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Monday, July 04, 2011


Why yes, I do. You see, Zizek sidesteps relativism by claiming that there is a diag...oh, forget it.

You'll get no quarrel from me about this guy. However, there is one appealing thing about him. His name. It's fun to say. "JCHZ-ik." Say it. See? It's fun!

Plus you just know he's got some goodies tucked away in that beard in case he gets hungry during an interview.

Your point about Wikipedia resonates with me - if his entry wasn't written by Zizek himself, it could have been. Of course it could also have been written by Monty Python, but as they say (here, recently), satire is dead.

I have to say that this causes me to reassess Assange's judgement - if he's dumb enough to participate with this bare-assed emperor, maybe he is dumb enough to engage with mal-motivated Swedish tarts.

I'm not a Zizeckian and I don't much care if people like him or not, but this excerpt from Wikipedia, while confusing, actually does mean something.

Here's what it means:

Relativism, the idea that there is no absolute truth but only opinions about truth, creates a problem. You have your point of view, I have mine, OK. But who's right? Relativism usually says that "right" or "wrong" are just more opinions. So everyone's right. This actually leads directly to that namby-pamby, paralyzing state of mind you find particularly among "special" liberals, who want to look at all sides, blah blah blah.

Zizek's "sidestep" just means he isn't attacking Relativism head on, or in other words he's not saying, "yes there is an absolute truth after all." He's trying to have his cake and eat it too, by saying you can have Relativism and yet also establish who's right and who's wrong on a stronger footing than just this or that opinion.

The explanation that ensues is tricky and hard to sum up in useful language, but, if I get it, he's saying (and he admits he bases this largely on another thinker named Lacan) that you can indirectly figure out what really is right or wrong, because the mind is sort of fluid and formed by its environment. So, by checking out the shape of your mind, you can guess the shape of the world it lives in. Then you compare notes and find out which shapes you have in common with other people, and chances are that means you and those others are all experiencing the same objective thing.

There actually is some interesting thinking there.

...this excerpt from Wikipedia, while confusing, actually does mean something.

Agreed, but the reason I was pointing to this entry is that the purpose of an encyclopedia is to explain complex concepts in language that's accessible to a non-expert, and this entry reads like it was written by philosophy grad students--because it probably was. That tends to be the case with any technical (or in this case, jargon-laden and abstruse) discipline on Wikipedia; the pages are all but useless to anyone unless they already know the topic, and even then there's no guarantee. I've run into many pages on academic and technical topics I know well and found them so dense and poorly organized that even I can't get much out of them.

Regarding Žižek's point (insofar as it's fair to judge it on the basis of this Wikipedia entry), I don't personally find it that interesting or, more importantly, see how it could ever rise above the level of tautological assertion (since it just moves the ball of subjectivity to an argument over what constitutes the "minimal difference"). And that's why I'm not a fan of this sort of philosophy in general. But if it works for you, great.

I have mixed feelings about Zizek. He seems to like to find some novel observation on a topic but how much quality is there in his observations? He can draw on his knowledge as a psychologist but how rigorous is the application of this expertise? I just don't know. How does his analysis compare with what social scientists do? Has he found some new approaches that are superior to the conventional ones?

He is always introduced as a "public intellectual" that is popular in Europe and has been labeled "dangerous" by some neocon magazine. This intro just raises more questions. What is a "public intellectual", why is he popular in Europe, and what are the neocons afraid of? His background from Serbia probably does afford him some unconventional insights.

Zizek probably plays a dangerous game by offering opinions on subjects he may not know much about but how different is that from other commentaters?

I think his style can annoy some people but that does not mean he has nothing to say.

I suspect the neocons don't have a real critique of him but want to use him as an "enemy" that will annoy their readers.

I remember reading a couple of articles in such as Harper's magazine by Zizek that were intelligible ... I can well believe that his books are not-readable, but he is capable of good stuff.

You said you want to read some brief Zizek- there's this essay from Counterpunch from October 2010:

"What's the Left to Do?"

I don't know to what degree it is representative of his larger body of work, but his prose is comparatively clean-shaven here.

Ah, Zizek....truth be told, I do have a bit of a soft spot for the guy, even if he is epitome of the obscurantist jargon speaking Continental philosopher.

Here is an article by Zizek which I thought was brilliant and also very easy to understand. It's a movie review of the film Avatar:

Return of the Natives

I tried reading Zizek a few times since i heard so much about him. He was suppose to be important or something. I quickly gave up and didn't waste my time with him again....Sort of like the book "Empire" which came out a few years ago which was all the rage in certain sections of the left...I read about 50 pages and just could not take it anymore...I gave the book away in a local firehouse fund raiser....It seems to me that people who write like this are just trying to impress other intellectuals which is probably too harsh on my part, but that is how it comes off to me...Much of Marx strikes me this way too...I have no idea what he is talking about half of the time.-Tony

When I said "brief and brilliant" I was actually thinking more of his philosophical writing. I've read a number of his political articles, and while there's often much I agree with, he's rarely said anything I hadn't considered before or synthesized it in a way I felt was usefully novel (unlike, say, Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky, Ralph Nader...).

His Avatar review makes some interesting points, though I think he's simultaneously giving the film too much and too little credit (too much because it's very much a Hollywood film, with all that implies about the content, and too little because despite that fact it still did its small part to make tree-huggery and sympathy for resistance movements more palatable to a mainstream audience).

I have not heard of this person and couldn't care much less about him one way or the other. That said, I believe the name should be pronounced zhi-zhek.

Assange to me has done some very useful things and philosophy in general has not done useful things for the average person in a very long time. Advantage Assange. It's actually somewhat insulting to pair a do-er and one of these clowns.

I know nothing about Slavoj Žižek. But the Wikipedia entry is brilliant. I immediately pictured John Cleese introducing an interview subject, and I tried to think up a Monty Python comment. Harpfool beat me to it.

Is the diagonal ontological cut at a 45 degree angle, as we might naively assume, or would it assume a range of possible values, depending on the latent intersubjectivity of the unrealized discourses beyond this horizon?

Posted by: Eh Joe | Monday, July 04, 2011 at 02:02 PM

Zizek's "sidestep" just means he isn't attacking Relativism head on, or in other words he's not saying, "yes there is an absolute truth after all." He's trying to have his cake and eat it too, by saying you can have Relativism and yet also establish who's right and who's wrong on a stronger footing than just this or that opinion.

. . . There actually is some interesting thinking there.

I disagree. This is turgid language that is used to express a point that is the cornerstone of all science -- so it's hardly novel. We already have some concepts of the same, by MUCH better writers:


The money quote from Asimov -- the aforementioned much better writer:

"When people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together."

The fact that people understand the universe via approximations is not startling, and it sure as hell doesn't make Relativism any less of a crock of shit.

And John's point remains: the wikipedia entry he quoted is unecessisarily impenetrable. The prose is opaque because the academic tradition demands opacity, not because the style conveys any information. Such traditions, and most of their products, are garbage.

I disagree with him about Avatar, though. Though I think Zizek took way too long to make the point, the fact of the matter is you can't sell a good idea (revolutionary movements are cool, yo) by forcing down the audience's throats a far more pernicious idea (white supremacy is the fuckin' bee knees, yo). That entire film is literally dependent upon a selfish white asshole not doing his job such that a one-sided, time-sensitive political controversy explodes into a conflict that, if the film's world background makes any sense of whatsoever, will not only FAIL to resolve the issue, but will lead to many more (native) deaths in the near future.

And btw: because I'm used to reading mistah charley's posts for something insightful, I was ill-prepared for his last one. You owe me lost brain cells, jackass. %-D

@NOoC: Arthur Silber had an interesting take on Avatar in April 2010: http://powerofnarrative.blogspot.com/2010/04/privileged-straight-white-men-are-best.html

Is the diagonal ontological cut at a 45 degree angle, as we might naively assume, or would it assume a range of possible values, depending on the latent intersubjectivity of the unrealized discourses beyond this horizon?

