A critque of Jordan Peterson and Slavoj Žižeks debate on “Happiness”

I can afford to be slightly more generous because I am not anywhere near as far left as jacobin is.

About 30min in the introductions are given. I had not heard the list of Žižek’s accomplishments, so I was a bit surprised. Then after JP (Jordan Petersen) is introduced he first starts by insulting the writing style of the communist manifesto. I can’t make any comments about that, because I have not read it myself. I will say however with his belief that “most ideas are wrong” However what I assume he was trying to say is “Most ideas are incomplete”. Likewise when he asks if the arguments are “Solid thinking” I interpreted that to mean “Solid reasoning”. I did appreciate his taking time to explain what critical thinking is and where to begin to apply it.

JP then proceeds to begin delving into his top 10 points about the communist manifesto.

1) History is to be primarily viewed as an economic class struggle. I hate to agree with JP that, history is much more than that. The only ones that commodity history are the economists. I am going to assume that the communist manifesto says a lot more than that.

I personally feel that existence of hierarchy is not itself a problem, it’s an organizational model. The problems only arise from the cultural application or magical justification for hierarchy beyond it’s utilitarian functions. An example here being routing traffic on the internet, which is ostensibly a huge overlay of multiply network hierarchies, which determine their own internal routing decisions hierarchically, to pass data hat typically does not originate from nor is destined for, their own network. A lower tech example would be the highway system, which is maintained by multiple states, each maintaining only those roads which are within the boundaries of their own state. Corruption over construction contracts varies as a factor of cultural and historical differences, not hierarchical ones.

However there is one aspect I strongly disagreed with JP on, and it was so obvious tat even the audience started laughing. It was when JP stated “You don’t rise to a position of authority that is reliable in human society, primarily by exploiting other people. It is a very unstable means of obtaining power” He seems to have a massive blind spot for the violence of history and the many people who came to the exceptionalist conclusion of “Might makes right” which seems to be gaining popularity in recent decades. The only truth he was even close to, was the statement that such is a very unstable means of gaining power. Really depends on how you gauge the stability of say, the Chinese economy. Which recently posted 6.4% growth, remarkably unchanged from previous statements, despite the known disruptions caused by the on-going trade war with the US. Stable enough to convince new trading partners at least. But the interaction between authoritarianism, control via propaganda, and systemic dishonesty (for which they seem to be competing with the trump administration) is outside the scope of this critique (maybe look into finance in the 1920’s and compare to azn markets).

JP then goes on to make points about the binary thinking utilized in the communist manifesto, which are obvious propaganda tactics because it was a call to arms more than a political discourse.

The next segment JP covers is profit. He is a little bit all over the place and once again, because I haven’t read the communist manifesto, I can’t comment on the accuracy of his claims, however one thing that stuck out to me was the part were he says that “on of the functions of Profit is to put a limit on the foolish things I can do, it puts a constraint on wasted labor. There were forms of stupididty that could not be engaged in, because of the punishment by the market. This type of constrain does seem to be at least a little illusory in free markets, because there is no other explanation of the various financial crisis that been occurring on a somewhat regular basis since the 1920’s. To be fair however, none of the companies that were industry leaders back then, even exist today. But the power structures are eerily similar.

Then he makes a point that puts this entire conversation in a purely historical context which is unmoored from the current material conditions. While it is true that at the time, over 100yrs ago, before “The horseless carriage” had even been conceived of, that they simply did not have the computational capacity to centrally plan an economy. The same cannot be said for today, especially in the shadow of Amazon and success of chineese grand infrastructure projects (and not to mention skillful manipulations, and I am not just talking about currency.) He just sticks with the belief that centrally managed economies are still impossible. Just because they are possibly doesn’t mean I agress with them 100% but there is certainly the possibility of creating a decentralized global economy which responds quickly to both feedback and legislation which, if applied democratically, would have the appearance and responsiveness of a centrally planned economy. This economic methodology is often referred to as “The 4th industrial revolution” currently. Does that makes it capitalist ? Or Marxist (communist) ? I feel like this is where socialism really differentiates itself from both capitalism and Marxism. More on that differentiation later.

