...... Some Politically Incorrect Reflections on Violence in France & Related Matters •
...........4. The Subject Supposed to Loot and Rape Revisited

...........Slavoj Zizek

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Violence, Irrational and Rational
The Terrorist Resentment
Escape from New Orleans
C'est mon choix... to Burn Cars
Class Struggles in France, Again

There is, however, another aspect of the New Orleans outbursts that is no less crucial with regard to ideological mechanisms that regulate our lives. According to a well-known anthropological anecdote, the "primitives" to whom one attributed certain superstitious beliefs (that they descend from a fish or from a bird, for example), when directly asked about these beliefs, answered: "Of course not - we're not that stupid! But I was told that some of our ancestors effectively did believe that..." - in short, they transferred their belief onto another. Are we not doing the same with our children: we go through the ritual of Santa Claus, since our children (are supposed to) believe in it and we do not want to disappoint them; they pretend to believe not to disappoint us, our belief in their naivety (and to get the presents, of course), etc. Is this not also the usual excuse of the mythical crooked politician who turns honest? - "I cannot disappoint the ordinary people who believe in it (or in me)." And, furthermore, is this need to find another who "really believes," also not that which propels us in our need to stigmatize the Other as a (religious or ethnic) "fundamentalist"? In an uncanny way, some beliefs always seem to function "at a distance": in order for the belief to function, there has to be some ultimate guarantor of it, yet this guarantor is always deferred, displaced, never present in persona. The point, of course, is that this other subject who directly believes, needs not exist for the belief to be operative: it is enough precisely to presuppose his existence, i.e. to believe in it, either in the guise of the primitive other or in the guise of the impersonal "one" ("one believes...").

And is it not similar with our innermost feelings and attitudes, inclusive of crying and laughing? Suffice it to recall the old enigma of transposed emotions at work from the so-called "weepers" (women hired to cry at funerals) in "primitive" societies, to the "canned laughter" on a TV-screen (the reaction of laughter to a comic scene which is included into the soundtrack itself), and to adopting a screen persona in cyberspace. When I construct a "false" image of myself which stands for me in a virtual community in which I participate (in sexual games, for example, a shy man often assumes the screen persona of an attractive promiscuous woman), the emotions I feel and "feign" as part of my screen persona are not simply false: although (what I experience as) my "true self" does not feel them, they are nonetheless in a sense "true" - the same as with watching a TV mini-series with canned laughter where, even if I do not laugh, but simply stare at the screen, tired after a hard days work, I nonetheless feel relieved after the show...

The events in New Orleans after the city was struck by the hurricane Katrina provide a new addition to this series of subjects supposed to...: THE SUBJECT SUPPOSED TO LOOT AND RAPE. We all remember the reports on the disintegration of public order, the explosion of black violence, rape and looting - however, later inquiries demonstrated that, in the large majority of cases, these alleged orgies of violence simply did not occur: non-verified rumors were reported as facts by the media. For example, on September 4, the Superintendent Compass of the New Orleans Police Department was quoted in New York Times about conditions at the convention centre: "The tourists are walking around there, and as soon as these individuals see them, they're being preyed upon. They are beating, they are raping them in the streets." In an interview two weeks later, he conceded that some of his most shocking statements turned out to be untrue: "We have no official reports to document any murder. Not one official report of rape or sexual assault." (See Jim Dwyer and Christopher Drew, "Fear Exceeded Crime's Reality in New Orleans," New York Times, September 29 2005.)

The reality of poor Blacks, abandoned, left without means to survive, was thus transformed into the specter of the explosion of Black violence, of tourists robbed and killed on streets that had slid into anarchy, on the Superdome compounded by gangs that were raping women and children... These reports were not merely words, they were words which had precise material effects: they generated fears that led the authorities to change troop deployments, they delayed medical evacuations, drove police officers to quit, grounded helicopters... For example, Acadian Ambulance Company's cars were locked down after word came that a firehouse in Covington had been looted by armed robbers of all its water - a report that proved totally untrue.

Of course, the sense of menace had been ignited by genuine disorder and violence: looting did begin at the moment the storm passed over New Orleans, ranging from base thievery to foraging for the necessities of life. However, the (limited) reality of crimes in no way condones "reports" on the total breakdown of law and order - not because these reports were "exaggerated," but for a much more radical reason. Jacques Lacan claimed that, even if the patient's wife is really sleeping around with other men, the patient's jealousy is still to be treated as a pathological condition; in a homologous way, even if rich Jews in the Germany of the early 1930s "really" exploited German workers, seduced their daughters, dominated the popular press, etc., the Nazi anti-Semitism was still an emphatically "untrue," a pathological ideological condition - why? What made it pathological was the disavowed libidinal investment into the figure of the Jew: the cause of all social antagonisms was projected into the "Jew," the object of perverted love-hatred, the spectral figure of mixed fascination and disgust. And exactly the same goes for the looting in New Orleans: even if ALL reports on violence and rapes were to be proven factually true, the stories circulating about them would still be "pathological" and racist, since what motivated these stories were not facts, but racist prejudices, the satisfaction felt by those who would be able to say: "You see, Blacks are really like than, violent barbarians under the thin layer of civilization!" In other words, we would be dealing by what one can call lying in the guise of truth: even if what I am saying is factually true, the motives that make me say it are false.

