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

Friday, November 4, 2022

Who's Servant is a Master?

...We are learning the hard way that the attempt of modernity to dispense with traditional forms of domination, father of the family, master, faith and that the dimension of the Master is returning with the vengeance in all its forms, patriarchal values, political authoritarianism, obscene Master/ clown, religious fundamentalism, and so on.  It was clear already to Sigmund Freud that the decline of the paternal Authority is an ambiguous process.  Father, as a figure of moral authority, enables the child to adopt a sense of moral autonomy, resisting the pressure of his, or her, or its' peers, and the pressure of the corrupted social environment.  Following Freud in his study on authority and family, written back in 1930s, Max Horkheimer made the same point.  While In the same spirit, Adorno pointed out that Hitler is NOT a paternal figure, so if you are anti-patriarchal, congratulations, you have Hitler and Stalin on your side.

-Slavoj Zizek (from transcript) 


The reaction to this predicament, disintegration of traditional authority, is double.  We can reluctantly accept the need to return to some form of social Authority. Some Lacanian's today claim that the problem today is the decline of the Name of the Father, of the paternal symbolic authority. In each absence, pathological narcissism explodes, evoking the Specter of the primordial real father. Consequently, that's their idea, we should try to restore some kind of law as the agent of prohibition. Although this idea is to be rejected (why?), it correctly points out how the decline of the Master in no way automatically guarantees emancipation, but can well engender new, much more oppressive figures of domination. Is, however, the return to Prohibition, sustained by some new figure of the law, the only way out? It seems that at the very last, Lacan, aware of this problem, proposed another solution which Jacqueline Miller calls Cynical. We cannot return to the authority of the law, but what we can do is act as if we sustain the law. We should maintain its' authority as necessary, although we know it is not true. In short, Miller's solution is: we are psychotics who try to play normal hysterics.  Miller has fearlessly spelled out the political implications of this stance.  "A psychoanalyst," quote from Miller, "acts so that semblances remain at their places while making sure that the subjects under his psychoanalyst care, do not take them as real. One should protect the semblances of power for the good reason that one should be able to continue to enjoy. The point is not to attach oneself to the semblances of the existing power, but to consider them necessary", end of quote. I hope you noticed that Miller repeats here literally the famous formula from Kafka's trial... "the Law is not true it is just necessary". 

The TV spectacle we were able to watch a couple of days ago, the ceremony of Queen Elizabeth burial, provides another way of how Authority survives. The more, not only the British monarchy, but also United Kingdom as a State, lost its Superpower status and became a local power, the more the status of the British royal family became the stuff of ideological fantasies of all all around the world. According to some estimates, the ceremony of the Queen's funeral was watched by 4 billion people around the world. We should not dismiss this as ideology masking actual power relations. The British royal fantasy is one of the key components which enable actual power relations to reproduce themselves. This fantasy doesn't concern only the present royal family. Remember, how in 2012, the skeleton excavated in a parking place in Leicester was identified as death of Richard III. He was reburied in Lester Cathedral on 26th of March, 2015, and again, the ceremony where only a hundred or so people were expected, was witnessed by over one hundred thousand people. Facts like this cannot be dismissed as reactionary fantasies. The correct insight they bear is the distinction between the symbolic top head of power, and the actual executive power. Kings and queens "reign", they don't "rule", and their reign is ceremonial, and as such, crucial. This is why the Stalinist leader is the very opposite of a Monarch. He is definitely not a traditional Master, also not an obscene Master, and also not an agent of course of liberal Democratic stance, or of contemporary scientific knowledge based on rational reasoning and experimentation. He is rather a pathological distortion of the University Discourse. The return of its repressed. In Stalinism the Master Signifier directly overlaps with the space of knowledge. There is no post truth here, no obscene multiplicity and self-irony, but a knowledge acting as truth itself.  This is why, today's China, in which appearances of an all-knowing power are fully protected, is the opposite to Trump, but within the same space. 

The other way to deal with the decline of traditional authority is the anarchist way. The idea is let's go to the end and get rid of the Master in all its dimensions. Anarchism is having a Revival today, from Noam Chomsky to David Graber. Anarchism is not against Public Power. Catherine Malabu, another Hegelian neo-anarchist, refers to Zakarancier, who asserts radical equality between citizens who are considered able to both command and obey. There is an essential relationship between the lot, in the sense of Lottery, and Democratic expression. Though democracy relies on the contingency of who governs and who is governed, because governing does not require any particular skill. Now in his reply to Malibu, Etienne Balibar goes to the Crux of the problem. Quote from Balibar, "The anarchist will say that we are able to imagine and realize in practice an alternative social fabric because the whole society could, one way or another, emerge from forms of self-government and self-organization that can be experienced at experimented with at the level of cooperatives, towns, and so on. Today this idea is becoming increasingly influentia,l and people give us examples of what the Kurdish Fighters tried in Rajava, what the Zapatistas are trying in Chiapas, and so forth. From there, they, anarchists, extrapolate and say that works that say what works at the local level could work at the global level, provided you find the right form of federation," end of quote. Malibu herself points out two problems with this anarchist stance. First, "Anarchism is becoming today a key feature of global capitalism," another quote from Malibu, "Our current Epoch is characterized by a coexistence between a de facto anarchism and a dawning or awakening anarchism. De facto anarchism is the reign of anarcho capitalism, which is contemporaneous with the end of the welfare state, creating in citizens a feeling of abandonment. Just think of the state of hospitals and health care today. Current capitalism is undertaking its' Anarchist or libertarian turn. A generalized uberization, referring to Uber, of life." end of quote. Second, this capitalism is the other side of new authoritarianism, another quote from Malabu, "Authoritarianism does not contradict the disappearance of the State. It is its messenger, the mask of the so-called collaborative economy, which by bringing professionals and users into direct contact through technological platforms, pulverizes all fixity", end of quote. One should only add here that this mask is not only a mask, it is also the hidden truth of the anarchic collaborative economy. What this means is that the rising authoritarianism is the other side of the disappearance of the State, more precisely, of the State's most precious function, that of providing Public Services.

-Slavoj Zizek (from transcript)  

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