Žižekian Political Pragmatism: On “The Courage of Hopelessness”

The Pressure of the Political

I just finished Slavoj Žižek’s recent work, The Courage of Hopelessness: Chronicles of a Year of Acting Dangerously (2017);  the subtitle of this book reflects his short book on politics published in 2012 as The Year of Dreaming Dangerously, but deviates from the fundamental spirit that informed his 2012 book. While in the 2012 book he dealt on the wave of protests that erupted in response to the financial crisis and the Arab spring protests that deposed well-entrenched Middle-East dictators, his recent  book on politics reflects the cynicism he always had with explosions of collective outbursts. Even in his The Year of Dreaming Dangerously, he expressed his dismay in the disintegration of the Bolivarian revolution to a caudillo administration, contradicting its grassroots base, and the explosion of new fundamentalisms that followed the Arab spring revolts (ISIS in Syria, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the sectarian division in Libya). In The Courage of Hopelessness, Žižek puts this same cynicism for calls for action against the interesting rise of right-wing populists from Donald Trump to Marine Le Pen.

In combating the “Big Bad Wolf” of politics, the liberal-left is entrenched in making compromises with the establishment just to counteract its perceived enemy. This is embodied in the “Clinton compromise”; where Hillary Clinton’s candidacy is perceived as the only option to combat the vile character of Trump and the values he set against the liberal politically correct politics. Žižek saw this dynamic in the public space as the very deadlock of liberal-leftism that allowed for a figure of Trump to emerged. To put this in perspective, the candidacy of Trump is marked by his opportunism of middle-class woes, taking their problems and presenting them an enemy to blame, while at the same time presenting an economic policy that is moderate by Republican standards (nothing of that anarcho-capitalist pipe dream) from lower taxes to decreased government spending. In contrast, the Clinton compromise took the multi-culturalist and identity politics route and presented it side by side with the interests of Wall Street. Both candidates actually do not propose anything new to the political climate, but it was Trump’s clear pandering of common people’s problems that allowed the fundamental antagonisms in American politics to arise.

The defeat of Bernie Sanders indicates the lack of political imagination within the established Democratic Party, cementing its incapability to organize itself at the grassroots level, opting to make moral platitudes about unity in diversity, instead of embracing the fundamental antagonisms that split American society as a whole. The situation Žižek describes is the difficult situation of being pressured by the political. Sanders and Trump claimed to speak for the common people; while Trump utilized the woes of the common people to catapult his political victory and push for the Republican agenda, Sanders’ campaign synthesized multiculturalism and human rights activism and the basic Leftist stance of economic justice. The appeal of the Sanders campaign is precisely that it vocalized what cannot be said in American politics (if Sanders made such statements in the heyday of McCarthyism, he would’ve been called by the congress and made to admit of his association to the Communist Party and accused as a Soviet spy) i.e. the rift between ordinary Americans and the Wall Street elite that caused the economic collapse in 2008. The Clinton consensus took the multicultural struggle and human rights activism and threw the fundamental antagonism that informed it in Sanders’ campaign; the result was a highly PC discourse aimed at demonizing Trump and his supporters, while at the same time conniving with Wall Street elites and Middle Eastern financiers in a horrible rainbow coalition.

The Clinton compromise was an attempt to reduce the political to a set of struggles opposing the vulgarities of the Trump administration while at the same time retain the same economic structure that rendered more power to the financial elite. Its PC discourse attempts to throw the unhealthy baby of the Trump administration as well as the dirty water of political struggles for economic justice, hoping that pristine democracy can be achieved. However, as the 2016 elections showed, the liberal counterattack failed. Žižek does not mince words when he vehemently criticized the liberal establishment for its incapability to draw from the mass base by embodying its woes and placing it within the struggle for economic justice. Instead, the response from the Democratic party is to hope that everything will renormalize and that Trump is part of a democratic cycle that would eventually allow for more tolerant political climate later on. It is precisely this hope for a renormalization that placed the liberal-left in the quagmire incapable of organizing around a popular base.

Confronted with the emergence of right-wing populists using every opportunistic measure to pander on the common man’s woes, Žižek tries to avoid a lot of the political tendencies that abound both in the enclaves of the liberal and the radical left. While the liberal left hoped to find opportunities in the administration to swing the electorate back to the Democratic party, the radical left (or whatever stands for it in the American left-wing movements) is divided among sectarian lines on how to struggle against the enemy. Explosions of counteroffensive violence, clashing against right-wing nationalists and organizing “Love Trumps Hate” demonstrations do not suffice for an effective approach against the Trump administration. Furthermore, leftist positions oscillate between its cynicism with state mechanisms and its interstitial relationship to it when it comes to moral obligations to accept refugees. Mixed with PC discourse and guilt, the liberal left is causing its own demise, putting itself in the cross-hairs of right-wing propaganda. Given this situation, Žižek’s proposal is highly pragmatic, but surely enough to madden PC sensibilities.

Žižekian Pragmatism: Back to Bureaucratic Socialism

Žižek proposed that a sensible solution to the refugee crisis is to construct an effective bureaucracy to screen and accept refugees, rejecting all forms of humanist blackmail. By removing the status of the refugee as the Levinasian face of the other, he breaks down the only fantasy that sustains the liberal-left’s approach to the refugee crisis. While to PC sentiment a strict immigration and acceptance policy reeks of right-wing demagoguery, the proposal is, at best, the most democratic. The liberal-leftist call for “opening of the borders” is an extra-democratic demand that violates the very principle that bind the nation-state as a concept i.e. the right to defend its borders and internal security. Allowing hapless and victimized refugees inside without screening, one should not be surprised to find among them latent jihadists posing as refugees. While not all refugees are closet jihadists, the possibility of one of them being one is dangerous for the refugees as a whole, submitting them to the unbridled anger of ultra-nationalist gangs. The measure of allowing the refugees to pass through a strict screening process allows for security measures to be done early on.

This proposal is modest and pragmatic. It clearly places the duty of processing in the capacity of the EU and the nations where such centers are to be placed. The immediate criticism that such a position will elicit from liberal leftists (and some in the radical left) is its lack of sharing solidarity with the refugees, submitting them to suspicion through strict screening processes. However, I agree with Žižek here; as someone who experienced lining up to get a US visa and staying for half an hour in the immigration lines just because my name is common to both Latinos and Filipinos, screening is a normal process by which someone proves his innocence to a legal body. Allowing an open border policy to refugees is similar to visa free travel with a huge possibility of wrecking havoc on the host country. At its most basic, Žižek demystifies the refugee, while they are victims of the war, they not innocent victims with pure personalities and attitudes.