Of course, we do not openly admit these motifs - from time to time, they nonetheless pop up in our public space in the censored form, in the guise of denegation, evoked as an option and then immediately discarded. Recall what William Bennett, the neo-con compulsive gambler author of The Book of Virtues, said on Sept 28 2005 on his call-in program "Morning in America": "But I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could, if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossibly ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down." The White House spokesman immediately reacted: "The president believes the comments were not appropriate." Two days later, Bennett qualified his statement: "I was putting a hypothetical proposition ... and then said about it, it was morally reprehensible to recommend abortion of an entire group of people. But this is what happens when you argue that ends can justify the means." THIS is what Freud meant when he wrote that the Unconscious knows no negation: the official (Christian, democratic...) discourse is accompanied and sustained by a whole nest of obscene brutal racist, sexist, etc., fantasies, which can only be admitted in a censored form.

But we are not dealing here only with the good old racism - something more is at stake: a fundamental feature of the emerging "global" society. On September 11, 2001, the Twin Towers were hit. Twelve years earlier, on November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. November 9 announced the "happy '90s," the Francis Fukuyama dream of the "end of history," the belief that liberal democracy had, in principle, won, that the search is over, that the advent of a global, liberal world community lurks just around the corner, that the obstacles to this ultra-Hollywood happy ending are merely empirical and contingent (local pockets of resistance where the leaders did not yet grasp that their time is over). In contrast to it, 9/11 is the main symbol of the end of the Clintonite happy '90s, of the forthcoming era in which new walls are emerging everywhere, between Israel and the West Bank, around the European Union, on the U.S.-Mexico border. The rise of the populist New Right is just the most prominent example of the urge to raise new walls.

A couple of years ago, an ominous decision of the European Union passed almost unnoticed: the plan to establish an all-European border police force to secure the isolation of the Union territory and thus to prevent the influx of the immigrants. THIS is the truth of globalization: the construction of NEW walls safeguarding the prosperous Europe from the immigrant flood. One is tempted to resuscitate here the old Marxist »humanist« opposition of »relations between things« and »relations between persons«: in the much celebrated free circulation opened up by the global capitalism, it is "things" (commodities) which freely circulate, while the circulation of "persons" is more and more controlled. We are thus not dealing with "globalization as an unfinished project," but with a true "dialectics of globalization": the segregation of the people IS the reality of economic globalization. This new racism of the of the developed is in a way much more brutal than the previous one's: its implicit legitimization is neither naturalist (the »natural« superiority of the developed West) nor any longer culturalist (we in the West also want to preserve our cultural identity), but the unabashed economic egotism - the fundamental divide is the one between those included into the sphere of (relative) economic prosperity and those excluded from it.

When, at the beginning of October 2005, the Spanish police dealt with the problem of how to stop the influx of desperate African immigrants who tried to penetrate the small Spanish territory across Gibraltar, they displayed the plans to build a wall there between Spanish and Morocco border. The images presented - a complex structure with all the electronic equipment - resembled uncannily those of the Berlin Wall, only in the opposite direction, destined to prevent people from coming in, not getting out.

The cruel irony of the situation is that it was the government of Zapatero, at this moment arguably the most anti-racist and tolerant in Europe, that is forced to adopt these measures of segregation - a clear sign of the limit of the multiculturalist "tolerant" approach which preaches open borders and acceptance of Others. If one were to open the borders, the first to rebel would be local working classes. It is thus becoming clear that the solution is not "tear down the walls and let them all in," this easy empty demand of soft-hearted liberal "radicals." The only true solution is to tear down the TRUE Wall, not the police one, but the social-economic one: to change society so that people will no longer desperately try to escape their own world.

This brings us back to rumours and "reports" about "subjects supposed to loot and rape": New Orleans is the city within the US which is among the most heavily marked by the internal Wall that separates the afffluent from the ghettoized Blacks. And it is about those on the other side of the Wall that we fantasize: they more and more live in another world, in a blank zone that offers itself as a screen for the projection of our fears, anxieties, and secret desires. The "subject supposed to loot and rape" is on the other side of the Wall - it is about this subject that Bennett can afford to make his slip of tongue and confess in a censored mode his murderous dreams. More than anything else, rumors and fake reports from the aftermath of Katrina bear witness to the deep class division of American society.


Slavoj Zizek's Bibliography

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