Living with meaning in a Zizek world

In my last two posts, I encouraged you to read Zizek in the original and gave you my take on the curious impotent rage that we are seeing all over Europe.

I am arguing that we are all up-to-our-eyeballs in the mess we rail about and that we got into the mess because we abdicated responsibility for our lives and our tantrums are signs of more abdication.

Simply, to adapt Zizek words, we will start to feel good about things when we are able to put on a list what “no one else will do it for [us], that [I] have to be the change [I] want to see.”

The tricks of a psychologist

As a psychologist, I always listen for the ”I” and the “we”.

  • What is the person in front of me actually going to do?
  • Who are they doing it with or for?
  • Of all the things they talked about, which brought a light to their eyes?

Zizek moments and psychology

We are in a Zizek moment when we retort that we are unable to do anything because the system makes us impotent.

We are focused, in short, on the ‘not living’ rather than the ‘living’.

These moments aren’t fun and this is the psychology of getting our attention back on the ‘living’.

 A small example of giving to Caesar. . .

To take a simple example, I lock my car when I leave it at Milton Keynes Railway Station.   Don’t you?

I accept that there is plenty of nonsense in the world but I act sensibly.

I don’t devote a lot of time to thinking about security at Milton Keynes Railway Station but I don’t take it for granted either.  Most of all I vote for people who treat the security people around the station fairly and I pay my rates so they can.  Don’t you?

Do you abdicate the responsibility for the conditions under which we live?

Read what Zizek says about Greece:

“When the protesters started to debate what to do next, how to move beyond mere protest, the majority consensus was that what was needed was not a new party or a direct attempt to take state power, but a movement whose aim is to exert pressure on political parties.”

Why do we abdicate to others?

Of course, we delegate to others, yes.  If there is a security person at Milton Keynes Station, I don’t interfere while they are doing their job.

But abdicate, no.  I can’t say “There is no security at the station.  You must fix it.”  I can’t bluster and stamp my feet and say “There is no security.  I am your employer as a taxpayer. You must fix it.”

I must act definitively.  “We have seen this pattern of events.  Please tell us what action you will take to change the pattern and suggest a date that we can meet to review whether the actions have been effective.”

And I must be clear what I am going to do if I am still not satisfied.  What is the point of stamping my foot?

“To riot [even if it is a middle-class tantrum] is to make a subjective statement, implicitly to declare how one relates to one’s objective conditions.”

Tantrums not only accept our position of powerlessness.  Tantrums say we are OK with our position of powerlessness.  Don’t come to me later complaining.  I will only ask you: Well what do you want to do about it?”

I can never be too enthusiastic about

“impotent rage and despair masked as a display of force; it is envy masked as triumphant carnival.”

It’s like over imbibing.  You will regret it in the morning.

So what do psychologists suggest when you are feeling impotent?  Indeed when you are overwhelmed with indignation at your impotence?

#1  Let’s stop thinking that this is a first in history.  We are not alone in this. Read the old works and read the new like Zizek .

#2 Think back to Jesus Christ saying to his followers:  Give unto Ceasar . . .   Get involved in as much nonsense as you have to . . . but keep it on the periphery of your existence in the way you lock your car at the station. . . it is not your life.

#3 Learn from feminist Germaine Greer who wrote short chapters that women could read on the loo – the only place where they have peace and quiet.  Find five minutes every day to be quiet.  A park is nice.  But be effective on this at least.  If it the loo is the only place possible, then the loo, it is.

#4 Think back over the last 24 hours about what is ‘good, true, better and possible’, and do more of it. Sounds naff?  Try it.  When you are more purposive about what you want and take active steps toward it, it tends to move toward you.  When it happens, your main reaction is going to be, “Eh? This easy?”  Yes, it is normal to be suspicious but when you move toward something, it comes to you. On the other hand, if you are faking it, it will blow you a raspberry.  I repeat, what you move towards will move towards you.

#5 Where you have a choice between two good things, do the one that’s better for other people too.

That’s it.  Shit will continue to happen but you won’t be so directly implicated and you won’t be sitting around thinking that some vague person in some vague office should be sorting it out.  That is no way to live.  Your life is going to amount to what you are willing to be responsible for.

