Žižek and the Subtlety of Dialectics or Reading the Panama Papers in the Philippines

With the emergence of the Panama Papers two realities finally become obvious; what we see as democracy is but a mirage, an ersatz reality in which people are made to believe that one is free and that the functions of liberal state democracy is effective. Behind it is the bureaucratic dictatorship that occurs behind the functions of state democracy. However, it would be a disastrous premise to argue that state democracy is simply a mirage and that in reality what is behind the benevolent bureaucracy is simply a culture of greed and unscrupulous politicians, vying for money and power. Such premise however misses the simplicity of the situation. What we have is not a culture of freed, but of unfettered pragmatism to avoid the fulfillment of the law. At its purest, we encounter the inherent transgression of liberal democracy and its reliance on communicative action and the normative dimension of social life. The Politicians who engaged in these transactions simply act as private individuals who want to take care of their personal wealth or even invest them without the constraints or national laws and prohibitions. In this case, Žižek’s comments on the matter are significant as ever, revealing that what we might see the hidden reality is simply the way capitalism subverts the logic of liberal state democracy, turning it into an instrument of its continued legitimacy. In the same way, the Chinese Communist Party is simply a legtimization of the bureaucratic dictatorship that Mao, in the Cultural Revolution, sought to overthrow. We do not simply have the fundamental schism between capitalism and whatever political system (liberal democracy or state socialism); but the very gap that makes political philosophy absurd (here I refer to Alain Badiou’s distinction made in Metapolitics) for whatever lip service it will eventually make to the importance and relavance of liberal democracy or really existing socialism is downright absurd without considering for a fact that capitalism in its neoliberal mode pervades, penetrating deeper within our political philosophical undertakings.

At this point, Žižek simply reveals the crises of to-day’s theoretical edifice in the inability to include the pervading phenomena of capitalism within the attempt to theorize political and social life. This is where Žižek’s dialectics of tension is provocative at its finest. The Panama papers and our “really existing democracies” demonstrate how an easy compromise (that of liberal democracy with elements of the welfare state coupled with the insistence of normativity) generated through communicative action can be easily transgressed by those who advocate them. However, to arrive at this dialectic of tension is not a monumental dialectical moment of unparalleled passion; but the tension itself is subtle. I would argue in this case that the Žižekian approach to political events is greatly imagined through the subtle forms of “actual” resistance and refusal of taking alternatives. Hence, I see Adam Kotsko’s remarks on this matter as an expression of difficulty, asking why Žižek would engage further in the actual shaming of our political order

Shaming has provided the Cultural Revolution the means for criticizing reactionaries from within the party nomenklatura. The usual imagery of miserable looking individuals slapped and jeered at by the Red Guard is the quintessential moment of ideological maturity among the Chinese masses. However, to Western eyes, a certain moralization occured, the insulted  ones are transubstantiated to martyrdom against the dictatorship and the Red Guards, dimissed as a band of thugs, acting like enlightened men. Can the same manner be said of shaming politicians in our time?


The Filipino context can of course shed light on this matter, given that corruption, feudal land relations, and elitism are often considered as culturally normal among the general mindset of many Filipinos. Descriptions of these phenomena are always traced back to Filipino family ethics that greatly values strong filial relationships. Western ideals do not simply fit like a glove into a society that greatly values the importance of the family, arranged around pre-determined roles of the mother and the father, justified according to the invisible rules of civility among peers. The Kapuwa (other) centered culture (as local sociologists and philosophers alike seem to agree with) has made it possible for detractors of Marxism to easily shrug off class struggle. The Filipino simply values the community through some form of camaraderie and affection, aimed towards everyone regardless of class. Hence, corrupt politicians who were shamed by the media are given a grain of mercy and allowed to speak for himself and even get elected at times. The shaming of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Jejomar Binay would often backfire against the opposition. Furthermore, the left’s rhetoric against big businesses is seen as a threat to the inherent culture of entrepreneurship that built the country’s infrastructure. The untranslatability of the expression utang na loob (often rendered as “debt of gratitude”) symbolizes the resistance of culture towards usual Western rhetoric of debt and payment.

Read this way, the corrupt politician has a role in Filipino society that can be considered invaluable in the maintenance of everyday life. This is precisely the reason why in the caches of documents submitted to the Department of Justice only three of the thousands named are arrested. One has to maintain the image of Filipino democracy, protecting its edifice, against those who might transform it. “Who would rule the country? The Communists!? No!” would perhaps be the answer. Shaming in this case becomes merely a tool to renormalize the status quo by positing a clear internal enemy in the character of certain corrupt individuals, but at the same time act as if democracy is working. When the very edifice of what we hold dear tears at the seams, the desire is not to get rid of it immediately, but to admit that yes the Emperor is naked but he is still the emperor. The same can be said for the need of respecting the democratic and judicial processes of any country. Shaming therefore can be an instrument of pure fetishist disavowal to act as if it works but think otherwise just to maintain the stability of (Filipino) democracy.

Why is the Panama scandal not a big deal for Filipinos? We already live in a system that coddled with corrupt individuals. A Žižekian response would be not to take the rhetoric of shaming nor the renewal of the same Habermasian trope in the fundamental role of democracy, but a refusal and an insistence to remain with a particular cause. In our context, it is to remain within the theoretical edifice of the National Democratic Front’s slogan and problematizing further the role of feudalism, imperialism and bureaucrat capitalism within the frame of a neoliberal global economy that attempts to co-opt both conservative and liberal values as long as one can maintain an attitude of unfettered productivity.

I would agree with Kotsko’s observation but disagree with the final point. Žižek’s legacy and integrity lies precisely at the refusal to revert back to a textbook understanding of Hegelian dialectics in the fusion of contrary views, but to reveal primarily the points of impossibility where a genuine possibility would occur. In such case, the dialectic of tension that Žižek has been theorizing should be understood within the refusal to take obvious alternatives. Perhaps, this is one way of dealing with conditions of impossibilities as conditions of possibility, revealed in the subtlety of tensions within our relationship to the current ideological situation.


Žižek and the Subtlety of Dialectics or Reading the Panama Papers in the Philippines

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