Žižek’s demystification of refugees and proposals to systematize the process of accepting refugees reflect the political pragmatism at work in his recent political commentary. One of the crucial sections of his recent book is “A Plea for Bureaucratic Socialism”, what he does is to dispel another leftist mythic alternative to global capitalism i.e. localized politics governed by federal councils instead of a centralized state system. Such position is founded on a fundamental anarchist fantasy: since global capitalism has made nation-states subservient to its cause, an efficient way to combat it would be to abolish the nation-state bureaucracy and give power to a local council to oversee the affairs of different regions. What such position try to do is to transpose the revolutionary role of the multitude to a governing body, hoping that it won’t disintegrate and form another elite body of administrators. Such position reflects its incapability to build from popular political movements to the morning after of political administration. Žižek perceived the left as incapable of dealing with administration, but, at the same time, the moment that it can administer presents a decisive blow to liberal cynicism.

Žižek, in his recent book, echoes a pragmatic approach to political administration. The left is divided within sectarian lines when it comes to the question of the party and the state. While Žižek is critical of vanguardism, one should situate his criticism on vanguardism being merely vanguardist i.e. to simply gather and organize without the goal of administering to those it tries to represent. Žižek challenges all leftists to take the question of administration as part and parcel of the struggle. For all leftists, being drunk on revolutionary fervor leads us to confront the hangover the morning after; the problem with recent left-wing attempts at government is that it thought it can have its cake of leftist administration and eat it with capitalism, only to find themselves being punished by the market. Confronted with the real of the market and its expansive logic of exploitation, the challenge is how should a leftist confront the capitalist real without risking the return towards the old ways within the new.

Ascribing the term “pragmatism” to Žižek’s politics will reek of political and parliamentary reformism, however, it should be clear that for him, the measure of a revolution’s success is not to simply organize the mass base, but to effectively administer to the mass base, changing the coordinates of everyday habits that people do after the revolutionary event has dissipated. The Bolsheviks were aware of this after their victory in the Civil War, knowing well that allowing the proletariat and the farmers to go back to their old ways before the revolution would destroy all the work done before and during the revolution. Lenin expressed this when he wrote in 1918 that the one of the immediate tasks of the Soviet government is to promote open debate in meetings as well as discipline among the ranks of the proletariat and the party. Trotsky reflected on post-revolutionary culture in his article on cinema, vodka, and the church, demanding that in a proletarian state, the cinema presents a higher level of educational culture to replace the cheap entertainment provided by religion and alcohol. Lenin’s pragmatism and Trotsky’s left-wing puritanism resonate the attempt to revolutionize society sponsored by the Soviet government by introducing disciplinary measures and government sponsored forms of amusement (like state-owned theaters). Small measures like this as well as the New Economic Policy (NEP) renewed the Soviet economy after World War I. To Lenin, the NEP was a slow, but necessary, step for the betterment of the Soviet Union.

The modest proposition that the left should be the embodiment of discipline and restraint in contrast to the vulgarity of right-wing nationalist is a strong one and would most likely be rejected by those who see the left as the political spectrum of unbridled freedoms. However, the liberal establishment has already coopted the idea of individual hedonism, with millionaires from Silvio Berlusconi and his orgies and the baller lifestyle of the founders of Uber, making headlines. In such a case, the idea that individual hedonism is set against fascist obsession for order totally misses the point. While the left should fight for individual rights (gender equality and economic justice), such struggles are part and parcel of the leftist administration of the state. Currently, the postmodern left is afraid of the state, content with interstitial distance, hoping the status quo can be coaxed to answer the needs of the majority. However, the Clinton compromise shows us that this is impossible and downright counterproductive.

The ideas of “democratic centralism” and discipline within the party needs to be resuscitated.  Such concepts are widely accepted by the national democratic front. Perhaps, the West has a lot to learn from the party discipline of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

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Žižekian Political Pragmatism: On “The Courage of Hopelessness”

Notes on Section 210 of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit

Reading through Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit (just to understand Zizek’s “The Most Sublime Hysteric”) and the section on Unhappy Consciousness, I come across this interesting passage that appears problematic
 
From the A.V Miller Translation of Sec. 210
 
“Thus there exist for consciousness three different ways in which individuality is linked with the Unchangeable. Firstly, it again appears to itself as opposed to unchangeable, and is thrown back to the beginning of the struggle which is throughout the element in which the whole relationship subsists. Secondly, consciousness learns that individuality belongs to the unchangeable itself, so that it assumes the form of individuality into which the entire mode of existence passes. Thirdly, it finds its own self as this particular individual in the unchangeable. The first unchangeable it knows only as the alien being who passes judgement on the particular individual; since, secondly the unchangeable is a form of individuality like itself, consciousness becomes, thirdly, spirit, and experiences the joy of finding itself therein and becomes aware of the reconciliation of its individuality with the universal.”
 
Compare that to the Baillie translation
 
“This unity becomes a fact to it, but in the first instance the unity is one in which the diversity of both factors is still the dominant feature. Owing to this, consciousness has before it the threefold way in which particularity is connected with unchangeableness. In one form it comes before itself as opposed to the unchangeable essence, and is thrown back to the beginning of that struggle, which is, from first to last, the principle constituting the entire situation. At another time it finds the unchangeable appearing in the form of particularity; so that the latter is an embodiment of unchangeableness, into which, in consequence, the entire form of existence passes. In the third case, it discovers itself to be this particular fact in the unchangeable. The first unchangeable is taken to be merely the alien, external Being, which passes sentence on particular existence; since the second unchangeable is a form or mode of particularity like itself, it, i.e. the consciousness, becomes in the third place spirit (Geist), has the joy of finding itself therein, and becomes aware within itself that its particularity has been reconciled with the universals.”
 
I will not try to reconcile the two nor recommend a translation, but both seem to point a difficult passage where Hegel uses Einzelheit (particular). Both have two corresponding consequences.
In Miller’s translation, the use of the word individuality, instead of particular, means that individual consciousness will eventually find itself back to the universal after a perilous journey of its own alienation, going back to its own substantial point of emergence. Here, Hegel seems to be pointing at a narrative of the self, going back to itself, reflecting Augustine’s Noli folas ire, in te ipsum redi, in interiore homine, habitat veritas. The impression given here is that the path of consciousness is that of a constant externalization of itself and back again to itself as an individual consciousness reconciled with a universal substance.
 