That difference also makes what JP says next particularly interesting, He says “The dictatorship of the proletariat which results in absurd centralization (Workers replaced by automation ? Hello ?) will somehow not become corrupt by the sudden concentration of power (that’s actually reasonable complaint) and impossible (back then, not anymore) amount of computation. Would allow hyper productivity (robots took muh jerb!) to such a degree that there will be enough material goods for everyone. That individuals will spontaneously engage in meaningful, creative labor. (Which they ahd been alienated from in the capitalist system) and utoia would be ushered in. That is literally the exact idea behind the abundance movement, which is very much not Marxist. That conclusion is the basis for the zero marginal cost society https://thezeromarginalcostsociety.com/ which is what the 4th industrial revolution is based upon and currently a key component of the United Nations sustainable development goals. https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/
So these things he is claiming are A) marxist and B) A fantasy are in fact neither. This is amusing because somehow it seems JP is unaware of the transhumnists despite being the punchline of quite a few transhumnist jokes. It’s like a 4/20 miracle.

It is only as crazy as his belief that it was capitalism that alleviated poverty in Africa, and not development programs by the UN which are not inherently free market policies, but are in fact primarily based on charity and centralized planning, which are basically taxes and planning done by NGOs instead of governments. (The UN is itself an NGO) and lays all those accolades at the feet of capitalism, which has actually been the primary force for destabilization and exploitation. Which is why the audience laughed at that statement as well.

Fortunately there were time limits set, though not necessarily adhered to, and Žižek followed up with his rebuttal. Which starts by complaining that he has been feeling attacked by the left despite his position as a part of the left, which he dumps almost all criticisms of himself as “political correctness” which is only true some of the time. At the very least he actually does address the title of the debate, being about happiness. However he seemed to immediately conflates happiness with hedonism, and the contentment of buddhism with hedonism. He refers to happiness as a confused notion, seemingly because of his own inability to define it in a non-stereotypical way or define and disambiguate his examples. Personally I think he is just an angry old man who hasn’t really thought about happiness in a philosophical way because it would threaten his status as a curmudgeon. The perils of self-awareness accessible to him on a purely subconscious level I suppose…

It makes a much as sense as his prepared statement that people “pretend to desire things” rather than simply having mistaken or un-examined value systems from which they generate desire. A sort of willful self-deception surrounding desire. While I totally believe people are often willfully ignorant, I do not believe that is how people approach their desires in general.

This becomes twisted into a logical train-wreck that the worst thing that can happen to people, is to get what they desire. The most amazing part of that leap of logic, is that he had written it down and it wasn’t an idle musing in the moment. This is also why I was surprised at his list of accomplishments at the introduction. How are these things possible at the same time ?!
He seriously goes on to say that self-actualization is not a meaningful life goal because people are dumb. I thought I was cynical, but Žižek seems to be going for the gold on that one.

It’s not all bad though, Žižek does make some remarkable insights into the trump phenomena, going so far as to call him “A post-modernist politician at it’s purest”

Žižek then proceeds to talk about a favorite topic of the alt-right which is “Cultural Marxism” which he contends is basically an ideological place-holder for the alt-right to update all their reasoning for anti-antisemitism and re-package those distractions to conceal their true agendas which are quite dysfunctional.

Then he goes on a bit of a rant, where he takes a shot at JP’s evolutionary critique of lobsters and their supposed similarities to human behaviors. At the end of his rebuttal he does add a dose of sobering reality to ground his complaints. He says “When someone tries to convince me that despite all of our problems, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I tell them it is probably the light of another oncoming train.” Brushing all that aside he points out what is possibly the most important aspect of this gathering. He says “Don’t take it as a cheap competition even if that is all it appears to be, because we are all desperately trying to confront serious problems.” so the importance is actually placed on the revival of structured debate which engenders a certain minimum level of respect regardless of how arbitrary or asinine the presentations of the speakers may be. To which JP I gladly begins his rebuttal.