Once you develop the ability to differentiate between facilitating benchmarks and incentivizing synergies, it's a simple matter to determine the vector of a paradigm shift.

I'm sorry. Were we discussing philosophy?

I haven't seen Avatar but it sounds like it indulges in orientalism. Perhaps the significance of this movie is that it was so well received, suggesting an anti-imperialist public mood that is not reflected in the country's policies or official discourse.

Harpfool -- yep, I read it back when it was new -- Silber and I agree on loads of stuff.

Cameron was disappointing to me because I have an almost irrational love of Aliens, but not even the geek in me can excuse the celebration of The Most Pernicious Racist Lie Ever Invented -- and the fact that it was a self-indulgent CGI extravaganza makes it even easier to dislike. That and the fact that the Awful Things That Happened After the Second Aliens Films tarnished Cameron's halo as well.

Edwards: you are confused, I believe. Avatar was actually plenty imperialist. It featured weirdly-colored people that could only be saved by Magical White Penis. Most people think that the fact that the bad guys were also white guys undermines this theme: that's bullshit. A common racist trope -- maintained by H.P. Lovecraft, among others -- is that true evil requires a rareified level of intellect, so only whites can make for serious villains. In addition, the entire point of the theme is that, overall, white males can and should go anywhere they like because they're so awesome that anywhere they go will be improved by their peni-- presence.

That's not anti-Imperialistic. That's out-and-out cheerleading for imperialism. That's the rightwing-playing-liberal lie that justifies all imperialism, as seen here:


So Avatar being popular is a Bad Thing.

And, also, everyone should read Harpfool's link to Silber 'cause Silber is awesome. And, oh, Silber made the point I just made as follows:

"Many people seem to believe that Avatar is an enlightened anti-imperialist tract, subversively presented to the unsuspecting and unwashed in the form of a supercool, wildly popular mass entertainment. This is what you can expect from a relentlessly superficial culture, where words and empty symbolic gestures are granted precedence over actions and the ugly reality that lies beneath symbols designed only to prevent people from discovering the truth. The same people who herald Avatar as a stirring message of the evils of exploitation and oppression are doubtless many of those who whooped in triumph that America had finally overcome racism and elected a black president."


And recall my earlier point: Avatar has the protagonist's selfishness lead to literally the deaths of dozens or hundreds of people -- my knowledge of the final battle sequence is spotty -- and the eventual deaths of thousands, once Terra retaliates. The lead white dude fucks everything up, but no one cares, 'cause the white male lead is awesome and the blood washes right off. Here's a much-less-bitter jab at that:


"Dude, people are dead now!"
"Yeah, my bad guys. My bad."

And the ending of that clip shows you what REAL empires do when they get hurt.

Like Terry Pratchett wrote, bullies don't run away when they get beat up. They show up again with even more force and are even more vicious than they were the last time. If they didn't have a heart full of petty vengeance and rage, they wouldn't be bullies in the first place.

I'm not a fan of Avatar, but the notion that a film must either be a perfect and unblemished lesson or else it's utterly worthless is a false dichotomy. People can and do learn from imperfect lessons every day, which is good, because there are no perfect lessons.

I don't think the lessons Avatar has to teach are particularly strong ("did its small part to make tree-huggery and sympathy for resistance movements more palatable to a mainstream audience" is about as far as I'm willing to go), but I do think they're worthwhile for a mainstream audience--especially given the alternatives when it comes to Hollywood action movies.


A couple of points here: (1) You really really really have to buy into the whole Marx/Hegel/Freud/Lacan theoretical framework that Žižek situates himself in to connect with any of his longer philosophical pieces. (2) The dense word-salad that Žižek (at times) deploys reeks of lesser intellectual figures* who use fancy jargon as a mask to hide the shallowness of their thought but I feel this is only a family resemblance. Okay, ... I said a couple but actually a few points: (3) I think people sometimes make the mistake that you can pick up some of these texts and kind of just read them - yes, words are words - but I think we would all agree that there are degrees of difficulty in a field like mathematics, and what I think is less obvious that there could also be a degrees of difficulty in a field such as philosophy which is just sentences strung together after all, isn't it?

I am highly suspicious of anyone who cannot get their point across without a blizzard of jargon and purple prose but on the whole I think Žižek only falls into this trap occasionally. This post of your is timely John as only a couple of days ago I purchased The Plague Of Fantasies and it is bonkers, yes, and wordy at times, yes, but it is highly stimulating and very thought-provoking. I have also read (from cover to shining cover as they say) First As Tragedy, Then As Farce which was a jolly good read.

I hear what you're saying about the obviousness of his political critique but bear in mind that this guy connects the political dots to key Western philosophical concepts in ways that Chomsky and Klein never do. Those political and social theorists who you cite stay on the level of political events and social events whereas Žižek is properly philosophical, he uses philosophical language that I can connect with.

One of Žižek's key assertions is that those who claim that we are living in post-ideological times (i.e. that we are living at The End of History and that capitalism has won out altogether) are cloaking the capitalist ideology in yet another invisible cloak as it were. The whole series of manoeuvres that political rhetoric has taken in becoming exceedingly Orwellian is laid bare by Žižek. I view caustic websites like yours as an extension of Žižek's thesis and also the other way around. I'd like ye to be good buddies.

Žižek has talked a fair bit about the (philosophical) implications of Wikileaks so I'm not surprised he got to share air-time with Assange.

I see where you're coming from on this on John but give Žižek the benefit of the doubt :)

* you know who you are

-cough- Laura Mulvey -cough- Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak -cough- W.V.O. Quine -cough- ad nauseum

John, if you make a movie with themes "sharing is good" and "women are bitches who need to learn their place," you'll excuse me if I do a little bit of thematic calculus and conclude that the movie is garbage. Birth of a Nation had some big themes about solidarity -- and yet everyone harps on the negative. Avatar just wasn't a good movie, and it was bad in a particularly interesting and thorough way. But it was technically awesome. So only watch the parts that don't have sentients in it.

And btw: the rebel-against-the-powerful fantasy was going strong in the mainstream before Avatar. Avatar taught mainstream audiences nothing good. It did not make tree-hugging more palatable because the context under which the good guys could do their nature loving was that such behavior was cool once the super-duper White Male ran the show. The movie was so pro-Empire it's a wonder it didn't trigger a movement to re-invade the Philippines. I don't know what good lessons you were talking about.

. . . And the other failings of the movie (terrible dialogue, crap science fiction elements and shit technology) are irrelevant to me; that's being a bad movie in an uninteresting way. Avatar's Kiplinglike white supremacy is interesting.

A rousing defense, NEF, and I'm glad someone offered one (even if it doesn't end up making me a Žižek convert...).

No One of Consequence,

I understand the movie has imperialist or racist themes but at the end of the day it sounds to me like an attack on the U.S. invasion of Iraq. If the public is showing an unwaranted interest in this mediocre movie then maybe that indicates an anti-imperialist mood, albeit in a somewhat warped, narcissistic way. Frankly, I wonder if this could be the begining of a trend. Will such movies become common the way holocaust movies have been since WWII?

I understand the movie has imperialist or racist themes but at the end of the day it sounds to me like an attack on the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Um, no.

Not even a little.


One of the most common themes during the U.S. war against the people of Iraq is the notion that the Iraqis need to "stand up" while the U.S. "stands down." The long and short of it is, after a campaign of theft, murder, rape, economic desolation, and corruption, the Iraqis must take full responsibility for the outcome. Just as colonized Africa is responsible for everything Europe has done, is doing, and will do to it, so are the Iraqis responsible for everything done to them.

If an Iraqi, quite reasonably, seeks to improve his lot by attacking a U.S. policymaker or an executor of U.S. policy (soldiers, possibly, but any other personnel will do), he is branded an "insurgent," which is political cant for "patriot who fights our thugs." If he compromises his integrity and betrays himself and his people and works for U.S. interests, he may receive a pat on the head -- but he cannot improve his country's lot because the U.S. needs that country to suffer.

