On the other hand, I hate the term "African-Americans." I prefer black, and they do too.

Dirty jokes are ambiguous. On the one hand, of course, I'm well aware they can be racist, sexist, and so on. On the other hand, I hate the term "African-Americans." I prefer black, and they do too. I think African-American as a term is the worst example of apparent political correctness. My best example of this was in Minneapolis, one of the capitals of political correctness [chuckles]. On TV, I saw a debate involving Native Americans, and they referred to themselves as "Indians," and this white, PC liberal said, "No, no, no, don't use that colonialist term. You are Native Americans." And at the end, the poor Indian exploded. He said, "Sorry, I hate that term! Please, give me at least the right to call myself what I want. 'Native American' means that you're making me a part of nature! You are reducing me! What's the opposite of nature? It's culture! You Europeans are culture, then you have horses and us, 'Native Americans' here, with foxes or whatever." So whenever I meet blacks in this kind of situation, I immediately try to break these racist barriers. And what's my measure that we truly broke the barrier? Ok, at one level it's political correctness, but it's absolutely clear that if you play this game, only politically correct terms and ooooh, this fake interest, "ooooh, how interesting, your culture, what a wealth, and blah, blah, blah," it will backfire. Blacks confess to me that they secretly despise this kind of white liberalism. What's the trick? Humor. It's a kind of dialectical double reversal. And this is when they really admit you. That somehow you can return to the worst starting point, racist jokes and so on, but they function no longer as racist, but as a kind of obscene solidarity. To give you an extremely vulgar example, I met a big, black guy, and when we became friends, I went into it like, [assuming a naïve, awe-filled whisper] "Is it true that you have, you know [makes gesture signifying a gigantic penis]?" and (this is a racist myth I heard in Europe) "Is it true that you blacks can control your muscles so that when you walk with a half erection and there is a fly here you can BAM! [slaps thigh] snap it with your penis?" We became terribly close friends! Now, I'm well aware of how risky these waters are, because if you do it in the wrong context, in the wrong way, I'm well aware that this is racism.

What bothers me with so-called tolerance is that, if you combine tolerance with opposition to harassment, what do you get? You get tolerance that effectively functions as its opposite. Tolerance means we should tolerate each other, which practically means that we shouldn't harass each other, which means I tolerate you on the condition that you don't get too close to me! [chuckles]. Because, often, the fear beneath harassment is one of proximity. Don't get too close to me, emotionally or physically. We have here, again, the same chocolate-laxative logic, the Other yes, but not too close, deprived of its substance.

I don't think these two levels are opposed. One the one hand, the state wants to control you via biopolitics, and, on the other hand, the state allows this extreme narcissism. I think they are two sides of the same coin. Both have in common this logic of pure - how should I put it? biopolitical levels, pure life, pleasures, sensitivity, whatever. Simply falling back to this old position of "oooh, we are returning to fascism, and so on" doesn't work. And while I despise so-called fundamentalists, we should not knock, or buy too simply, this liberal opposition between us, good liberal guys, versus them, bad fundamentalists. The first counterargument that I mentioned is "Wait a minute; are these really fundamentalists?" It's an affront to fundamentalism to call people like Jim Bakker or Jimmy Swaggart [chuckles] fundamentalists. I had once a conversation with my good friend, one of the last Marxist dinosaurs, Fred Jameson, who told me, "True fundamentalists are people like the army theologians who were against the Vietnam War." In Israel, it's the same. As all my Jewish friends are telling me, it's not some stupid, fanatic rabbis in Jerusalem versus tolerant Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv is worse, if anything! In Tel Aviv, you know, it's ethnically cleansed. There are almost no Palestinians. So, the most radical proponents of dialogue with the Palestinians are some very orthodox Jewish theologians.

