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In a parable, things aren’t always what they seem. There is always more than what is actually said. Its a short story with multiple layers of meaning.
So, what does the life and the event surrounding the hapless shooting of a 12 year old boy say about America? About the police? About fear? About power? About fetishizing guns? A lot actually!
What does it say about America?
America is not ‘America’. When someone uses the word America, for many, it conjures up the idea of a unified people. It’s the same for almost any country. The name of the country, in one sense, assumes a lot about the people that inhabit it. Especially our country. That it somehow embodies the closest ideas to our spiritual zeal for utopia; I’ve spent a lot of time in other countries, and some people covet this country for that presupposed exaggeration. Because, lets be honest, America doesn’t embody its own ideals.
It tries, but lately, its failed a lot more than not. And we have a responsibility to hold it accountable, especially if that label represents us as individuals and a corporate body of people. In the last few years with the rise of civil-war like violence, America has become embarrassing; as a country, in terms of its history, its a teenager. Right now, it seems like its throwing a tantrum. America has fallen from grace. We have a lot of work if we are divided on the fact that a 12-year old boy was shot by a police officer.
This division poses a false-dichotomy, as if we should be forced to choose who is right and who is wrong, and those are important distinctions, but, there is something hiding in plain sight that we miss by choosing these sides, and that is, as a country, we still haven’t grown up. We still are at the family table fighting over who is going to get the most toys. We are narcissistic and self-preserving, that’s what Tamir’s life reminds us, that we would rather care about the illusion of safety rather than life itself.
About the Police?
Now, I am just going to come out and tell you where I stand on this, I am an Anarchist. No, not the stereotypical “let’s go blow things up” kind of anarchists, that’s a completely wrong understanding of the idea. In this context, its the removal of mediation. For me, this means, we don’t need the police to police us, or give us some false sense of safety. I spent time in the military, I know very similar lines of ideology that hide itself as justification. As in, we need them so they can preserve our freedoms and we should just be blindly grateful for their sacrifices and so on. This is completely the wrong way to see this. We put them there. We hired them. We started the police. They weren’t there before the human race. What does it say that we still need them? That we believe we are incapable of inherent goodness? Or that we are all naturally pieces of ontological shit that we can’t ever learn? Well, it does say that if we keep them around. We need to get better at adopting new strategies as we are learning to still become human. Like care. Like responsibility. Compassion. Intersubjective alliances toward bettering ourselves. No, we need to get better at policing ourselves. It’s a sad day when the people we agreed to be in charge of our safety become the very enemies of it. It means we need to rethink not just the police but also the whole justice system they are a part of, especially when they can go free from shooting a 12-year old boy.
What about Fear?
What is fear but if not the objectification and the centering of an idea, a loss, a person, a thing right smack dab in the middle of our lives; much like a god who tells us what to do? Fear seems prevalent today in America. Almost like a religion. People would rather live in the possibility of danger rather than the possibility of the freedom that so many are shouting about. But, the last thing you experience when you choose fear, is freedom. It tells you to criminalize. It tells you who to hate. Who to love. Why we need to get rid of ‘them’. It creates all kinds of mechanised webs that defend your own world-views. Fear is the enemy here. It separates, it divides and it conquers the very thing that demands it attention.
What about Power?
Holding a gun. Being a police officer. Having status. These all represent forms of power. Power has the insane potential to corrupt quite easily. It does. It has. And it is. When we give our power to the government, we let them control every facet of our existence. We give it to them. They choose what to do with that power. They define it. They, they, they.
What about Guns?
We need to stop fetishizing guns. They don’t make us happy. They represent the very opposite of what we want by having them. They don’t create safety, they enforce it, they demand it, they are objects that give us the illusion of safety, not safety itself. If we need to wield guns to feel safe, then were we safe in the first place? Our culture is a culture of the gun. We have completely misunderstood and misappropriated the American Constitution, when historically, the second amendment was referring to a musket, in a different time, about a different war. Not now. We don’t actually NEED guns. We’ve made ourselves think we do. There are whole countries who do much better without them.
These aren’t easy issues. This article isn’t meant to be the answer, but begin a conversation that exists beyond the divide of a simplistic right or wrong. So, how do we do it? How can we create a better America? There’s still time, I think.
PS. Lookout we are going to be talking about this on my next Periscope!