In Avatar, this racist motif is not undermined, it's celebrated through fantasy. The natives, boyoued by the awesome leadership of White Penis, stand up for themselves (the fantasy being that they can successfuly do it in the first place -- note the Silber and youtube links above that make it clear that that's complete fucking bullshit) and defeat their oppressors. Do recall that the mainstream criticism of Iraq does NOT place blame on soldiers or most policymakers -- it places blame on Bush. In other words, the people who are still pillaging, right now, get a free pass. This means that in order to criticize Iraq, Avatar would have to blatantly blame every aspect of the Terrestrial War Machine -- including the protagonist. But, instead, it pretends that parts of Operation Bad Guy are good (protagonist and friends) and parts of it are bad (the soldiers), just like people blame Bush/Cheney for Iraq but give Obama a pass even though he's continuing, and aggravating, the policies. Avatar SUPPORTS that concept. Avatar doesn't attack imperialism at all. Instead, it justifies imperialsm with the strongest lie ever used to justify an invasion:

Those differently-colored people really want us to take over.

There is very likely to be a market for anti-imperialistic films. Avatar doesn't serve that market.

No One, you've made your point; please let it rest. And the next time you have a point to make here, I'd appreciate it if you'd do it without resorting to phrases like "complete fucking bullshit". Thanks.

Mistah C -


Happy Jack -

No. Yes. Wait..

I didn't see Avatar, yet with the total media saturation and endless reviews and clips etc I felt as if I did. Doing a tie-in during the baseball playoffs was really the last straw for me.

Basically what I've usually read is that this was a "space Dances with Wolves." That said, another big turn-off for me was the on-again/off-again gravity the setting seems to have. Waterfalls fall "down" but gigantic rocks float but winged creatures have enough of an atmosphere to fly in but... bad sci in your sci-fi makes for bad sci-fi.

I got some criticism on my blog for stating what crummy Oscar options there were that year, Avatar and Hurt Locker and Precious, depsite never having seen any of them. Of course I felt I have/had seen them as the reviews and promo clips reveal most plot points to the point of saturation. You've told me the story and provided most of the key visuals - why do I now need to watch the movie? When I get wind of something I might well want to see I try and avoid any reviews and previews, or else I feel as if I'm rewatching something the first time I see it.

I just thought the three movies made this absolute troika of everything wrong with American thinking. You had Avatar, torn a new one above. Then you had a war movie set in Iraq in which no one questions why the war is happening, why the bombs are there to begin with, and in which the Iraqis play no meaningful role. And then you have a movie featuring a morbidly obsese black woman who steals a bucket of fried chicken with a black rapist father. Seriously, was Birth of a Nation worse than that? Can anyone imagine what would have happened if a white person made a movie with a morbidly obese black woman stealing fried chicken (why not a watermelon?), instead of rich black people who get richer by portraying stereotypes of poor blacks?

Allow me to recommend the Norwegian film Troll Hunter, a year old but just coming to indie screens in the US. Saw it last week based solely in the poster. It's a Scandinavian Blair Witch meets folklore meets Godzilla with I think a little winking social commentary mixed in.

"Doing a tie-in during the baseball playoffs..."

Just to clarify, not just commercials but during the games. Sheesh. I don't need blue people running at the bottom of the TV at a 3-2 count, thank you very much.

No One of Consequence,

I understand your criticism of Avatar and I am not arguing it is a good movie. I am simply asking why it was so well received. It isn't because there is anything novel about the plot. I doubt it is due to the special effects. Other movies have good special effects. I am proposing it is due to antipathy to U.S. aggression. I think this is how Barak Obama was elected, however mistaken people were to vote for him.

John -- The words can be separated in the future; there wasn't a problem with them in the past, so I didn't think ill of them. Onto a different point:

Edward -- it was well received because it has awesome special effects. They're not a generation ahead of their time or anything, but they're marvelously clean. Plus, it's one of the few uses of 3D that actually enhances a film, making for something that's rarely seen in theaters: an actual unique experience. Avatar's 3D-ness was a major selling point. Most people I knew ignored the story and I'm hoping that anecdotal experience was characteristic of the populace at large, but I don't really believe it. But damn, it was pretty.

Naming the planet Pandora was almost un-ironic, in that the planet didn't really present Earth with a serious problem -- just a setback. Weirder, it reminds me of a novel I read long ago called "Pandora's Planet" -- a story about what happens when technologically advanced aliens try to conquer a world where everyone on the planet is smarter than they are. Just plain more intelligent ("You know, if you attached the knife to the end of the rifle, you wouldn't have to carry the knife and the rifle separately.") I was much younger then, but the concept was hilarious and I can only think of two writers who have toyed with the idea -- with scary results. I look at Avatar and keep thinking there's a similar, old-school science-fiction punchline there.

Slavoj Žižek: Ah, found it -- where I first heard of this guy, in a RSA bit.


His written prose may be turgid, but that talk was decent (and helped by the pcitures), so I agree with some of the sentiments above.

Man, eff Wikipedia when you need to be reminded of how something works. No, you Aspy nerds, I don't need paragraphs explaining why your crush on Tesla is totally valid, just tell me HOW TO DO THE MATHS.

Here is the RSA Animate site: http://comment.rsablogs.org.uk/videos/

Lots of good stuff here.

I love the group hate-on over Wikipedia here; I remember poring over the seriously sparse Joy of Knowledge encyclopedia when I was younger - I can only imagine what inquisitive young minds must make of having a sizable chunk of our collective knowledge available to them at a moment's notice.

Allow me to recommend the Norwegian film Troll Hunter, a year old but just coming to indie screens in the US. Saw it last week based solely in the poster. It's a Scandinavian Blair Witch meets folklore meets Godzilla with I think a little winking social commentary mixed in.

Heard this was really good and really looking forward to seeing it. It is available on demand from my cable company.

I too have never seen Avatar-don't plan on it- or Titanic-don't plan on watching this either. I though the Terminator was good even though it was a rip off a Harlan Ellison story.-Tony

NEF: I can only imagine what inquisitive young minds must make of having a sizable chunk of our collective knowledge available to them at a moment's notice.

I'm ambivalent about it. Yes, it's good that there's a freely-available encyclopedia, but the problem is that people consider Wikipedia to have an authority it wholly lacks. As Michael Scott observed, "Wikipedia is the best thing ever. Anyone in the world can write anything they want about any subject, so you know you are getting the best possible information."

Beyond the problems I've mentioned with entries on any technical discipline, Wikipedia is a disaster for topics with even an oblique political angle (as I've noted here many times). There's a huge amount of bias and it's essentially irreparable, since the people who put it there are dedicated to keeping it there. Trying to correct even minor and obvious points of bias is an exercise in futility and frustration (as I know all too well from personal experience).

So Wikipedia is great if you want to know about, say, snapping turtles or the Rolling Stones, but otherwise it's got serious problems--which are made far worse by the fact that people don't realize it has those problems.

No One of Consequence,

I don't know why the movie is popular. I may have underestimated the special effects.

To move this comment back to Zizek a bit, I thought he offered some interesting observations in his critique of the movie, which probably drew on his knowledge of psychology.

Maybe Wikipedia should be encouraged to solicit contributions from neutral (peer-reveiwed?) scholars on these political topics.

Bring a copy of a Zizek book - any Zizek - down to Target and ask the people trying to form a union there if he matters to them.

Edward - With respect, please provide me with the name of even one "neutral" scholar on a political topic. She or he are only "neutral" (or "objective") to those who agree with them.


Peer reveiw can help counter biases. No approach is perfect but some are better then others and genuine scholarship depends on arriving at some notion of "truth". As far as my suggestion is concerned, perhaps the professional association of Middle East scholars could be approached for help.

Wikipedia should also warn its readers about attempts to propagandize its pages.

I'm a wiki contributor, Edward. I've made only a few corrections or edits, because there is an extensive discussion process involved, already, and, excepting comedic hack attacks (see Colbert), the self-policing is usually competent to handle disputes and obviously bad data. I once made a small two word correction* to the page of SCOTUS Justice Cardozo and my mail box was snowed with requests for explanation and discussion.

