In an opinion poll carried out in 2008 by the Rossiya TV station, Stalin was voted the third greatest Russian of all time, with half a million votes. Lenin came in a distant sixth. Stalin is celebrated not as a Communist but as a restorer of Russian greatness after Lenin’s anti-patriotic ‘deviation’. Putin recently used the term Novorossiya (‘New Russia’) for the seven south-eastern oblasts of Ukraine, resuscitating a term last used in 1917.

But the Leninist undercurrent, though repressed, persisted in the Communist underground opposition to Stalin. Long before Solzhenitsyn, as Christopher Hitchens wrote in 2011, ‘the crucial questions about the Gulag were being asked by left oppositionists, from Boris Souvarine to Victor Serge to C.L.R. James, in real time and at great peril. Those courageous and prescient heretics have been somewhat written out of history (they expected far worse than that, and often received it).’ This internal dissent was a natural part of the Communist movement, in clear contrast to fascism. ‘There were no dissidents in the Nazi Party,’ Hitchens went on, ‘risking their lives on the proposition that the Führer had betrayed the true essence of National Socialism.’ Precisely because of this tension at the heart of the Communist movement, the most dangerous place to be at the time of the 1930s purges was at the top of the nomenklatura: in the space of a couple of years, 80 per cent of the Central Committee and the Red Army leadership were shot. Another sign of dissent could be detected in the last days of ‘really existing socialism’, when protesting crowds sang official songs, including national anthems, to remind the powers of their unfulfilled promises. In the GDR, by contrast, between the early 1970s and 1989, to sing the national anthem in public was a criminal offence: its words (‘Deutschland einig Vaterland’, ‘Germany, the united Fatherland’) didn’t fit with the idea of East Germany as a new socialist nation.

The resurgence of Russian nationalism has caused certain historical events to be rewritten. A recent biopic, Andrei Kravchuk’s Admiral, celebrates the life of Aleksandr Kolchak, the White commander who governed Siberia between 1918 and 1920. But it’s worth remembering the totalitarian potential, as well as the outright brutality, of the White counter-revolutionary forces during this period. Had the Whites won the Civil War, Hitchens writes, ‘the common word for fascism would have been a Russian one, not an Italian one … Major General William Graves, who commanded the American Expeditionary Force during the 1918 invasion of Siberia (an event thoroughly airbrushed from all American textbooks), wrote in his memoirs about the pervasive, lethal anti-Semitism that dominated the Russian right wing and added: “I doubt if history will show any country in the world during the last fifty years where murder could be committed so safely, and with less danger of punishment, than in Siberia during the reign of Admiral Kolchak.”’

The entire European neo-fascist right (in Hungary, France, Italy, Serbia) firmly supports Russia in the ongoing Ukrainian crisis, giving the lie to the official Russian presentation of the Crimean referendum as a choice between Russian democracy and Ukrainian fascism. The events in Ukraine – the massive protests that toppled Yanukovich and his gang – should be understood as a defence against the dark legacy resuscitated by Putin. The protests were triggered by the Ukrainian government’s decision to prioritise good relations with Russia over the integration of Ukraine into the European Union. Predictably, many anti-imperialist leftists reacted to the news by patronising the Ukrainians: how deluded they are still to idealise Europe, not to be able to see that joining the EU would just make Ukraine an economic colony of Western Europe, sooner or later to go the same way as Greece. In fact, Ukrainians are far from blind about the reality of the EU. They are fully aware of its troubles and disparities: their message is simply that their own situation is much worse. Europe may have problems, but they are a rich man’s problems.

Should we, then, simply support the Ukrainian side in the conflict? There is a ‘Leninist’ reason to do so. In Lenin’s very last writings, long after he renounced the utopia ofState and Revolution, he explored the idea of a modest, ‘realistic’ project for Bolshevism. Because of the economic underdevelopment and cultural backwardness of the Russian masses, he argues, there is no way for Russia to ‘pass directly to socialism’: all that Soviet power can do is to combine the moderate politics of ‘state capitalism’ with the intense cultural education of the peasant masses – not the brainwashing of propaganda, but a patient, gradual imposition of civilised standards. Facts and figures revealed ‘what a vast amount of urgent spadework we still have to do to reach the standard of an ordinary West European civilised country … We must bear in mind the semi-Asiatic ignorance from which we have not yet extricated ourselves.’ Can we think of the Ukrainian protesters’ reference to Europe as a sign that their goal, too, is ‘to reach the standard of an ordinary Western European civilised country’?

But here things quickly get complicated. What, exactly, does the ‘Europe’ the Ukrainian protesters are referring to stand for? It can’t be reduced to a single idea: it spans nationalist and even fascist elements but extends also to the idea of what Etienne Balibar calls égaliberté, freedom-in-equality, the unique contribution of Europe to the global political imaginary, even if it is in practice today mostly betrayed by European institutions and citizens themselves. Between these two poles, there is also a naive trust in the value of European liberal-democratic capitalism. Europe can see in the Ukrainian protests its own best and worst sides, its emancipatory universalism as well as its dark xenophobia.

Let’s begin with the dark xenophobia. The Ukrainian nationalist right is one instance of what is going on today from the Balkans to Scandinavia, from the US to Israel, from Central Africa to India: ethnic and religious passions are exploding, and Enlightenment values receding. These passions have always been there, lurking; what’s new is the outright shamelessness of their display. Imagine a society which has fully integrated into itself the great modern axioms of freedom, equality, the right to education and healthcare for all its members, and in which racism and sexism have been rendered unacceptable and ridiculous. But then imagine that, step by step, although the society continues to pay lip service to these axioms, they are de facto deprived of their substance. Here is an example from very recent European history: in the summer of 2012, Viktor Orbán, the right-wing Hungarian prime minister, declared that a new economic system was needed in Central Europe. ‘Let us hope,’ he said, ‘that God will help us and we will not have to invent a new type of political system instead of democracy that would need to be introduced for the sake of economic survival … Co-operation is a question of force, not of intention. Perhaps there are countries where things don’t work that way, for example in the Scandinavian countries, but such a half-Asiatic rag-tag people as we are can unite only if there is force.’

The irony of these words wasn’t lost on some old Hungarian dissidents: when the Soviet army moved into Budapest to crush the 1956 uprising, the message repeatedly sent by the beleaguered Hungarian leaders to the West was that they were defending Europe against the Asiatic communists. Now, after the collapse of communism, the Christian-conservative government paints as its main enemy the multicultural consumerist liberal democracy for which today’s Western Europe stands. Orbán has already expressed his sympathy for ‘capitalism with Asian values’; if the European pressure on Orbán continues, we can easily imagine him sending a message to the East: ‘We are defending Asia here!’

Today’s anti-immigrant populism has replaced direct barbarism with a barbarism that has a human face. It enacts a regression from the Christian ethic of ‘love thy neighbour’ back to the pagan privileging of the tribe over the barbarian Other. Even as it represents itself as a defence of Christian values, it is in fact the greatest threat to the Christian legacy. ‘Men who begin to fight the Church for the sake of freedom and humanity,’ G.K. Chesterton wrote a hundred years ago, ‘end by flinging away freedom and humanity if only they may fight the Church … The secularists have not wrecked divine things; but the secularists have wrecked secular things, if that is any comfort to them.’ Doesn’t the same hold for the advocates of religion too? Fanatical defenders of religion start out attacking contemporary secular culture; it’s no surprise when they end up forsaking any meaningful religious experience. In a similar way, many liberal warriors are so eager to fight anti-democratic fundamentalism that they end up flinging away freedom and democracy if only they may fight terror. The ‘terrorists’ may be ready to wreck this world for love of another, but the warriors on terror are just as ready to wreck their own democratic world out of hatred for the Muslim other. Some of them love human dignity so much that they are ready to legalise torture to defend it. The defenders of Europe against the immigrant threat are doing much the same. In their zeal to protect the Judeo-Christian legacy, they are ready to forsake what is most important in that legacy. The anti-immigrant defenders of Europe, not the notional crowds of immigrants waiting to invade it, are the true threat to Europe.