Just watched San Andreas (SPOILER ALERT) with Dwayne The Rock Johnson — a few thoughts:
— Nature will always be a reminder that human aspirations have their limitations ( A great scene is when Carla and Dwayne are boating through the desolation to find their daughter, and they pause to a middle-size boat suspended between two buildings).
— Although, the movie ends with a pro-American indomitable spirit type message (by the waving of an unfolding flag on the Golden Gate Bridge), the protagonists blindly forget the desolation surrounding them; a a typical pro-political stance toward American foreign politics
— The one thing that stands the test of time, is that in tragedy, in loss, in apocalyptic moments, what is most important, is not national spirit, but, of the human responsibility toward mutual care and radical sacrifice in the face of the death. In simple terms: When the shit hits the fan, we need to rely on each other, that is the thread that will pull us through despite our differences.
Here is my abridged response to a great movie: Mad Max with Tom Hardy & Charlize Theron —
WARNING SPOILER ALERTS
Anarchy As A Caricature: I am an anarchist. I have to say, although I enjoyed the movie as a movie, its’ approach to defining the contours and ideas behind anarchy (and in this movie, its seemingly close relationship to fascism). A popular phrase that elicits both caricatures of fascism and anarchy would be: ordered chaos. But, for me, anarchy is too important of an idea to just let the sloppy cartoonification of it go. Anarchy is something that resists system. Yes, its true that systems tend to organize themselves around something or someone, which that in and of itself is a form of fascism. Anarchy attempts to emancipate the individual (corporate or otherwise) from the mediation of some centralized entity. It demands equality across any and all streams. Notice at the end, the anarchic side (as embodied by all of the Boys) is what is left, but they seem to assume, that a ruler must still be in place. In one sense, the movie is a metaphor for the struggle in US politics between the letting go of the patriarchal figurehead (even Obama!) and to move into a new era of a female President (as signaled by the possibility of one coming into power throgh Hilary Clinton).
Feminism in the Mirror: A mirror simply reflects what stands in front of it. The embellishments come from the person who sees what is reflecting back at them.There is the argument that Fury Road is a feminist angled story. I want to believe this, as a feminist, I want to advocate any form of progress, even if its just socialized entertainment. However, in this case, I would not agree with that assessment. Mainly, in the fact, that Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) practically “mirrors” the behaviour of her counter-part, Mad Max (Tom Hardy). He is silent, and so is she. He is tough, so is she. He is warrior, so is she. By the end of the movie, he still has to save her (i.e., blood-transfer), but, and here is where is it positive, he leaves her to lead the people. He vanishes, as implied. A vanishing mediator. For those who don’t know what a vanishing mediator is, here is a simple definition:
A vanishing mediator is a concept that exists to mediate between two opposing ideas, as a transition occurs between them. At the point where one idea has been replaced by the other, and the concept is no longer required, the mediator vanishes.
But, we can see the phenomenon of the mirrored feminism in politics. Sarah Palin comes to mind, where she claims to be a feminist, but is equally brash as a gun-toting conservative, and her aggressive behaviour looks nothing different than male aggression. How is this different or alternative? There is something to be said here about the ownership of behaviour, i.e., who owns certain kinds of aggression, and I don’t think its an easy answer – mostly due to history being so extremely patriarchal. But, for me, I would think Feminism isn’t simple the opposite of patriarchy, that’s too simple, and the very fact that if feminism defines itself through a duality, then it will never not be haunted by patriarchy. It must circumvent patriarchy. I think one way is through dialogue and creativity. To come to a place where there are multiple ways to be feminine that short-circuit the spirit of patriarchy.
Also, its key to note that the Max and Furiosa share a similar role, albeit, the film is more about Furiosa discovering this, going through a sort of spiritual journey (i.e., meeting the ‘prophet’ voice-in-the-wilderness who calls out and beckons the other older women on bikes), the role is of the one who doesn’t simply take what is given to them and accepts their given identity, unlike most of the half-dead followers of the tyrant. She leaves. She meets Max who is already an outsider, he is outside the law, outside the typical given identity, hence why he is attacked in the beginning, if you don’t fit in, you become a possible victim. However, in this case, both share the status of hero. You can never have more than hero to a story, which is, why he leaves at the end. In psychoanalysis, this role is more found in the role of the hysteric, (as re-defined by French Psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, find out more here). Quite simply,this is the person who stands and points and proclaims, “That is not it!”, meaning, what you’re promised, or what you desire will not be met by that. It’s like someone who wants to buy some chocolate, and another tries to sale some form of candy that isn’t chocolate but then the hysteric comes in and says, wait, he’s lying, that isn’t chocolate. And in Mad Max, Max and Furiosa play this role. In the end, the movie, although starts out in chaos, proclaims that we still need order. Although they broke the law, in that, they were always haunted by in the form of some bureaucratic symbol, in the end, Furiosa gives in by becoming the new leader, as if to proclaim, that we think we can actually escape the law and find our freedom, but the claim is that our freedom can only be found in the law. I’m not sure, I agree with that.