* - I omitted an erroneous reference to Cardozo as an "Hispanic"

Wikipedia is awesome for finding out the ending to a tiresome anime with mindscrew tendencies or a long-running mystery show. It's awesome if you are trying to remember a pop culture reference but only have a bit of information. It's awesome on issues of basic geography or the noncontroversial definition of technical terms -- though not so much for mathematics or physics because the explanation will probably confuse a layman.

The fact that it's questionable for history and garbage for politics would be perfectly okay if the biggest problems in the world today weren't wrapped up in history and politics. (I'm being a little harsh on it on politics; if the issue is obscure, you might get something useful.)

Not to defend or attack Zizek: Jack Crow -- is there any philospher who has name recognition amongst the politically-active working class? Not a jab; honest question.

Jack Crow,

I am glad wikipedia has procedures to avoid manipulation but how well are they resisting Israel's hasbara efforts?

No One of Consequence,

It probably dependes on how you define philosopher. Do Jesus or Glen Beck count as philosophers?

Existing, NOoC - I don't think so. But, that's the problem with philosophy, which is a three thousand year long experiment in ruling class (I don't assume this term means the same thing across ages, fwiw) self-justification and self-amusement.

Since Hegel (a mystic Hermetic par excellence) it has been especially opaque and dense, though.

That being said, Sun Yat Sen was immediately accessible to the masses of China. Emma Goldman wrote in common idiom, as did Lucy Parsons. You don't need any jargon to make it through Rocker. And Bertrand Russel - when not making specific examples from a more formal logic - was appreciable without formal academic training in opaque terminology. Formal logic itself is relatively simple to absorb.

Ortega Y Gasset, Malraux, Camus and even the Neetch are low on jargon, and, while not always properly understood, expressed themselves in comparatively quite ordinary language.

A casual reader can make it through all of Montaigne without recourse to a lexicon of obscure terms, be it in French or English translation. Balthasar Gracian (the Jesuit aphorist) and BH Liddel Hart (the British strategist and philosoph) wrote very popular treatises in accessible language. A layperson with little formal military training can pick up almost any tome from Dodge (the military historian and thinker) and read it cover to cover with little necessity for exterior sources or explanation, even though he goes into great depth to explain the maneuvers of complex men such as Gustavus Adolphus and Napoleon Bonaparte. Mark Kurlansky's histories are both popular and approachable, and he's no slack when discussing the ideas and consequences of them implicit in historical alteration.

And while I don't agree with her every position, Ehrenreich writes passionate and thoughtful books that a person without a degree can read on the first pass.

Their collective subject matters are as actually relevant to working class struggle and self-development as anything Zizek purports to write for the advancement of the dialectical contest, but there is no need to abandon ordinary language to appreciate them.

The problem, I imagine in restatement, is that philosophy is itself a ruling class and masturbatory diversion. It's no use as a "signifier" to those who practice it if just old anyone can read it and understand.

Bring a copy of a Zizek book - any Zizek - down to Target and ask the people trying to form a union there if he matters to them.

as someone who has tired to form a union I agree with the point being made here...It applies to more than just Zizek in my opinion and to certain intellectuals as a whole...There is a long history of arrogant elitism that goes back as far as human history...

There are also counter currents where you have intellectuals that write in such away that is easy for all to understand. Chomsky and Zinn are certainly example of this, or say look at Bakunin or Malatesta's writings compared to Marx. Or say look at a book like "The Anarchists in the Russian Revolution" where common people and workers are quoted and compare it to the words of the grand theoreticians.

I personally dont understand the obtuse and dense language unless the point is to impress others in their in the class...

For me the ultimate goal is to inform others and hopefully raise consciousness to point where people are ready to take direct action to make their lives and the world in general a better place....I don't see how this comes about by writing is such away that only a minority understand.

The point is to agitate and inspire others to change the world. I dont see how this happens when no one understands what you are talking about.-Tony


That's a great point. While I have my issues with Chomsky, his language is not dependent on jargon. His style is too distracted and dry, but he does stay within ordinary language.

Zinn is a top form example of doing heavy thinking in common and ordinary language.

That's a great point. While I have my issues with Chomsky, his language is not dependent on jargon. His style is too distracted and dry, but he does stay within ordinary language.


as much as I admire Chomsky I certainly have issues with him besides his style which I agree with you on...but there is no denying he is easy to understand and he does connect with common people.

He touches on the topic of this thread a lot in his writings and the book "Chomsky on Democracy and Education" is good collection to look at regarding this.-Tony

Jesus is a philosopher in the same way that an egyptologist is a pharoh. Regardless of one's opinion of Jesus, philosophers explore, Jesus promulgated.

Beck is a philosopher in the same way that a Roman legionnaire, salting the earth of Carthage, is a farmer. Took me awhile to get there but I think the ride was worth it.

I think people may have missed an obvious one. Does not Thomas Paine count as a philosopher? If so, he may well be the most important philosopher in the U.S. and, yes, I'd hand his tracts out in a union meeting while grinning with joy. Appropriate?

Turgid writing impresses academics and no one else, and impressing academics is how academics make money. Unless you're using formal logic, using terrible language is a serious, self-indulgent error in philosophy. If anything, philosophy needs simplistic language because it requires one to define tremendous numbers of new terms.

Given Jack Crow's snide* definition of philosopher, you could revert back to an old school understanding of philosopher which broadens the field somewhat. Would G.K. Chesterton be a philosopher then? I'm wondering how widely people would apply the term.

(*Snideness is a mild virtue, imo, when discussing the powerful, so that's not an insult.)

Come to think of it -- back to the original post -- why the hell would you put a philosopher of any stripe up with Assange? Of all the professions -- why not a freakn' journalist? Why not, say, Palast, who could tell you what the impact of the leaks have been (e.g., the Arab Spring)? I mean, I can't name a single, employed-as-a-formal-philosopher philosopher of note, but even if I did, why talk to him or her? Žižek was on because Žižek is mildly famous, imo -- not because of credentials.


I debated a digression to Tom Paine, but opted out because I think his position as a mythological "Founder" sometimes obscures not only the forceful clarity of his prose, but how forward a thinker he was for his age. Or for our age.

I appreciate the description of snide - but I am in fact openly hostile to philosophy. Not to thinking, or Diogenian gadfly play, or even to Socratic inquiry. I am hostile to philosophy, the playing with words about words on the subject of words in order to give wordy imprimatur to customs and ruling class practices which are so common as to be secure perhaps even in the face of comet-delivered armageddon

So - does that include oddlings such as Kierkegaard or Nietzsche? What of Wittgenstein or Spinoza?

I'm not really sure.

What do you do with anvilicious prose writers, like Heinlein or Rand? Are they doing philosophy? Or are they just occasionally or often lazy writers who, in lieu of developing character and credible dialogue, give their protagonists speeches with a style cribbed from Thucydides?

I use a simple measuring stick, which is probably a bit deficient for its deliberate simplicity - if the language is opaque, its probably because the writer has a ruling class education and/or a ruling class audience. If the language is in everyday language, the writer may still have a ruling class education, a martial and imperial disposition and a ruling class message (Heinlein often fits this bill), but the audience is clearly the average literate jane or joe. The former is almost always doing philosophy proper.

The latter is less simple to define.

Heinlein and Rand may be more destructive of common feeling than Zizek, but they are forthright, and their kind and type of language make their messages plain. Zizek's pretenses and declared fealties make him and his jargon heavy prose far worthier of contempt.

Hold up: Heinlein had space bugs and powered armor.

You write a pseudofascist screed but give everyone powered armor, that might be a moral wash.

Me: Give your life for the state --
You: Fuck that noise.
Me: -- aaaaand here's your standard-issue battlesuit, capable of leveling a city.
You: Tell me more about this state of yours.

Powered Armor Forgiveth Much.


