Saturday, March 5, 2016

What our fear of refugees says about Europe (and America)

The true question is not “are immigrants a real threat to Europe?”, but “what does this obsession with the immigrant threat tell us about the weakness of Europe?”

Jacues Lacan claimed that, even if a jealous husband's claim about his wife – that she sleeps around with other men – is true, his jealousy is still pathological. Why? The true question is “not is his jealousy well-grounded?”, but “why does he need jealousy to maintain his self-identity?”. Along the same lines, one could say that even if most of the Nazi claims about the Jews were true – they exploit Germans; they seduce German girls – which they were not, of course, their anti-Semitism would still be (and was) pathological, since it represses the true reason why the Nazis needed anti-Semitism in order to sustain their ideological position.

And is it not exactly the same with the growing fear of refugees and immigrants? To extrapolate to the extreme: even if most of our prejudices about them were proven to be true – they are hidden fundamentalist terrorists; they rape and steal – the paranoid talk about the immigrant threat is still an ideological pathology. It tells more about us, Europeans, than about immigrants. The true question is not “are immigrants a real threat to Europe?”, but “what does this obsession with the immigrant threat tell us about the weakness of Europe?”

There are two dimensions here which should be kept apart. One is the atmosphere of fear, of the struggle against the Islamization of Europe, which has its own obvious absurdities. Refugees who flee terror are equated with the terrorists they are escaping from. The obvious fact that there are terrorists, rapists, criminals etc, among the refugees, while the large majority are desperate people looking for a better life – in the same way that, among the refugees from the German Democratic Republic, there were also hidden Stasi agents – is given a paranoid twist. In this version, immigrants appear (or pretend) to be desperate refugees, while in reality they are the spearhead of a new Islamic invasion of Europe. Above all, as is usually the case, the cause of problems which are immanent to today's global capitalism are projected onto an external intruder. A suspicious gaze always finds what it is looking for: “proof” is everywhere, even if half of it is soon proven to be fake.

The other dimension is the humanitarian idealization of refugees. This dismisses every attempt to openly confront the difficult issues which arise when those who follow different ways of life cohabit as a concession to the neo-Fascist right. The tragic-comic spectacle of the endless self-culpabilization in which Europe allegedly betrayed its own humanity – the spectacle of a murderous Europe leaving thousands of drowned bodies at its borders – is a self-serving one, with no emancipatory potential whatsoever. Everything “bad” about the other is dismissed, either as our (Western racist) projection onto the other, or as being the result of our (Western imperialist) mistreatment, through colonial violence, of the other. What lies beyond this closed circle of ourselves – or, rather, the projections of our “repressed” evil side onto the other” – what we believe we encounter as the “authentic” other when we truly open ourselves up to them, the good, innocent other, is also our ideological fantasy.

There is no place for negotiated compromise here; no point at which the two sides may agree (“OK, anti-immigrant paranoiacs exaggerate, but there are some fundamentalists among the refugees...”). Even the minimal degree of accuracy to the anti-immigrant racist’s claims does not serve to justify his paranoia, yet on the other hand, humanitarian self-culpabilization is thoroughly narcissistic, closed to a true encounter with the immigrant neighbour. The task is to talk openly about all the unpleasant issues without a compromise with racism.

In this way, we prevent a true encounter with a real neighbour and his or her specific way of life. Descartes, the father of modern philosophy, noted that when he was young foreign people’s manners and beliefs seemed to him ridiculous and eccentric, until he asked himself whether our own manners and beliefs may appear the same to them. The outcome of this reversal is not a generalized cultural relativism, but something more radical and interesting. We should learn to experience ourselves as eccentric, to see our customs in all their weirdness and arbitrariness. In his Everlasting Man, G K Chesterton imagines the monster that man might seem to the merely natural animals around him:
“The simplest truth about man is that he is a very strange being; almost in the sense of being a stranger on the earth. In all sobriety, he has much more of the external appearance of one bringing alien habits from another land than of a mere growth of this one. He has an unfair advantage and an unfair disadvantage. He cannot sleep in his own skin; he cannot trust his own instincts. He is at once a creator moving miraculous hands and fingers and a kind of cripple. He is wrapped in artificial bandages called clothes; he is propped on artificial crutches called furniture. His mind has the same doubtful liberties and the same wild limitations. Alone among the animals, he is shaken with the beautiful madness called laughter; as if he had caught sight of some secret in the very shape of the universe hidden from the universe itself. Alone among the animals he feels the need of averting his thought from the root realities of his own bodily being; of hiding them as in the presence of some higher possibility which creates the mystery of shame. Whether we praise these things as natural to man or abuse them as artificial in nature, they remain in the same sense unique.”
Is a “way of life” not precisely such a way of being a stranger on the earth? A specific “way of life” is not just composed of a set of abstract – Christian, Muslim – “values”; it is something embodied in a thick network of everyday practices: how we eat and drink, sing, make love, how we relate to authorities. We “are” our way of life: it is our second nature, which is why direct “education” is not able to change it. Something much more radical is needed, a kind of Brechtian “extraneation”, a deep existential experience by means of which it all of a sudden strikes us how stupidly meaningless and arbitrary our customs and rituals are – there is nothing natural in the way we embrace and kiss, in the way we wash ourselves, in the way we behave while eating…