One of the signs of this regression is a request often heard on the new European right for a more ‘balanced’ view of the two ‘extremisms’, the right and the left. We are repeatedly told that one should treat the extreme left (communism) the same way that Europe after the Second World War treated the extreme right (the defeated fascists). But in reality there is no balance here: the equation of fascism and communism secretly privileges fascism. Thus the right are heard to argue that fascism copied communism: before becoming a fascist, Mussolini was a socialist; Hitler, too, was a National Socialist; concentration camps and genocidal violence were features of the Soviet Union a decade before Nazis resorted to them; the annihilation of the Jews has a clear precedent in the annihilation of the class enemy, etc. The point of these arguments is to assert that a moderate fascism was a justified response to the communist threat (a point made long ago by Ernst Nolte in his defence of Heidegger’s involvement with Nazism). In Slovenia, the right is advocating the rehabilitation of the anti-communist Home Guard which fought the partisans during the Second World War: they made the difficult choice to collaborate with the Nazis in order to thwart the much greater evil of communism.

Mainstream liberals tell us that when basic democratic values are under threat from ethnic or religious fundamentalists, we should unite behind the liberal-democratic agenda, save what can be saved, and put aside dreams of more radical social transformation. But there is a fatal flaw in this call for solidarity: it ignores the way in which liberalism and fundamentalism are caught in a vicious cycle. It is the aggressive attempt to export liberal permissiveness that causes fundamentalism to fight back vehemently and assert itself. When we hear today’s politicians offering us a choice between liberal freedom and fundamentalist oppression, and triumphantly asking the rhetorical question, ‘Do you want women to be excluded from public life and deprived of their rights? Do you want every critic of religion to be put to death?’, what should make us suspicious is the very self-evidence of the answer: who would want that? The problem is that liberal universalism has long since lost its innocence. What Max Horkheimer said about capitalism and fascism in the 1930s applies in a different context today: those who don’t want to criticise liberal democracy should also keep quiet about religious fundamentalism.

What of the fate of the liberal-democratic capitalist European dream in Ukraine? It isn’t clear what awaits Ukraine within the EU. I’ve often mentioned a well-known joke from the last decade of the Soviet Union, but it couldn’t be more apposite. Rabinovitch, a Jew, wants to emigrate. The bureaucrat at the emigration office asks him why, and Rabinovitch answers: ‘Two reasons. The first is that I’m afraid the Communists will lose power in the Soviet Union, and the new power will put all the blame for the Communists’ crimes on us, the Jews.’ ‘But this is pure nonsense,’ the bureaucrat interrupts, ‘nothing can change in the Soviet Union, the power of the Communists will last for ever!’ ‘Well,’ Rabinovitch replies, ‘that’s my second reason.’ Imagine the equivalent exchange between a Ukrainian and an EU administrator. The Ukrainian complains: ‘There are two reasons we are panicking here in Ukraine. First, we’re afraid that under Russian pressure the EU will abandon us and let our economy collapse.’ The EU administrator interrupts: ‘But you can trust us, we won’t abandon you. In fact, we’ll make sure we take charge of your country and tell you what to do!’ ‘Well,’ the Ukrainian replies, ‘that’s my second reason.’ The issue isn’t whether Ukraine is worthy of Europe, and good enough to enter the EU, but whether today’s Europe can meet the aspirations of the Ukrainians. If Ukraine ends up with a mixture of ethnic fundamentalism and liberal capitalism, with oligarchs pulling the strings, it will be as European as Russia (or Hungary) is today. (Too little attention is drawn to the role played by the various groups of oligarchs – the ‘pro-Russian’ ones and the ‘pro-Western’ ones – in the events in Ukraine.)

Some political commentators claim that the EU hasn’t given Ukraine enough support in its conflict with Russia, that the EU response to the Russian occupation and annexation of Crimea was half-hearted. But there is another kind of support which has been even more conspicuously absent: the proposal of any feasible strategy for breaking the deadlock. Europe will be in no position to offer such a strategy until it renews its pledge to the emancipatory core of its history. Only by leaving behind the decaying corpse of the old Europe can we keep the European legacy of égaliberté alive. It is not the Ukrainians who should learn from Europe: Europe has to learn to live up to the dream that motivated the protesters on the Maidan. The lesson that frightened liberals should learn is that only a more radical left can save what is worth saving in the liberal legacy today.

The Maidan protesters were heroes, but the true fight – the fight for what the new Ukraine will be – begins now, and it will be much tougher than the fight against Putin’s intervention. A new and riskier heroism will be needed. It has been shown already by those Russians who oppose the nationalist passion of their own country and denounce it as a tool of power. It’s time for the basic solidarity of Ukrainians and Russians to be asserted, and the very terms of the conflict rejected. The next step is a public display of fraternity, with organisational networks established between Ukrainian political activists and the Russian opposition to Putin’s regime. This may sound utopian, but it is only such thinking that can confer on the protests a truly emancipatory dimension. Otherwise, we will be left with a conflict of nationalist passions manipulated by oligarchs. Such geopolitical games are of no interest whatever to authentic emancipatory politics.

25 April

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Americans' ignorance of Europe


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UN Human Rights Committee: USA is in Violation on 25 Counts


Recently, the UN Human Rights Committee issued a report excoriating the United States for its human rights violations. It focuses on violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the country is party. The report mentions 25 human rights issues where the United States is failing. This piece will focus on a few of those issues - Guantanamo, NSA surveillance, accountability for Bush-era human rights violations, drone strikes, racism in the prison system, racial profiling, police violence, and criminalization of the homeless.
Accountability for Bush-Era Crimes; Torture

The UN committee expressed concerned with "the limited number of investigations, prosecutions and convictions of members of the Armed Forces and other agents of the US government, including private contractors" for "unlawful killings in its international operations" and "torture" in CIA black sites during the Bush years. It welcomed the closing of the CIA black sites, but criticized the "meager number of criminal charges brought against low-level operatives" for abuses carried out under the CIA's rendition, interrogation and detention program. The committee also found fault with the fact that many details of the CIA's torture program "remain secret, thereby creating barriers to accountability and redress for victims."
In response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Bush administration jettisoned the Constitution and international law and openly embraced the use of torture against suspected terrorists captured overseas. The CIA tortured people in secret prisons around the world known as "black sites." 

Torture was sanctioned from the top down. Then-President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, lawyers and many others in the executive branch played roles in crafting nifty ways to justify, approve and implement the use of torture. 

Rather than be held accountable, the top-level government officials responsible for authorizing torture and other crimes have been given comfort in the public sphere. Condoleezza Rice returned to Stanford University as a political science professor. John Yoo, who authored the torture memos, is a law professor at UC Berkeley. Jose Rodriguez, a former CIA officer in the Bush administration, vigorously defends torture in his autobiography and interviews. George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld are able to rest comfortably in retirement and continue to defend their records. 

Of the report's 25 issues, four looked at racial disparities within the United States' criminal justice system and law enforcement practices.

In the Guantanamo military commissions, evidence of torture is concealed. A "protective order" restricts what defense lawyers and the accused can say about how the defendants were treated in CIA black sites, including details of torture, because that information is classified. Defense lawyers have been fighting for declassification of those details, as they are mitigating evidence. 

The potential release of portions of the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on the CIA torture program could tip the scale the defense attorneys' favor. "There is every reason to believe the SSCI [Senate Select Committee on Intelligence] Report contains information about the CIA's torture of Mr. al Baluchi," said defense attorney James Connell, who represents Ammar al-Baluchi, one of the five 9/11 defendants, in a press statement. "The SSCI knows the truth of what happened, and the military commission considering whether to execute Mr. al Baluchi should know too." 

Racism in the Prison System; Racial Profiling; Police Brutality
Of the report's 25 issues, four looked at racial disparities within the United States' criminal justice system and law enforcement practices. It denounced the "racial disparities at different stages in the criminal justice system, sentencing disparities and the overrepresentation of individuals belonging to racial and ethnic minorities in prisons and jails." The committee condemned racial profiling by police and FBI/NYPD surveillance of Muslims - but it did welcome plans to reform New York City's "stop and frisk" program. It also denounced the continuing use of the death penalty and "racial disparities in its imposition that affects disproportionately African Americans." Finally, it expressed concern at "the still high number of fatal shootings by certain police forces" and "reports of excessive use of force by certain law enforcement officers including the deadly use of tasers, which have a disparate impact on African Americans, and the use of lethal force by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at the US-Mexico border." 

