Athar Jaber

Slavoj Zizek - Violence


The tyrant’s bloody robe

A step back from Subjective violence (acts of crime and terror) enables us to identify another kind of violence that sustains our efforts to fight violence and promote tolerance: objective violence.

Objective violence includes ‘symbolic’ violence and ‘systemic’ violence.


Subjective violence                                       
Symbolic violence                           
Systemic violence

Subjective violence is experienced as such against the background of a non-violent zero level. It is seen as a perturbation of the ‘normal’ peaceful state of things.
Objective violence is precisely the violence inherent to this ‘normal’ state of things.

Cover story of Time on 5 June 2006: The deadliest war of all time. Republic of Congo. Time picked the wrong victim in the struggle for hegemony on suffering.

Sideways glance. The direct confrontation with the overpowering horror of violent acts and empathy with the victims inexorably functions as a lure which prevents us from thinking.


A dispassionate conceptual development of the typology of violence must ignore its traumatic impact.

An appropriate approach to the subject of violence is one that permits variations on violence kept at distance out of respect towards its victims.

‘It is not poetry that is impossible after Auschwitz, but rather prose’. Adorno.

The music of Schoenberg articulated the anxieties and nightmares of Auschwitz before the event took place.

The fake sense of urgency declared by liberals. Starbucks.
‘What do computer matter when millions are still unnecessarily dying of dysentery?’ Bill Gates.

Marx’s 1870 letter to Engels: can’ revolutionary wait for a couple of years?

One should do nothing.
There are situations when the only truly ‘practical’ thing to do is to resist the temptation to engage immediately and ‘wait and see’ by means of a patient, critical analysis.

Sartre’s Existentialism and Humanism dilemma: help ill mother or enter the Resistance and fight Germans.
Solution: withdraw and study…

Marx, Engels and Lenin joke: wife vs mistress.

We need to ‘learn, learn and learn’ what causes this violence.


Violence: Subjective and Objective

1922 expulsion of anti-communist intellectuals on the Philosophy Steamer.
Story of Nikolai Lossky.

Systemic violence: the violence inherent in a system: not only direct physical violence, but also the more subtle forms of coercion that sustain relations of domination and exploitation, including the threat of violence.

There is something suspicious, symptomatic about the focus on subjective violence. It desperately tries to distract our attention from the true locus of trouble, by obliterating from view other forms of violence and thus actively participating in them.

Discussion between German officer and Picasso on Guernica: ‘Did you do this? No, you did this!’

Three modes of violence: subjective, objective and symbolic. Subjective violence is merely the most visible of the three.

Systemic violence of capitalism: this violence is no longer attributable to concrete individuals and their ‘evil’ intentions, but is purely ‘objective’, systemic, anonymous. Lacanian difference between reality and the Real.

The Good Men from Porto Davos
The liberal Communists: George Soros, CEO’s of revolutionary start-ups, Bill Gates (ex-hacker who made it) etc.

Hackers want to disturb the smooth functioning of large bureaucratic corporations.

The ten commandments of the liberal communist.

Liberal communists are pragmatic, they like examples such as the struggle against apartheid in South Africa; they love the students protests of 1968; they are true citizens of the world; they are good people who worry. In order to really help people, you must have the means to do it and private initiative is the way.
Liberal communists do not want to be just machines for generating profit. They want their lives to have a deeper meaning.

Charity is the humanitarian mask hiding the face of economic exploitation.

The inherent self-negation of the capitalist process.
Whether sincere or hypocritical, it is the logical concluding point of capitalist circulation, necessary from the strictly economic standpoint since it allows the capitalist system to postpone it’s crisis.

A Liberal-Communist Village
The Village by M. Night Shyamalan.
Sacrificial logic is reasserted as the condition of community, as its secret bond.

Evil is not simply excluded in this closed utopian space – it is transformed into a mythic threat with which the community established a temporary truce and against which it must maintain a permanent state of emergency.

