Oct 24, 2012
We Need More Apocalypticism (The Weekly Žižek)
This post is part of a series of posts from my doctoral seminar on Žižek’s religion and politics. Previous posts:
The recent presidential debate on foreign policy revealed an important aspect of how apocalyptic Zionism works today- namely that it is not radical enough. I blame John Nelson Darby, the jackass 19th century British preacher who invented the Rapture doctrine as well as the Tribulation meme that has now permeated American Christianity. To use Hegel’s terms, Darby made the apocalyptic real (by giving it potential), Auschwitz provided the motivation (by concretizing Zionism and prohibiting anti-Semitism for the first time in Christianity’s history), and the creation of the modern Israeli state in 1947-8 made the apocalypse truly concrete in the minds of American fundamentalists. Ever since, a large segment of American Christianity has married its newfound apocalypticism with its newfound distaste for anti-Semitism, culminating in a carte blanche for Israeli military action, oppression of Palestinians, etc., - we “stand with Israel” no matter what. The Bible tells us to, or some bullshit such as that.
So the threat of a nuclear Iran reveals a split subject- an American Christianity that cannot decide what it truly believes. We must stand with Israel against enemies because we want to play a role in the imaginary Armageddon scenario, but our belief that Israel survives until Armageddon means they cannot experience a nuclear attack. If you want to believe in this make-believe scenario of the End Times, that’s fine, but take it to the logical conclusion- there could be no serious threat to Israel until then. Or at least, no threat that would “wipe them off the map,” or “push them into the sea,” and so on. In other words, the concern with Iran and Hezbollah reveal that the fundamentalist does not actually believe what she thinks she believes.
For Žižek, there are three varieties of apocalypticism at play today: 1) the techno-digital posthuman, 2) the New Age, and 3) the Christian fundamentalist. The latter is undoubtedly the most dangerous (the end-of-the-world mentality wielding the weapons needed to bring it about), but it is also the most internally conflicted. Still, there is always a redemptive utilitarian potential in dead dogma.
“This paradox is at the very core of the Protestant notion of predestination: predestination does not mean that we are not really free since everything is determined in advance; it involves an even more radical freedom than the ordinary one, the freedom to retroactively determine (change) one’s destiny itself.” - Žižek, Paul’s New Moment, p. 197
The redeeming value of apocalypticism is that it allows us to say “Ok, yes, we can acknowledge that in the future we are fucked- so let’s accept that and proceed to ask if we can set in motion a different future.” According to Carl Schmitt (who observed that modern political ideologies are secularized theological beliefs), the “state of exception” is the only way to define the whole. You define power in society by who is excepted from the normal rules. You define fundamentalism by- and only by- those who are excepted from redemption (namely, everyone who does not share the same narcissistic beliefs). Apocalypticism gets its name from its exception- from the “non-normal” time it orients normal time around. As with psychotherapy, you always analyze not the conscious/imaginary belief but instead the unconscious/underside of belief. (Pete Rollins had a great post on unbelief this week).
“While traditional Marxism enjoined us to engage ourselves and act in order to bring about the necessity (of Communism), Adorno and Horkheimer projected themselves into the final catastrophic outcome perceived as fixed (the advent of the “administered society” of total manipulation and the end of subjectivity) in order to solicit us to act against this outcome in our present.” - Žižek, p. 196
“Recall Walter Benjamin’s notion of revolution as redemption-through-repetition of the past: apropos the French Revolution, the task of a true Marxist historiography is not to describe the events the way they really were (and to explain how these events generated the ideological illusions that accompanied them); the task is rather to unearth the hidden potentiality (the utopian emancipatory potentials) that were betrayed in the actuality of revolution and in its final outcome (the rise of utilitarian market capitalism). -Žižek, p. 203
Think of how climate change- inarguably the greatest threat to the world- has become altogether absent from our political discourse this cycle. Wouldn’t a good dose of apocalypticism be healthy? (e.g. “The world really will end if we don’t work to change the future!"). A new notion of time, taken right from fundamentalist apocalyptics and reintroduced for a secular society, is what is needed:
“So if we are to confront properly the threat of (cosmic or environmental) catastrophe, we have to introduce a new notion of time... For Badiou, the time of the fidelity to an event is the futur anterieur: overtaking oneself toward the future, one acts now as if the future one wants to bring about is already here. The same circular strategy of futur anterieur is also only truly efficient when we are confronting the prospect of a catastrophe (say, of an ecological disaster): instead of saying “the future is still open, we still have the time to act and prevent the worst,” one should accept the catastrophe as inevitable, and then act to retroactively undo what is already “written in the stars” as our destiny.” - Žižek, p. 195