Interestingly, despite his opening arguments mostly being aimed at marxism, he does not claim that the answers posed by capitalism are by any means sufficient. His complaints are mostly that Žižek did not use marxism as a solution to anything. In my opnion the reason for this is that, most of marxism is itself a critique of capitalism and very little is about specific alternatives, mostly generalizations about social dynamics of labor and market forces with a heavy reliance on “The people will figure it out when they get there” which is also why most leftists rebuttal to claims of the failures of communism are simply that, true communism has never been tried only attempts at assembling communism that failed half way through the transnational process. To me the irony of those failures is that they failed in the same way and for the same reasons as capitalism typically fails, which once again places the failures in a cultural context instead of an organizational one.

One of the few things I agree with both of them on is the idea that the evil of capitalism is precisely contained in the drive to commodity all aspects of life, including social aspects and the commons which cannot be properly valued as pure commodities, which is what creates the fundamental internal contradictions within capitalism, such as the tragedy of the commons. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragedy_of_the_commons

One thing that I found to be odd, is that JP seemed to conflate happiness with wealth by viewing happiness only through the lens of negative liberty https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negative_liberty, which is the absence of misery, while being unaware of positive liberty, or its use as a measure of ‘happiness’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Positive_liberty which is an easy mistake to make. However he then goes on to talk about the law of diminishing returns in the context of vast ‘wealth creation’ withing capitalism, while correctly pointing out the dangers posed by such unequal concentration of wealth, while failing to make so much of a mention of real value vs ‘economic value’ the first being rooted in the innate nature of utility of a commodity, whereas the latter ‘economic value’ can be and entirely arbitrary product of ‘exotic financial instruments’ such as those behind the 2008 financial crisis as well as the great depression.

JP then goes on to make claims that by using over-simplified metrics such as GDP to drive sustainability, because people will simply care more once they have more to loose, is short sighted because it primarily supposes a western cultural mindset but more to the point, is supposing that raising GDP level to a degree where people can be wasteful, will drive them to be more sustainable. A bit of a chicken and egg problem for solving climate change, which only seems that way when seen from a purely free-market-only perspective, which he says he does not himself believe in, simply has no other answers. That is only ironic because of the similarities it bears to the marxist belief in the proletariat figuring it out when power is thrust upon them, without succumbing to the same cultural failures of social domination based hierarchies. Are these the failures of cultural marxism or just western culture?
He then goes on to talk about how “The population bomb” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Population_Bomb was diffused by technologies, namely genetically modifying crops combined with advances in petrochemical argiproducts like fertilizers and pesticides and herbicides etc… what he fails to take into account is that in those situations, they were not contending with massive negative feedback loops which disrupt crops systemically, such as extreme weather events, supply chain disruptions, soil quality issues, evolved genetic resistance to said agriproducts, even water scarcity issues. He heaps all his hopes on some small set of technologies revolutionizing production while ignoring climate change and the significant differences in the material conditions such as https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peak_phosphorus and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soil_depletion#Soil_depletion . So there is a lot of misplaced optimism because previous solutions were not systemic because they didn’t need to be, while new solutions must inherently be more complex because the material conditions in which they exist are literally more complex than they used to be.

He does try to introduce a framework for decision making based on a hierarchy of responsibility, interestingly that puts the public good as the ultimate constraint. But that seems to be an attempt to shoehorn iterated game theories into the context of familial or kinship bonds as the threshold between individualism and collectivism.

At this point he give the floor back to Žižek, who excitedly shuffles to his podium.

Here he for the first time begins to address happiness, it took 2hrs for him to get to the topic of the night. His students must love that about him. He makes a brief note that “capitalism needs to be limited” which nobody disagrees with. Then he says that he does not believe that statistics that people in poorer countries are more happy than those in rich countries under certain circumstances. I think he believes this because he is not familiar with persistent stress and it’s effects on happiness, or the notion of relative happiness. The first aspect, stress effects on happiness. The stress response predates human language by many thousands of years. Not only that, the heightend alert state that it creates, which has some positives like more sensitive to learning, and faster reaction times. Also has several high costs, as the sress hormones can vastly increase inflammation across all parts of the body, from the gut to the brain. That is good for healing from injuries, however prolonged exposure leads to most diseases of inflammation. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3492709/ which are far more common in developed economies than they are in developing economies.
So that immediately points to a very negative difference between poor and rich in certain conditions. That same mechanism is why poor in developed countries are so much worse off than the rich in the same country. While the poor in that country are richer than all the poor in a poorer country, they are still experiencing much more stress than the poor in the poorer country. I am fairly certain that
Žižek has completely missed that dynamic. That is what I am referring to, when referring to ‘relative happiness’ https://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/memory-vs-experience-happiness-is-relative
which specifically notes: ‘One way to improve life is simply by tilting the balance toward more affectively good activities, such as spending more time with friends or reducing commuting time’
which are precisely things that market forces commodify and create artificial scarcity by extracting increasing amounts of utility from workers, those same forces to no drive alienation in poorer countries, thus they have greater social happiness. Which is not something that can be easily crammed into an economic calculus, so therefore is considered to not exist in most western thought. So it is not surprising that both
Žižek and most economists, do not know it exists. Other examples are (a) people tend to be unhappy under adverse conditions such as poverty, war and isolation, (b) improvement or deterioration of at least some conditions does effect happiness lastingly, (c) earlier hardship does not favour later happiness{economists heads explode with this}, (d) people are typically positive about their life rather than neutral.