The figure of evil today are not the ordinary consumers who pollute the environment and liv ein a violent world of disintegrating social links, but those who, while fully engaged in creating conditions for such universal devastation and pollution, buy their way out of their own activity, living in gated communities, eating organic food, taking holidays in wildlife preserves, and so on.

Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men:
The tyranny of the twenty-first century is called ‘democracy’.

Passive and active nihilism. Western society immersed in stupid daily pleasures and the Muslim radicals ready to risk everything.

Sexuality in the Atonal World
What kind of sexuality fits this universe?
6 August 2006 ‘masturbate-a-thon’.

The very act that the other is reduced to an observer, not participating in my activity, makes my act much more ‘shameful’.

Time magazine 18 December 2006. Person of the year: You.

Alain Badiou develops the notion of ‘atonal’ world which lacks the intervention of a Master-Signifier to impose meaningful order onto the confused multiplicity of reality.

A basic feature of our postmodern world is that it tries to dispense with this agency of the ordering Master-Signifier.

The liberal communists and the blind fundamentalist exploding in rage, are the two sides of the same coin.

We should have no illusions: liberal communists are the enemy of every progressive struggle today.
What should be done?
Bertold Brecht’s poem ‘The Interrogation of the Good’.


The Politics of Fear

Today’s predominant mode of politics is post-political bio-politics.
The only way to introduce passion in this field is through fear. Bio-politics is ultimately a politics of fear, it focuses on defence from potential victimisation or harassment.
Fear of immigrants, of crime, of godless sexual depravity, of the excessive state itself, of ecological catastrophe, of harassment. Political correctness is the exemplary liberal form of the politics of fear.

Liberal’s tolerance towards others: the Other is just fine, as long as his presence is not intrusive.

Post-political bio-politics has two opposite ideological aspects:
1.       The reduction of humans to ‘bare life’.
2.       The respect for the vulnerable Other.

Shooting someone point-blank is for most of us much more repulsive that pressing a button that will kill a thousand people we cannot see.

Sam Harris’ ‘truth pill’ equivalent to diet coke or decaffeinated coffee.

The Neighbour Thing
‘An enemy is someone whose story you have not heard’
The ultimate criminal is thus allowed to present himself as the ultimate victim.

The experience that we have of our lives from within, the story we tell ourselves about ourselves in order to account for what we are doing, is fundamentally a lie – the truth lies outside, in what we do.

The real event, the very dimension of the Real, is not the immediate reality of the violent event, but how this reality appears to observers and in the hopes awakened in them. The reality of what happens belongs to the temporal dimension of empirical history; the sublime image that generates enthusiasm belongs to eternity.

Fetish disavowal: ‘I know, but I don’t want to know that I know, so I don’t know’.
Every ethics may well have to rely on this gesture of fetishist disavowal.
Buddhism offers a solution of universal indifference, a learning of how to withdraw from too much empathy.

The Violence of Language
The disintegration of the protective symbolic walls that keep other at a proper distance.
Caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad published in Jyllands-Posten.
‘The global information village’: It is as if Denmark and Syria, Pakistann Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon an Indonesia really were neighbouring countries.

A neighbour is a traumatic intruder, someone whose different way of life disturbs us. When it comes too close, it can give rise to an aggressive reaction.
‘More communication means at first above all more conflict’, Peter Sloterdijk.
The attitude of ‘understanding-each-other’ must be supplemented by the attitude of ‘getting-out-of-each-other’s-way’.

Alienation is the distance woven into the texture of everyday life. Sometimes a dose of alienation is not a problem but a solution.

‘Speaking is the foundation and structure of socialization, and happens to be characterized by the renunciation of violence’. Jean-Marie Muller for UNESCO.
The renunciation of violence defines the very core of being human.
‘It is the principle and methods of non-violence…that constitute the humanity of human beings’, so that violence is ‘indeed a radical perversion of humanity’.

