...... Some Politically Incorrect Reflections on Violence in France & Related Matters •
...........5. C'est mon choix... to Burn Cars

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

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Violence, Irrational and Rational
The Terrorist Resentment
Escape from New Orleans
The Subject Supposed to Rape and Loot Revisited
Class Struggles in France, Again

The recent outbursts in Paris bear witness to the same Wall in Europe itself. The thing to resist, when we are faced with shocking reports and images of cars burning in Paris suburbs, is the "hermeneutic temptation": the search for some deeper meaning or message hidden in these outbursts. What is most difficult to accept is precisely their utmost meaninglessness: more than a form of protest, they are a passage l'acte which bears witness not only to the impotence of the perpetrators, but, even more, to the lack of what Fredric Jameson called "cognitive mapping", to their inability to locate the experience of their situation into a meaningful Whole. The true question is thus: which are the roots of this disorientation?

Social theorists like to repeat that today's society is thoroughly "reflexive": there is no Nature or Tradition that would provide the firm foundation on which one can rely, even our innermost impetuses (sexual orientation) are more and more experienced as something to be chosen. How to feed and educate a child, how to proceed in sexual seduction, how and what to eat, how to relax and amuse oneself, all these spheres are more and more "colonized" by reflexivity, experienced as something to be learned and decided upon. However, the ultimate deadlock of the risk society resides in the gap between knowledge and decision: there is no one who "really knows" what to do, the situation is radically "undecidable", but we nonetheless HAVE TO DECIDE. The problem is thus not that of the forced choice (I am free to choose - on condition that I make the right choice), but the opposite one: the choice is effectively free and, for this very reason, is experienced as utterly more frustrating.

We find ourselves constantly in the position of having to decide about matters that will fatefully affect our lives, but without a proper foundation in knowledge. Far from being experienced as liberating, this compulsion freely to decide is thus experienced as an anxiety-provoking obscene gamble, a kind of ironic reversal of Predestination: I am held accountable for decisions which I was forced to make without proper knowledge of the situation. The freedom of decision enjoyed by the subject of the "risk society" is not the freedom of someone who can freely choose his destiny, but the anxiety-provoking freedom of somebody who is constantly compelled to make decisions without being aware of their consequences. There is no guarantee that the democratic politicization of crucial decisions, the active involvement of thousands of concerned individuals, will necessarily improve the quality and accuracy of decisions and thus effectively lessen the risks - one is tempted to evoke here the answer of a devote Catholic to the reproach of the atheist liberal that they, Catholics, are so stupid as to believe in the infallibility of the Pope: "We, Catholics, at least believe in the infallibility of ONE and only one person; does democracy not rely on a much more risky notion that the majority of the people, i.e. millions of them, are infallible?"

The subject thus finds himself in a Kafkaesque situation of being guilty for not even knowing what (if anything) he is guilty of: the prospect forever haunts me that I have already made decisions which will endanger me and all my beloved, but I will only, if ever, learn the truth about it when it will be already too late. Let us recall here the figure of Forrest Gump, this perfect "vanishing mediator," the very opposite of the Master (the one who symbolically registers an event by nominating it, by inscribing it into the big Other): Gump is presented as the innocent bystander who, by just doing what he does, unknowingly sets in motion a shift of historical proportions. When he visits Berlin to play football and inadvertently throws the ball across the wall, he thereby starts the process which brings down the wall; when he visits Washington and is given a room in the Watergate complex, in the middle of the night he notices some strange things going on in the rooms across the yard, calls the guard and sets in motion the events which culminated in Nixon's downfall - is this not the ultimate metaphor for the situation at which the proponents of the notion of "risk society" aim, a situation in which we are forced to make moves whose ultimate effects are beyond our reach?

We are here at the very nerve center of the liberal ideology: the ruling ideology endeavors to sell us the very insecurity caused by the dismantling of the Welfare State as the opportunity for new freedoms. You have to change job every year, relying on short-term contracts instead of a long-term stable appointment? Why not see it as the liberation from the constraints of a fixed job, as the chance to reinvent yourself again and again, to become aware of and realize hidden potentials of your personality? You can no longer rely on the standard health insurance and retirement plan, so that you have to opt for additional coverage for which you have to pay? Why not perceive it as an additional opportunity to choose: either better life now or long-term security? And if this predicament causes you anxiety, the postmodern or "second modernity" ideologist will immediately accuse you of being unable to assume full freedom, of the "escape from freedom," of the immature sticking to old stable forms... Even better, when this is inscribed into the ideology of the subject as the psychological individual pregnant with natural abilities and tendencies, then I as if were automatically interpret all these changes as the results of my personality, not as the result of me being thrown around by the market forces.

The most popular TV show of the Fall of 2000 in France, with the viewer rating two times higher than that of the notorious "Big Brother" reality soaps, was "C'est mon choix" ("It is my choice") on France 3, the talk-show whose guest is each time an ordinary (or, exceptionally, well-known) person who made a peculiar choice which determined his or her entire life-style: one of them decided never to wear underwear, another tries all the time to find a more appropriate sexual partner for his father and mother - extravagance is allowed, solicited even, but with the explicit exclusion of the choices which may disturb the public (say, a person whose choice is to be and act as a racist, is a priori excluded). Can one imagine a better predicament of what the "freedom of choice" effectively amounts to in our liberal societies? We can go on making our small choices, "reinventing ourselves" thoroughly, on condition that these choices do not seriously disturb the social and ideological balance. With regard to the "C'est mon choix," the truly radical thing would have been to focus precisely on the "disturbing" choices: to invite as guests people like dedicated racists, i.e. people whose choice (whose difference) DOES make a difference. This, also, is the reason why, today, "democracy" is more and more a false issue, a notion so discredited by its predominant use that, perhaps, one should take the risk of abandoning it to the enemy. Where, how, by whom are the key decisions concerning global social issues made? Are they made in the public space, through the engaged participation of the majority? If the answer is yes, it is of secondary importance if the state has a one-party system, etc. If the answer is no, it is of secondary importance if we have parliamentary democracy and freedom of individual choices.


Slavoj Zizek's Bibliography

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