To find out what you are willing to do, because it is your choice, not mine – find five minutes to review each 24 hours.  Celebrate the good, the true, the better and the possible, however small, particularly the small . . . and do more of it.

And then you will be like Zizek – watching the Zizek moments with Zen-like calm, waiting for more people to catch on. Then sociological conditions will change and we will have a new sociologist to read. Enjoy.

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So 21st century: a Zizek moment

Zizek and the politics of our age

Zizek, one of the most important thinkers of our age, tells us that much of the time, we cheerfully go along with nonsense like – derivative trading – telling ourselves all sorts of ‘porkies’ [for non-British readers that is Cockney slang for a self-serving deceit].

We reassure ourselves (rather greedily) that we will not be the victim when the ‘house of cards’ collapses.  Not for us ‘ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee’.  Oh no, somehow it is OK to go along with what we know is wrong.

A Zizek moment

And when it does go wrong, when quite inevitably the scam is revealed in all its shocking-ness, we express indignation in a useless tantrum.

We tell the ‘authorities’, we tell some nameless, faceless people over whom we have no power or influence even if we did know who they are, to sort it out, or “we will be cross”.

Having abdicated our future when we joined the scam, we abdicate again by claiming that ‘someone else must sort out the mess.

Writing of the current Spanish demonstrations, Zizek comments “the indignados do not (yet) claim that no one else will do it for them, that they themselves have to be the change they want to see”.

A British example of a Zizek moment

Let’s take a British example.  The News of the World tapped phone messages.

But who did not know that before this year?  Pleassse.

And who did not encourage them?    At least 3 million people gave them money every week.  I’ve be known to read The Times when it popped up on my screen.

But what is with the outrage characteristic of a Zizek moment?

We are outraged because we knew what was going on all the time and if we didn’t actively take part, we encouraged it or condoned it.

We are outraged because we are caught out in the lies we tell, chiefly to ourselves.

And we are outraged because like an emperor with no clothes, we are caught with no life plan accept bouncing from one scandalous scheme to another.

If you like being outraged, then, please, carry on.  If you don’t, psychologists have do-it-home advice

In the next post, I’ll lay out the do-it-at-home tips for you.  There is no need to spend oodles of money.  Indeed I wouldn’t take your money because unless you do get started at home, not even millions of dollars of professional help will get you going.

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Not heard of ZIZEK? Why should you read ZIZEK?

I must say that a few months, I had not heard of ZIZEK.  But we all should have heard of Zizek because we are going to hear a lot more about him.

Why should a mechanic, a fireman, a hairdresser and god forbid, a member of the chattering classes, read sociology?

I know a lot of people who never read any sociology and the live quite happily.   Maybe they are happier than us too.  And they probably are richer and more powerful too.

But not knowing about the sociology of your time is like not knowing that the banks deal in derivatives that are 10x the value of real assets.  Even if we don’t have the big money to play on the derivatives market, we should at least understand that

  • liberalization of banking means derivatives
  • and derivatives mean a banking system that has electronic (or printed) money
  • that there is more than one derivative (so to speak) for each tonne of wheat or gold that they say they own
  • and there is not 10% more but 10x more paper than things.

90% of derivatives are what you and I think of as a pyramid scheme.

So we read sociology because we don’t want to be caught out holding useless paper assets

Any economist or financier reading this will wince at my crude explanation but you do see my point.  If you willfully persist in ignoring the basics of social science, don’t cry when you are standing in a Northern Rock queue when the bank almost falls over.  Don’t cry when your pension turns out to have been invested in derivatives and they turn out to be worth 10% of their face value or nothing at all.

And we are tired of the argument that there is nothing you and I can do

Many people will talk to me as if I am an idiot, and say “there is nothing we can do about the mess of our politics and economics”.

That indeed maybe true too.  I am not telling you to start fixing the derivatives system.  But I am explaining that knowing more about sociology will mean you will be the patsy less often.

We begin by knowing what is going on

I am pointing you here to a commentator who is worth reading, even if he writes real sociology that requires a little concentration.

So you go and read Zizek. 

In my next post, I will try to give my understanding  of what  Zizek says about the way we are living.

And I’ll do what psychologists do: translate what Zizek says into what you  and I can do ourselves – apart from read him.  So go read.  See you later on my next post.

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