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Is it OK to punch a Nazi? Philosopher Slavoj Žižek talks on Richard Spencer, Nazis, and Donald Trump

“Is it OK to punch a Nazi?” is a question that has ricocheted around Twitter ever since Jan. 20, when “alt-right” provocateur and American white supremacist Richard Spencer got slugged on video by a masked protester during Donald Trump’s US presidential inauguration. Footage of the punch spread quickly around the internet, where it became a topic of much debate, a website and even a meme.

But while some people celebrated the punch, others wondered if, on a more philosophical level, sucker punching a neo-Nazi is ever acceptable behavior. Most respectable types said no, while others, including many on the so-called “Dirtbag Left,” pointed out that punching Nazis is a time-honored American tradition.

I asked controversial Slovenian philosopher and professor at the European Graduate School Slavoj Žižek what he thought. His answer might surprise you. (Editor’s note: the following transcript has been edited for clarity.).....more here

The Fate of Slavoj Zizek

I’ve been wanting to interview the famous Slovenian philosopher for the last seven years and now I finally have.

I discovered Slavoj Žižek’s work quite by accident when, wanting to check out Loren Singer’s novel The Parallax View from my local library I put Žižek’s book with the same title on hold instead. Looking back on this incident now, after having finally gotten the chance to talk to him directly, the mistake seems like an act of fate. It seems like fate precisely because seeing it as an act of fate fits well within Žižek’s philosophical system. For Žižek, fate is something chosen retrospectively and retroactively. That is, our life is full of random accidents, stuff goes wrong this way and that way, but at......more

Slavoj Žižek chooses his five favourite plays

In an interview with Five Books, Slavoj Žižek selects five plays he admires. These plays are:

Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles
Richard II by William Shakespeare

The Hostage by Paul Claudel

The Measures Taken by Bertolt Brecht

Not I by Samuel Beckett

The interesting interview keeps on going:

Can you tell us a little bit about why you’ve chosen each of these plays?

At first, the five plays look like a jumbled heap lacking any common feature—what could they have in common? The bitter end of the old Oedipus who cannot reconcile himself with his fate; Richard II’s descent into madness after he is deprived of royal prerogatives; the meaningless self-sacrifice of a woman married to a man she despises; the ruthless killing of a young Communist who has shown too much compassion; and the confused mumbling of an old senile Irish woman?

To each of these plays, one can easily substitute another piece by the same author which deserves much more our attention. For example, is the ethical fidelity of Antigone not much easier to identify with than the vicissitudes of the old Oedipus? Are the doubts and procrastinations of Hamlet not infinitely more interesting....more

Lessons From the “Airpocalypse” by Slavoj Zizek

In December 2016, smog in big Chinese cities became so thick that thousands fled into the countryside, trying to reach a place where one could still see blue sky—this “airpocalypse” affected half a billion people. For those who remained, moving around began to resemble life in a post-apocalyptic movie: people walking around with large gas masks in a smog where even nearby trees were invisible. The class dimension played a crucial role: Before the authorities had to close airports because of the bad air, those who could afford an expensive flight abandoned the affected cities. And, to add insult to injury, Beijing's lawmakers considered listing smog as a meteorological disaster, an act of nature, not an effect of industrial pollution, to prevent blaming the authorities for the catastrophe. A new category was thus added to the long list of refugees from wars, droughts, tsunamis, earthquakes, economic crises, etc.—smog refugees.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this airpocalypse is its quick normalization: After the authorities could no longer deny the problem, they established procedures that would somehow enable people to continue their daily life by way of following new routines, as if the catastrophic smog were just a new fact of life. On designated days, you try to stay at home as much as possible and, if necessary, walk around with masks. Children rejoice in the news that on many days schools are closed—an opportunity to stay at home and play. Making a trip to the countryside, where the blue sky is still visible, becomes a special occasion one looks forward to (there are already agencies in Beijing specialized for such one-day trips). The important thing is not to panic and to maintain the appearance that, in spite of all troubles, life goes on …

Such a reaction is understandable if we take into account that we are being confronted by something so completely outside our collective experience that we don’t really see it, even when the evidence is overwhelming. For us, that “something” is a blitz of enormous biological and physical alterations in the world that has been sustaining us. In order to cope with this threat, our collective ideology is mobilizing mechanisms of dissimulation and self-deception which go up to the direct will to ignorance: “a general pattern of behavior among threatened human societies is to become more blindered, rather than more focused on the crisis, as they fail.”

One thing is sure: An extraordinary social and psychological change is taking place right in front of our eyes—the impossible is becoming possible. An event first experienced as impossible but not real (the prospect of a forthcoming catastrophe which, however probable we know it is, we do not believe will effectively occur and thus dismiss as impossible) becomes real but no longer impossible (once the catastrophe occurs, it is “renormalized,” perceived as part of the normal run of things, as always-already having been possible). The gap which makes these paradoxes possible is the one between knowledge and belief: we know the (ecological) catastrophe is possible, probable even, yet we do not believe it will really happen.

Recall the siege of Sarajevo in the early 1990s: The fact that a “normal” European city of half a million inhabitants will be encircled, starved, regularly bombed, its citizens terrorized by sniper fire, etc., and that this will go on for 3 years, would have been considered unimaginable before 1992—it would have been extremely easy for the Western powers to break the siege and open a small safe corridor to the city. When the siege began, even the citizens of Sarajevo thought this is a short-term event, trying to send their children to safety “for a week or two, till this mess is over.” And then, very fast, the siege was “normalized.” This same passage from impossibility to normalization (with a brief intermediary stage of panicky numbness) is clearly discernible in how the U.S. liberal establishment reacted to Trump's victory. It is also clearly at work in how state powers and big capital relate to ecological threats like the ice meltdown on the poles. The very same politicians and managers who, until recently, dismissed the fears of global warming as the apocalyptic scare-mongering of ex-Communists, or at least as premature conclusions based on insufficient evidence, assuring us that there is no reason for panic, that, basically, things will go on as usual, are now all of a sudden treating global warming as a simple fact, as part of the way things are “going on as usual” ….....more