His next point is interesting to be sure, and defiantly originates from his religious beliefs. His belife is that true happiness come from an abdication of personal responsibility. That people are happier when they have someone else to blame for their difficulties. While that may be true for some, those would be the ‘ignorance is bliss crowd’ that believe that somehow the state of nature is benevolence, that social Darwinism is benevolent. Instead of understanding that the discomfort that arises from personal responsibility to situations outside of our everyday experience, which is other people. Is the only thing that allows genuine or positive liberty to exists. Without that perspective, they devolve into individualist populism, which is basically authoritarianism. A true form of ignorance, which amazingly does not have a good historical track record. This is the purest form of the dunning-kruger effect which demonstrates that ignorance is so common a problem, because it effects everyone except the sufferer, which is not actually true, because it effects the sufferer as well, but those effects are delayed to such a (small) degree that the sufferer is not able to recognize their causal relationship to their own suffering (this is what neo-buddhists call “Karma”) I like to refer to it as the Donkey-Kong of Karma, also because of the similarity between donkey kong and the monkey king. (sorry these jokes only make sense in english language). Žižek then continues on about Czechoslovakia in the 1970’s. A story about meat availability where that scarcity gave a metric to happiness, instead of something like causing people to prefer more vegetarian diets, as people do these days in response to climate change. That is an example of confusing a material condition for a cultural one.
He then goes on about the social contract between authoritarians and their populace, as if that social contract was specific to authoritarians instead of being common to all forms of government, including monarchies. In my opinion, these biases are of the same type that ayn rand ran afoul of. A type of cultural myopia that is invisible to those who are mostly unaware of arbitrary injustice, such as race based injustice used to justify colonialism. When he complains about this, please note this has nothing to do with political correctness, and everything to do with material conditions when divorced from culture.

I will say however that I agree with his next sentiment, which is that happiness as a goal, should be a mandatory byproduct and not the primary goal. He then proceeds to yell “China” like trump does and asks what the difference would be if china was more democratic than authoritarian during it’s rise. The answer to that is outside the scope of this article, I think I may put it behind a patreon paywall so I will experience less personal harassment, something the US gov has seemingly failed to even detect, within it’s own borders. Also that would add like 10 pages to this article. The one paragraph version is:

They would have had slightly slower growth, and the foxconn suicides https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foxconn_suicides wouldn’t have happened. Also they would have a much much easier time displacing the US without falling into https://foreignpolicy.com/2017/06/09/the-thucydides-trap/ but oh well, that trap is typically only triggered when both sides are authoritarian. Their unabashedly authoritarianism, which is typically concealed behind a language barrier and tightly controlled media, is becoming harder and harder to hide since the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/19th_National_Congress_of_the_Communist_Party_of_China which was in step with the trump transition. The similarities in the way both governments have changed is disturbing, with the Americans actually benefiting from multiple perspectives while china has merely increased it’s mimicry to the form of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confessions_of_an_Economic_Hit_Man which has enabled developing economies to produce as much CO2 and pollution as china itself, with 60% of greenhouse emissions originating from China or the “other” category which excludes all developed economies, with a great propaganda campaign about being the worlds “green power” I would go on but this is already more than a paragraph.
He then proceeds to make statements about the oceans, to which JP seems genuinely surprised. I think I might have telepathically sent Žižek a “Save the wales” message, as I was watching this debate live. He refers to the tragedy of the commons of the oceans as “The problem of the oceans” in their relationship to imperiling human life on earth via climate change. He takes his personal position as a marxist to be because the limitations of the market prevent it from solving “The problem of the oceans” . That alleviating poverty, which he attributes to capitalism instead of growth of economic activity and technology itself regardless of economic framework, is less important than solving “the problem of the oceans” so he is correct, for the wrong reasons, because he is misattributing poverty alleviation. He then tries to separate exploitation from being inherent to capitalism, by stating that the issues in south Africa are still a result of colonialism, as if the ideology of colonialism are somehow different than those of capitalism. He really does a better job of representing JP’s positions than JP does, albeit using selective historical memory, something they both share. Since he is a marxist who was somehow able to miss the classism at the root of the south African inequality which he is referring to, even though he spelled it out as a “new black ruling class” and attributes it to colonialism instead of capitalism. I think this is why Jacobin gave him the title of fool in their article. But it may simply be poor diet + stress + lack of self awareness = bad memory + logic train like a roller coaster that jumps the tracks. The stress is real though, because he doesn’t normally touch his face so much in his previous talks. Also he keeps pulling on his shirt to try and lower his body temperature. Apparently does not celebrate 420 or he might actually have been more coherent. This entire 7 page article was written while celebrating April 20th. Cannabis is a sacrament in the neo-Buddhist tradition.

He then veers off into talking about how capitalism enables some of the worst humanitarian disasters such as yemen, which is entirely based on people killing other people of the same religion with weapons they bought with the money extracted from a land that has been so poorly managed that over a thousands years it went from being the lush cradle of civilization to a desert. For many millennia it was actually a swamp, which is where all that oil came from in the first place.

He then jumps topics again, and the look of confusion and bewilderment on JP’s face as he trys to follow the rapidly changing topics while Žižek seem to be in ADD Overdrive. He does make a very cogent request, while recognizing the type of global change and or cooperation required to solve these issues, what the consequences of engaging in large scale reform will be? What is acceptable, to prevent situations like Yemen?
He has a request for self awareness that he applied to Marxism for some reason, by hoping that Marxism would somehow enable people to know the consequences of their actions prior to carrying out said actions, instead of that being a cultural condition of thinking before acting, as apposed to operating out reactionary positions. He mostly wants people who crave revolution to apply that logic to stave off creating their own version of Yemen at home, from what I can tell, though I may be creating my own meaning at this point. Žižek then proceed to expound on the need to create new international organizations to solve these problems (though I personally believe in reform of existing organizations such as the UN, new organizations can advance the process of reforming existing organizations) he also emphasizes how much of a pessimist he is with a slovianian parable that suggests they prefer “and eye for an eye makes the whole world blind, and makes the one eyed man king” a sort of self-destructive pessimism which he believes is human nature. Though it is notably anti-social behavior, which would prevent humans from being social animals at all. Another conflation, this time between culture and human nature. This is a great example of ignorance as bliss in action. He comes to these conclusions entirely because he does not see “an easy way out”. So his ignorance leads to anti-social behavior and biases so great as to contradict what is known scientifically about human nature, which is that humans are classified as social animals. Oddly(?), he seems more frustrated than blissful at this prospect.
Finally JP gets to have his reply, which he starts with calling Žižek ‘a character’ which Žižek could not really tell if that was an insult or not, though JP exclaims that it is not. JP defines being ‘a character’ as a sign of originality and moral courage, which is a nice sentiment. He goes on to state that Žižek might consider his ideology “Žižekism” (I LoLed) because it has enough originality to be distinct from Marxism (the same reason there is a difference between Buddhism and neo-Buddhism I suppose)
Žižek replies that it is because he is more Hegelian and is wary of human/self instrumentality (hold the evangelion jokes please) and thinks people should aspire to for radical openness https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radical_honesty