The point is thus not to recognise ourselves in strangers, but to recognise a stranger in ourselves – therein resides the innermost dimension of European modernity. The recognition that we are all, each in our own way, weird lunatics, provides the only hope for a tolerable co-existence of different ways of life.
- Slavoj Zizek, "What our fear of refugees says about Europe"

If the salaried bourgeoisie weren't worried about preserving their surplus salaries and social safety nets, would they even care about the influx?

37 comments:

FreeThinke said...

There is only ONE sensible solution to ALL forms of Islamic Aggression. and that is a UTILITARIAN solution –– a FINAL Solution:

DIDADIN

Detain
Intern
Disempower
And
Deport
Islamaniacs
Now

D-I-D-A-D-I-N!

Those who would be kind to the cruel are sure to be cruel to the kind."


"Those who expect to reap the blessing of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it."

~ Thomas Paine (1737-1809)

DIDADIN!

However illegal, impolitic, inadvisable, unconstitutional, un-American, immoral or impracticable others claim it to be we should maintain a position of absolute intolerance for a Muslim Presence in OUR world.

When the Handwriting on the Wall sends a clear, uncompromising message, and STILL we fail to heed its stern warning, we DESERVE to be ECLIPSED.

FACE IT: Either it's DIDADIN or BE DAMNED.

Thersites said...

It's a solution for today's socio-economic circumstances, no doubt!

FreeThinke said...

I'm an avowed SIMPLICIST when it comes to Politics and making decisions as to how to conduct oneself through the minefield that, indeed, is life.

KISS has become my motto:

Keep It Simple, Stupid! ;-)

Simply follow The Golden Rule –– all the way to the Cross, if needs be, –– and all will be as well as it possibly could be this side of Heaven or Hell.

Inescapable Death is our Ultimate destination anyway, so why fret away the very few conscious hours we are given?

It is no joke that over-analysis leads to paralysis.

The purpose of life, if such there be, is simply to LIVE.

Enjoy it!

FreeThinke said...

NEWS: Mrs. Reagan has just passed away. She was 94.

Thersites said...

She was a remarkable woman, no doubt!

FreeThinke said...

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me.
The carriage geld, but just ourselves ––
And Immortality.

We slowly drove ––
He knew no haste ––
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too
For His Civility.

We passed the school
Where children played ––
Their lessons scarcely done.
We passed the fields of gazing grain ––
We passed the setting Sun.

We paused before a house
Which seemed a swelling of the ground ––
The roof was scarcely visible ––
The cornice but a mound.

'Tis centuries since then,
But each feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horse's heads
Were towards –– Eternity.


~ Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

Posted in memory of Mrs. Ronald Reagan, who died yesterday at the age of ninety-four, and in the hope that those horses will lead Mrs. Reagan back to the loving arms of her husband, and that they may live together in eternal peace and harmony forever. - FT

Gert said...

If the salaried bourgeoisie weren't worried about preserving their surplus salaries and social safety nets, would they even care about the influx?

True and the heart of the matter.

But he's wrong on other points there. If I find time I'll point it out.

-FJ said...

I'd be interested to learn what points you would dispute.

-FJ said...

Flashing forward..

Gert said...

This:

The other dimension is the humanitarian idealization of refugees. This dismisses every attempt to openly confront the difficult issues which arise when those who follow different ways of life cohabit as a concession to the neo-Fascist right. The tragic-comic spectacle of the endless self-culpabilization in which Europe allegedly betrayed its own humanity – the spectacle of a murderous Europe leaving thousands of drowned bodies at its borders – is a self-serving one, with no emancipatory potential whatsoever. Everything “bad” about the other is dismissed, either as our (Western racist) projection onto the other, or as being the result of our (Western imperialist) mistreatment, through colonial violence, of the other.

... is an argument he's made in various guises.