Baillie’s translation has wide ranging ontological consequences, it introduces a consciousness that is not singular, but particular. Although the translation merely points to a usual classical metaphysical distinction akin to Thomism wherein particulars always reflect the universal or is reconciled with it when the accidents are suspended in the mind, the translation points towards a struggle that is difficult to see in the Miller translation (where individuality and universality reads like an adventure of consciousness back to its own): when the particular is seen as an alien being (das andere, i.e. as an external Other, an obstacle in the Lacanian sense) in the second sense, the reconciliation of the particular with the universal points towards a struggle inherent to the particular-universal relationship. Here, unhappy consciousness implies a struggle with an alien being that can only be experience in its particularity.
What then is the difference between individual and particular in both cases? It seemed to point at the same thing, but the use of individual over particular and vice versa has consequences to any understanding of Hegel and consciousness. The passage quoted above runs after his reflections on Stoicism and Skepticism, both schools have two different ways of seeing thinking and consciousness and its relation to the world. It would seem that Hegel wanted to reconcile stoicism and skepticism and the synthesis is the absolute knowing. However, we are presented with the Unhappy Consciousness (unglückliche Bewußtsein), an “indwardly disrupted consciousness” and “It is itself the gazing of one self-consciousness into another, and itself is both, and the unity of both is also its own essence; but objectively and consciously it is not yet this essence itself — is not yet the unity of both.” Negativity is at the core of the unhappy consciousness, a contradiction that it confronts in the universal.
I think this is an invitation to study further the concept of negativity later on in the Science of Logic. To dispel the idea of a substantial return to itself, the core of the negative core of the dialectic has to be handled and not merely mystified.    
Notes on Section 210 of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit

Against Spirituality

The Specter of Psychology and its Theological Vicissitudes

From someone who has spent an entire college education in a Catholic seminary, following the Augustinian tradition, one of the most repeated words is that of being able to live a spiritual life. It means a life of prayer, contemplation and to construct a spirituality based on a reflection of God’s plan to oneself. We could define spirituality as a form of devotion and discipline, aimed at making any person live a fruitful and faithful life in grace. However, what I find rather difficult in spirituality is how susceptible it is to naively engage with popular fads in psychology, while at the same time condemn the greed of to-day’s technological society. Outside of Christianity, spirituality is sought after as a discipline and a technique of meditation, seen as a counteraction against to-day’s demands and busy lifestyle. It is more popularly associated with new age theosophy and the burgeoning popularity of guided meditative techniques, yoga, oriental medicine, and so on. There is a great market among young people for a less ritualistic and less theologically dogmatic religion that gives the same spiritual benefits. Its current usage is usually tied with a rejection of religious dogmatism and an acceptance of its metaphysical elements that promise a balanced life away from the stress of to-day’s society.

In a Christian (and I can say Catholic) sense, spirituality can be seen as a response to to-day’s fads, given that the words has only seen popular use among Christian of the present generation. At this point, it is necessary to introduce the dichotomy between spirituality and religion and that Christian spirituality must be seen as a response to that growing trend as part of the failure to realize its own ideals and succumb to the ethos presented by popular psychological fads. Let us look into how Christian spirituality is defined apropos of spirituality in general

Spirituality gets traced back to the letters of Paul in which he uses the word pneuma to signal a life in alignment with God’s spirit. Christian spirituality presumes through God’s grace, a human desire and capacity for growing in union with the triune God.[1]

One can immediately see how new age cosmology is at play like how being one with the harmony of the cosmos is replaced with the “growing in union with the triune God.” The only fundamental difference is that while new age spirituality emphasizes the individual effort of a person to attain union with nature, Christian spirituality is an emphasis on one’s alignment with grace. In one of the most divisive debates in Christianity (as divisive as Arianism) i.e. between the Pelagians and the supporters of Augustine, grace, sin, and the nature of free-will were highly contested; the pelagians had a the most optimistic psychology, emphasizing the effort of a believer to attain salvation by himself, making them one of the most ascetic groups during the 5th century, gaining the admiration of a lot of observers including Augustine himself. Hence, even with one of the most optimistic psychology, the effect was of a strict spiritual discipline; Augustinianism on the other hand has a totally pessimistic psychology to the point of being misanthropic. In order to reject the Manichaean dualistic ontology, Augustine emphasized that beings (and subsequently human beings) are created with a fundamental lack in their being, a privation boni as an inevitable consequence of creation. Humanity has a lack that made it possible for him to seek God or choose evil; embodied and capable of liberum arbitrium (translates literally to “freedom to choose” or “free choice of the will” instead of free-will). The post-lapsus made man a being fully identified in the crossroads of good and evil eternally condemned to free difficult choices unless he lives under grace. Here is where Augustine fully employs the dichotomy between libertas (freedom) and liberum arbitrium (free choice of the will) as the pinnacle of human life where freedom is gained through the self-abandonment of free will to the good. Through its surrender to grace, man accepts the incapability to save himself because of the lack it inherently has.[2] Anti-pelagianism entailed a fatalistic psychology, grounded on the importance of the fall and the transfer of Adam’s sin to all men who although individually created by God is inevitably born in the world of sin. This debate is so divisive that although both Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches condemn pelagian teachings only Catholic theology went far with Augustine’s theology of grace and fully integrating it into the doctrinal body of the church (Orthodox Christians do not believe in original sin and have a doctrine of grace radically different from Augustine). The psychological consequence of Augustine’s theology of graced in Catholic and Protestant theology is the fundamental role of inherent guilt and sinfulness of man in the face of God, requiring total surrender to grace. From the downright pessimistic psychology of Augustine emerged his spirituality based on eternally internal turths, expressed in a famous quotation from De Libero Arbitrio: Noli foras ire, in te redi in interiore homine habitat veritas (do not go out, truth lies on the interior man).

Truth lies internally when we search for it from within our heart and discover that it is the one that connects us with God. With Augustine, we see something that resembled a spirituality in the modern sense of the term, but we nonetheless have a picture of two strands of spirituality that present itself to all religious seekers: one, the new age spirituality currently trending on the market; second, Christian spirituality based on the union with God and the attainment of proper spiritual discipline for the salvation of souls. Both options are seen as disciplines, emphasizing prayer life and constant meditation to aid the person in making wise decisions in life as well as being faithful to the a certain set of values. The unsettling fact with both new age spirituality and a Christian response is that both new ageism and Christianity agree on the goal of spirituality as a union with God or the cosmos. I claim—on the accusation of being presumptuous—that Christianity and Judaism are two religions of the book that does not engage with spirituality or does not contain a spiritual tradition or has gone against the attempt of making a spiritual practice out of its religious beliefs.