Humans exceed animals in their capacity for violence precisely because they speak. There is something violent in the very symbolisation of a thing, which equal its mortification. Language simplifies the designated thing, reducing it to a single feature. It dismembers the thing, destroying its organic unity, treating its parts and properties as autonomous. It inserts the thing into a field of meaning which is ultimately external to it. When we name gold ‘gold’, we violently extract a metal from is natural texture, investing into it our dreams of wealth, power, spiritual purity and so on, which have nothing whatsoever to do with the immediate reality of gold.

Jean-Marie Mullen rejects all attempts to distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ violence.
But struggle and aggression are part of life. The solution is to distinguish rename them as ‘aggression’ (life-force, positive) and ‘violence’ (death-force, negative). Violence is excess which disturbs the normal run of things by desiring always more and more. The task becomes to get rid of this excess.

Desiring property and power are legitimate insofar as it enables an individual to achieve independence from others. Adversaries, however, have a natural tendency to always demand more.
They do not know how to stop themselves.
Rivalry between human beings can only be surmounted when each individual puts a limit on his or her own desires.
‘limited desires are in harmony with the world; desires that contain the infinite are not.

When we perceive something as an act of violence, we measure it by a presupposed standard of what the ‘normal’ non-violent situation is – and the highest form of violence is the imposition of this standard with reference to which some events appear as ‘violent’.

Human desire is substantially excessive.
As opposed to machines, which do not desire.

Language is the greatest divider, it is because of language that we and our neighbours (can) live in different worlds even when we live on the same street.

Verbal violence is the ultimate resort of every specifically human violence.

Reality in itself is never tolerable: it is language, its symbolization, which makes it such.
When dealing with the scene of furious crowd, we should never forget the placards that they are carrying and the words that sustain and justify their acts.

Heidegger’s ‘essence’.
Change of sensitivity on a specific ‘essence’ is sustained by language.

A fundamental violence exists in this ‘essencing’ ability of language: our world is given a partial twist.

Heidegger’s ‘ontological violence’.
‘All violence is necessarily deemed only a disturbance and an offence … The violent one, the creative one who sets forth into the unsaid, who breaks into the unthought, stands at all times in daring…The violence-doer knows no kindness and conciliation. For such a one, disaster is the deepest and broader Yes to the Overwhelming’. Heidegger



‘The essence of violence has nothing to do with ontic violence, suffering, war, etc.; the essence of violence resides in the violent character of the very imposition /founding of the new mode of the Essence itself’.

There is a direct link between ontological violence and the texture of social violence that pertains to language.

The wall of language.


A Strange Case of Phatic Communication

French suburban riots of 2005.
Parallels to New Orleans 2005 or Paris May 1968.

Lack of total absence of positive utopian ideologies. Post-ideological era.
A zero-level protest, a violent protest act which demands nothing.

Hermeneutic temptation: the search for some deeper meaning or message hidden in these outbursts.
Lacan’s passage a l’acte: an impulsive movement or thought into action which cannot be translated into speech or thought and carries with it an intolerable weight of frustration.

The riots as an effort to gain visibility. A social group saw itself excluded from the political and social space wanted to render its presence palpable to the general public.

The protestors aim is to create a problem, to signal that they are a problem that could no longer be ignored. Therefore, violence is necessary. Had they organized a non-violent march, all they would have got was a small note on the bottom of a page…

The protesters’ demand to be recognised also implies a rejection of the very framework through which recognition takes place. It a call for the construction of a new universal framework.

Phatic communion. ‘Hello, do you hear me?’.
The phatic function is close to the ‘meta-linguistic’ function: it checks whether the channel is working.
Was the basic message of the Paris suburbs not a kind of ‘Hello, do you hear me?’.

According to Alain Badiou we live in a social space which is experienced as ‘wordless’. In such a space, the only form protest can take is ‘meaningless’ violence.

Terrorist attacks are an implicit admission of impotence.

North Korean propaganda text. Wagner’s Tristan’s death aria.

Terrorist Resentment
Yeats’s ‘Second Coming. Anaemic liberals and impassionate fundamentalists.