It's 'over-thinking' at best, at worst an arrogant dismissal of the genuine anguish many feel when we see the immense suffering of the refugees in its gory details displayed on our teevees, mags, blogs and other media.

It's impossible not to feel immense empathy with these people, unless one is a true psychopath.

The spectacle of European politicians Nazi-like (Jews v. 'true Aryans') discussing quota, allocations of money and now 'who is the True Guardian of European borders?' makes me want to throw up.

Sadly, the US is even worse: 10,000 refugees for a nation of 300 million???

It's clear that the more a nation is safe and secure, the easier it is to manipulate its irrational fears, puppeteer its 'shark'. Cui bono?

This period will go down in history as another dark stain on the 'Masters of the Universe' (the 'West').

Meanwhile I just heard the imbecile Joe Biden claim the 'US has Israel's back'. Well, there you go then...

Gert said...

Like the cartoon by the way. Nice!

Gert said...

And a good lecture there. Not much to disagree with at all...

-FJ said...

I happen to agree with Zizek on these points, but them I'm a nationalist with no illusions of being able to "save the world". As for our paltry 10,000... please bear in mind that we are currently nearing historic high levels of immigration here. We don't "have" to do anything.

-FJ said...

...more perspective.

We don't view the world as our "Empire" to intervene into at a whim (although it may seem like we do, we try to be as un-British about it as possible).

-FJ said...

Do you support the Market State? I suspect that you might.

-FJ said...

Our politicians have... at least since WWI. I, for one, do not... at least not by secret TPP trade treaties, et al.

-FJ said...

I simply ask that you let me see the shield that you've (legally) forged before I'm expected to praise it.

FreeThinke said...

My! It got awfully windy here all of a sudden, didn't it?

-FJ said...

Sorry. I'm a polemicist. I'm either down in the mud, or up on my high horse.

-FJ said...

I "feel" for the immigrants, I really do. But then, I try and respect my limitations as well. And they end at my borders, lest I begin to exert a "positive liberty" over their fate, and deprive them of the right to forge their own shields.

-FJ said...

;p

Gert said...

Firstly, the US IS an empire. Different from the British, Roman and other empires but an empire nonetheless.

Secondly, 'we can't help them there', to paraphrase the speaker. It's a humanitarian crisis, FFS! Force Majeur.

'WE can't solve the humanitarian crises in the world by immigration' is also highly misleading: historically host countries have imported cheap foreign labour to help develop the economies of the host countries. It's not an act of kindness towards the guest workers.

Gert said...

Sorry. I'm a polemicist.

You? A polemicist? Go away! ;-)

-FJ said...

I agree. We ARE an empire. And dismantling the empire would serve the interests of the American people better than trying to maintain it.

Even Rome knew when "enough" was "too much" and started building Hadrian's Wall.

I, for one, am tired of financing China's economy at the expense of American labour.

-FJ said...

ps - Ever read Plato's "Laws"? Most take his "Republic" as his "utopia". It wasn't. Magnesia was. It's like the difference between Huxley's Brave New World, and his Island.

-FJ said...

...only Plato foresaw Pala's dilemna.

Mrs. Grundy said...

Europe, say hello to American Isolationism...

Great Britain, you once again "have the con".

Gert said...

That was a cracking good read, that politico.

Gert said...

Come to think of it, doesn't this make Trump your ideal candidate, Farmer?

-FJ said...

Until Trump is willing to reveal his real agenda, he remains a Berlusconi/Putin type, in my book. I suspect that he suspects what's wrong with our economy, I'm not sure that he "knows" what's wrong with it in that "bigger" corporations is the enemy of "small". We don't need a proletariate class, We need a petit bourgeois class.

-FJ said...

ps - As you can probably tell, I'm for closing our markets to prevent competition with large multi-nationals. The small businessman can never achieve the efficiencies of unrestrained and accumulated capital.

-FJ said...

...and so we "need" legislative barriers to unconstrained corporate growth.

Gert said...

I have to be honest: calling for an end to ‘liberal intervention’ and critiquing the US’s role of ‘Bent Copper of the World’ is what the European Left’s been calling doing, for decades. I can’t disagree with Trump there.

As regards his intentions for the US economy, I don’t think I’m privy to them.

-FJ said...

I hear ya...

-FJ said...

More from the masses...

Gert said...

Yes, Caddell's reasoning is broadly correct.

Globalism betrayed us when it was co-opted as another GRQ scheme by various 'elites'.

-FJ said...

Yes, "The Paradise of the Bachelors"...

..."Tartarus of the Maids".