 

Job: the Proto-Critique of Ideology

Current theoretical works have seen a ray of light in the Book of Job and its uncomfortable place within the body of work of the late Hebraic prophets of the Old Testament. The interesting point raised by contemporary theorists (of whom Slavoj Žižek is included in countless citations) is how the narrative of Job is radically different from other stories of the Old Testament. Instead of the picture of Job as a patient sufferer open to the might of God, the Job we read is that of a cynic who refused all attempts to interpret his predicament to a religio-spiritual values. The discourses of the three friends can be described as a defense of Yahweh’s omnipotence, justice, and wisdom, three pillars upon which Jewish theology is grounded and form the standard stereotype of Hebraic imagination as a having an angry God. In all of these discourses, Job can be read as retorting strongly against their suggestions, giving absurd reasons and violent replies; for example in a reply to Zophar, Job said

Anyone becomes a laughing-stock to his friends if he cries to God and expects an answer. People laugh at anyone who has integrity and is upright. Add insult to injury,’ think the prosperous, ‘strike the fellow now that he is staggering! And yet the tents of brigands are left in peace: those who provoke God dwell secure and so does anyone who makes a god of his fist! (Job 12: 4-6 NJB).

One can imagine this simply as a rant of desperation and utter madness; however, instead of accepting Job’s faith as an exemplar of the faithful (as can be seen later in the gospels where Jesus would make countless statements about exemplary men and women), Yahweh instead enters into a show of force akin to anyone who only wants to make a show, while at the same time unconfident about oneself. What is different in the Book of Job aside from Yahweh’s exhibitionism and Job’s cynicism is the role of the devil at the beginning of the book. Unlike the usual portrayal of Satan as the horned one, tempting Jesus or Eve with wisdom, food and all the fine pleasures of life, the devil in the Book of Job acts as the jester. Here the full conversation deserves full quotation.

One day when the sons of God came to attend on Yahweh, among them came Satan. So Yahweh said to Satan, ‘Where have you been?’ ‘Prowling about on earth,’ he answered, ‘roaming around there.’ So Yahweh asked him, ‘Did you pay any attention to my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth: a sound and honest man who fears God and shuns evil.’ ‘Yes,’ Satan said, ‘but Job is not God-fearing for nothing, is he? Have you not put a wall round him and his house and all his domain? You have blessed all he undertakes, and his flocks throng the countryside. But stretch out your hand and lay a finger on his possessions: then, I warrant you, he will curse you to your face.  ‘Very well,’ Yahweh said to Satan, ‘all he has is in your power. But keep your hands off his person.’ So Satan left the presence of Yahweh. (Job 1: 6-12 NJB)

Instead of a person being tempted, it was Yahweh who was tempted. The whole scenario looked like a royal court where the jester would make absurd observations that would give him a lot of ridicule from the court but sets the plot progression of the whole story. Take for example three of Akira Kurosawa’s samurai movies notably Kagemusha (1980), Ran (1985), and Seven Samurai (1954), in all three films, the fool knows more than the other characters the absurdity of any pre-determined set of values that most of the characters have. For example, Kikuchyo, from Seven Samurai, acted more like a samurai than the samurais themselves (who for the most part are ronin, masterless samurai), going on suicidal missions and at one part of the film rouse the villagers when defeat was almost certain. Kyoami acts as the stereotypical jester in Ran (since the film is an indirect adaptation of King Lear), making absurd comments about Lord Ichimonji’s attempts at wise administration of his feudal domain (like giving his sons de facto rule over the castles) blind at his own ruthless seizure of power. The role of the jester coincides with the Lacanian lesion of the big Other’s ignorance, provoking through sarcastic remarks the leader’s body, making him show his nakedness to everyone.

In the case of the devil in the Book of Job, his temptation of Yahweh is a word of provocation, arguing with him about Job’s faith; perhaps, the devil knows that Job would nonetheless keep his faith even with everything taken away from him. The discourse between Yahweh and the devil is not about Job as such, but about Yahweh’s relation to Job. In the end, the result is one of the strangest exchanges between Yahweh and anyone. While everyone from the previous books of the Old Testament saw Yahweh in his absolute omnipotence and wisdom (e.g. the wrestling match with Jacob, the burning bush, the discourse between Yahweh and Moses in Mount Sinai, the discourses on the Books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy and so on); the dialogue between Yahweh and Job is different. Here, we see God not as the wise figure that Freud would later on label as the figurehead of the primal father, but here he sounds like a nagger, telling Job about how he is absent when everything was created. In the face of Job, God acts like the Filipino politician who had to print his names on every corner and every government project just to announce that he is working and that the trust and faith of his constituents is not put into waste.[3] By nagging at Job, Yahweh is fully shown in his impotence; but to save the big Other’s ignorance, Job replies to Yahweh:

I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be hindered. I have dealt with things that I do not understand things too wonderful for me which I cannot know. I had heard of you by word of mouth but now my eye has seen you. Therefore, I disown what I said and repent in dust and ashes. (Job 42: 2-6 NAB)

The end of the book does not describe what happened to Job after this event only that he was reinstated to his former position of wealth and influence. However, it is certain that Job did not ascend to some higher form of spiritual understanding or an attainment of greater wisdom. Rather, Job’s final answer to Yahweh cannot be a final affirmation of God’s omnipotence, but simply Job affirming that between him and God is an irreconcilable distance. Here Slavoj Žižek reads the relation between Job and Yahweh as that of the knowledge of the big Other’s non-existence and that his show of force to Job shows his impotence to the faithful Job. Apropos of Chesterton’s comment from Orthodoxy, God in his monologue appears as an atheist, since he himself does not believe in himself and requires the hapless other to recognize his own power. Job’s answer to God should be read as a fetishistic disavowal, an “I know precisely well but…” It is not Job who is engaging a proto-critique of ideology, it is the text that engages in a critique of (spiritual) ideology, showing the vanity of wisdom and spirituality and at the same time that vulgar denial is insufficient in giving an alternative.