The United States contains the largest prison population in the world, holding over 2.4 million people in domestic jails and prisons, immigration detention centers, military prisons, civil commitment centers and juvenile correctional facilities. Its prison population is even larger than those of authoritarian governments like China and Russia, which, respectively, hold 1,640,000 and 681,600 prisoners, according to the International Centre for Prison Studies. More than 60 percent of the US prison population are people of color. African Americans, while 13 percent of the national population, constitute nearly 40 percent of the prison population. Moreover, one in every three black males can expect to go to prison in their lifetime, compared to one in every six Latino males, and one in every 17 white males. Thus, black men are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white men. Even though whites and blacks use drugs at roughly the same rates, African Americans are more likely to be imprisoned for drug-related offenses than whites.

Every 28 hours, a black person is killed by a police officer, security guard, or self-appointed vigilante, according to a report by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. Recently in New York City, NYPD brutalized two teenage African-American girls at a Chinese restaurant in Brooklyn. A 16-year-old girl's face was slammed against the floor, while police threw the 15-year-old through the restaurant's window, shattering it as a result. The incident started when police ordered everyone to leave the restaurant, but one of the girls refused. 

While police violence against people of color has long existed, the militarization of American police exacerbates this trend. This trend began when Richard Nixon inaugurated the War on Drugs in the 1970s. Then in 1981, President Ronald Reagan signed the Military Cooperation with Civilian Law Enforcement Agencies Act, which provided civilian police agencies with military equipment, training, advice and access to military research and facilities. When 9/11 hit, police militarization kicked into overdrive with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, which has given police still greater access military equipment like armored personnel carriers and high-powered weapons for anti-terrorism purposes. Now police look, act and think like the military, with dangerous consequences for the communities they serve. 

Among the report's suggestions to curb excessive police violence were better reporting of incidents, accountability for perpetrators, and "ensuring compliance with the 1990 UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officers". The Basic Principles include a number of provisions, including "Law enforcement officials, in carrying out their duty, shall, as far as possible, apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms" and "Governments shall ensure that arbitrary or abusive use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials is punished as a criminal offence under their law."

Drone Strikes, Assassination
To execute its perpetual global war on terrorism, the Bush administration favored large-scale, conventional land invasions and occupations, as in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama has moved away from such operations and embraced seemingly lighter tactics of irregular warfare to continue the perpetual war, while making it less visible to Americans. Extrajudicial killing and drone strikes are the most notable methods, but others include air strikes, cruise missile attacks, cyberwarfare, special operations, and proxy wars. 

These tactics have meant more use of the military's Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and the paramilitary branch of the CIA. Both the CIA and JSOC carry out drone strikes and sometimes collaborate in joint operations. The CIA, not the military, is legally mandated to launch covert operations, which are classified and unacknowledged by the US government. However, JSOC performs essentially the same operations, particularly extrajudicial killings. Thus, transferring control of the drone program from the CIA to the military would make little difference.

The UN report criticized the United States' assassination program and drone strikes. It expressed concerned with the "lack of transparency regarding the criteria for drone strikes, including the legal justification for specific attacks, and the lack of accountability for the loss of life resulting from such attacks." The United States' position for justifying its extrajudicial killing operations is that it is engaged in an armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban and "associated forces" - a term the Obama administration created to refer to co-belligerents with al-Qaeda - and that the war is in accordance with the nation's inherent right to self-defense against a terrorist enemy. 

However, the committee took issue with the United States' position, particularly its "very broad approach to the definition and the geographical scope of an armed conflict, including the end of hostilities." A May 2010 report by Philip Alston, former UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, notes that, under international law, states cannot wage war against non-state actors, such as international terrorist groups like al-Qaeda, because of their nebulous character and loose affiliations. 

The committee's report also took issue with "the unclear interpretation of what constitutes an 'imminent threat' and who is a combatant or civilian taking a direct part in hostilities, the unclear position on the nexus that should exist between any particular use of lethal force and any specific theatre of hostilities, as well as the precautionary measures taken to avoid civilian casualties in practice." 

So far, US drone strikes and other covert operations have killed between 2,700 and nearly 5,000 people.

Under international law, self-defense against an "imminent" threat is "necessity of that self-defense is instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation." However, the Obama administration completely obliterated this meaning. In a 16-page white paper leaked to NBC News, the Obama administration believes that whether "an operational leader present an 'imminent' threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interest will take place in the immediate future." Thus, a "high-level official could conclude, for example, that an individual poses an 'imminent threat' of violent attack against the United States where he is an operational leader of al-Qa'ida or an associated force and is personally and continually involved in planning terrorist attacks against the United States" without any proof of an actual plot against the U.S. Thus, in Obama-lingo, the word "imminent" means the complete opposite of what it is in the English language.

There is no due process in the assassination program, either. President Obama and his advisors decide who will be killed by a drone strike in a secret internal executive branch process that occurs every Tuesday. Even American citizens are fair game for the assassination program. In fact, four US citizens have been killed by drone strikes, including a 16-year-old boy. 

A database called the "disposition matrix" adds names to kill or capture lists, ensuring the assassination program will continue no matter who is in office. Targeting for drone strikes is not based on human intelligence but, rather, signals intelligence, particularly metadata analysis and cellphone tracking. According to a report by The Intercept, the NSA geolocates a SIM card or mobile phone of a suspected terrorist, which helps the CIA and JSOC to track an individual to kill or capture in a night raid or drone strike. However, it is very common for people in places like Yemen or Pakistan, to hold multiple SIM cards, give their phones, with the SIM cards in them, to children, friends, and family, and for groups like the Taliban to randomly distribute SIM cards among their units to confuse trackers. As a result, since this methodology targets SIM cards rather than real people, civilians are regularly killed by mistake.

As with the word "imminent," the Obama administration utilizes its own warped definitions of "civilian" and "combatant." As The New York Times reported in May 2012, the Obama administration "counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants . . . unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent." 

Despite claims to the contrary, drone strikes kill a significant number of civilians and inflict serious human suffering. So far, US drone strikes and other covert operations have killed between 2,700 and nearly 5,000 people, including 500 to more than 1,100 civilians in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism's figures. Many of those deaths occurred under Obama's watch, with drone strikes killing at least 2,400 people during his five years in office. Only 2 percent of those killed by drone strikes in Pakistan are high-level militants, while most are low-level fighters and civilians. In addition to causing physical harm, drone strikes terrorize and traumatize communities that constantly live under them. 

Drone strikes have lulled in Pakistan due to peace talks between the Pakistani government and Pakistan Taliban, which collapsed on February 17. The last US drone strike in Pakistan happened on Christmas Day 2013. In Yemen, drone strikes have continued. Several US drone strikes in Yemen occurred during the first 12 days of March. Last November, six months after President Obama laid out new rules for US drone strikes, a TBIJ analysis showed that "covert drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan have killed more people than in the six months before the speech." It also was recently reported that the Obama administration is debating whether to kill a US citizen in Pakistan who is suspected of "actively plotting terrorist attacks," according to The New York Times.  

It is very likely these operations will continue. The Pentagon's 2015 budget proposal, taking sequestration into account, spends $0.4 billion less than 2014 at $495.6 billion, shrinks the Army down to between 440,000 to 450,000 troops from the post-9/11 peak of 570,000, and protects money for cyberwarfare and special operations forces. Cyber operations are allocated $5.1 billion in the proposal, while US Special Operations Command gets $7.7 billion, which is 10 percent more than in 2014, and a force of 69,700 personnel. While President Obama promised to take the United States off a "permanent war footing," his administration's policies tell a different story. The Obama administration is reconfiguring, rather than halting, America's "permanent war footing." 

Guantanamo, Indefinite Detention
President Obama recommitted himself to closing the prison in Guantanamo last year, but has made little progress, which the UN report noted. The committee said it "regrets that no timeline for closure of the facility has been provided." It also expressed concern that "detainees held in Guantanamo Bay and in military facilities in Afghanistan are not dealt with within the ordinary criminal justice system after a protracted period of over a decade in some cases." 

The report called on the United States to expedite the transfer of prisoners out of Guantanamo, close the prison, "end the system of administrative detention without charge or trial" and "ensure that any criminal cases against detainees held in Guantanamo and military facilities in Afghanistan are dealt with within the criminal justice system rather than military commissions and that those detainees are afforded fair trial guarantees." 

Indefinite detention violates international human rights law, but has been embraced by Obama ever since he stepped into the White House.

Currently, 154 men remain held in the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Of those, 76 are cleared for release; around four dozen will remain in indefinite detention; 20 can be "realistically prosecuted," according to chief prosecutor Brig. Gen. Mark Martins' estimate; six are being tried in military commissions and two are serving sentences after being convicted in the commissions. 