You'd probably be better off letting philosophy have its broad definition -- since, as you've shown, it covers a LOT of ground (seeing as how it really just means "critical thinking on any broad conceptual subject without recourse to specific, scientific inquiries (and language) that narrow the discussion). (That obnoxious definition means the following: if you're talking about biology and economics, that's philosophy. If you're talking about biology and economics and break into a two-page-long series of chemical formulas and calculus describing metabolic reactions, that's biology. This definition is as arbitrary as fuck, but I think it's how the common man uses the term.)

To be clearer, I'm not sure the thing you're describing as philosophy is actually anything at all. Okay, think of it this way: many people have come to the sane conclusion that Literary Criticism is bullshit. That is, not just wrong, but offensively wrong, anti-intellectual, and a parasite on academic funds, and if anyone's doing good work in it they're overmatched by the pernicious nature of the, erm, discipline. It sounds like you're saying the same thing about highfalutn' academic philosophy. It also sounds like you're saying that philosophy is just ruling class propaganda, which is a different thing. (Indeed, if people are sucking up to the aristocracy using impenetrable language, that problem basically solves itself: the result is worthless propaganda.)

Given all that, maybe we need a definition of philosophy that excludes many traditional, academic "philosophers" but includes tons of people (like the ones you mentioned) that wouldn't be normally called "philosophers."


When you can cross two and a half thousand years, from Plato to Hegel, and find the same and same type of metaphysical assertions about the nature of nature - and all dependent upon a verbal analysis of thoughts about words - in philosophy and from philosophers, it's reasonable to conclude a unity of thought and practice. Academic philosophy might formalize the study of these assertions, but that doesn't make it any more objective.

We don't need a definition of philosophy. We need to reject it. Plato may not be accessible to just everyone. But he's useful to those who run things. He's their moral and intellectual justification. Hegel is no easy read. But, the managerial class of educators produce their wares with Hegel on the brain.

That's the point of the jargon, and most any jargon. Exclusion. It's not to propagandize the lower classes. It's to exclude them.

Hegel is not so awe inducing if you can sum up his premise in a single sentence: history is motivated from within and without to culminate in a State which will tell you what to do and you'd better listen to them. Or Plato: you are a lesser creature because you cannot use your mind to appreciate the unseen perfection that's in my own head so you should be ruled by people of whom I approve.

Their continued use isn't propaganda for the lower orders. It's precisely for the ruling classes.

It's akin to jargon dense seminars for retail managers, or personnel supervisors. You have to have some training in the language to understand its purpose. You have to already be using it. Sure, some of it filters down into the ruled or managed populations. But that doesn't change its purpose.

Which is why we need to be as hostile to philosophy as we are to managerial idiom and language.

That doesn't mean people shouldn't think. It means that the kind and type of thinking that is done in philosophy is inimical to the sort of society where there are no or fewer managers.

And if you're looking to preserve "philosophy" as a term and discipline, I think you (generally, not particularly) need to show why it shouldn't be associated with the formal philosophers who are are so famously tangled up with it.

"why the hell would you put a philosopher of any stripe up with Assange?"

Actually, I think the choice makes sense because Zizek often critiques propaganda. Is Zizek primarily a philosopher or a psychologist?

"maybe we need a definition of philosophy..."

A definition is useful if it provides a distinction with a difference. What are the consequences if Zizek is a philosopher? What are they if he is not? I suppose being a philosopher should imply using a certain set of techniques and methods. Although philosophy can seem pretty arcane, one thing I appreciate about it is the care that is taken to make sound, logical arguments.

That's the point of the jargon, and most any jargon. Exclusion. It's not to propagandize the lower classes. It's to exclude them.

I would add economics to the mix. Exhibit A is reading Yggy after he has read an economics book. "Efficiency", "productivity", etc. If you're lucky, the elites might toss you a few scraps through some nebulous redistribution. Just you wait.


Sorry I missed the question about hasbara efforts, on Wiki. I don't really have a good answer. Try editing a movie star's page and see if it survives the rewrite from his or her press agent. It won't. People with full time staff have an advantage over the rest of us schleps.

It's not perfect. I hope it didn't read like I was implying oversight perfection. I just don't think involving professional academics as a matter of policy will result in a more objective wikification.

You can as a user try to fix bad Wiki. You can't do anything about the errors and biases in Britannica.

I agree with Not Errol Flynn.

I don't think Zizek sits in the privacy of his little room cackling fiendishly over how bafflingly nonsensical his latest offering may be, and I don't doubt his sincerity. That said, Jack Crow is right; Zizek is writing about the people, not for them. Zizek's audience is all grad students.

There is a difference between jargon and the kind of technical language that is associated with specialized knowledge, although it's a hard one to locate since the same terms can be used in either way. The fault isn't in the words themselves but in whether or not they're used to obfuscate rather than communicate.

There are two roughly-defined styles in philosophy. The Anglo-American or Analytic style is direct and to the point, while the Continental style (Zizek's) is elliptical and convoluted. Either style can be abused. A preference for plain speaking, or a mistrust of complicated rhetoric, in the US goes back to pre-Revolutionary days and endures now. Whenever Obama starts dropping his terminal g's, you know he's making a play for a bogus community feeling. Certainly his predecessor spoke exclusively in American crackerbarrel horseshit. That said, the plain style is less elitist in its explicit intentions.

This is a bit of a crotchet of mine, and I apologize for going on about it.

I think that some elliptical writers get so caught up in mastering the style that they seem to think reproducing that style is accomplishment enough. Certainly it does require a great deal of reading. Some, I'm sure, take that style up because it sounds smart to them, but I think many hard-nosed plain speakers adopt that style for the same reason.

Style is also content. Plain style insists that truth is simple, and directness and clarity are its advantages. Elliptical style insists that truth is complicated, and subtlety and depth are its advantages. Any good writer will use the means best suited to their ends, and avoid getting trapped in one style or another.

Eh Joe,

Those are points I often fail to make, from an aforementioned and assumed deficiency of perspective. Long practice in the management of people and persons has left me with a bad attitude and a distrust that's difficult to overcome.

You are nonetheless right in stating that it's important to distinguish between technically necessary language and jargon.

Designing a bridge requires the employment of a set of intellectual skills and techniques which are acquired by way of mental discipline, study and effort. I'm not arguing against those cultivations of memory, or the employment of them. More people should know how to build bridges, or maintain them. In fact, I think an important goal necessary to the remaking of human society would be the decentralization and open accessing of all education.

All the same...

Writing about how to cross that bridge rarely requires the use of technical language. One of my objections to philosophy, again generally, is that its practitioners pretend to guide travelers across a bridge in a language better suited to communicating about its design and construction. And in using "better suited" I'm being inordinately generous.

While we're on the matter of the design of bridges (or social spaces, or moral bridges between persons and communities) - does philosophy really help the lot of ordinary people in getting to and from, or over them?

I mean, is the target audience of a philosopher generally any group but the elite of his time and region?

I'm not asking the question because I have an answer to follow it. I have a set of judgments, but I don't presume that they're in fact also explanatory.

" I just don't think involving professional academics as a matter of policy will result in a more objective wikification."

The problem here is that the Israelis will lie about the history, their policies, and anything else related to this topic; that is what propagandists do. I am not impressed with Middle East Studies in the U.S. and there is no doubt some politicization, but just as an issue of professionalism, I expect something fairer and more accurate from them then the Israeli propaganda. All of this, of course, depends on the details.

If the wikipedia people are serious about what they are doing then they need to respond decisively to Israel's publicly announced intention to manipulate the pages dealing with the I/P conflict.

Mr. Jack Crow,

The largest employer of mathematicians in the United States is apparently the NSA. By your reasoning mathematics is a tainted discipline because it is a tool of the State to subjugate the masses and maintain the power imbalance. So let's chuck mathematics, shall we? And the rest of science while we're at it considering how science seems to rest on mathematics. Mathematicians have long had close ties with the military in areas like ballistics and cryptography and so on - really it seems like most mathematicians to me are enablers of the intelligence and war machine. Down with mathematics!

But of course this is absurd. And just goes to show that any discipline can perverted and deformed according to the will of those in power. No doubt those in power would use any means to shape the world as they see fit. My question to you is: is there something inherent in philosophy that you feel has tainted it?