To which JP responds that, he doesn’t have any disagreements with what Žižek said, however support for marxism is inherently assumed culturally, to be support for the most radical proclivities, because the communist manifesto was a revolutionary document. So that by trying to save the sheep, he has welcomed in the dragon. My response to that is, what he is actually experiencing is the western propaganda machine which has been undermined by the dragon only recently, that these categorizations of Marxism are from a history of binary strawman arguments which equate any form of collectivism, such as taxes, to be marxism/communism. And anything that is radical individualism to be capitalism. While painting property rights as capitalism and human rights as marxism/communism. A great number of false dichotomies from the think tank circuit run amok as culture becomes more and more controlled by corporations. Which are then hijacked by the profit motives of foreign adversaries. Laissez-faire Capitalism becoming a sort if justification for a hobbsian war of all against all with the blame placed on marxist for being a source of authoritarianism, instead of say, fascists which have been gaining popularity. The best propaganda is invisible I suppose, or is that just blinding of privilege ?
Žižek replies by asking for any examples without stating that what JP has fallen for, is the propaganda of the alt-right echo chamer he finds himself in, unwittingly. Zizken then proceeds to call “postmodern neo-marxists an impotent moralization”. I didn’t know post modern neo-marxists were a thing prior to this conversation. JP then lists Jonathan Haidt of the heterodox academy, listing that conservatives are simply uninterested in the social sciences and many of them consider themselves to be marxist. I think that is mostly a popularity thing, because of the aforementioned propaganda that marxism is human rights and capitalism is property rights. Not because of Marxism as a coherent social structure outside of a generalized preference for equality of opportunity. This point is the first time they agree on something meaningful. So here a short musical break to celebrate:

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He explains that there is a strange relationship between post-modernism and neo-marxism, as a sleight of hand, that replaced the notion of the oppression of proletariat by the bourgeoisie with the opression of one identity group by another. In order words, by replacing power relations with arbitrary aspects of identity. Such as using gender identity to ignore bodily autonomy as a struggle (LGBTQ+ not caring about plan B). Žižek counters by saying that is specifically non-marxist. This is where they begin to disagree. JP says that his conceptualization is that they are no longer about economic power dynamics but about identity politics. But I think JP just accidentally mistook alt-right propaganda about marxism for actual marxism. Those echo chambers sure are pernicious. JP then proceeds to claim social justice types are post-modernist, which I can only reply with “WTF? Those things are nowhere near the same, those are different groups” He thinks that everything is couched in terms of oppressed vs oppressor and that is all that exists in any hierarchy. Apparently he assumes any form of intellectual specialization is a form of oppression. According to petersons logic, social justice people believe that programmers should also be the HR dept and the delivery person should also be the sales person and meetings shouldn’t have a moderator because the act of moderating a discussion is oppression. Which would explain why the moderator hasn’t said a word in 3hrs. This is what happened when someones bubble touches the surface of reality, but they can only see their own reflection from the inside.

Then the moderator speaks for seemingly the first time to pose a question from the audience about happiness and how it is obtained. JP makes a good point on the nature of happiness when he says “we (humans) are subject to forces within us, that are not subject to our voluntary control. You cannot will yourself to be happy. You may be able to will yourself to be unhappy, but you cannot will yourself to be happy. (I think there is a causal relationship here that can be controlled indirectly, what neo-Buddhists call contentment) JP says there are mysterious preconditions that must be set and then maybe you can be happy. He follows with his personal philosophy for pursuing ‘the good life’ which is not the same as pursuing happiness. Which is a personal stance of undertaking maximal responsibility towards the malevolence and suffering in the world. And it should be pursued as an individual responsibility and that large political organizations are not required to achieve that objective. So it’s amazingly self-limiting solution to global problems, almost as if it was designed to keep individuals alienated from collective action with a salve of best intentions. Why ? Because fundamentally we each suffer alone, though I would contend that I suffer from his ignorance as do many others, so I am not alone in that suffering. He does follow it with something coherent, which is that the beginning of moral behavior is taking responsibility for ones own actions and participation. Which can only be successful with a sort of radical honesty on a personal level. The coherent section is the only part I agree with. His justification for it, seems ass-backwards. So he is correct for the wrong reasons, just like Žižek. They have so much in common it’s laughable. He then claims this particular ethic is generated from his judeo-cristian background, I would disagree. I think he absorbed it similar to osmosis from the same groups which makes jokes and memes about him of which he is unaware, though has probably seen the memes. Which is where I assume he absorbed it, because of the high levels of abstraction he didn’t realize the memes were about him. This is funny on so many levels. A perspective from the heart of the mean meme machine. He then goes on to differentiate between responsibility and duty. He says responsibility is not simply doing what you believe to be right, that is duty which is not enough. Responsibility is acting in a manner that is in accordance with what you believe to be right, but doing it in a manner that simultaneously expands your ability to do so. Which means that you cannot stay safely ensconced within your current ethical beliefs, you have to stand on the edge of what you know, and encounter continually the consequences of your own ignorance. This is to expand your domain of knowledge and ability, so that you are not only acting in a productive and efficient manner, but increasing the efficiency and productivity and therefore meaningfulness of what you are engaged in.