President Obama promised to close Guantanamo right when he stepped into office. However, he has yet to fulfill that promise. Congressional obstructionism, especially from the Republican Party, has stalled his plans. For a long time, Congress blocked funding for transferring Guantanamo prisoners. Recently, though, Congress eased those restrictions, making it easier to transfer prisoners to other countries, but not to the United States. 

While the Obama administration is working to close the prison at Guantanamo, it maintains the policy of indefinite detention without trial, designating nearly four dozen Guantanamo prisoners for forever imprisonment. Obama's original plan to close Guantanamo was to open a prison in Illinois to hold Guantanamo detainees, many indefinitely. While soon killed, this plan would have effectively moved the system of indefinite detention from Guantanamo to US soil. Now the Obama administration is considering opening a prison in Yemen to hold the remaining Guantanamo prisoners, many of whom are Yemeni. Indefinite detention violates international human rights law, but has been embraced by Obama ever since he stepped into the White House. The 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that Obama signed into law contains sections that allow for the indefinite detention of US citizens on American soil. 
NSA Surveillance

Notably, the UN report denounced the NSA's mass surveillance "both within and outside the United States through the bulk phone metadata program (Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act) and, in particular, the surveillance under Section 702 of Amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) conducted through PRISM (collection of the contents of communications from US-based companies) and UPSTREAM (tapping of fiber-optic cables in the country that carry internet traffic) programs and their adverse impact on the right to privacy. 

"The report also criticized the secrecy of "judicial interpretations of FISA and rulings of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC)," which prevent the public from knowing the laws and legal interpretations that impact them. Promises of "oversight" obviously did not persuade the committee, either, as it said "the current system of oversight of the activities of the NSA fails to effectively protect the rights of those affected," and "those affected have no access to effective remedies in case of abuse." 

Continuing NSA leaks, provided by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden last year, have revealed the depth of the United States' massive surveillance system. The bulk collection of phone metadata is probably the most well-known program. Recently, President Obama proposed ending the bulk phone metadata collection program. But the NSA's surveillance system extends far beyond phone metadata. 

In a program called PRISM, the NSA collects user data, such as search history and message content, sent through internet communication services like Google, Yahoo!, Facebook and Skype. Major tech companies have denied knowledge of the program, but the NSA claims those companies knew and provided full assistance. The NSA uses a back door in surveillance law to monitor the communications of American citizens without a warrant. As mentioned earlier, the NSA is also involved in the drone program through the collection of signals intelligence. Additionally, much of NSA surveillance is used for economic espionage. With the help of Australian intelligence, the NSA spied on communications between the Indonesian government and an American law firm representing it during trade talks. Indonesia and the United States have long been in trade disputes, such as over Indonesia's shrimp exports and a US ban on the sale of Indonesian clove cigarettes. It is highly unlikely Obama's reforms will curb these abuses. 

Criminalizing the Homeless
The plight of homeless people is rarely held up as a pressing human rights issue. But, in the UN report, it is. The committee expressed concern "about reports of criminalization of people living on the street for everyday activities such as eating, sleeping, sitting in particular areas etc." It also "notes that such criminalization raises concerns of discrimination and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment."

For evidence of such criminalization and of "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment," look no further than to the liberal, historically countercultural city of San Francisco. The city that smugly prides itself on progressivism has a sit-lie ordinance that forbids people from sitting or lying on public sidewalks between 7 AM and 11 PM. It particularly hurts and targets homeless people. 
In the same city, homeless people are washed away. Street cleaners from the San Francisco Department of Public Works regularly spray their high-powered hoses at homeless people sleeping on the streets.

Recently, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, police shot and killed a homeless man. His crime? Illegal camping . . . in the Albuquerque foothills. Albuquerque police went to arrest 38-year-old James Boyd, who was sleeping in a campsite he set up. After arguing with police for three hours, Boyd was apparently about to leave and picked up his belongings. As he started walking down the hill, police shot a flash-bang device at Boyd. Disoriented, he dropped his bags, appeared to take out a knife, and then police fired multiple bean-bag rounds at Boyd. The man fell to the ground, hitting his head on a rock, his blood spattered on it. Officers yelled at him, telling Boyd to drop his knife. When Boyd didn't answer, police fired more bean-bag rounds and sicced their dog on him. Boyd was later taken to a hospital and pronounced dead a day later. In addition to stun guns and bean bags, officers shot six live rounds at Boyd. The shooting prompted an FBI investigation, which is ongoing, and a protest in Albuquerque that was met with intense police violence as officers fired tear gas into the crowd. 


Wall Street’s secret pension swindle

A lack of transparency is allowing financial firms to make high-risk investments with your retirement funds

In the national debate over what to do about public pension shortfalls, here’s something you may not know: The texts of the agreements signed between those pension funds and financial firms are almost always secret. Yes, that’s right. Although they are public pensions that taxpayers contribute to and that public officials oversee, the exact terms of the financial deals being engineered in the public’s name and with public money are typically not available to you, the taxpayer.

To understand why that should be cause for concern, ponder some possibilities as they relate to pension deals with hedge funds, private equity partnerships and other so-called “alternative investments.” For example, it is possible that the secret terms of such agreements could allow other private individuals in the same investments to negotiate preferential terms for themselves, meaning public employees’ pension money enriches those private investors. It is also possible that the secret terms of the agreements create the heads-Wall-Street-wins, tails-pensions-lose effect — the one whereby retirees’ money is subjected to huge risks, yet financial firms’ profits are guaranteed regardless of returns.

North Carolina exemplifies the latter problem. In a new report for the union representing that state’s public employees, former Securities and Exchange Commission investigator Ted Siedle documents how secrecy is allowing financial firms to bilk the Teachers’ and State Employees’ Retirement System, which is the seventh largest public pension fund in America.
The first part of Siedle’s report evaluates the secrecy.

“Today, TSERS assets are directly invested in approximately 300 funds and indirectly in hundreds more underlying funds, the names, investment practices, portfolio holdings, investment performances, fees, expenses, regulation, trading and custodian banking arrangements of which are largely unknown to stakeholders, the State Auditor and, indeed, to even the (State) Treasurer and her staff,” he reports. “As a result of the lack of transparency and accountability at TSERS, it is virtually impossible for stakeholders to know the answers to questions as fundamental as who is managing the money, what is it invested in and where is it?”

Before you claim this is just a minor problem, consider some numbers. According to Siedle’s report, this huge pension system now is authorized to invest up to 35 percent — or $30 billion — of its assets in alternatives. Consider, too, that Siedle’s report shows that with such a large allocation in these risky alternatives, the fund “has underperformed the average public plan by $6.8 billion.”

So what is happening to retirees’ money? As Siedle documents, more and more of it is going to pay the exorbitant fees charged by the Wall Street firms managing the pension money.

“Fees have skyrocketed over 1,000 percent since 2000 and have almost doubled since (2008) from $217 million to $416 million,” he writes, adding that “annual fees and expenses will amount to approximately $1 billion in the near future.”

The details get worse from there, which makes Siedle’s report a genuine must-read for anyone who wants to understand the larger story of public pensions. After all, North Carolina is not an isolated incident. In state after state, the financial industry is citing modest public pension shortfalls to justify pushing those pensions to invest more money in riskier and riskier high-fee investments — and to do so in secret.

It is a story that isn’t some minor issue. On the contrary, the fight over that $3 trillion is fast becoming one of the most important economic, business and political stories of modern times. 

The only question is whether the story can even be told — or whether those profiting off secrecy can continue hiding their schemes from the public.

Koch Attack on Solar Energy

by The Editorial Board

At long last, the Koch brothers and their conservative allies in state government have found a new tax they can support. Naturally it’s a tax on something the country needs: solar energy panels.

For the last few months, the Kochs and other big polluters have been spending heavily to fight incentives for renewable energy, which have been adopted by most states. They particularly dislike state laws that allow homeowners with solar panels to sell power they don’t need back to electric utilities. So they’ve been pushing legislatures to impose a surtax on this increasingly popular practice, hoping to make installing solar panels on houses less attractive.

