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55971Re: Withdrawing into passivity and refusing to participate

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  • Mary
    Jul 8, 2011
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      Hello Jim,

      It seems in the context of this excerpt (How To Read Lacan-Chap.3) Zizek encourages us to consider becoming actively passive as a consciously organized movement vs. remaining passively active. The latter includes activities one performs which maintain the status quo, whether motivated by fear or genuine concern. The current US political gridlock is a prime example wherein the ruling elite keeps both Left and Right engaged to prevent a real challenge. In other places he repeats this theme telling a story wherein a substantial portion of an electorate refuses to vote. The government assumes mechanical errors and repeats the election. When nearly everyone refuses to participate, overt totalitarian measures ensue, because real resistance is recognized. Zizek mentions several situations, such as when analysands and academics incessantly talk in order to fill the vacuum and avoid confronting essential problems. He also includes the examples of laugh tracks, recorded television programs, internet sex, prayer wheels, and professional mourners as instances of passive activity!

      Overall, I'd say his concern is that if activists continue their splintered/sectarian/segmented approach toward radical change, nothing ever will. As a Hegelian, Zizek he implores us to notice whether the parts become the whole. If our various sub-causes are not correcting the radical cause of the symptoms, they merely reinforce inertia. Imagine if every distinct cause united for greater change rather than settling for the small ones. I don't believe Zizek advocates doing nothing, especially in building communities, but rather encourages deeper thinking and awareness. His active passivity seems a universal passive resistance vs. globally encouraged passive activity.

      Mary

      --- In existlist@yahoogroups.com, "Jim" <jjimstuart1@...> wrote:
      >
      > Mary,
      >
      > You quote the following passage from Zizek:
      >
      > "Even in much of today's progressive politics, the danger is not passivity, but pseudo-activity, the urge to be active and to participate. People intervene all the time, attempting to "do something," academics participate in meaningless debates; the truly difficult thing is to step back and to withdraw from it. Those in power often prefer even a critical participation to silence - just to engage us in a dialogue, to make it sure that our ominous passivity is broken. Against such an interpassive mode in which we are active all the time to make sure that nothing will really change, the first truly critical step is to withdraw into passivity and to refuse to participate. This first step clears the ground for a true activity, for an act that will effectively change the coordinates of the constellation."
      >
      > This is very typical of Zizek, and I find myself both attracted to what he says, but also, at the same time, uneasy about his idea.
      >
      > I am uneasy because he seems to disparage the little things people do to try to make the world a better place: The attempt to reduce one's carbon footprint, or write letters or sign petitions against the worst excesses of virulent capitalism, or go on local demonstrations with a few hundred people.
      >
      > Is Zizek really suggesting it is best not to do these things because the ruling elite want to have a minority opposing their policies in a public way?
      >
      > Does Zizek really think we hurt the ruling elite by sitting sullenly at home doing nothing?
      >
      > What exactly does he mean by suggesting we should "withdraw into passivity and refuse to participate"? How does one refuse to participate in capitalism? By refusing to consume – by just buying enough food to survive and nothing else?
      >
      > Perhaps Zizek fleshes out his idea in the subsequent paragraphs.
      >
      > I agree with Zizek to this extent: It is a good idea to choose one's battles with the ruling elite and not just run around like a headless chicken.
      >
      > I have recently chosen a particular battle by refusing to fill in the UK census form because the contract for processing the data has been awarded the world's largest arms manufacturer – the American firm Lockheed Martin.
      >
      > My action will probably result in a criminal record and a fine of around £1000. I explained to the authorities that I was refusing to fill in the form for ethical reasons – I did not want to have blood on my hands by contributing to the profits and flourishing of a company which manufactures weapons of mass destruction including nuclear warheads and cluster bombs which are mainly used to kill and maime innocent civilians in third-world countries.
      >
      > I don't expect the ruling elite will be much affected by my individual action. I am not sure if Zizek would approve of my action or disapprove of it as the sort of action the ruling elite actually wants to take place to strengthen its power.
      >
      > Jim
      >
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