That is when true happiness descends upon you, because it is an indication from the deepest recesses of yourself that your psyche is aligned with your actions, you are doing what you should be doing, but in a way that expands your capacity to do even better things in the future. He thinks this is the deepest human instinct that there is (I agree) and that it is not rational (wait, how did self-actualization become non-rational ? Apparently really deep self-mastery is not rational because it is deep…) so long as it is nor perverted with self-deception and deceit (another reference to radical honesty). This time, he is right for mostly the right reasons, to which the audience cheers. To which he enjoys a sip of sweet victory which tastes like mineral water. Even Žižek claps.

In his excitement during his response, Žižek cannot seem to stop touching his nose. It’s so over the top you might begin to think he has some sort of drug problem, but no, it’s just his weird ADD + excitement + not sure if he just told JP how much he is falling in love with his idea. He says it himself, real deep love can sometimes seem like a catastrophe because of how disruptive it can be. (timeindex 2:40:05 if you want to see what I am talking about)

The tone changes slightly when Žižek takes on JP’s philosophy of personal responsibility “get your own house in order first” which excludes collective action, in it’s inability to address the challenges of climate change.

JP’s response is a bit of a rant on judeo-cristian morality that through purely personal responsibility will sort of percolate through society. In doing so he hopes to mitigate overconfidence of ideologues who purpose simple end state solutions by the diffusion of responsibility through group identity, by ensuring ethics are a personal issue instead of purely a result of group dynamics (individualist populism) that is a very fine line to walk. Here is the rub, his “set your own house in order” seems to ignore dysfunctional families, activists would be spending their lives trying to make personal appeals to someone who is essentially mind-controlled by propaganda, ostensibly yelling at a wall of false beliefs structured by the corporate cultural controllers, before engaging in collective action with like-minded individuals to achieve greater change. This is a privileged position as it basically assumes that the structural ills of society can be solved on a ‘local’ basis despite the vast inequalities because somehow they are not related to the inequalities of resources ? They will somehow have success trying to teach Hegel and platonic ethics to people who are starving without healthcare, prior to political organizing for healthcare and other social safety programs, just because their uncle is a raging racist from being stuck in mass media echo-chamber because broadband penetration is not nearly as wide as people think?
There are a lot of problems with that logic, but because JP normally associates with people who are not poor (academia), it’s an oversight I can understand. Ultimately he places a lot of the blame on shallow moralizing, aka when political discourse is replaced by shouting talking points at eachother. Radio is mass media that people always seem to forget about, at least those people with high speed internet always available.

Žižek makes a joke about JP being stallinist and then refers him to Hegels concept of ‘the fall’ which is basically judo-cristian original sin https://dtomolson.wordpress.com/2011/07/06/hegel-and-original-sinconsciousness-qua-human-self-consciousness-is-the-fall-itself/