Oklahoma lawmakers recently approved such a surcharge at the behest of the American Legislative Exchange Council, the conservative group that often dictates bills to Republican statehouses and receives financing from the utility industry and fossil-fuel producers, including the Kochs. As The Los Angeles Times reported recently, the Kochs and ALEC have made similar efforts in other states, though they were beaten back by solar advocates in Kansas and the surtax was reduced to $5 a month in Arizona.

But the Big Carbon advocates aren’t giving up. The same group is trying to repeal or freeze Ohio’s requirement that 12.5 percent of the state’s electric power come from renewable sources like solar and wind by 2025. Twenty-nine states have established similar standards that call for 10 percent or more in renewable power. These states can now anticipate well-financed campaigns to eliminate these targets or scale them back.

The coal producers’ motivation is clear: They see solar and wind energy as a long-term threat to their businesses. That might seem distant at the moment, when nearly 40 percent of the nation’s electricity is still generated by coal, and when less than 1 percent of power customers have solar arrays. (It is slightly higher in California and Hawaii.) But given new regulations on power-plant emissions of mercury and other pollutants, and the urgent need to reduce global warming emissions, the future clearly lies with renewable energy. In 2013, 29 percent of newly installed generation capacity came from solar, compared with 10 percent in 2012.

Renewables are good for economic as well as environmental reasons, as most states know. (More than 143,000 now work in the solar industry.) Currently, 43 states require utilities to buy excess power generated by consumers with solar arrays. This practice, known as net metering, essentially runs electric meters backward when power flows from rooftop solar panels into the grid, giving consumers a credit for the power they generate but don’t use.

The utilities hate this requirement, for obvious reasons. A report by the Edison Electric Institute, the lobbying arm of the power industry, says this kind of law will put “a squeeze on profitability,” and warns that if state incentives are not rolled back, “it may be too late to repair the utility business model.”

Since that’s an unsympathetic argument, the utilities have devised another: Solar expansion, they claim, will actually hurt consumers. The Arizona Public Service Company, the state’s largest utility, funneled large sums through a Koch operative to a nonprofit group that ran an ad claiming net metering would hurt older people on fixed incomes by raising electric rates. The ad tried to link the requirement to President Obama. Another Koch ad likens the renewable-energy requirement to health care reform, the ultimate insult in that world. “Like Obamacare, it’s another government mandate we can’t afford,” the narrator says.

That line might appeal to Tea Partiers, but it’s deliberately misleading. This campaign is really about the profits of Koch Carbon and the utilities, which to its organizers is much more important than clean air and the consequences of climate change.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Tony Myers, Zizek's Key Ideas

by Tony Myers


The three main influences on Slavoj Zizek's work are G.W.F. Hegel, Karl Marx and Jacques Lacan

1. Hegel provides Zizek with the type of thought or methodology that he uses. This kind of thinking is called dialectical. In Zizek's reading of Hegel, the dialectic is never finally resolved.

2. Marx is the inspiration behind Zizek's work, for what he is trying to do is to contribute to the Marxist tradition of thought, specifically that of a critique of ideology.

3. Lacan provides Zizek with the framework and terminology for his analyses. Of particular importance are Lacan's three registers of the Imaginary, the Symbolic and the Real. Zizek locates the subject at the interface of the Symbolic and the Real.

The Imaginary
The basis of the imaginary order is the formation of the ego in the "mirror stage". Since the ego is formed by identifying with the counterpart or specular image, "identification" is an important aspect of the imaginary. The relationship whereby the ego is constituted by identification is a locus of "alienation", which is another feature of the imaginary, and is fundamentally narcissistic. The imaginary, a realm of surface appearances which are deceptive, is structured by the symbolic order. It also involves a linguistic dimension: whereas the signifier is the foundation of the symbolic, the "signified" and "signification" belong to the imaginary. Thus language has both symbolic and imaginary aspects. Based on the specular image, the imaginary is rooted in the subject's relationship to the body (the image of the body).

The Symbolic
Although an essentially linguistic dimension, Lacan does not simply equate the symbolic with language, since the latter is involved also in the imaginary and the real. The symbolic dimension of language is that of the signifier, in which elements have no positive existence but are constituted by virtue of their mutual differences. It is the realm of radical alterity: the Other. The unconscious is the discourse of the Other and thus belongs to the symbolic order. Its is also the realm of the Law that regulates desire in the Oedipus complex. The symbolic is both the "pleasure principle" that regulates the distance from das Ding, and the "death drive" which goes beyond the pleasure principle by means of repetition: "the death drive is only the mask of the symbolic order." This register is determinant of subjectivity; for Lacan the symbolic is characterized by the absence of any fixed relations between signifier and signified.

The Real
This order is not only opposed to the imaginary but is also located beyond the symbolic. Unlike the latter, which is constituted in terms of oppositions such as "presence" and "absence", there is no absence in the real. The symbolic opposition between "presence" and "absence" implies the possibility that something may be missing from the symbolic, the real is "always in its place: it carries it glued to its heel, ignorant of what might exile it from there." If the symbolic is a set of differentiated signifiers, the real is in itself undifferentiated: "it is without fissure". The symbolic introduces "a cut in the real," in the process of signification: "it is the world of words that creates the world of things." Thus the real emerges as that which is outside language: "it is that which resists symbolization absolutely." The real is impossible because it is impossible to imagine, impossible to integrate into the symbolic order. This character of impossibility and resistance to symbolization lends the real its traumatic quality.


Unlike almost all other kinds of contemporary philosophers, Zizek argues that Descartes' cogito is the basis of the subject. However, whereas most thinkers read the cogito as a substantial, transparent and fully self-conscious "I" which is in complete command of its destiny, Zizek proposes that the cogito is an empty space, what is left when the rest of the world is expelled from itself. The Symbolic Order is what substitutes for the loss of the immediacy of the world and it is where the void of the subject is filled in by the process of subjectivization. The latter is where the subject is given an identity and where that identity is altered by the Self.

Reading Schelling via Lacan
Once the Lacanian concepts of the Imaginary, the Symbolic and the Real are grasped, Zizek, in philosophical writings such as his dicussion of Schelling, always interprets the work of other philsophers in terms of those concepts. This is so because "the core of my entire work is the endeavour to use Lacan as a privileged intellectual tool to reactualize German idealism". (The Zizek Reader) The reason Zizek thinks German idealism (the work of Hegel, Kant, Fichte and Schelling) needs reactualizing is that we are thought to understand it in one way, whereas the truth of it is something else. The term "reactualizing" refers to the fact that there are different possible ways to interpret German idealism, and Zizek wishes to make "actual" one of those possibilities in distinction to the way it is currently realized.
At its most basic, we are taught that German idealism believes that the truth of something could be found in itself. For Zizek, the fundamental insight of German idealism is that the truth of something is always outside it. So the truth of our experience lies outside ourselves, in the Symbolic and the Real, rather than being buried deep within us. We cannot look into our selves and find out who we truly are, because who we truly are is always elsewhere. Our selves are somewhere else in the Symbolic formations which always precede us and in the Real which we have to disavow if we are to enter the Symbolic order.
The reason that Lacan occupies a privileged position for Zizek's lies in Lacan's proposition that self-identity is impossible. The identity of something, its singularity or "oneness", is always split. There is always too much of something, and indivisible remainder, or a bit left-over which means that it cannot be self-identical. The meaning of a word, i.e., can never be found in the word itself, but rather in other words, its meaning therefore is not self-identical. This principle of the impossibility of self-identity is what informs Zizek's reading of the German idealists. In reading Schelling, i.e., the Beginning is not actually the beginning at all - the truth of the Beginning lies elsewhere, it is split or not identical to itself.
How, precisely, does the Word discharge the tension of the rotary motion, how does it mediate the antagonism between the contractive and the expansive force? The Word is a contraction in the guise of its very opposite of an expansion - that is, in pronouncing a word, the subject contracts his being outside himself; he "coagulates" the core of his being in an external sign. In the (verbal) sign, I - as it were - find myself outside myself, I posit my unity outside myself, in a signifier which represents me. (The Indivisible Remainder: An Essay on Schelling and Related Matters)
The Subject of the Enunciation and the Subject of the Enunciated
The subject of enunciation is the "I" who speaks, the individual doing the speaking; the subject of the enunciated is the "I" of the sentence. "I" is not identical to itself - it is split between the individual "I" (the subject of enunciation) and the grammatical "I" (the subject of the enunciated). Although we may experience them as unified, this is merely an Imaginary illusion, for the pronoun "I" is actually a substitute for the "I" of the subject. It does not account for me in my full specificity; it is, rather, a general term I share with everyone else. In order to do so, my empirical reality must be annihilated or, as Lacan avers, "the symbol manifests itself first of all as the murder of the thing". The subject can only enter language by negating the Real, murdering or substituting the blood-and-sinew reality of self for the concept of self expressed in words. For Lacan and Zizek every word is a gravestone, marking the absence or corpse of the thing it represents and standing in for it. It is partly in the light of this that Lacan is able to refashion Descartes' "I think, therefore I am" as "I think where I am not, therefore I am where I think not". The "I think" here is the subject of the enunciated (the Symbolic subject) whereas the "I am" is the subject of the enunciation (the Real subject). What Lacan aims to disclose by rewriting the Cartesian cogito in this way is that the subject is irrevocably split, torn asunder by language

