freedom has objective conditions

Did you notice how today, when we speak about tol­er­ance, sorry, about racism, we auto­mat­ic­ally under­stand this as a ques­tion of tol­er­ance. Racism means ‘let’s tol­er­ate each other’. Let’s do a simple exper­i­ment. Look at the speeches of Mar­tin Luther King. He prac­tic­ally never uses the term ‘tol­er­ance’. For him it would have even been stu­pid, humi­li­at­ing, to say: we blacks want more tol­er­ance from white people. For him racism was a prob­lem of eco­nomic exploit­a­tion, leg­al­ity, tra­di­tions, ideo­logy, not of tol­er­ance. And that is an inter­est­ing point. Why now we reduced the prob­lem of racism to the prob­lem of tol­er­ance. I think pre­cisely because we live in this post-polit­ical cul­tural era where all the ideo­lo­gical con­flicts are trans­lated into cul­tural con­flicts. But what interests me is this. Let’s do a brief ana­lysis. What does it mean when I say we must be tol­er­ant towards each other? It means: don’t har­ass me, don’t intrude into my space. So it means the exact oppos­ite. It means: I don’t tol­er­ate your over-prox­im­ity. Tol­er­ance means: let’s keep an appro­pri­ate dis­tance. It is so ironic how this works dif­fer­ently in dif­fer­ent cul­tures. Let me tell you a won­der­ful story, which happened to me. When I was at Har­vard, giv­ing a talk at Har­vard Law School, we went to have diner after the talk. We didn’t know each other and a big pro­fessor there, who presided the din­ner, told each of us to present ourselves. ‘Your name, where do you work, what are you work­ing on, your pro­ject’ and, he said, ‘your sexual ori­ent­a­tion’. I was a little bit shocked: What is his busi­ness? This is so typ­ic­ally Amer­ican, but I don’t think it is prox­im­ity. It was more Amer­ican Pur­it­an­ism. ‘So that I know where you stand’. Because at the same time I remem­ber, when an Amer­ican friend vis­ited me in Slov­e­nia, we went at some point to a beach on the Adri­atic coast. And in Slov­e­nia, like in all of Europe in the last 20 to 30 years, it is totally accep­ted that women can be, if they want of course, with naked breasts: top­less. In the United States you can not do this. He was ter­ribly shocked, per­turbed by that. I think, again, that these are the levels of racism today. He felt already as if his private space was too invaded by the other. I claim that all the time when we talk about ‘com­mu­nic­a­tion’, ‘prox­im­ity’, ‘we should under­stand each other’, we really want to keep the other at a proper dis­tance. This is why the para­dox­ical res­ult of this… I claim that if you use them prop­erly, even racist jokes can play a pos­it­ive role here. I love racist jokes. What do I mean by this? In ex-Yugoslavia, when I was young, we were telling all the time jokes about the other nations. Well, not so much about other nations, we were telling to oth­ers jokes about ourselves. Each nation in ex-Yugoslavia was iden­ti­fied with a cer­tain fea­ture. We Slov­e­nian were misers, Montenegrins were lazy, Bos­ni­ans were sex-obsessed, and so on. But how did those jokes func­tion? Not in a racist way, but in a kind of exchange of obscen­ity, so that we asser­ted your prox­im­ity. We can talk offi­cially, but when you tell me a dirty joke, it is a sign that now we can really be friends. This is why I was always sus­pi­cious about this polit­ic­ally cor­rect fan­at­icism: when I tell a joke, is this not a racist cliché? I think the proper way to fight racist clichés, is to adopt them, but kind of iron­ic­ally sub­vert them. This is for me, again, a true meas­ure of anti-racism. For me, those polit­ic­ally cor­rect people, who are obsessed all the time by hurt­ing each other just oppressed racists. They want the other at the appro­pri­ate dis­tance. That is the para­dox today. Appar­ently we are totally open. You can have sex with anim­als, with any­one you want, but psy­cho­lo­gic­ally we are at the greatest dis­tance ever.

Reading Žižek – Where to Start?

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