Sunday, July 26, 2009

More Zizek

"The perplexing fact about the "terrorist" attacks is that they do not fit our standard opposition of evil as egotism or disregard for the common good, and good as the spirit of and actual readiness for sacrifice in the name of some higher cause. Terrorists cannot but appear as something akin to Milton's Satan with his "Evil, be thou my Good": While they pursue what appear to us to be evil goals with evil means, the very form of their activity meets the highest standard of the good. The resolution of this enigma isn't difficult and was already known to Rousseau. Egotism, or the concern for one's well-being, is not opposed to the common good, since altruistic norms can easily be deduced from egotist concerns. Individualism versus communitarianism, utilitarianism versus the assertion of universal norms, are false oppositions since the two opposed options amount to the same result. The critics who complain how, in today's hedonistic-egoistic society, true values are lacking totally miss the point. The true opposite of egoist self-love is not altruism, a concern for the common good, but envy, ressentiment, which makes me act against my own interests. The true evil, which is the death drive, involves self-sabotage. It makes us act against our own interests."

"Rawls thus proposes a terrifying model of a society in which hierarchy is directly legitimised in natural properties, thereby missing the simple lesson an anecdote about a Slovene pesant makes palpably clear. The peasant is given a choice by a good witch. She will either give him one cow and his neighbor two cows, or she'll take one cow from him and two from his neighbor. The peasant immediately chooses the second option. Gore Vidal demonstrates the point succinctly: "It is not enough for me to win--the other must loose." The catch of envy/ressentment is that it not only endorses the zero-sum game principle where my victory is the other's loss. It also implies a gap between the two, which is not the positive gap (we can all win with no losers at all_ but a negative one. If I have to choose between my gain and my opponent's loss, I prefer the opponent's loss, even if it means a loss to me. It is as if my eventual gain from my opponent's loss functions as a kind of pathological element that stains the purity of my victory."

(from Violence.)