The Vanishing Mediator
The concept of "vanishing mediator" is one that Zizek has consistently employed since For They Know Not What They Do. A vanishing mediator is a concept which somehow negotiates and settles - hence mediating - the transition between two opposed concepts and thereafter disappears. Zizek draws attention to the fact that a vanishing mediator is produced by an asymmetry of content and form. As with Marx's analysis of revolution, form lags behind content, in the sense that content changes within the parameters of an existing form, until the logic of that content works its way out to the latter and throws off its husk, revealing a new form in its stead. Commenting Fredric Jameson's "Syntax of Theory" (The Ideologies of Theory, Minnesota, 1988), Zizek proposes that
The passage from feudalism to Protestantism is not of the same nature as the passage from Protestantism to bourgeois everyday life with its privatized religion. The first passage concerns "content" (under the guise of preserving the religious form or even its strengthening, the crucial shift - the assertion of the ascetic acquisitive stance in economic activity as the domain of manifestation of Grace - takes place), whereas the second passage is a purely formal act, a change of form (as soon as Protestantism is realized as the ascetic acquisitive stance, it can fall off as form). (For They Know Not What They Do: Enjoyment as a Political factor)
Zizek sees in this process evidence of Hegel's "negation of the negation", the third moment of the dialectic. The first negation is the mutation of the content within and in the name of the old form. The second negation is the obsolescence of the form itself. In this way, something becomes the opposite of itself, paradoxically, by seeming to strengthen itself. In the case of Protestantism, the universalization of religious attitudes ultimately led to its being sidelined as a matter of private contemplation. Which is to say that Protestantism, as a negation of feudalism, was itself negated by capitalism.


The pleasure principle functions a a limit of enjoyment; it is a law that commands the subject to "enjoy as little as possible". At the same time, the subject constantly attempts to transgress the prohibitions imposed on his enjoyment, to go "beyond the pleasure principle". The result of transgressing the pleasure principle is not more pleasure, but pain, since there is only a certain amount of pleasure that the subject can bear. beyond this limit, pleasure becomes pain, and this "painful pleasure" is what Lacan calls jouissancejouissance is suffering. The term expresses the paradoxical satisfaction the subject derives from his symptom, that is the suffering he derives from his own satisfaction.

Lacan in Encore states that jouissance is essentially phallic: "jouissance, insofar as it is sexual, is phallic, which means that it does not relate to the Other as such." However, Lacan admits a specifically feminine jouissance, a supplementary jouissance which is beyond the phallus, a jouissance of the Other. This feminine jouissance is ineffable, for women experience it but know nothing about it. Going beyond the phallus, it is of the order of the infinite, like mystical ecstasy.
"Woman doesn't exist", la femme n'existe pas, which Lacan rephrases as "there is no such a thing as Woman", il n'y a pas La femme. Lacan questions not the noun "woman", but the definite article which precedes it. For the definite article indicates universality, and this is the characteristic that woman lacks: "woman does not lend herself to generalisation, even to phallocentric generalisation." He also speaks of her as "not-all", pas toute; unlike masculinity - a universal function founded upon the phallic exception (castration), woman is a non-universal which admits no exception. "Woman as a symptom" (Seminar RSI) means that a woman is a symptom of a man, in the sense that a woman can only ever enter the psychic economy of men as a fantasy object, the cause of their desire.
For Zizek, woman is what sustains the consistency of man; woman non-existence actually represents the radical negativity which constitutes all subjects. The terms "man" and "woman" do not refer to a biological distinction or gender roles, but rather two modes of the failure of Symbolization. It is this failure which means that "there is no sexual rapport". See Woman is one of the Names-of-the-Father, or how Not to misread Lacan's formulas of sexuation for Zizek's position vis-à-vis sexuation.


For Zizek, present society, or postmodernity, is based upon the demise in the authority of the big Other. Continuing the theorists of the contemporary risk society, who advocate the personal freedoms of choice or reflexivity, which have replaced this authority, Zizek argues that these theorists ignore the reflexivity at the heart of the subject. For Zizek, lacking the prohibitions of the big Other, in these conditions, the subject's inherent reflexivity manifests itself in attachments to forms of subjection, paranoia and narcissism. In order to ameliorate these pathologies, Zizek proposes the need for a political act or revolution - one that will alter the conditions of possibility of postmodernity (which he identifies as capitalism) and so give birth to a new type of Symbolic Order in which a new breed of subject can exist.

The Law
Zizek refers to the law throughout his work. The term "the law" signifies the principles upon which society is based, designating a mode of collective conduct based upon a set of prohibitions. However, for Zizek, the rule of the law conceals an inherent unruliness which is precisely the violence by which it established itself as law in the first place.
"At the beginning" of the law, there is a certain "outlaw", a certain real of violence which coincides with the act itself of the establishment of the reign of the law... The illegitimate violence by which law sustains itself must be concealed at any price, because this concealment is the positive condition of the functioning of the law. (For They Know Not What They Do: Enjoyment as a Political Factor)
The authority of the law stems not from some concept of justice, but because it is the law. Which is to say that the origin of the law can be found in the tautology: "the law is the law". If the law is to function properly, however, we must experience it as just. It is only when the law breaks down, when it becomes a law unto itself, and it reaches the limits of itself, do we glimpse those limits and acknowledge its contingency by reference to the phrase "the law is the law".

The Disintegration of the Big Other
One key aspect of the universalization of reflexivity is the resulting disintegration of the big Other, the communal network of social institutions, customs and laws. For Zizek, the big Other was always dead, in the sense that it never existed in the first place as a material thing. All it ever was (and is) is a purely symbolic order. It means that we all engage in a minimum of idealization, disavowing the brute fact of the Real in favor of another Symbolic world behind it. Zizek expresses this disavowal in terms of an "as if". In order to coexist with our neighbors we act "as if" they do not smell bad or look ridiculous.
The big Other is then a kind of collective lie to which we all individually subscribe. We all know that the emperor is naked (in the Real) but nonetheless we agree to the deception that he is wearing new clothes (in the Symbolic). When Zizek avers that "the big Other no longer exists" is that in the new postmodern era of reflexivity we no longer believe that the emperor is wearing clothes. We believe the testimony of our eyes (his nakedness in the Real) rather than the words of the big Other (his Symbolic new clothes). Instead of treating this as a case of puncturing hypocrisy, Zizek argues that "we get more than we bargained for - that the very community of which we were a member has disintegrated" (For They Know Not What They Do). There is a demise in "Symbolic efficiency".
Symbolic efficiency refers to the way in which for a fact to become true it is not enough for us just to know it, we need to know that the fact is also known by the big Other too. For Zizek, it is the big Other which confers an identity upon the many decentered personalities of the contemporary subject. The different aspects of my personality do not claim an equal status in the Symbolic - it is only the Self or Selves registered by the big Other which display Symbolic efficiency, which are fully recognized by everyone else and determine my socio-economic position. The level at which this takes place is not
that of "reality" as opposed to the play of my imagination - Lacan's point is not that, behind the multiplicity of phantasmatic identities, there is a hard core of some "real Self", we are dealing with a symbolic fiction, but a fiction which, for contingent reasons that have nothing to do with its inherent structure, possesses performative power - is socially operative, structures the socio-symbolic reality in which I participate. The status of the same person, inclusive of his/her very "real" features, can appear in an entirely different light the moment the modality of his/her relationship to the big Other changes. (The Ticklish Subject: the Absent Center of Political Ideology)
The Return of the Big Other
Besides the construction of little big Others as a reaction of the demise of the big Other, Zizek identifies another response in the positing of a big Other that actually exists in the Real. The name Lacan gives to an Other in the Real is "the Other of the Other". A belief in an Other of the Other, in someone or something who is really pulling the strings of society and organizing everything, is one of the signs of paranoia. Needless to say that it is commonplace to argue that the dominant pathology today is paranoia: countless books and films refer to some organization which covertly control governments, news, markets and academia. Zizek proposes that the cause of this paranoia can be located in a reaction to the demise of the big Other:
When faced with such a paranoid construction, we must not forget Freud's warning and mistake it for the "illness" itself: the paranoid construction is, on the contrary, an attempt to heal ourselves, to pull ourselves out of the real "illness", the "end of the world", the breakdown of the symbolic universe, by means of this substitute formation. Looking Awry: an Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture)
Paradoxically, then, Zizek argues that the typical postmodern subject is one who displays an otright cynicism towards official institutions, yet at the same time believes in the existence of conspirancies and an unseen Other pulling the strings. This apparently contradictory coupling of cynicism and belief is strictly correlative to the demise of the big Other. Its disappearance causes us to construct an Other of the Other in order to escape the unbearable freedom its loss encumbers us with. Conversely, there is no need to take the big Other seriously if we believe in an Other of the Other. We therefore display cynicism and belief in equal and sincere measures.