Here is a list of (will we call them proper?) philosophers who write plainly.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer, Hannah Arendt, Andre Comte-Sponville, Ortega y Gasset, Peter Singer, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Marx when he could be bothered, Elaine Scarry, Simone de Beauvoir, Mary Wollstonecraft, Judith Butler, the non-Tractatus Ludwig Wittgenstein, Žižek most of the time, and I'm sure many many more. These are just off the top of my head. But I'm certain that you knew this already cuz you seem like a smart guy so I'm wondering what particular axe it is you are grinding. You'll find no argument from me that there is a wealth of obscurantist prose out there but this waffle is generally from lesser thinkers I assert, career academics, monkeys with typewriters.

And then there are many philosophical texts that have not been written by philosophers. So Catch-22 by Heller, 1984 by Orwell, stuff by Beckett and Kafka and you get my drift. Allegories and the like which are really just cloaks for the ideas they clothe.

Not Errol Flynn,

Association is not the problem. Aim is the problem, because class is the problem. Content is the problem, because class is the problem. I did not make an argument for guilt by association. I'm stating that philosophers write for a specific audience. This is a class issue for me.

Mathematics can very well be a royal science. It can be used to build bombs, or prison cells. In fact, you need match to build bombs and prisons. Any argument against the use of mathematics to build bombs or prisons is, in my estimation, a class argument. Using the skill to build bombs and prisons is a ruling class application.

Mathematics is nonetheless not philosophy. The comparison fails because the practices themselves are different. Philosophy is an elevation of a kind of thinking - of words about words, in order to attempt to impose meaning on the universe. It is precisely managerial. Mathematics is a language. You can choose not to speak it, or not to employ it to harm others.


Bring Hannah Arendt or Ortega Y Gasset down to your local union shop. See if what they're selling has any buyers.

Why don't they? A failure of education?

Or perhaps a more honest assessment - that Hannah Arendt didn't write for the people. She wrote of them. And Ortega Y Gasset (whom I admire for his clarity, and already mentioned earlier) is even plainer - the mass of people ought not be trusted. He didn't write for the common folk. He wrote for people who had every reason to distrust them. We should not confuse his anti-fascism with any sort of liberality towards the people.

These philosophers might be clear, lucid and enlightening, in their own ways. They may speak to you deeply, perhaps. Or not. Some have, for me.

I nonetheless suspect the reason people see fit to defend the practice of philosophy says a lot about their class loyalties. You don't need philosophy to think. Anyone can think. You do need philosophy to think out solutions for others. Philosophy is managerial.

So let's be frank, and just with each other - who makes the defense of philosophy? Academics and those who had their heads formed in academia. People who can afford the benefits of their class membership, and as importantly, who have availed themselves of it. People who need, because of their class training, to isolate thinking from living. Which, curiously enough, does not include Wollstonecraft, Marx (who was even more hostile to philosophy than am I; I mean, jeez, read Marx on Philosophy before you use him as an example), or Nietzsche. Hell, half of your list is of people actively hostile to philosophy.


It's not my class. I hope that helps you understand my hostility. I'm not interested in giving a rat's ass damn about booky treasures of a former college student's intellectual memories, tomes written for the elite and for the justification of an elite practice.

I can read Thoreau, for example, and come away knowing that this man wasn't doing philosophy. He was thinking. About the actual world. Like Thom. Paine, he was also writing for everyone. And anyone. Not about how to manage the world into a the best possible shape. Or how to found the maximum benefit for the maximum number. Or how to fix all human dilemmas. He wrote about the world as he found it, and about his own attempt to simplify his place in it. He did not have the conceit of the philosophers, the old Platonic poisons in his head.

Jack (Crow): Philosophy is an elevation of a kind of thinking - of words about words, in order to attempt to impose meaning on the universe. It is precisely managerial.

I couldn't disagree more. You're basically tarring an entire sphere, whose scope is so broad that it encompasses all of human experience, with a brush that applies only to a limited set of examples within the range. Debating Searle's Chinese room isn't managerial in any sense at all, much less precisely. Modern philosophy, broadly speaking, is just thinking about aspects of existence--and I personally find the anti-intellectualism that's embodied by this contempt for that entire enterprise (which I've seen many times from people on the left) as alarming as any odious "philosophical" justification I've seen for human crimes and failings. What a pale existence it would be if every human activity was judged solely or even primarily by its utility for union-forming Target employees.

I wonder if you've considered what an insult it is to those people at Target to assume that they don't--or can't--appreciate philosophical discussions or debates, or that they judge every activity based solely on how it furthers their own economic or "class" interests. I find it ironic that this kind of hostility seems to come almost exclusively from people who've clearly spent more than their fair share of time in the very books and institutions they attack; it's as though having reached the deck they want to pull the ladder up after them.

And just to be clear, since the thread has taken this turn: though I'm not a fan of Žižek (and that's not a well-informed opinion, as I've said, at least in terms of his philosophical writing), I have no problem whatsoever with philosophy generally, and have in fact spent many hours reading it (in various forms) and thinking about the fundamental issues it addresses--as pretty much every human being has in one way or another. I share the distaste for obscurantism that Not Errol Flynn and basically everyone else here has voiced, but I don't hold it against the field of philosophy generally, just as I don't reject Marx based on the jargon-filled and alienating analyses of so many self-identifying Marxists.


I'm not making a claim about intelligence or understanding, especially of the diverse members of the working class. I hope that helps.

I'm discussing the aim of philosophy. And of philosophers. I think there's a confusion between thought, introspection and discussion - and what philosophy actually is.

Philosophy does not encompass all dialogue, discussion or thought. Philosophy is the love of wisdom, pursued for the improvement of society, the perfection of persons and a particular type of man.

You just can't lump all thinkers and everyone who has ever written of or upon human problems into that category.

When you take an academic philosophy class, you're not studying every single person who ever had a thought or idea and the wherewithal to write it down. And that's a good place to start, in understanding the difference.

Curiously, and in final commentary, I've never read a single working class defense of philosophy. Because philosophy is not a working class undertaking. It's playtime for the mangerially educated. That's because what we understand as philosophy - actual philosophy, which doesn't include every single discursive thought or analysis of conditions - is almost exclusively the treatment of metaphysics.

There is no working class metaphysics. All metaphysics is ruling class metaphysics.

Not Errol Flynn,


"The philosophers have only to dissolve their language into the ordinary language, from which it is abstracted, in order to recognise it, as the distorted language of the actual world, and to realise that neither thoughts nor language in themselves form a realm of their own, that they are only manifestations of actual life."

(The German Ideology)


Dear Someone of Consequence,

Your mention of Terry Pratchett reminded me that I hadn't heard anything about him since his announcement several years ago that he was suffering from a form of Alzheimer's disease. The URL above (sorry I don't know how to create a hyperlink) is about a film he has made addressing assisted suicide (a term he dislikes). Interesting timing: its American debut is this weekend in Madison, Wisconsin, at a Discworld Convention. Yeah, it's from Wikipedia, sorry. There are probably other references if you googol it.

Thanks, Terry. Keep on keeping on.

Personally, I consider "has a single working class defense" about as useful or relevant (or even meaningful) a criterion as "matters to union-forming Target employees" in judging the worth of, well, anything at all. Though I'd make an exception for a book titled "How to Form a Union at Target".

About this:

I'm not making a claim about intelligence or understanding, especially of the diverse members of the working class.

Not explicitly, but you're setting that entire diverse group of people in opposition to any organized form of philosophical thought--which is, in my mind, an inherently condescending view. Why would you imagine a Target checker doesn't enjoy reading Aristotle or Kant? Why would you imagine their life wouldn't be richer or better for it?

And most of all, why do you insist so emphatically ("we need to be as hostile to philosophy", "we need to reject it", etc) that the people you're speaking about shouldn't enjoy the same intellectual inputs and pursuits that have obviously informed your own life? It's ironic to me that you're dismissing philosophers as nothing more than the prescriptive guideline-writers for the ruling class, while simultaneously making yourself an arbiter of what is and is not a fit mental pursuit for the billions of people who constitute the working class. No offense, but I get itchy whenever someone starts dismissing entire areas of intellectual inquiry as something we need to reject--and even more so when they're doing it in the language of class (since in my experience, nobody knows what's better for me and everyone else than Marxists).