In to-day’s discussion, one always finds the sporadic comments about religious devotees and how Filipino religious devotions have laudable devotions to certain religious traditions, but lacked the capacity to transform them into a spirituality that would give them the proper way of life. Sociologists debate about the characteristic of Filipino devotees and are often stuck with dichotomies or a syncretism between Christian baptism and a repressed paganism. One should here take the fetishistic disavowal to its theoretical limit; consider the common Tagalog truism Nasa Diyos ang awa, nasa tao ang gawa (in God there is mercy, in man there is action), the believer has the unwavering belief in God’s capacity for mercy, but it is supplemented by man’s action. In relation, consider the Jesuit axiom of believing that your success is independent of God…but nonetheless work as if everything depends on God.[4] At this point, spirituality as seen as a body of spiritual and faith based disciplines is rendered irrelevant.

 

The Commune of God is with you, and with thy Spirit!

The conflict between naïve universality (i.e. when everything is united in one consiciousness) which forms around the concept of Nirvana—the liberation from suffering—and the Christian universality—that of inherent conflict, a universality of struggle with the commune of believers—is best demonstrated in the final two episodes of Neon Genesis Evangelion, forming the film version The End of Evangelion (1997). In the famous final sequences of the film when Third Impact was initiated by the mysterious organization SEELE (comparable to the Illuminati), as starting point of the “Human Instrumentality Project” ( a sci-fi expression for Nirvana and the universalization of human consciousness into one), Shinki Ikari, the series main protagonist who is undoubtedly an Oedipal subject deprived by the father, was given a choice by Rei Ayanami (who by that time was completely united with Adam and Lilith) either to end everything and reduce annihilate everything to end all the pain of existence or endure the pain through a rejection of instrumentality. One has to remember that the intention of instrumentality was to artificially generate mankind’s final evolutionary moment through the unification of everyone within a single being; to achieve that a sacrificial lamb must be slain in the “ego of Eva-01,” Shinji’s evangelion unit. With Rei/Adam/Lilith, only through Shinji’s decision can instrumentality be successful. He chose to endure the pain of consciousness, after a long dialogue between him and Rei, recounting every painful and pleasurable memory; his refusal of instrumentality forms around the dialogue where he is fully immersed in instrumentality (Shinji and Rei floating around the primordial soup), given a choice either to accept it and experience the suffering of consciousness.

Shinji: I don’t know where to find happiness.

Rei: So, you only find happiness in your dreams.

S: Then, this is not reality, this world where no one exists.

R: No, it’s only a dream.

S: Then, I don’t exist here either.

R: This convenient fabrication is your attempt to change reality.

S: is that wrong?

R: You were using fantasy to escape reality.

S: why can’t I dream that I’m alone?

R: That is not a dream. That’s a substitute for reality.

S: But where is my reality?

R: It is at the end of your dream.[5]

When Shinji makes his final decision to endure everything, he was given assurance that everyone would eventually return to their former selves as long as their consciousness is capable of reclaiming themselves. Instrumentality was denied and the film ends with Shinki choking Asuka Langley, with no explanations as to why.

What was denied is instrumentality is a naïve version of universality that everything in the end will unite in a single consciousness, ending all suffering and reach the apex of human evolution. This goal is where occidental and oriental cosmologies converge; both Gnosticism and Buddhism aim at the unification of humanity within the one (which provoked Elaine Pagels to conclude that Gnosticism and Buddhism shared a common ground and even influenced a few gnostic groups). Shinji’s “no” can be seen as a refusal to end the pain; the psychoanalytical lesson here is that Shinji tries go beyond the pleasure principle, fully accepting pain as part of any pleasure seeking activity. In the end, everything does not return to normal and the Earth is reduced in a sea of LCL (the primordial soup), with Rei/Adam/Lilith gigantic body in ruins overwhelming the background. We can describe him as occupying the same place as Job by the end of the Book of Job. Both Job and Shinji witnessed the big Other in its purity—to the point of being too close to it. However, Shinji and Job diverge when it comes to reacting to the show omnipotence. While Job distanced himself from the belief in the other, fetishistically disavowing it and is rewarded for keeping the image, Shinji makes a radical choice by refusing to believe in the other. He fully realizes the non-existence of the big Other and that what we have on Earth is the hopes and dreams of everybody the capacity to realize them despite the enduring the pain of desire. The film engages in a critique of spirituality by showing Shinji’s obstinate attitude towards his superiors, refusing to pilot Eva-01, denying his part in a bigger plan for humanity. Furthermore, through such obstinate attitude, he was able to avert SEELE’s plan to initiate instrumentality. It was this group through their obsession to force the evolution of man through a spiritual sublimation through the unification of all beings into one that we get into the gist of the film’s criticism of spirituality.

There is a small boundary between the burgeoning popularity of exotic spiritual practices and the interests of big businesses. William Davies points out how at a 2014 meeting of the World Economic Forum, aside from the usual attendees (billionaires, bankers, corporation big shots etc.) a Buddhist monk was one of the guests, offering meditative and relaxation techniques. Furthermore, the forum was filled with discussions on mindfulness, where twenty five sessions were about mindfulness and holistic wellness.[6] The big business interest in various spiritual traditions made a large demand for oriental gurus and certified yoga instructors. The appeal of oriental spirituality and syncretic versions of Christianity can be related to the demand by big business companies to have a dynamic workplace ethic. It is necessary to point out that both Christian and Oriental “spiritualties” are two sides of the same coin, providing an individualist trickle down spirituality—improve oneself through this and that and everything follows—; its egotistical element is retained and a banal cosmo-theology in place.

I propose no alternative here and I will not attempt to come up with a “materialist spirituality” to supplement a dialectical materialist theory. With a rejection of spirituality, I am emphasizing the communal aspect that bound Christians in its early days. What they have is not a system of spirituality, but a theology of militant anticipation of the parousia. When Paul tells the church at Ephesus to put on the armor of God, loins girded in truth, the breastplate of righteousness and so on[7], Paul is not telling the Christians at Ephesus that they can already have a cake and eat it; rather, the recourse to martial metaphors is Paul’s reminder that the faith entails a struggle far more difficulty that philosophical and religious ones. Without being nostalgic, to-day’s religious atmosphere has the wonderment at what lies beyond knowledge and the seeming inherent unity of all things. However, one must maintain that the very failure to understand what is out there is inherent in the object being grasped. The Lacanian lesson of the Book of Job and Neon Genesis Evangelion is that when we are face to face with the traumatic real of what is in front of us, realizing how it is void of all value, we either keep appearances and go on or create another reality outside of what has been fetishized. When Christianity only had an appeal with slaves, women, the illiterate and others who are marginalized by the (multi-cultural avant la lettre) Empire, it never kept appearances; instead, their writings were preoccupied with an anticipation of the end, the apocalypse of Imperial domination. The legacy left by the Early Christians is that they left a memory of militancy and communal living. In our neoliberal age, when communal living means exercising identity politics, perhaps, only the religious militant gesture (without being fundamentalist) can provide a proper theoretical stance against to-day’s ideological struggles.