Increasingly I'm convinced that we must problematize the way the mass media present us the big opposition: liberating, multiculturalist tolerance versus some crazy fundamentalism. Let me be precise here. I know the danger here is the old temptation to become fascinated with the - old Georges Sorel stuff - liberating aspect of violence. I am well aware of - and I'm not afraid to use this term - the "inner greatness" of liberalism, because usually religious fundamentalists approach liberalism as a kind of "humanist arrogance." However, the origin of authentic liberalism is something much more tragic and sincere. Liberalism emerged after the Thirty Years War in 17th-century Europe. It was a desperate answer to a very pressing problem: we have here groups of people with mutually exclusive religious commitments, how can we build a governable space? There is an initial modesty in Liberalism. Liberalism was not originally a doctrine of "man is the king." No, it was a very modest attempt to build a space where people could live together without slaughtering one another. As I repeat again and again in my books, I don't buy the simplistic, Marxist reductive decoding, "human rights, screw them, they are really just rights for white men of property." The problem is that from the very beginnings of Liberalism there was the tension between content and form. The properly political dialectic is that the form, even if it is just a fake appearance, has its own symbolic efficiency and sets in motion a certain process.

Even before the French Revolution, Mary Wollstonecraft said, "Why not also we women?" Then, human rights triggered the first big political rebellion of the blacks, led by Toussaint L'Ouverture in Haiti. The demand was not "let's return to our tribe." The Haitian Revolution was explicitly linked to the French Revolution and the Jacobins - I still love them - invited the black delegation from Haiti to Paris. They were applauded there. It's only Napoleon, then, who turns it around. But this is the properly dialectic process that fascinates me. It's not only the story of degeneration - something is authentic and then it's co-opted - what interests me much more is how something can start as a fake, but then acquire its own [authentic] logic. For example, the Virgin of Guadalupe, the black Madonna. It's clear that Catholicism is first imposed on the natives - ok, here I cannot think of another term for the people who lived in Mexico before the Spaniards arrived, but the appearance of the Virgin of Guadalupe marks precisely the moment when Catholicism was no longer simply a tool of oppression, but had become a site from which to articulate grievances, a site of struggle. So, things are here much more open.

To be quite frank, especially after doing that book on Lenin, people laugh at me saying "oh, oh, oh you want Leninism." But no, sorry, I am not totally crazy [chuckles]. I'm just saying that - as you hinted at also - I don't think the Left is ready to draw all the consequences of the deep shit it is in. The phenomena you invoked - calling Bush a fascist, and so on, display the Left's disorientation. In Europe, you have this nostalgic reaction, which explains the Left's irrational hatred of people like Tony Blair or Gerhardt Schroeder in Germany. Not that I love them, but they way they are often criticized is that they betrayed the old welfare states. Ok, but, what was the choice? It is not as if everything would be ok if we would just remain faithful to the old social democratic logic. Or, to give you another example, once I had dinner with Richard Rorty, and he admitted to me that his dream is that of Adlai Stevenson; his solution is that we should return to a socially active role for the Democratic Party. I wonder if it's as simple as that? I don't think it's simply that some bad guys around Tony Blair in England, for example, betrayed the old Labour Party. No, the problem is that... What is the alternative here? To be quite honest, I am at the state of just asking questions.

So, again, when I problematize even democracy, it's not this typical Leftist, fascist way of, oh it's not spectacular enough; we need radical measures. No, it's maybe that we should start to ask questions like, "What does democracy effectively mean, and how does it function today? What do we really decide?" For example, let's take the last twenty or thirty years of history. There was a tremendous shift, as we all know, in the entire social functioning of the State, the way the economy changed with globalization, the way social services and health care are perceived. There was a global shift, but we never voted about that. So, the biggest change, the biggest structural shift in the entire logic of capitalistic, democratic states is something that we, the citizens, never decided. Now, I'm not saying we should abandon democracy. I'm just saying that we should start asking these elementary questions: What do we decide today? Why are some things simply perceived as necessity?

For example, it's interesting to note the big shift within the thinking of the postmodern Left, who believe that we can no longer change the functioning in the economy. The economy is a certain objective problem, to be left to experts - don't mess with that. One of Tony Blair's advisors said frankly, "Regarding the economy, we are all Margaret Thatcher's pupils." All we can do, then, is exercise a bit more tolerance here and there, and so on. I'm not saying that the answer to this is simply that we should return to our old welfare state project, but that there are still tough questions to be asked.

from Liberation Hurts, An Interview with Slavoj Zizek by Eric Dean Rasmussen



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