Žižek then takes a very interesting approach to describing the bias that JP is experiencing where he confuses cultural aesthetics with utilitarian reasoning by talking about toilets. First he starts be complaining about low flow eco-friendly toilets which use less water than traditional toilets (which are popular in germany), to being something like a port-o-potty (which they are not. Žižek is just exaggerating a lot here). That ideology is there in the design of the toilet, so I belife he is conflating aesthetics with ideology, and he fails to add meaningful examples like comparing to squat toilets and japeneese toilets, which I am not kidding, have 20 buttons mounted on a wall. (and you thought the 3 shells were intimidating …) Žižek says that it is simply a much more complex situation because it is a set of implicit beliefs their JP is not aware of aka biases. He explains it as his favorite story about Niels Bohr, who had a horeshoe over his door, when asked if he believed in the horse shoe, Bohr said “of course not, I am a scientist” then the follow up question of “Then why do you have a horseshoe over your door?” to which Bohr replied “because someone told me it keeps the evil spirits out, regardless if I believe in it or not” and that exclaims Žižek, is how ideology is today, it’s seemly fundamental to most people. JP responds by sheepishly looking at his shoes. And Žižek responds by saying “I am soliciting you to tell a joke, don’t you see this ?” and JP responds, correctly I might add, that people are possessed by ideas that are not their own, and personalities that are not theirs (A reference to dysfunctional group identities) that it’s not just ideas, but personalities that are way worse than ideas. And some of those personalities are associated with the idea that freedom is found in maximizing hedonistic, moment to moment pleasure, because it “sounds like freedom”.

JP’s best answer to this comes from his own axiom of “Stop saying things you know not to be true” which is a nice way of saying “stop repeating talking points which have been debunked” but it does make more of a generalized attempt at increasing honesty by at least diminishing outright lies while accepting lies of omission, as a first step of raising the level of discourse in our day to day lives. Like the first baby steps of radical honesty, because people are too biased to know what to truth is, so asking them to tell the truth which they do not themselves know is too optimistic. He instead prefers something similar to Jean Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development.

Žižek counters JP’s personal responsibility by explaining that, most authoritarians insert themselves at this level. By claiming that their followers must individually choose to do what they know is wrong personally, for a higher cause. Also known as the banality of evil. As presented by Himlech Himmler of the SS. That it takes a ‘truly great man’ to be ready to loose his soul and do horrible things for his country. And that is the danger of false meaning, it is the power of false narrative, which is what Žižek seems to be implying is the result of JP’s particular narrative of personal responsibility without collective organizing. Žižek claims that Himmlers solution was the sort of perversion of eastern though as outlined in the book “The Zen of War” where people dissolve their identity into the group identity to such a degree that the diffusion of responsibility though detachment from their own actions, allows them to do terrible things and then claim those actions are simply the result of Newtonian determinism which negates free will and as such personal responsibility for ones own actions, which is not what I think JP is advocating for. Though that does seem to be the logic followed by most mass shooters.

The moderator finally steps in to get the conversation back on track and asks them both to give their own answers to what they hope the audience will take away from this debate. I actually like JP’s reply here, where he states “I hope people will leave this debate with a belief in the power of communication between people with different views” He then continues that “there is a belief that people are only avatars of their group identity, and they have nothing unique to say, and besides that there is no communication across boundaries of identity or belief” JP believes this is unbelievably dangerous and pernicious doctrine. He then says “People of good will, despite their differences can communicate and both come out from that communication improved, even though there will be dissent during that communication. Those are sentiments I whole heartily agree with and I would just like to add, they only exists as propaganda pushed by various think tanks that are unique to the bubble JP is unaware of being a part of due to algorithms he does not understand. So what I am saying is that he very real worry is generated not by what is actually the norm, but by what he thinks is the norm for his cultural bubble which is the intellectual dark web. Regardless of those circumstances, his approach is the best that can be hoped for, for those in his situation.

Žižek’s answer to the moderators question is that he hopes what people will take away from this debate, especially if they are a leftist, to not worry about being politically correct. As he says “Don’t be afraid to think” though I would disagree that PC culture is about being afraid to think. The people who yell “fascist” for anyone who disagrees with them, seem to be far more likely a provocateur than a social justice person, real social justice people are better at communicating. So Žižek seems to have fallen for lazy straw man arguments for so long, he thinks those people are actually social justice advocates, instead of privileged idiots. As to weather or not trump is a fascist, fascism is defined as https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fascism but the short form is, when capitalism captures the power of the state and uses it to control the populace while masquerading as economic realism. Just because DeTrump is too stupid to utilize the levers, does not mean those are not his beliefs, since he believes the country “should be run like a corporation”. So Žižek has fallen to his own echo chamber.

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