 

[1] Colleen M. Griffith, “Catholic Spirituality in Practice,” C21 Resources (Spring 2009): 1.

[2] Augustine’s debates with Pelagianism spans over a great number of his major writings, sermons, and letters; to start, De Libero Arbitrio (On the Free Choice of the Will), De Natura et Gratia (On Nature and Grace), etc. for a comprehensive source see Anti-Pelagian Writings, ed Philipp Schaff (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Ethreal Library, 1886)

[3] However, there are cases when politicians have to blame government bureaucracy to escape the blame from their constituents. For example, in one of the cities of Metro Manila, numerous word works, causing heavy traffic, bore the signs “DPWH [Department of Public Works and Highways] project NOT the City of _____ so that public blame would fall on the bureaucracy of the DPWH and not the City officials who are elected.

[4] Slavoj Zizek, On Belief (London: Routledge, 2002) p. 125.

[5] I am quoting from the English subtitles of the Japanese original.

[6] William Davies, The Happiness Industry: How Government and Big Business Sold us Well Being (London: Verso, 2015), pp. 1-3.

[7] Cf. Eph 6: 13-17.

Against Spirituality

Where do we Stand? Responding to Slavoj Zizek’s Remarks on the Failure of the Left

 

From the rise to power of right-wing groups in Europe, the defeat and co-opting of Bernie Sanders in the status quo of the Democratic party and the rising tensions in the West Philippine Sea, such current events will push anyone to ask “where were the leftist movements that passionately fought for everything?” or “why the left continues to fail at its struggles only for far more worse events to take place?”, Slavoj Zizek’s comments on the failure of the left should not be taken as a reactionary jab at current left-wing struggles, but a clear and present practice of criticism and self-criticism. With such a wide ranging movement that the term “left” means, one gets lost in the quagmire of different opinions that contain either a dialectical or un-dialectical understanding of our current situation. The fall of the Soviet Union along with the dissolution of other communist states goaded some leftists the opportunity to re-write and re-consider some of the old ideological stances and replace them with more inclusive theories and affirm the necessity of remaining within the logic of liberal democracy.

Capitalism, in the understanding of a grand system of labor relations and private ownership controlling the flow of commodities and raw materials, is no longer the theoretical bogeyman; the words US Imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucrat capitalism are discredited as merely slogans of a passé passionate politics that have to give way to “rational” liberal democracy. Leftist theory (from the agonistics of Chantal Mouffe to discourse theory of the postmodern and post-colonial left) is less preoccupied with alternatives but with reforming the democratic system to become more “deliberative”, rational and open. The struggles of old make way for cooperation within the cozy offices of the Parliament building and organization of various civil sectors relegated to valid party-list groups or non-government organizations that would function outside of the state system or even function as a gap-filler to what the state lacked. Such a move is justified as a way to integrate the excluded ones into a supposedly more inclusive democracy. To allow such to happen is it not necessary to reject the cliché in the guise of the communists, the last remnants of a bygone era? What is to be affirmed and held with rigor is the multiplicities of reason, various narratives that unfold simultaneously to each other and functioning within a currently established liberal democracy. The enemy in this case is vague; to the post-colonialist, it is Western hegemony; to the identity politician, it is the hegemonic discourse that prevents peoples to exercise their chosen identities (be it Patriarchy or the dominant scientific rationality). It is enough to say that in the dominant reason there is a singularization and an enforcement of certain cultural norms, repressing the uniqueness of one’s own reason. There is no class conflict here, just the struggle against the dominant and the imperative to openness and dialogue, acting as a medicine to our monologue society.

What is wrong with this theory is precisely its mystification of multiplicities; this way we lose sight of what really causes the global phenomena of exploitation under global capitalism. While the proposed alternative is to return to our post-colonial ethos and relation to the earth (recall how our liberal academicians would love to cite Heidegger), seeing ourselves within an immense universe in the great chain of being with a proper place on earth; it fails to see itself within the ideological coordinates of global capitalism. Its attachment to the system of liberal democracy only serves to demonstrate that our current (supposed) left-wing academic theory “wants to have a cake and eat it,” without realizing that any attempt at radically changing our current predicament requires a lot of risks, examination of current conditions, and the courage to organize and resist, while at the same time rejecting obvious alternatives. While conscious of past mistakes, a communist knows that the struggle requires a constant experience of failure and failing better until a successful alternative is achieved. Our current liberal intelligentsia sees the search for an alternative as a futile attempt at achieving a desired utopian end, settling for the vicious circle of democracy’s oscillation. It is evident that with the almost unfettered rise of the right-wing quasi fascist movements, we can no longer rely on the democratic system to decide the fate of nation-states. From a more theoretical level, we can no longer systematically accept the postmodern discourse, rejecting a singular unfolding of narrative. Rather, our singular narrative is contained in the universal struggle of the exploited from the exploiter; at the end of this struggle is the toppling of the very system that allows poverty and exploitation to occur. Global capitalism thrives in multi-culturalism and nationalism, seeing that the attempt to de-colonize our culture keeps the intelligentsia in check i.e. to remain in the universities, exchanging witty philosophical remarks, barking at each other over who can make a more rigorous noise, while pandering on radicals, seen as nostalgically attached to the passé ideologies of old. That is one of the risks being an avowed Marxist-Leninist in the university. When forming the party is seen as militantism and a theory based on class struggle as un-dialogical, closed to the myriads of options out there. Perhaps, being closed and loyal to the convictions of the cause is better than engaging in speechifying sophistry of academically accepted ways of theoretical resistance.

What is basically wrong with the left? It has transformed itself mainly as a university discourse, producing variations on any allowed theme but as long as it remains within the production of essays and commentaries. For that reason, even among bourgeois students of philosophy Karl Marx is admired only by the scope of his research and the applicability of his thought in various research endeavors. However, if we move outside of the production of essays to the actual work of doing theory (i.e. not merely as writing an essay but the actual analysis of material conditions within the exploitative nature of capitalism) in light of informing current revolutionary movements, they are ready to cast it aside as a futile political project. If they (and ourselves included if need be) remain within the confines of their academism, perhaps Zizek is right to reprimand us of our complacency.

