viernes, 17 de febrero de 2012

Zizek and the enterprise of 2nd Modernity: reflections of a groupie

One of the main points that Slavoj Zizek makes on public
communications is the defense of logocracy –which I understand as the political counterweight of theory over democracy and over pluralism in general–.

I divided this post in two parts. First I bring Zizek's words from an interview in the Harvard Crimson Magazine. Then I elaborate some free thoughts in questions related to the first part which I refer to as a pretension to fund a second modernity. 

Part I

«FM: It seems that a similar deadlock appears in the context of both the
economic crisis and global warming—experts can’t seem to predict
them, nor will politicians or society act to stop them.

SZ: I especially hate, from my own experience, when people say, “Oh,
who could have predicted this [economic crisis]?” No. I know a couple
of leftists and empiricists who exactly predicted this. These are not the
kinds of cheap catastrophists who all of the time give bad predictions
and then something happens so that they go awry. No, no. They were
very precise and predicted this crisis. Paul Krugman said something
deeply true. A guy asked him, “But now that we know, wouldn’t things
be radically different if we were to know 10 years back what we know
now?” He said, “No, no, it wouldn’t. The system pushes you to act in a
certain way.” The illusion is much stronger. Like, you may know that
there may be a catastrophe, but nonetheless, we would have done
exactly the same thing. I mean, it’s no longer a question of knowledge.
Today many, even sociologists, have this wonderful idea of how,
although we live in a society of knowledge—even scientific knowledge
—[it] is becoming more and more contingent, non-binding. I think it was
the German theorist Ulrich Beck who drew attention to the simple fact:
today we speak about expert opinions. Are we aware how paradoxical
this term is? The idea is that we ordinary people have opinions. They
tell you the truth. Now experts all of a sudden are telling us different
opinions and we have to decide how, who knows, if even they don’t
know. This is the tragedy of our predicament of freedom of choice. The
problem is...we are often forced to choose without having serious
cognitive coordinates of how or what to choose.... The price is that
science is no longer a homogenous science but it’s turning into kind of
a pluralistic field of opinions.

For example, I once had a debate with a quantum physicist. And he
accused me, “You stupid guys with your French theory, total bullshit.”
He made fun precisely of this: “You can just say whatever you want.”
And I told him, “Fuck you! Look at quantum physics: literally anything
goes. You can claim that there is a Big Bang, that there is no Big Bang,
there were multiple Big Bangs...” It’s incredible how, when science
approaches a certain limit, how open it becomes. It’s as if anything you
can imagine, you find scientists who advocate. I’m not saying science
is just laughable. It is real. I’m just saying how difficult it is to decide
today without a proper cognitive base. We are more and more
compelled to this.

Andre Depui said that the problem when people say, “Oh but we don’t
know if it’s really global warming.” The problem is that if you want to
wait until we really know, it will be, by definition, too late. Because we
will really know when the catastrophe is here. This is maybe one of the
great things that has to be decided as a specific problem—in Germany
there were working with certain proponents of risk society—how to
decide some basic rules of decision-making in situations that are
cognitively non-transparent. You have to decide because not doing
anything is also a decision. You have to decide, but you don’t know.
The situation is not transparent.»
 Part II

 Just as liberal constitutions despite his dissimilar nature has proven to
be a good and perhaps necessary complement for the survival of
democracy, we should begin to ground a deeper political role to theory.
Theory understood in this context as the dialectical corollaries between
object and subject. Take for example scientific theory, whose object
has an empirical nature. Or metaphysics whose object is language in
its broadest logical sense –I think I am running out of examples–. An
important thing to answer is, what is the difference between this spirit
and the one present in the first modernity whose achievements seems
to be shadowed by his spectacular failures. I believe this is a question
which will be haunting us, despite the abstract answers we can give to
it. But this abstract answers are important as much as they are the
starting point of a praxis. I will provide two non exclusive answers: one
is that we are no longer looking for a totalitarian regime where there is
no room for alternative realms or sources of power. It doesn't means
that decisions on every realm of existence should be an homogeneous
aggregate of political sources –as in scientific, democratic, legal,
tradition, etc.– it means that to every realm of existence there will be
an heterogeneous aggregate of political sources arranged in a
functional basis –and whose function is to be addressed from
constitutional reforms–. Secondly, we have a serious commitment with
reformism. First modernity was in many ways an incomplete modernity.
One of its outstanding absences was the notion of falsifiability which is
politically addressable through proper reformist mechanisms and by
securing the rights and relevance of political opposition. But falsifiability
cannot simply come from other political sources. To avoid democracy
fortuitously ruling down scientific theories and vice versa we shall give
special powers to the falsifiability coming from the same political and/or
epistemological sources.

In a way all these points pretending to take distance from the first
modernity but also from postmodernity resemble the motto of orthodox
societies, who –unlike traditional societies– aware of the unavoidable
presence of heterodoxy –with all his vices including that of selfish
liberal interests– designed pragmatically consensual rules of play. And
by pragmatically I mean going beyond the mere tug of war which
usually ends up in ambiguous, far from synergetic, policies.

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