Just so this won't all be carping, I should say that I do agree with what you're saying about philosophy to an extent. I just think you've stretched it well past the breaking point.

"Bring Hannah Arendt or Ortega Y Gasset down to your local union shop. See if what they're selling has any buyers."

Mr. Crow-

It seems as though you are dismissing or condemning philosophy due to its lack of effective applications, in that it, as an intellectual endeavor (such as it is), fails to ameliorate social injustices. As one who has worked in a union shop (so long ago, alas) as well as a shitload on non-union jobs, this claim is rather silly. (I'm assuming you are well familiar with the 9-5 grind so I'm not pulling the Working Class Hero mojo here). You seem to think that the reason these ideas/texts are impotent are due to the fact that they are the products of an elite or managerial, er, philosophy. The reasons you think that you have articulated at length (often convincingly).

However, as we all know, that is not how the world works. I'm honestly not clear about what you would deem a best case scenario here: The Target employees would immediately upon receipt of whatever book they receive then reorganize into some anarcho-syndicalist common and strike for higher wages and benefits? Would they walk out en masse having finally been enlightened as to their profound exploitation? The set-up you propose lacks credence even in the quasi-dramatic scenario you envision. I'm not trying to be a dick, I'm honestly curious.

People write for all sorts of reasons and contemporary Continental philosophers (self-proclaimed or otherwise) write for a specific audience yes, but what a paltry and obvious statement that is. I do understand your vitriol here - much of it is well-warranted. But Thoreau was a philosopher, so was Melville & Ballard, and yes, for better & worse, so is Zizek. And, be harsh if you will, so are you...

I've worked from the bottom of the food chain, literally, a Taco Bell in Augusta, Georgia when I was seventeen, to the mid-top, CANOE in Atlanta. I've consumed philosophical works every step of the way. I'm not sure exactly, but I think Mr. Crow might have been making a point for philosophy being written by the upper-class because they have the time to do it? "Custom hath made it in him a property of easiness. Tis e'en so: the hand of little employment hath the finer sensitivity"? Or not, whatevs, I just know how it feels to try making a point only to lose sight of it trying to defend myself against the counter-argument.

Thus Quoth Jack Crow,

"The philosophers have only to dissolve their language into the ordinary language, from which it is abstracted, in order to recognise it, as the distorted language of the actual world, and to realise that neither thoughts nor language in themselves form a realm of their own, that they are only manifestations of actual life."

Thank you for that quote by Marx* from The German Ideology. I want to thank you twice over: first off because I am writing a piece about ideology in the information age and this quote is ridiculously relevant, secondly because you partly prove my point with your choice of quote. If you read the Wikipedia entry on what is called ordinary language philosophy http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ordinary_language_philosophy you will see that this doctrine was embraced in the past and continues to influence analytic philosophy. See especially the paragraph that starts off "By contrast, Wittgenstein would later describe his task as bringing 'words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use'. The sea of change brought on by his unpublished work in the 1930s centered largely on the idea that there is nothing wrong with ordinary language as it stands, []" all the way to "[] ordinary language philosophy is viewed as a stage of the analytic tradition that followed logical positivism and that preceded the yet-to-be-named stage analytic philosophy continues in today." Also note that the key word "dissolve" is mentioned in the article, as a replacement to "solve".

Why I am pointing this out to you is to show you that this way of viewing philosophy essentially dominated for a while half of Western philosophy, very roughly speaking the Anglo-American analytic school so it's not like philosophers are unaware of the language issue. Our man Žižek stems from the other school (the French and German dominated continental philosophy) which seems to almost prefer word-games, jargon, dense language, and what have you: think Derrida, think Foucault, perhaps even Cioran the aphorist (who I adore). But even though the style irks or even repels us we can't ignore the subject matter of the continental school. This is because at least they (the continental philosophers) have confronted the horrors our contemporary world has given birth to, for example: Baudrillard and Benjamin on the media, Foucault on power and dominant ideologies, Žižek on ideology and capitalism; whereas their Anglo-American brothers have more or less roamed the dusty halls of metaphysics (Wittgenstein), philosophy of mind (Searle) and logic (Quine, Kripke, Russell). I am tempted to view this rift as the unwillingness of Anglo-American philosophers to confront the harsh geopolitical realities of the world their governments have wrought - but maybe that's overdoing it. I would very much like to see the rift healed and hope that it is in my lifetime because the subject matter of philosophy is a unity and knows no borders.

Regarding the aim of philosophy. That is to answer the question: what is philosophy? And there are as many answers to that as philosophers. So you claim that philosophy has an inherent aim, I assert that philosophy as a discipline has no aim whatsoever but that perhaps its practitioners do. That you think its practitioners have a ruling class agenda says more about you that it does about them. As you noticed I provided a list many of whom were suspicious (hostile is far too strong word) of the philosophical endeavor but that is no coincidence as I am a inveterate contrarian. Arendt, for instance, denied that she was a philosopher. But this is a great thing, philosophy at its core is about calling into question everything, including philosophy itself.

* to state that Marx was hostile to philosophy is overstating the case. I think you state this to reinforce the 'elitist philosophy against the working class' narrative you have constructed for yourself - and of course Marx was a champion of the working class, and Marx was a philosopher, so cognitive dissonance ensues, and to free yourself from that bind you come to the conclusion that Marx was hostile to philosophy, which to be honest seems like a silly thing to say, perhaps he was suspicious of (hostile?) to a certain type of philosophizing, but which philosopher isn't?

Jack Crow,

I don't think "philosophy" is a good category to use to try to explain how societies manage public thought. There are surely better frameworks.

The most interesting arguments I have encountered along the lines you are suggesting are from Noam Chomsky. He has suggested the more educated you are, the more indoctrinated you are, and that the various ideologies intellectuals embrace are in some sense self-serving.

Edward, where does Chomsky say that? Doesn't his own character contradict that assertion? I'm sure there is some truth to it though.


I think it is a theme that comes up in his various commentaries although I don't remember exactly which ones. Perhaps I should have written "more educated people" rather then intellectuals. He basically accuses the education system of being an indoctrination system; the more educated you are, the less resistant you are to state propaganda.

In his essay on the Spanish Civil War in "The Chomsky Reader" he accuses academics of supporting communism out of a kind of self-interest. There is also a critique of B.F. Skinner in that book that probably also discusses intellectuals in general. The ideas are not necessarily his own because he frequently refers to anarchists such as Bakunin.

I don't think there is a contradiction because I wrote "intellectuals" and not "all intellectuals". Such generalizations can't apply to everyone.

NEF, Chomsky's said that many, many times. Here's an example I found without much trouble:

Throughout history it's been mostly the property holders or the educated classes who've tended to support power systems. And that's a large part of what I think education is—it's a form of indoctrination. You have to reconstruct a picture of the world in order to be conducive to the interests and concerns of the educated classes, and this involves a lot of self-deceit.
And another on the greater acceptance of propaganda among the properly-indoctrinated:
There's really two separate questions about the media which are usually muddled. One is what they're trying to do and the second one is what's the effect on the public. The effect on the public isn't very much studied but to the extent that it has been it seems as though among the more educated sectors the indoctrination works more effectively. Among the less educated sectors people are just more skeptical and cynical.

His own character may contradict it, but he's an outlier--in part due to his unusual educational experience, which he describes here.


How you can come away from the Poverty of Philosophy and The German Ideology thinking Marx was a philosopher escapes me.

Marx states his case. Marx is not overstating Marx:

"...One has to 'leave philosophy aside' one has to leap out of it and devote oneself like an ordinary man to the study of actuality, for which there exists also an enormous amount of literary material, unknown, of course, to the philosophers.Philosophy and the study of the actual world have the same relation to one another as onanism and sexual love."

