Saturday, January 06, 2007

Zizek on war, truth, and other things that don't go together


The incomparable Zizek has a very interesting piece in yesterday's Times about the perversion of "truth" and the ability to ignore facts in the US vis-a-vis the misadventure in Iraq.

Zizek has perhaps the best retort I have read to the tired non-argument that the world is "better off" without Saddam Hussein.
Recall the old story about the factory worker suspected of stealing: every evening, when he was leaving work, the wheelbarrow he rolled in front of him was carefully inspected, but the guards could not find anything, it was always empty. Finally, they got the point: what the worker was stealing were the wheelbarrows themselves.

This is the trick being attempted by those who claim today, “But the world is nonetheless better off without Saddam!” They forget to factor into the account the effects of the very military intervention against him. Yes, the world is better without Saddam Hussein — but is it better if we include into the overall picture the ideological and political effects of this very occupation?

The fundamental problem for the world about the current position of the US, Zizek concludes, is that it pretends to be an empire while continuing to act like a nation-state. The world would be better off to have the US truly embrace its status as an empire, rather have Washington than carry a big stick for decidedly small and self-interested purposes.

This is not, I think, an attempt by Zizek to actually advocate for empire, but rather to point out the contradictions of the current situation. All kinds of contradictions have resulted, including this one with which he concludes:

[N]ow the United States is continuing, through other means, this greatest crime of Saddam Hussein: his never-ending attempt to topple the Iranian government. This is the price you have to pay when the struggle against the enemies is the struggle against the evil ghosts in your own closet: you don’t even control yourself.
What we are now faced with, apparently, are three choice that Bush is considering: whether to increase troop strength by 4,000, 9,000, or 20,000 troops. Democrats have stated their opposition, with Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi even penning a strongly worded letter (!!!) to the President. But the fight, aside from the political theatre, may stop there, as the Times notes:
The bigger question is whether Congress will seek to stop the troop increase. In theory, it could cut off financing, the only way it could actually interfere with the commander in chief’s plans. But Democrats have said they would not take such a step, largely out of fear of being accused of undercutting the troops.
Apparently, the "truth" that stopping the gears of the war machine is tantamount to not "supporting the troops" will continue apace. As Zizek notes, truth is what we want it to be. It certainly was for Muhammad Said al-Sahhaf, the Iraqi information minister under Saddam who was resolute in his version of truth to the end, claiming that television images of tanks near the palace in Baghdad were just special effects. "There was something refreshingly liberating about [al-Sahhaf's] interventions," Zizek writes,
which displayed a striving to be liberated from the hold of facts and thus of the need to spin away their unpleasant aspects: his stance was, “Whom do you believe, your eyes or my words?”
George Bush may not be in total control anymore, but we still believe his words - about "victory", about "supporting the troops," etc. - more than we believe our own eyes. What a pity.

1 comment:

taylorasen said...

Zizek hasn't written a better article since he did that work for Abercrombie and Fitch. Actually, I never saw his stuff for A + F, but I love what he said when some academics chided him for "selling out": If I were asked to choose between doing things like this to earn money and becoming fully employed as an American academic, kissing ass to get a tenured post,I would with pleasure choose writing for such journals!"