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Žižek on Violence - Part Two

A Critical Reflection on Cultures of Violence, Part Eight

Photo courtesy of motherjones.com

This entry will cover the last three chapters of Slavoj Žižek’s book, Violence, in the second part of a series. Here, I will pick up right where I left off in the previous essay, first by talking about the degree to which violence and stigmatisation can be justified if a country or even a group of people has been wronged, coming off the heels of discussing how oppressed communities oftentimes do not get the opportunity to speak out about their struggles.

If we are referring to caricatures and propaganda, then I am not so sure that mass violence and stigmatisation can ever be justified in any way, because we cannot put an entire country at fault for the wrongdoings of a few individuals (or institutions). The people that take offense to the way they are being portrayed in media and discourse should instead be seeking out and prosecuting the offenders directly responsible for producing the text and imagery, instead of demanding apologies from a whole state, especially where press releases and news industries have a lot of freedom (Žižek, 106).

With that being said, there are certain prohibitions and limitations imposed on news press. For example, reporters must be very careful about how they approach certain subject matter, such as the Holocaust. Attempting to address questions like "Did Hitler kill Jews?" or "Did Jews deserve to be killed?" are not only horrible angles to consider, but are also completely irrelevant, since the Holocaust did happen and the Jews had not done anything to warrant such an atrocity (Žižek, 111).

These are the kinds of questions and debates that will cause uproars among applicable communities (Israelis and other Jewish communities, in this case). However, using an event as a sort of trump card to exempt actions against another party is also unjustifiable, especially since we are looking at a different generation of people that had neither witnessed nor taken part in the atrocity. Atrocities like the Holocaust, then, should not be used to justify or legitimise any political or violent measures, but to perhaps delegitimise some of these actions and impose some limitations on political acts (Žižek, 113).

From here, we can consider the relationship between illegitimate non-state power and legitimate state power. An example of this can be seen in the struggle against a state’s own moral failures and weaknesses, rather than a war against an external enemy, such as the inner purification process of Islam (Žižek, 126). Of course, many states experience domestic issues to a degree, and the problem is when they get too caught up in international affairs to concern themselves with their own problems. We see this with countries such as the United States of America (which is ironic, considering that this is a country otherwise characterised by isolation).

It is easy for us to say that perhaps these countries should withdraw from the international stage in order to make amendments at home, but then the problem with this is the fact that many countries like Germany are experiencing international success and have already invested so much into it, even if their domestic policies may not be the most stable, and rely a great deal on international relations (especially trade). It is true, in a way, that states need to have a firm grasp on their own development before they can assist or engage in any sort of relation with other countries; but at the same time, closing off relations means shutting down potential opportunities for growth and the trust needed to form alliances and unions.

I did mention before that isolation could be the solution to conflict, as communication can contribute to greater tension. However, it also calls into question a sense of tolerance. It is only a matter of time before tolerance for intolerance becomes unbearable if two parties cannot find some sort of middle ground. This results in self-blame, in that one party is trying to understand the other, while the other one harbours hostility towards them, and the situation does not get resolved (Žižek, 129).

If we were to look at this from a different perspective, then we would have to consider the relationship between political and cultural differences. These are various ways of life that must be tolerated to a degree, if they work for a particular society and do not affect the condition of another (Žižek, 140). We may all be living in different civilizations, but we certainly do share similar, if not necessarily the exact same struggles through parts of our cultures that overlap, especially with the rise of globalization and trade, among other developments as a result of international relations (all the more reason why we can never be completely isolated from the rest of the world, because a degree of understanding is certainly there and it makes providing aid a lot easier).

In the case of ethnicity and religion, however, free choice is truly how to experience one’s own cultural background, because it liberates violence (Žižek, 146). This is interesting, because usually, and particularly in heavily conservative countries, you are only really given the freedom of choice if you essentially refrain from using it (Žižek, 129). Yet, this is also rather contradictory, because individuals are able to find ways around laws, policies and moral teachings.

For instance, in ethnicity or religion—depending on what it is—you have the idea of the sacred cause that is supposed to serve as the justification to murder someone. This is vague in and of itself, so it ultimately depends on what the "cause" is, if it has anything to do with what the victim had done to deserve to be killed, and if this is relevant at all. In other words, it is a questionable justification. There is also the issue of blasphemy, which is not just hatred in and of itself, but also a problematic characteristic in religion (this is in no way suggesting that religion itself is an issue, but rather the way certain attributes like blasphemy are treated by select individuals practicing religion) (Žižek, 130).

It begs the question as to when the rules should be taken seriously, and when they should be disregarded. Totalitarian states, for instance, tolerate law violations because doing so may very well be the conditions for survival based on how social life is framed in that society. To word this differently, things that would normally be considered illegal end up being lawless. Does this call for a revolution?

According to George Orwell, radicals, who we would think want change the most, will actually be the ones preventing change, because they believe that starting a revolution will not really accomplish anything (Žižek, 165). Revolutions only cause a cycle, because they will never result in full satisfaction and equality. This is especially true in terms of capital, which is the most important feature in capitalism, so it will really just bring about rage (Žižek, 187).

To truly see change, we would have to create a liberal code of conduct to prevent ecological and ethical destruction. But with economic laws prevailing and seemingly irreversible corporate practices, I do not see that happening anytime soon.

Bibliography

Žižek, S. (2008). Violence (1st ed., pp. 105-192). New York City: Picador.

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