Where do we Stand? Responding to Slavoj Zizek’s Remarks on the Failure of the Left

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

Reflections on the Anomaly of Christ: Good Friday

There are two details I want to emphasize; first when Jesus was asking the father why he has to undergo pain, the father did not answer him. Second, when Jesus publicly asked why he was forsaken, the father did not answer him and the people mistook it for Elijah. These two accounts set us on the silence of God and how God properly speaking is not a hermeneutical principle. By hermeneutic principle, we refer here to a foundational zero point upon which we begin interpretation (and by prejudice we mean in the sense that Gadamer used it). To see God as a hermeneutic principle means to fit God within the metanarrative. Suffering becomes a God-given test and salvation a narrative already determined by God. The silence of the father in the two scenes mentioned above goad is to think outside of a theological meta-narrative. At the sight of silence, what shall we be? What remains of us at the threshold of the real?

Here we can fully understand Nietzsche’s proclamation of the death of God. When Jesus died, God died but what died there is the hermeneutic God, the God of the meta-narrative. Before Christ, the Jews have to be put in line by strict laws, concerning every aspect of social life from diet to what is to be defined as work during the Sabbath. If one reads the Jewish tables of law, one is placed in a Kafkaesque universe in which at every point there is room for sin and no way out of the bureaucratic mess; salvation for that matter is a no easy task since the complex rites and the complex laws demand everything from the standard Jew. The death of Jesus transgresses all of that and creates a new universalism beyond the comprehension of the normal Jew. The criticism of the apartheid of his day (Jew and Gentile, sinner and pious, etc) took its final and perfect expression in the crucifixion. By dying, Christ violates the Jewish ideology of God as immortal law-giver and leader of hosts. What he did was an expression of solidarity to those who were left out by the empire and the Jewish religion (widows, the disabled, the lepers and the rejects). His death—an expression of love, a universal love expressed in the Pauline texts—is the highest expression of rebellion i.e. of taking into oneself the responsibility of first violating the present order as an genuine entry into a politics of liberation. For that reason, are the Good Friday penitents in Bulacan and Pampanga who engage in violent self-flagellation and crucifixion the ones who express their criticism of the liberal imperative to enjoy? By flagellating themselves are they not engaging in a Zizekian critique of ideology and hence labelled by Liberal and Catholic authorities as deviants and fanatics? The interesting part here is that these peoples have no illusions about suffering. They see it as an inherent part of their predicament that will exist even inside and outside of the pleasure and pain dichotomy. As Christ suffered so should we by inflicting to ourselves the wounds of Christ.

The refusal to give in to the idea of an easily explainable principle of everything is the truth of the crucifixion. By suffering Christ disappoints us, we should feel like the Jews since what came for them was not a king in a steed but a man who is about to die. The death of Christ is the beginning of a process, an act that will be carried out until Easter. The death of God is not the end but the beginning; but this beginning already ends our illusions about the divine. We are in front of an incomprehensible scene, silent at the encounter with the traumatic scene, disturbing our preconceived notions of liberations. To-day, as Christ resided in the tomb, the apostles are thinking and so are we. What are we going to do? What remains of my ideas of God and now he’s dead. We killed God! Nietzsche simply reminded us of the same act of calling for Christ’s crucifixion. Crucify him! We shouted it and we killed him; but what we killed is the idol, the “God” that fits within a comfortable space in my fantasies. To be able to experience the full effect of Easter and the real core of Christianity is to experience the emptiness of death. Truly, to-day God is dead.

Reflections on the Anomaly of Christ: Good Friday

EDSA as a Non/Pseudo-Event: a Disavowal

From 1986 to 2015, the EDSA revolution has been hailed by the foreign and local intelligentsia as the peaceful resistance par excellence, an achievement of religious and supposedly post-ideological praxis. As a mass movement, it was not started by the left but the church and bolstered the political power of the hero’s widow by the sound of cheering crowds with rosaries instead of banner, novenas instead of Maoist quotations. It seems at that point, credibility belongs to the post-ideological claim of ordinary people combating tyranny instead of joining the wide leftist movements. Today at its 29th year, EDSA stands as the concentration of power by the Aquino family, a dynasty that has not bought change despite the clarion calls that put it into power. This essay attempts precisely to go down to the very source of the dominance of the Aquino ideology in its most sickening manifestation in Kenneth Masong’s essay “The Evental Subject: the Concept of the Human Person in Alain Badiou’s Event Metaphysics.” His essay argues that the placement of Cory Aquino as president follows the same process as the Badiouan evental subject and for that matter she is an exemplary figure ensuing radical social change (on par with St. Paul) (Masong, 18). Clearly what occurred in 1986 is not an event but a pseudo-event and already constitutes fidelity for the false event. What is at work is not a revolutionary praxis but simply a strong reactionary force that ended up with a dehumanization of the Marcos era and ends with the legitimization of the Aquino hegemony in the 1986 Mendiola Massacre and the 1989 coup attempt.

The aim here is to disavow the truth which in the first place was never true at all but a mirage of the truth processes involved in the historical process.

Disavowal: the Ontology of Pseudo-event

            In Paul Ricoeur’s Lectures on Ideology and Utopia, ideology’s role is both legitimizing and distortive, following the two-fold definitions from Karl Marx and Jurgen Habermas. But what Ricoeur adds is the necessary gap between two elements in ideology i.e. between the giver of the ideology and the given (the object) of ideology (Ricoeur 1986, 183). In order to legitimize the present order, ideology attempts to fill the gap by presenting its own utopian vision towards the recipient of the ideological discourse. In this description, the truth of ideology and its constitutive elements start in the beginning and solidify itself onwards. The effect is that ideology becomes deeply entrenched in the social sphere that it loses its ideological character. Only then does utopia become a crucial instrument that questions the present political order.

Along this process, ideology presents its narrative, possessing the narrative symbols that construct its own coordinative horizon and all further discourses written during and after the legitimizing process occurs within the horizon of the present ideology discourse ad even the attempt at the criticism of the present state of affairs is a legitimization of the present ideological order. In this way, we can understand Slavoj Zizek’s statement that even the attempt to escape ideology, we are still within ideology (cf. Pervert’s Guide to Ideology). Ricoeur’s optimism lies precisely on his conception of utopia that aims to provoke thinking, leading to a critical turn against the distortion of ideology. Such works as Gulliver’s Travels, 1984 and Clockwork Orange are points that present itself to thinking and aims to disrupt the present ideology order. However, the problem in this description lies at the point in which Ricoeur viewed ideology. By being a legitimating tool, ideology is directly imposed on the social sphere at the same time the process is maintained that legitimization is the sole instrument by which any political figure legitimizes itself and maintains power. What he missed is the factor of enjoyment in being within the gaze of ideological discourse.