Postmodernism: An Over-Proximity to the Real
One of the ways in which Zizek's understanding of the postmodern can be characterized is as an over-proximity of the Real. In postmodern art (or postmodernism) Zizek identifies various manifestations of this, such as the technique of "filling in the gaps". What Zizek means by this can be seen in his comparative analysis of The Talented Mr. Ripley (book and film). In Patricia Highsmith's novel, Ripley's homosexuality is only indirectly proposed, but in Anthony Minghella's film Ripley is openly gay. The repressed content of the novel, the absence around which it centers, is filled in. For Zizek, what we lose by covering over the void in this way is the void of subjectivity:
By way of "filling in the gaps" and "telling it all", what we retreat from is the void as such, which is ultimately none other than the void of subjectivity (the Lacanian "barred subject"). What Minghella accomplishes is the move from the void of subjectivity to the inner wealth of personality. (The Fright of Real Tears: Krzysztof Kieslowski between Theory and Post-Theory)
In Highsmith's novel the status of Ripley's sexuality is. at most, equivocal. As such, the book remains "innocent" in the eyes of the big Other because it does not openly transgress one of its norms. While we can interpret the clues in the story as indicating Ripley's homosexuality, we do not have to do so. The film, on the other hand, "shows it all", Ripley is here objectively homosexual. So whereas in one instance the reader can decide subjectively whether or not Ripley is gay, the film allows no such room for manoeuvre and the viewer is forced to accept Minghella's reading of the text.


For Zizek, we are not so much living in a post-ideological era as in an era dominated by the ideology of cynicism. Adapting from Marx and Sloterdijk, he sums up the cynical attitude as "they know that, in their activity, they are following an illusion, but still, they are doing it". Ideology in this sense, is located in what we do and not in what we know. Our belief in an ideology is thus staged in advance of our acknowledging that belief in "belief machines", such as Althusser's Ideological State Apparatuses. It is "belief before belief."

Pinning Down Ideology with Points de Capiton
One of the questions Zizek asks about ideology is: what keeps an ideological field of meaning consistent? Given that signifiers are unstable and liable to slippages of meaning, how does an ideology maintain its consistency? The answer to this problem is that any given ideological field is "quilted" by what, following Lacan, he terms a point de capiton (literally an "upholstery button" though is has also been translated as "anchoring point"). In the same way that an upholstery button pins down stuffing inside a quilt and stops it from moving about, Zisek argues that a point de capiton is a signifier which stops meaning from sliding about inside the ideological quilt. A point de capiton unifies an ideological field and provides it with an identity. Freedom, i.e, is in itself an open-ended word, the meaning of which can slide about depending on the context of its use. A right-wing interpretation of the word might use it to designate the freedom to speculate on the market, whereas a left-wing interpretation of it might use it designate freedom from the inequalities of the market. The word "freedom" therefore does not mean the same thing in all possible worlds: what pins its meaning down is the point de capiton of "right-wing" or "left-wing". What is at issue in a conflict of ideologies is precisely the point de capiton - which signifier ("communism", "fascism", "capitalism", "market economy" and so on) will be entitled to quilt the ideological field ("freedom", "democracy", Human rights" and son on).

The Two Deaths
The fact that for Zizek the apparently all-inclusive whole of life and death are supplemented, by both a living death and a deathly life, points to the way in which we can die not just once, but twice. Most obviously, we will suffer a biological death in which our bodies will fail and eventually disintegrate. This is death in the Real, involving the obliteration of our material selves. But we can also suffer a Symbolic death. This does not involve the annihilation of our actual bodies, rather it entails the destruction of our Symbolic universe and the extermination of our subject positions. We can thus suffer a living death where we are excluded from the Symbolic and no longer exist for the Other. This might happen if we go mad or if we commit an atrocious crime and society disowns us. In this scenario, we still exist in the Real but not in the Symbolic. Alternatively, we might endure a deathly life or more a kind of life after death. This might happen if, after our bodies have died, people remember our names, remember our deeds and so on. In this case, we continue to exist in the Symbolic even though we have died in the Real.
The gap between the two deaths, Zizek argues, can be filled either by manifestations of the monstrous or the beautiful. In Shakespeare's Hamlet for example, Hamlet's father is dead in the Real, however, he persists as a terrifying and monstrous apparition because he was murdered and thereby cheated of the chance to settle his Symbolic debts. Once that debt has been repaid, following Hamlet's killing of his murderer, he is "completely" dead. In Sophocles' Antigone, the heroine suffers a Symbolic death before her Real death when she is excluded from the community for wanting to bury his traitorous brother. This destruction of her social identity instills her character with a sublime beauty. Ironically Antigone enters the domain between the two deaths "precisely in order to prevent her brother's second death: to give him a proper funeral that will secure his eternalization" (The Ticklish Subject: the Absent Centre of Political Ontology). That is, she endures a Symbolic death in order that her brother, who has been refused proper burial rites, will not suffer a Symbolic death himself.

The Spectre of Ideology
Zizek distinguishes three moments in the narrative of an ideology.
1. Doctrine - ideological doctrine concerns the ideas and theories of an ideology, i.e. liberalism partly developed from the ideas of John Locke.
2. Belief - ideological belief designates the material or external manifestations and apparatuses of its doctrine, i.e. liberalism is materialized in an independent press, democratic elections and the free market.
3. Ritual - ideological ritual refers to the internalization of a doctrine, the way it is experienced as spontaneous, i.e in liberalism subjects naturally think of themselves as free individuals.

These three aspects of ideology form a kind of narrative. In the first stage of ideological doctrine we find ideology in its "pure" state. Here ideology takes the form of a supposedly truthful proposition or set of arguments which, in reality, conceal a vested interest. Locke's arguments about government served the interest of the revolutionary Americans rather than the colonizing British. In a second step, a successful ideology takes on the material form which generates belief in that ideology, most potently in the guise of Althusser's State Apparatuses. Third, ideology assumes an almost spontaneous existence, becoming instinctive rather than realized either as an explicit set of arguments or as an institution. the supreme example of such spontaneity is, for Zizek, the notion of commodity fetishism.

In each of these three moments - a doctrine, its materialization in the form of belief and its manifestation as spontaneous ritual - as soon as we think we have assumed a position of truth from which to denounce the lie of an ideology, we find ourselves back in ideology again. This is so because our understanding of ideology is based on a binary structure, which contrasts reality with ideology. To solve this problem, Zizek suggests that we analyze ideology using a ternary structure. So, how can we distinguish reality from ideology? From what position, for example, is Zizek able to denounce the New Age reading of the universe as ideological mystification? It is not from the position in reality because reality is constituted by the Symbolic and the Symbolic is where fiction assumes the guise of truth. The only non-ideological position available is in the Real -- the Real of the antagonism. Now, that is not a position we can actually occupy; it is rather "the extra-ideological point of reference that authorizes us to denounce the content of our immediate experience as 'ideological.'" (Mapping Ideology) The antagonism of the Real is a constant that has to be assumed given the existence of social reality (the Symbolic Order). As this antagonism is part of the Real, it is not subject to ideological mystification; rather its effect is visible in ideological mystification. Here, ideology takes the form of the spectral supplement to reality, concealing the gap opened up by the failure of reality (the Symbolic) to account fully for the Real. While this model of the structure of reality does not allow us a position from which to assume an objective viewpoint, it does presuppose the existence of ideology and thus authorizes the validity of its critique. The distinction between reality and ideology exists as a theoretical given. Zizek does not claim that he can offer any access to the "objective truth of things" but that ideology must be assumed to exist if we grant that reality is structured upon a constitutive antagonism. And if ideology exists we must ne able to subject it to critique. This is the aim of Zizek's theory of ideology, namely an attempt to keep the project of ideological critique alive at all in an era in which we are said to have left ideology behind.


