And by a prudent flight and cunning save A life which valour could not, from the grave. A better buckler I can soon regain, But who can get another life again? Archilochus

Thursday, October 6, 2022

Some Zizek to Go...

A much more complex and realistic explanation for the rapid takeover of power by Taliban forces lies in the chaos of war and corruption

The Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek discussed the success of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the main reason for it for Rash Today. We quote his text in full:

Taliban troops of about 80,000 men regained power in Afghanistan , and cities fell like dominoes while government forces, numbering 300,000 people, better equipped and trained, surrendered without the will to fight. Why did it happen?

The Western liberal media has several possible explanations. The first reason is that they believe that Afghans are not mature enough and ready for democracy because of their religious beliefs.

This does not make much sense because half a century ago Afghanistan was a moderately enlightened country with a strong communist party that managed to come to power for a short time. Afghans became religious fanatics only after the Soviet occupation tried to prevent the collapse of communism in that country.

Another explanation involves the terror used by the Taliban to execute anyone who opposes their regime.

Faith may be another reason - the Taliban simply firmly believe that by their act they are fulfilling the task given to them by God and that their victory is guaranteed. Therefore, they can afford to be patient, because time is on their side.

A much more complex and realistic explanation for the rapid takeover of power by Taliban forces lies in the chaos of war and corruption. Such circumstances may have led to the conviction that the Taliban regime, despite repression and the introduction of sharia, can still guarantee some security and order.

However, all explanations avoid a fact that is terrifying from a liberal Western perspective - the willingness of the Taliban to sacrifice themselves and assume the role of martyrs, to die not only in battle but also through suicide.

The explanation that the Taliban as fundamentalists "really believe" that they will go to heaven if they die a martyr's death is not good enough because it does not take into account the difference between belief in the sense of intellectual knowledge ("I know that I will go to heaven, that's a fact") and belief which is related to subjective feeling.

As it were, this does not explain the primordial power of ideology, in this case the power of faith, which lies not only in the strength of our convictions but also in how committed we are to that conviction. We are not just subjects who choose one or another belief, but we ourselves become that belief because it permeates our entire life.

This is exactly why the French philosopher Michel Foucault was fascinated by the 1978 Islamic Revolution in Iran. Foucault was not only impressed by the acceptance of sacrifice and indifference to the loss of one's own life, but also by a very specific way of narrating "historical truth", narrating through the agonized form, which is in contrast to the pacifist, neutralizing and normalizing ways of narrating the Western Powers. The key to understanding this point of view is the concept of truth in historical-political discourse, the concept of partial truth, reserved for combatants.

As Foucault himself explained:
"If the person who talks about what is right is telling the truth, that truth is no longer the universal truth of the philosopher. It is true that this kind of general discourse about war, which tries to interpret war from the perspective of peace, is an attempt to describe the fight in its entirety and to reconstruct the main war twists and turns. But that does not make the discourse neutral, it always has a certain perspective. It is interested in all events only to the extent that suits it and sees them only from its perspective. The truth, in other words, is only the truth that comes from the position of a fighter , from the perspective of those longing for victory and, ultimately, narrated by one who lived through and survived the war."
Can we dismiss this kind of discourse as a sign of a "primitive" society that has not yet accepted modern individualism? And can we dismiss its revival in modern society as a sign of fascist regression?

For anyone who knows at least a little about Western Marxism, the answer is clear: Hungarian philosopher György Lukács showed that Marxism is "universally correct" not despite its partiality, but precisely because it is "partial", accessible only from a specific subjective position. We can agree or disagree with this view, but the fact is that what Foucault sought in distant Iran - an agonizing form of truth-telling - had long been rooted in Marxist worldviews: Being caught up in class struggle is no obstacle to the "objective" knowledge of history, but a condition for the same.

The usual positivist understanding of knowledge as an "objective" (non-partial) approach to reality that is not disturbed by individual subjective intervention - and what Foucault defined as "pacifist, neutralizing and normalizing forms of modern Western powers" - is actually ideology in its primal form. It is an ideology about the "disappearance of ideology".

On the one hand, we have non-ideological "objective" expert knowledge. On the other hand, we have a multitude of individuals, each focused on his own idiosyncratic "care of the self" (a term Foucault used after leaving his Iranian experiences), the little things that bring joy to his life.

From this point of view of liberal individualism, even universal commitment is dubious and "irrational", especially if it implies danger to life...

Here we encounter a curious paradox: although it is debatable that traditional Marxism can provide a convincing explanation for the Taliban's successes, it nevertheless offered a perfect European example of what Foucault sought in Iran (and what fascinates us today in Afghanistan), an example that does not it includes religious fundamentalism but collective engagement for a better life. After the triumph of global capitalism, the spirit of collective engagement was suppressed, and now that suppressed spirit seems to be returning through the form of religious fundamentalism.

Can we imagine the return of the repressed in its true form of collective emancipatory engagement? Absolutely. Not only can we imagine him, but he is knocking hard at our door.

Let's just mention the catastrophe caused by global warming - this situation calls for massive collective actions that will demand their own specific ways of martyrdom through the sacrifice of numerous pleasures to which we are accustomed. If we really want to completely change our way of life, we will have to suppress the individualistic "self-care" that focuses on personal satisfaction. Science alone will not be able to help - only science deeply rooted in collective engagement will. THAT should be our answer to the Taliban.

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