(Collected Works)


"The ordinary man does not think he is saying anything extraordinary when he states that there are apples and pears. But when the philosopher expresses their existence in the speculative way he says something extraordinary. He performs a miracle by producing the real natural objects, the apple, the pear, etc., out of the unreal creation of the mind 'the Fruit'….

(The Holy Family)

I tend to agree. The Zizek name drop reminds me of people who pick a cult band to follow and constantly go around talking about them as if they're relevant to the world, or will be in three years. There's little to get with critical political theory that wasn't written in Noam Chomsky's first five thousand books. The rest is just navel gazing.

Assange on the other hand, has much to say about his own work and experiences. At least, as you note, he has something practical and timely to speak about as a primary source, and I find the Wikileaks experience worth understanding and documenting in all its facets. But that's as far as it goes for him as well. His boasts that he triggered the Arab Spring ring as hollow as his braggadocio in December of how Bank of America would soon be a colossus half buried in the desert because of his leakage.

The assertion that Wikileaks contributed to the Arab Spring uprisings has come from many sources (like Amnesty International), not just Assange. And in fact when Amy Goodman asked Assange about it in this very discussion he responded that it's "hard to disentangle" Wikileaks' contribution, and went on to talk about the many factors involved (with Wikileaks being just one part of that).

That's how I've typically seen Assange talk about this, and I don't consider it boasting. There's no doubt that Wikileaks' revelations of corruption in various countries (Tunis in particular) contributed to the Arab Spring uprisings, though as Assange says it's difficult or impossible to definitively say how much.

Assange seems to quite clearly claim credit for it in his youtube video "watching the world change as the result of your work" voiceover, with an image of the Assange watching the Egyptian uprising on his laptop--that's pretty clearly claiming quite a bit of credit for it, if not all the credit.


I think wikileaks had very little to do with either uprising. Others agree with me. That doesn't take away from all the good that wikileaks has done. But it does make people want to investigate the recent history of anti-establishment movements in the middle east in the last five or so years. In the Egyptian context, these last two elections were pivotal for the Egyptian people as they would have cemented a dynastic kleptocracy. I understand that people want to dole out a certain level of influence to Assange and Wikileaks as part of a narrative to bolster the effect of the transparency movement. But its actually in context part of a very infuriating meme that Arabs are unable to figure anything out on their own.


I don't give a single line in a parody commercial more weight than a detailed discussion, especially since what I cited from Assange's talk with Amy Goodman is typical of what I've heard him say elsewhere, but people can decide for themselves. Personally I'd agree with Assange that it's hard to disentangle exactly how much Wikileaks affected things, though I think it's clear that it did have some effect.

(And I'd be much more inclined to question the motives of the New York Times Lede blog than Amnesty and others, since trying to paint Assange and Wikileaks in a bad light is one of the Times' favorite pastimes.)

It was quite a bit more than the single line in context, and I suggest many more people know of it than the Amy Goodman interview. The lede has a pretty credible work up with very informative links:




I think that the idea that Wikileaks sprung the Arab Spring is in the same band of beliefs of a set of revolutions coordinated through Facebook and Twitter. We want to believe it, it makes sense, it is current, and it gives us hope that our forward trajectory is bringing in at least some good. But it's a merely a way of co opting the story as a triumph of the new global liberal middle class.


Bouazizi emerges as at an out of work college graduate, rather than the poor and uneducated working class [by Middle East standards] person he actually was. The uprising in Egypt had much more to do with the labor movement there.


A recent Pew Poll shows that at least two thirds of Egyptians have never used Facebook and don't have an email account.


Our society wants to believe that change happens quickly, and that it happens that way because of technological advances from our capitalist system. The media has a vested interest in bringing us that story--Wikileaks, Twitter, Facebook, the keys to the future...anyway, got off the topic. I see all these memes as wedded in a single story about the Arab Spring.

If this article from (rhetorical) bomb-thrower Israel Shamir on Counterpunch is even one-tenth true, then Zizek is a dick:


Richard Seymour seems to have broken with Žižek over a number of things (including racism against Roma, Eurocentrism, a residual attachment to liberalism and support for a Slovene liberal party) some time back. I don't know anything about theory, but racism seemed relevant.

Solar Hero, Ali Abunimah from Electronic Intifada and Jewish anti-Zionists I rely on for information have spoken out against Shamir as anti-Semitic. It also appears he may be operating under multiple identities and may be someone else entirely. I would double-check what he says somewhere else.

Well, I'm late to returning to this thread and will generally "me too" what transpired above, but I gotta thank the last poster(s) to point out Zizek's substantive stance on issues of import to me and mine:

The Slovenian philosopher spoke kindly of the swindler Bernie Madoff, who was “a scapegoat who was easy to blame, when in fact the real problem is the system that allowed and even pushed Madoff to commit his crimes.” Indeed, it must have been ‘the system’ that pushed poor Mr. Madoff into crime, just as it was ‘the system’ that pushed Jack the Ripper into the business of carving.

. . .“even the most oppressed and poor Palestinian should not be tolerated for being anti-Semitic.” No doubt the professor referred to the anti-Semitism of objecting to Jews seizing Palestinian lands. ["]The real suffering, and the real problem, is European and American anti-Semitism,["] he declared.

. . .

Zizek said that “someone from the Democratic Republic of Congo would sell his mother into slavery in a heartbeat for the chance to move to the West Bank”.


Fuck Zizek.

He couldn't help himself. He couldn't fucking stop with just being racist towards Palestinians. No matter how many times -- no matter how many times -- I see this play out, this never gets less jarring: you have to compare it to a black experience. And why not? Black is the heaviest "race" there is, right?

Given the fact that someone in the Congo can even take advantage of a slave trade, I'm pretty sure you've just established that there are a WEALTH of people who are facing more serious descrimination than an Israeli Jew in his or her worst nightmare, and, of course, by lying about the scope of anti-Semetism, you muddy the waters enough that you give cover to actual anti-Semites.

Like Zizek himself. Because, of course, the second supremacist trope he just stepped in was conveniently ignoring the fact that those Palestinians are Semites. Oops.

Going out of his way to mention that Madoff, who displayed, not mere amorality, but objective immorality that would have been immorality worthy of prison in a more just system as well as a less just system than what we have now, is a sure sign of corruption. I'm so glad I was benignly indifferent to his RSA talk because I just had a big dinner and don't have room for my own dense prose.

Let's not forget that Zizek, when speaking of race, went out of his way -- no, seriously, did you see the fucking Congo coming, that was a hell of a surprise! -- way out of his way to drag the Nastiest Crime Associated with Whiteness Ever (yes, even though the Holocaust is an enthusiastic second place) and proceed to associate it with blacks? Hey, did anyone notice that the favorite tactic of a supremacist is to take whatever has been used as actual, substantive, formal, and publicly-announced-as-racist racist strategy and ascribe it to {insert non-white group here}? So whites used voter intimdation against blacks? Well, then we'll say blacks used voter intimidation against whites! Y'know how redlining continues even into the present day? Well, minorities caused the housing crisis!

The linked article captures the notion perfectly:

His crass and racist rhetoric caused not the slightest ripple. His brave and sincere dissident hosts either missed it entirely, accepted it as normal, or looked the other way. Indeed, what would you expect from a black? Maybe he would sell his mother into slavery for a chance to serve his white master. The historical and international aspects of slavery have been excised; it has been reduced to something blacks bring upon themselves, or twisted into a way for blacks to get ahead. But no harm done.

. . . which would be an awesome takedown but for the stuff Save the Oocytes just said. AAAAAAGH.

And speaking of his/her links:


I'm in the U.S. I have little to do with Europe. But when I'm trying to get a handle on someone from Europe very, very quickly, I have a method. I didn't use it with Zizek because I didn't care about him -- I was more interested in philosophy vis-a-vis Assange (and Avatar). But here's the rule:

Find out how the subject treats the Roma.

That's it. It won't sieve every psycho-killer or misogynist out of the intellectual landscape, but it's a damn fine start.

I should have used the rule with Zizek. It would have saved time, as it was designed to do.

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