Fantasy as a Mask of the Inconsistency in the Big Other
One way at looking at the relationship between fantasy and the big Other is to think of fantasy as concealing the inconsistency of the Symbolic Order. To understand this we need to know why the big Other is inconsistent or structured around a gap. The answer to this question is that when the body enters the field of signification or the big Other, it is castrated. What Zizek means by this is that the price we pay for our admission to the universal medium of language is the loss of our full body selves. When we submit to the big Other we sacrifice direct access to our bodies and, instead, are condemned to an indirect relation with it via the medium of language. So, whereas, before we enter language we are what Zizek terms "pathological" subjects (the subject he notates by S), after we are immersed in language we are what he refers to as "barred" subjects (the empty subject he notates with $). What is barred from the barred subject is precisely the body as the materialization or incarnation of enjoyment (jouissance). Material jouissance is strictly at odds with, or heterogenous to, the immaterial order of the signifier.
For the subject to enter the Symbolic Order, then, the Real of jouissance or enjoyment has to be evacuated from it. Which is another way to saying that the advent of the symbol entails "the murder of the thing". Although not all jouissance is completely evacuated by the process of signification (some of it persists in what are called the erogenous zones), most of it is not Symbolized. And this entails that the Symbolic Order cannot fully account for jouissance - it is what us missing in the big Other. The big Other is therefore inconsistent or structured around a lack, the lack of jouissance. It is, we might say, castrated or rendered incomplete by admitting the subject, in much the same way as the subject is castrated by its admission.
What fantasy does is conceal this lack or incompletion. So, as we saw previoulsly when alluding to the formulas of sexuation, "there is not sexual relationship" in the big Other. What the fantasy of a sexual scenario thereby conceals is the impossibility of this sexual relationship. It covers up the lack in the big Other, the missing jouissance. In this regard, Zizek often avers that fantasy is a way for subjects to organize their jouissance - it is a way to manage or domesticate the traumatic loss of the jouissance which cannot be Symbolized.

The Window of Fantasy
For Zizek, racism is produced by a clash of fantasies rather than by a clash of symbols vying for supremacy. There are several distinguishing features of fantasy:
1. Fantasies are produced as a defence against the desire of the Other manifest in "What do you want from me?" - which is what the Other, in its inconsistency, really wants from me.
2. Fantasies provide a framework through which we see reality. They are anamorphic in that they presuppose a point of view, denying us an objective account of the world.
3. Fantasies are the one unique thing about us. They are what make us individuals, allowing a subjective view of reality. As such, our fantasies are extremely sensitive to the intrusion of others.
4. Fantasies are the way in which we organize and domesticate our jouissance.

Postmodern Racism
Zizek contends that today's racism is just as reflexive as every other part of postmodern life. It is not the product of ignorance in the way it used to be. So, whereas racism used to involve a claim that another ethnic group is inherently inferior to our own, racism is now articulated in terms of a respect for another's culture. Instead of "My culture is better than yours", postmodern or reflexive racism will argue that "My culture is different from yours". As an example of this Zizek asks "was not the official argument for apartheid in the old South Africa that black culture should be preserved in its uniqueness, not dissipated in the Western melting-pot? (The Fragile Absolute, or Why the Christian Legacy is Worth Fighting For) For him, what is at stake here is the fetishistic disawoval of cynicism: "I know very well that all ethnic cultures are equal in value, yet, nevertheless, I will act as if mine is superior". The split here between the subject of enunciated ("I know very well...") and the subject of the enunciation ("...nevertheless I act as if I didn't") is even preserved when racists are asked to explain the reasons for their behavior. A racist will blame his socio-economic environment, poor childhood, peer group pressure, and so on, in such a way as to suggest to Zizek that he cannot help being racist, but is merely a victim of circumstances. Thus postmodern racists are fully able to rationalize their behavior in a way that belies the traditional image of racism as the vocation of the ignorant.

The Ethnic Fantasy
If "ethnic tension" is a conflict of fantasies, what is then the racist fantasy? For Zizek there are two basic racist fantasies. The first type centers around the apprehension that the "ethnic other" desires our jouissance. "They" want to steal our enjoyment from "us" and rob us of the specificity of our fantasy. The second type proceeds from an uneasiness that the "ethnic other" has access to some strange jouissance. "They" do not things like "us". The way :they" enjoy themselves is alien and unfamiliar. What both these fantasies are predicated upon is that the "other" enjoys in a different way than "us":
In short, what really gets on our nerves, what really bothers us about the "other", is the peculiar way he organizes his jouissance (the smell of his food, his noisy songs and dances, his strange manners, his attitude to work - in the racist perspective, the "other" is either a workaholic stealing our jobs or an idler living on our labor. ( Looking Awry: an Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture)
So ethnic tension is caused by a conflict of fantasies if we regard fantasy as a way of organizing jouissance. The specificity of "their: fantasy conflicts with the specificity of "our" fantasy".

For Zizek, the perception of a threat, by "them" as well as by "us", remains strong. The last two decades have witnessed a marked rise in racial tension and ethnic nationalism. Following Lacan and Marx, Zizek ascribes this rise to the process of globalization. This process refers to the way in which capitalism has spread across the world. displacing local companies in favor of multinational ones. The effects of this process are nor necessarily just commercial, for what is at stake are the national cultures and politics bodies which underpin, and are supported by, resident industries. When McDonald's opens up in Bombay, for example, it is not just another business, but represents a specifically American approach to food, culture and social organization. The more capitalism spreads, the more it works to dissolve the efficacy of national domains, dissipating local traditions and values in favor of universal ones.

The only way to offset this increased homogeneity and to assert the worth of the particular against the global is to cling to our specific ethnic fantasy, the point of view which makes us Indians, British or Germans. And if we try to avoid being dissolved in the multicultural mix of globalization by sticking to the way we organize jouissance, we will court the risk of succumbing to a racist paranoia. Even if we attempt to institute a form of equality between the ways in which we organize enjoyment, unfortunately, as Zizek points out, "fantasies cannot coexist peacefully" (Looking Awry)

The Ethics of Fantasy
For Zizek is the state that should act as a buffer between the fantasies of different groups, mitigating the worst effects of those fantasies. If civil society were allowed to rule unrestrained, much of the world would succumb to racist violence. It is only the forces of the state which keep it in check.

In the long term, Zizek argues that in order to avoid a clash of fantasies we have to learn to "traverse the fantasy" (what Lacan terms "traversing the fantôme). It means that we have to acknowledge that fantasy merely functions to screen the abyss or inconsistency in the Other. In "traversing" or "going through" the fantasy "all we have to do is experience how there is nothing 'behind' it, and how fantasy masks precisely this 'nothing'". (The Sublime Object of Ideology)

The subject of racism, be it a Jew, a Muslim, a Latino, an African-American, gay or lesbian, Chinese, is a fantasy figure, someone who embodies the void of the Other. The underlying argument of all racism is that "if only they weren't here, life would be perfect, and society will be harmonious again". However, what this argument misses is the fact that because the subject of racism is only a fantasy figure, it is only there to make us think that such a harmonious society is actually possible. In reality, society is always-already divided. The fantasy racist figure is just a way of covering up the impossibility of a whole society or an organic Symbolic Order complete unto itself:
What appears as the hindrance to society's full identity with itself is actually its positive condition: by transposing onto the Jew the role of the foreign body which introduces in the social organism disintegration and antagonism, the fantasy-image of society qua consistent, harmonious whole is rendered possible. (Enjoy Your Symptom! Jacques Lacan in Hollywood and Out)

Which is another way of saying that if the Jew qua fantasy figure was not there, we would have to invent it so as to maintain the illusion that we could have a perfect society. For all the fantasy figure does is to embody the existing impossibility of a complete society.