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Western ideology must be unmasked

Claudio Gallo is a journalist, currently working as a Culture editor at La Stampa, where he also was foreign desk editor and London correspondent. His main interest is Middle East politics.

Published time: June 17, 2014 12:19
AFP Photo / Philippe Huguen

A bunch of new reports are saying that climate change will threaten our way of life, where "our" always means the West’s one: what else?

Not only our way of life, but our existence, in many cases.

Well, here and there the political world is crumbling: look at the Middle East that is going back to the post WWI boundaries, when British and French cartographer were tracing straight lines on the map, bound to become borders of new unlikely countries. You go to bed with one Iraq and get up next morning with three new Iraqi States. Fortunately, during breakfast, you find that Obama has put all options on the table.

Well, the economic crisis that started more or less in 2008 is still here: when the hell will it arrive in a new Kondratiev wave [K-waves, patterns of regularity characteristic of structural change in the modern world economy – RT]? Not tomorrow, the media are saying, reporting the governments asking for more sacrifices.

Do you remember the Zen parable of the man who fell in a big hole at the bottom of which there are two hungry tigers? In a way he was lucky, because he succeeded in grasping a root that was hanging out the hole’s side. But there were two lovely little mice, one white and the other black, nibbling the root with a rhythm that recalls so much the clock’s passing minutes. It was at that point that the poor man saw a beautiful strawberry on a bush leaning on the hole. He took the strawberry and ate it: How sweet it was!

Leaning in our hole, we reach our little ecstasy with the strawberry of Van Persie’s goal, during these days (some Buddhist believers will find this comparison a little bit reductionist). Panem et Circensem, bread and games, as someone more cynical might say.

The Zen parable begins with the man that is already inside the hole because when we start to reflect on our life we are already existing. But our social conditions should be historical, why we are so resigned and fatalist as they were natural indeed. This is the mother of all problems, because we are certain to live in a post-ideological world where this reality is the only one possible and every problem has a technical solution inside the framework of that unchangeable fact.

At this point we are unable to imagine a political system that should not be (neo)liberal, in the same way that we are unable to think seriously of a flying donkey. We have interjected, i.e. incorporated in our psyche, the liberal system and we are used to think about it as a natural fact. For example, that the market is magically settling the world at the best became a timeless truth. Our democracy is to choose between a kind of Benetton’s colors’ parties that share the same liberal program. But truly we have no choice and the democracy of which our media are so proud is the worst totalitarianism of history: the invisible one.

A society in which the bodies are let completely free because the souls (the minds) are completely enslaved. No need of Foucault's aesthetic of punishment, everyone is asked to pursue his obsessive impossible pleasure. As stated by the Italian philosopher Diego Fusaro: “Which red or black dictatorship would have succeeded to put in everyone’s pockets a mobile phone as our society did?” As Slavoj Žižek explains: “It is precisely the neutralization of some features into a spontaneously accepted background that marks out ideology at its purest.”

I took this last quotation from an intriguing article by Japhy Wilson. The author who is lecturer in International Political Economy and Hallsworth Research Fellow at the University of Manchester tries to psychoanalyze the neoliberalism as an obsessional neurosis. Brilliant, especially when he puts in the same category of “neurotic liberal” economists like Jeffrey Sachs, Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman (one might also add Thomas Pikkety). Apparently Wilson follows the same Lacanian path of Žižek that it is not so immediate to the general audience, I suppose.

You can see the difficulty of Žižek's view of things when he praises the wonderful 1988 Carpenter movie “They Live”. Carpenter shows us a perfect image of our current society, in which reality is shaped by an alien race who invaded the Earth. Thanks to a special technology (you can see it as our Western media circus) people believe to enjoy a world in which they are slaves indeed. A completely artificial world is seen as immediate and natural, exactly the way in which we perceive the social and historical reality of neoliberalism as a natural fact.

The difficulty is that we are in some way compelled by our platonic background to see the ideology covering a fundamental reality, as the cavern myth of The Republic teaches us. But Žižek is a Lacanian Marxist and sees things a little bit weird. Yes, to him the ideology masks the reality. Yes ideology must be unmasked. But reality is not Plato’s glorious idea, it is only an horrible unbearable nothing that must be anyway covered by something. For human beings the only possible reality is the one of ideology in the same way in which the symptom, or the sign, is the only reality. So the choice is to find a more human ideology than the neoliberal one: Communism is Žižek’s suggestion.

This to say that when Japhy Wilson talks about real capital, the rough reality covered by neoliberal ideology, it seems not the dialectical capital of Marx but, to a certain deep level, the nothingness of Žižek’s reality. I suppose that capitalism, the vision of the world in which everything is reduced to its economic value, is more a human construction than a gnostic mask of an evil Demiurge which covers an essential void. His hubristic nature is its limitless conception: limitless desire, limitless accumulation. In contrast with the limited nature of human being: limited by its body, by its mortal nature. As Fusaro puts it, the figure which summarizes the modern neoliberal man is the Greek mythological hero Tantalus doomed in the Tartarus to never extinguish his desire.

But, one may ask if there is an escape to this horrible situation. It’s a boring myth that one who makes criticism has to add also a solution. A well founded criticism is already more than half the task: sometimes a solution comes as an unpredictable good, sometimes it does not come at all, as we can currently see. Anyway it is important to build a culture of resistance.

Occupy Wall Street protesters wearing masks made out of enlarged dollar bills act in a short skit in Times Square on September 17, 2013 in New York City (AFP Photo / Andrew Burton)

About a year ago Naomi Klein wrote an article titled “How science is telling us all to revolt.” She explained that some climate scientist considered in their studies the variable “resistance” as one of the few possibilities to save our planet. Klein quoted the scientist Brad Werner saying that “mass uprisings of people – along the lines of the abolition movement, the civil rights movement or Occupy Wall Street – represent the likeliest source of “friction” to slow down an economic machine that is careening out of control”.

Werner isn’t saying that his research drove him to take action to stop a particular policy, “he is saying that his research shows that our entire economic paradigm is a threat to ecological stability. And indeed that challenging this economic paradigm – through mass-movement counter-pressure – is humanity’s best shot at avoiding catastrophe”.

Apart from all the mathematical models, a little naïve, isn’t it? But we have no other solution. In our little world of isolated atoms we have always the choice to think different, not in the Steve Jobs’ fake sense, consistent with the system, but disrupting continually the apparent rationality of our world, making unpredictable things, trying to think on a communitarian level. To keep on sleeping is surely (in a short term at least) more comfortable, but, as Chinese use to say: “Dragon’s bite never heals over”, once you meet reality you can forget it no more, however it might be monstrous.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.