Monday, October 18, 2010

Slavoj Zizek thinks democratic tolerance means you can't say what you think in public


"What really worries me is—I will say something very simple, almost commonsensical, that, you know, for me, I’m here always for censorship. Through democracy, tolerance, in an authentic sense, means that you simply cannot say certain things publicly. You are considered—you know, like if you say publicly an anti-Semitic, sexist joke, it’s unacceptable. Things which were unacceptable ten, fifteen years ago are now acceptable."

Hmm....interesting. Maybe it's his poor English skills that lead him to say "I'm here always for censorship" or maybe not. I thought that in a democracy tolerance meant the protection of minority voices, even when those voices are unpleasant. I mean, who's to say what I 'can't say publicly', Zizek? Today it may be folks talking about anti-Semitism, tomorrow it might be people who think that Left wing positions are unacceptable and shouldn't be publicly tolerated. Zizek doesn't seem to remember that the same principle that he's talking about now was present in the Communist system that he was a part of, which made lots of things that which you 'cannot say publicly', for fear of being fired, ostracized, and given a job as a street sweeper for the rest of your life. This is not what we should aim for in a democracy. If the democracy is to be authentic we should counter what we consider to be bad speech with good speech, not turn up the level of social unacceptability when people start saying things that we don't like.

Anything used against the Right will eventually be used against the Left. This is my personal belief, something that I sign up to 100%, and it's something that folks like the ACLU also believe in. I'm sure that few of the folks working on the case of the Nazis marching in Skokie thought that Nazism was cool, but they realized practically what could happen if groups started to be arbitrarily denied the right to march because of their political positions, no matter what they are.

Zizek seems to have a sort of lacunae, or inexplicable blind spot, that some Europeans tend to have: in one sense, many European intellectuals are very cultured and knowledgeable, but in many cases this knowledgability also co-exists with stupidity over basic issues that folks elsewhere learn about in grade school.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As far as I understand Zizek (his English is better than mine...), it always seems to be as much about what he thinks as about confronting you with what you think.