The Ricoeurian definition is the notion of ideology that presents itself as itself with no simulations since to contain simulations directly violates its purpose as a tool for legitimacy. What is interesting at this stage is that ideology in presenting itself directly makes it possible to criticize its processes. In this case, albeit rejecting Ricoeur’s conception of ideological legitimization, we can go beyond it by saying that in order for the whole process of ideology to occur there must be a pseudo-event or the single most elements within ideology that presents itself, returns to itself even in the midst of scrutiny. Narrative symbols offer us that kind of returning point but entails that any critique of ideology is a turning back through Ariadne’s thread. Now these narrative symbols[1] are genuine ideological instruments but they are a product of a primary process that comes from a previous determination. Both this previous determination prior to the narrative symbol and the genuine evental process take the same rules but the fundamental difference is that the event is saturated, resisting determination from being while the determination prior to narrative symbols are over determined but paradoxically they appear as events in the artificial sense or as “seemings of events.” This determination can thus be named as a “pseudo-event.”

Already in the Ticklish Subject, Zizek describes the falsity of the Nazi/Fascist revolution. Both the October Revolution and the rise of the Nazi party contain revolutions and the replacement of one social order to another. In Nazism however, the event is a false one since in changing the Weimar Republic nothing really changed and the same social antagonism still occurred and the same enslavement to capital was maintained (Zizek 2000, 194). At this point, the pseudo-event takes all the form of an event, goes through the same Badiouan truth-proceeses; but it missed the fundamental point because it subverts the very logic of the event as a “crack on being,” as nothing but gets over determined, creating an artificial saturation. By saturating the pseudo-event, the process of drawing forth its narrative gets perverted and entails that criticism that claims gains the ruling ideology still returns to the saturated zero point that is the pseudo-event.

Investment in the pseudo-event also takes on the same guise as the fidelity to an event. The commitment of subjects with the pseudo-event corresponds to an enjoyment in the other’s gaze, conforming to the symbolic atmosphere created by the false event. Any alternative view or criticism always occurs within the confines and coordinates of the false event and the subject submitted to this criticism submits himself to a hesitation since the sway of the pseudo-event is rooted deep beneath the symbolic sphere, it is already ingrained within factuality. No event even a genuine one can sweep up the hole left by the false event since after the false event by virtue of its being, there is nothing. We see this in the historical denial in the Japanese system of education in which World War II and the Sino-Japanese War are small footnotes to Japanese history and the atrocities of the Imperial Army relegated into the shadows. Also the laws banning the publication of Mein Kampf in former German occupied countries testify to the hole left by the perverted investment to the false event.

A genuine act of liberation only occurs when the false event is recognized in itself as a seeming. False events are not cracks of being but ontic happenings void of an ontological flavour. Events open up a world as subjects become subjects through them and do not follow the logic of being. Being follows from the event of its own unfolding and sudden entrance to our ontological field. Such was Badiou’s description of the event in St. Paul’s conversion. However, the false event is a development from the ontotheological constitution of being. Its status as event only occurs after it has been over determined and saturated by the discourse of ideology. After false event, there is nothing to overshadow it and attempts to deny it and criticize it are rejected as utopian visions that either present unreal dreams or a legitimization of a past dictatorial epoch. It is a realism par excellence. It contains two crucial determining points: while the event is a universalizing process, the false event contains a utopia and a dehumanization of someone or something (like the Jews in the case of the Nazis). Liberation from the false event is a recognition of itself as ontotheologically constituted with its own heaven and hell and a conception of itself with the full knowledge that beyond it lies nothing. In that case, disavowal or the withdrawal of investment is in itself an event, since it forges a crack on being and unleashes itself to the false event’s own void, thus gaining full consciousness of its own falsity creating his own destiny within the nothingness left by the false event.

Only from such disavowal can we draw our own destiny after the false event. It does not legitimate nor entertain political nostalgia or a return to some glorious golden age but a path is presented: there is no path in front of us.

EDSA 1986 is a false event and subsequent denialisms are simply engagement in political nostalgia. Much of the resistance to disavow the 1986 revolution is brought by the hesitation of all intellectual theorization to view the falsity of 1986. The move has always been a “failure after 1986” or a “path towards the unfinished business of democracy in the Philippines.” Both moves agree on the same point i.e. the genuine character of the 1986 revolution. Denialism has been demonized as the legitimization of the Marcos dictatorship

So far, historical revisionism has been towards interpreting the 1986 revolution as a start of a failure but nevertheless, the revisionism done by Marcos lackeys are simply legitimizations of a much prior stage: pre-Martial law Marcos administration. The romanticism with the past glorious days of Metropolitan Manila has become the paradigm for change and with calls to preserve the old heirlooms of the old Manila; the old coño nostalgia is soon becoming prevalent revisionism in the dreams of the young. In this case, the historical methodology and hermeneutics operate under the gaze of several “Big Others”, stabilizing the interpretative horizon of the revisionist effort regarding the 1986 revolution.

    The question therefore is “what must be done after the disavowal?” Clearly, it does not not include revisionism and a legitimization; both reciprocate in the ontology of false events, requiring other false events to take its place in a convenient ontotheologically constituted reality. What must be done after the disavowal? The nothingness left by the disavowal of the false event has to be recognized and the destiny afterwards must be submitted to thinking. The incapability to think and the ideology of liberalism, infected by the cult of the Aquino personality has blurred all notions of hope after the disavowal. After the disavowal, there is nothing left to be done but to think and the intellectual responsibility after the disavowal becomes the primary occupation.

What must to be done is a new intellectualization and a new form of thinking. Action is thinking and action without the guidance of a genuine thinking that thinks about the nothing slowly disintegrates to an engagement to finding new false events to fill in the gap left by the void of the disavowal.

[1] In my paper (still in the developmental phase since I haven’t edited it for further plan of publication) “Ideology as Narrative Symbols: Developing Paul Ricoeur’s Solution to the Problem of Authority,” I develop the notion of narrative symbols in more detail.

EDSA as a Non/Pseudo-Event: a Disavowal