So, in light of the “Zizek Show” (the social media feud and Slate.com) – A few reflections:
(1) Is there a time for name-calling? Yes, there is a time for everything under the sun. Name-calling can be the very wake-up call one needs to be alerted to certain destructive behaviours or actions that harm themselves or others. Even some of our holy men used it. Jesus at one time called Herod a ‘puppet-king’ (it was a lot more derogatory then it is now). Sometimes name-calling is beneficial. But an eye for an eye is not, another holy man, Ghandi made the point that if we keep poking each others eyes out, then the whole world will be blind.
With that being said, I apoogize publicly for mirroring Rebecca’s initial vitriol, who has since the article apologized. (Was it beneficial to defend against Rebecca’s name-calling, partially, I would say, only if to wake her up to the fact that her name-calling does not help the fight against something bigger than this little playground skirmish). That of the plight of capitalist saturation of reality.
(2) We must keep the fighting focused on the very elements that distract us naturally from its presence, and though many may disagree with my assessment – we live in an era where the death of the institution (not just educational) is nigh. Almost, imminent. We have to prepare for this. But not, to create new ones. But in bated breath anticipate the newness that can come from the future. Answers should not be embraced so easily, we should sleep with one eye open so to keep one eye on the horizons ahead. Back to this notion of presence, an essentialist term, one we have become to comfortable with – the presence I speak of, is that of the substance of education. We have become too comfortable to define and defend its parameters. Maybe that’s the problem, we have spent too much time on defining the corners and foundations that we have forgot the most important point of dialogical discovery, the ‘what’ – maybe a child-like return to that kind of discourse can be the very conversation that immobilzes the appearence of necessity to defend our own ideological kingdoms. Dont’ simply push this simplification away, think about the implications of such a ‘what’ that has been mise an abyme and rather than try to bring this secluded query out of the abyss, we must all venture there together. Beyond the ego. Beyond the illusion of the individual.
(3) Freud once tritely said: A Cigar is not just a Cigar. Rightly so, in this context, we need that reminder. This conversation is not just Leftist in-fighting but a distraction, a negation, a puncture, a hole, a wound and a tear into the fabric of a future waiting to occur. No, I don’t believe in Utopia nor do I think that metaphysical ideology is helpful in any sense of the idea. But conversation, dialogue, inter-relationality is a place to start. To work toward something better that lies beyond heaven, which is the here and now. This conversation is a signifier pointing to the master signifier, which in this context would be that of the university, that of the student, and how the university has disemboweled any space for a new kind of relationship between the student and teacher. Paulo Freire is so important here with the claim that dialogue must replace curriculum. This is where Zizek gets it right, we need vulnerability, even the point of personal insult. This defense against political correctness or the need to ‘watch what we say’ (or joke about) is nothing short of localized (personal) paranoia and the insistence that the fable of the ‘individual’ is real. We can’t afford this any longer. We have to be tenacious and fight together rather than with another. NOTE: this is not an apology for the content dealt with (i.e., the end of academia and etc.) – but for my behaviour.
Going to apologize to Rebecca right now
“[T]he more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled. This person is not afraid to meet the people or to enter into a dialogue with them. This person does not consider himself or herself the proprietor of history or of all people, or the liberator of the oppressed; but he or she does commit himself or herself, within history, to fight at their side.” – Paulo Freire
I recently interviewed, Slavoj Zizek at the Zizek Conference in Ohio. An article emerged from the general interest publication Slate dot com that was a direct attack on myself and Zizek.
The following is my response. You can watch the interview here.
Schuman is right about one thing, “The academy is in crisis”. But not because Slavoj Zizek made an ironic joke about American students and their demanding need for attention. Hell, this is how most American students are. Open. Honest. They talk too much. So what if the caricature was right? It was funny, and it was a joke.
I would laugh again.
The academy is in crisis because the academy itself is a structure that demands myopic allegiance to its historical presence. Once someone like Slavoj Zizek puts the academy in question, all hell breaks loose. For me, this is the point of his joke here, that the academy negates any space for real relationship between a student and her professor. That the very mediation is what defines the parameters of the
relationship between student and teacher to the point that there is no student or teacher present, simply cogs in a wheel.
Schuman has become one such cog.
The fact that Schuman doesn’t get that a joke is itself an unconscious critique of something material, tells me that she would rather embrace the fantasy of accepting her £18,000 servitude to a dead institution. Institutions like the European Graduate School and the Global Centre For Advanced Studies are attempting to develop new forms of dialogical pro-relational anti-institutional responses to the archaic out-moded hollow spaces we now refer to as the Academy.
We need this kind of critique that wakes us up from our slumber. We cant afford to be in debt to a dying system. Zizek is a necessary component to helping develop a new kind of student discourse. One that resists the comfortable allure of political correctness. We need more philosophers like him. Feelings get hurt all of the time. We learn how to respond to them in healthy ways. That’s up to us. One of the stupidest things to ever enter into the western television are these banal talk shows that interview people who were called a name on their school playground when they were ten and they spend their whole life being defined by this very thing. Maybe this is why Schuman wrote the article. Maybe its catharsis.
I have been following Schuman’s responses on Twitter, mainly to see if she has even put her attack into question, this is usually a sign of someone willing to learn, grow and develop, but it does not seem the case. The nature of education from preschool to adulthood as it stands only stands as a model of stagnant cognitive sedition or simply put its meant to provide a space for radical thinking but demands zombies. Or as Paulo Freire once said: “Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”
What this demonstrates in a much wider sense – is that of contextualization. What Schuman lacks is not academic rigor, what she lacks is understanding. Comprehension. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Is this also not the plight of education today? Namely, that students are leaving institutions by the thousands, impregnated with abstract forms of knowledge but no outlets from which to develop and practice that knowledge. Academia has become the fertile cultivating ground for the over-saturation of: nothing.The abstract critiques of people she personally does not know based on social symbolizations (myths and fantasies) is indicative of the counter-intuitive nature of the promise of freedom when one gets a degree (to do anything they want) but does not know what do with it. These abstract judgements are based upon her caricatures of Zizek, not anything material, hence why these linguistic hallucinations only encase her deeper into the much wider context that she seems wholly unaware of.. Has she had a drink with the man like myself? No. She is dealing with the ghosts of her own making.
Her assumptions are in a direct sense pedestrian obfuscations against her very critique of both Zizek and myself. That in her attacks the same attacks are leveled against herself. Moreso, in the fact that she agrees that Zizek might be an important voice for the academy today but only wants Zizek without the caffeine. She is a control-freak in simple terms, she wants to define what she gets rather than learn from what is and could be. Let’s be clear, Schuman is playing her role, in this we should not blame her. She is victim of a much bigger issue. Which is the the death of the academy trying to hold on too tightly to a future it no longer owns. But enough digression, why don’t we hear from one of Zizeks students on the matter, which represents the very antithesis of Schuman’s assumptions:
Agon Hamza, a serious student and philosopher of Zizek states the following:
“.. being his student for some time now (and the most recent bashing has todo with his comments on students/universities, etc), I have to say that he is an incredible supervisor. He has always read everything I have sent him and took his time to comment on my work, etc etc. (let alone responding to my queries, demands for texts, or other stuff). Third, before you engage in the now-too-boring-Zizek-bashing, *please* read his work first!”
One of Zizek’s former Teaching Assistants has this to say about Slavoj:
“Everybody is all of a sudden giving a shit about Zizek’s comments about how much he hates his students. I can’t help but notice that many of the people who are calling him out on this ritualistically mock and belittle their own students. As a former TA of Zizek’s, I can say with all honesty – he *treats* his students quite well.”
Clearly Schuman needs to do a bit more investigation before she makes some judgement calls.
That Slate would allow this piece to be published without first recognizing Schuman’s rhetorical shortfalls is in and of itself telling of the caliber of journalism and investigation that goes on at Slate.com. I contacted Slate asking for the opportunity to respond as well as Rebecca through social media and to my lack of surprise, there was no response. Both are not interested in dialogue, only in a one-sided diatribe that itself lacks substance. This is yet another metaphor for the sad state of the academic curriculum, that it exists to just yell and rant but never to listen, never to be changed. I hope this is a wake up call to Schuman and to the insititutional academy, that things are in dire straits and we need to mobilize a revolution that no longer allows zombies to defend its existence.
I think it’s time to move on and grow up.