Terrorist fundamentalists are a disgrace to true fundamentalism.

Fundamentalists secretly consider themselves inferior. Fundamentalists secretly internalised our cultural standards. Dalai Lama: Tibetan Buddhism = pursuit of happiness and avoidance of pain.

Terrorist deployment of evil means is for the highest standard of good. True evil makes one act against one’s interest.

Problem of human desire: desire for the Other, desire to be desired by the Other and desire for hat the Other desires.

Augustine’s confession of baby jealous of his brother sucking at the mother’s breast.

John Rawls’s theory of justice.
Anecdote of Slovene peasant and his neighbour’s cows.

Gore Vidal: ‘It is not enough for me to win – the other must lose’.

‘Unjustness’ of capitalism makes it acceptable to the majority as losses are not perceived as the result of one’s inferior qualities, but to chance.

Justice as equality is founded on envy. Since it is not possible to impose equal joy, what is imposed to be equally shared is prohibition.

Envy: one does not envy the Other’s possession of the object, but the Other’s ability to enjoy the object. One’s true aim is to destroy this Other’s ability.
The Other’ satisfaction derives from just possessing the object, elevating it into a sacred, untouchable/prohibited, entity which should under no condition be consumed.

Rousseau’s amour-de-soi vs amour-propre.

Egotists causes no harm. He is too busy with himself.
The bad person is more preoccupied with others that with himself.

Libidinal mechanism: the libidinal investment shifts from the desired object to the obstacle itself. This could be applied to fundamentalist violence. Destruction is what really matters, not the achievement of a noble goal.

Egalitarianism should not be accepted as it relies on the negation of pleasure: ‘I am ready to renounce it so that others will also NOT be able to have it!’.

The Subject Supposed to Loot and Rape
Us-Iraq war pop hero Muhammad Saeed al-Sahaf, Iraqi information minister. ‘[Americans] are not in control of anything – not even themselves!’. Regarding New Orleans’ 2005 lootings.

Our lives are permeated by a fear that the social bond can disintegrate at any time. The perceived fragility of our social fabric is a social symptom.

During New Orleans’ social breakdown, the forces of law and order were not confronted with the conservative belief of the fragility of social order and how a strict law enforcement is needed to prevent violent passions, but the very nature of capitalism: individual competition, self-assertion, etc.

Revisitation of Kant’s sublime: No matter how brutal the display of ferocious nature is, it cannot disrupt the vortex of the capitalist dynamic.

Ideological mechanism of transferring one’s beliefs onto another. Santa Claus, religious fundamentalist, canned laughter, weepers, etc. It always functions at a distance. It even does not need to exist in order to be operative.
In this sense, is the artist the fool, the madman to whom society ascribes its own madness?

Untrue official statements regarding violence in New Orleans.

Lacan: the patient’s jealousy is to be treated as a pathological condition even if his wife is really cheating. Nazi’s vs Jews and ‘pathological’ and racist prejudices even in the communication of true facts. Lying in the guise of true.

The limitation of standard political correctness: it does not change the subjective position, but it imposes a set of rules regarding content.

9/11 marks the era in which the urge to raise new walls everywhere is dominant.

The truth of globalisation consists in new walls that safeguard Europe from the immigrant flood.
Commodities circulate freely whereas the circulation of persons is more controlled.

The fundamental divide is between those included in the sphere of economic prosperity and those excluded from it.

The subject supposed to loot and rape is on the other side of the wall.

The solution is not to ‘tear down the walls and let them all in’. The only true solution is to tear down the true wall, not the Immigration Department one, but the socio-economic one: to change society so that people will no longer desperately try to escape their own world.


Liberalism or Fundamentalism?

A plague on both their houses!
Kant. Antinomies of pure reason. If conflict of reason is not resolved it results in scepticism. Euthanasia of pure reason.
Danish caricature of Muhammad: antinomies of tolerant reason. Both opposite stories are valid.

The joke of Christianity.

Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali controversial comparison between women and raw meat. It follows that men are helpless when sexually provoked. Like hungry cats. The west believes that men are capable of sexual restraint.

According to Western partisans of multiculturalist tolerance, the Muslim protests are really about humiliation and frustrations associated with the West’s imperialist attitude. Muslim anti-Semitism is not ‘really’ about Jews, but a displaced protest about capitalist exploitation.

The Danish newspaper had previously rejected caricatures of Christ.
The so-called freedom of press in the West is subject to prohibitions and limitations. E.i. holocaust.

Inconsistencies regarding the perception of Holocaust.

Israel’s policy as one of modern colonialism.

Israel is committing such horrible crimes that only the absolute trump card of the Holocaust can redeem them.

Antinomy of Holocaust reason.

Oriana Fallaci: War on Terror is a clash between civilisation and barbarism. Asymmetry of tolerance.

Alain Finkelkraut: ‘If an Arab burns a school, it is a revolt. If a white man does it, it is fascism. War on racism will be a source of violence”.

What is wrong in the politically correct struggle against racism is not its excessive anti-racism, but its covert racism.

The Jerusalem Chalk Circle
Palestine – Israel issue is “heart of darkness” of Middle East conflict.

Notion of illegitimate origins of power, of ‘founding’ crime on which states are based. These founding crimes are no longer acceptable. Israel has been established too late.
Israel confronts us with the obliterated past of every state power.

The Middle East conflict confronts us with the fragility ond penetrability of the border that separates ‘illegitimate’ non-state power from ‘legitimate’ state power.

Bertold Brecht: ‘What is the robbery of a bank compared to the founding of a bank?”. What is committing an act of terror to a state power waging war on terror?

Simon Wiesenthal essay: Justice Not Vengeance.

Israel still relies on the image of Jews as victims to legitimise its power politics, as well as to denounce its critics as covert Holocaust sympathisers.

Arthur Koestler: ‘if power corrupts, the reverse is also true; persecution corrupts the victims.’

The middle East conflict has taken the shape of a neurotic symptom – everyone sees the way to get rid of the obstacle, and yet no one wants to remove it, as if there is a pathological libidinal profit gained by persisting in the deadlock.

1968 motto: Soyons réalistes, demandons l’impossible!

Legendary ‘If’ answer.

Arabs are losing the battle exactly because they point to Israel as the reason to their problems while these are inside their own regimes.
Jihad means inner purification not war against external enemies.

Interesting solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict brought forward: renounce political control of Jerusalem, elevating it into an extra-political, sacred site. The sacrifice is actually a liberation for oneself.

The Caucasus (Jerusalem) chalk circle.
The one who truly loves something would rather let it go than see it torn apart by strife.

The Anonymous Religion of Atheism
Paradox of tolerance: how far should tolerance for intolerance go?
Freedom of responsibility = forced choice. Freedom is given on the condition to make the right choice or not to use it.

There are not only right and wrong solutions, there are also right and wrong problems.

Muslim’s paradoxical position is they are allowed their religious identity by the ‘godless’ atheist liberals.

‘The anonymous kingdom of the Republic’: The only way to be a royalist in general is to be a republican.
‘The anonymous religion of atheism’: the only way to be religious in general is to be an atheist.

The fight against the external enemy always turns into an inner split and the fight against the inner enemy.

Atheism is perhaps the only chance for peace.

Religiously justified violence can be accounted for by the very fact that we live in an era that perceives itself as post-ideological.

Contrary to Dostoevsky’s Karamazov: if there is a God, then everything is permitted to those who claim to act directly on behalf of God.
Augustine: ‘Love God, and do as you please’.
In the absence of any ethical standards external to one’s belief in and love for God, the danger is that one will use one’s love of God as the legitimisation of the most horrible deeds.

Fundamentalists do good deeds in order to fulfil God’s will and deserve salvation; atheists do them simply because it is the right thing to do. This is the most elementary experience of morality.

Modern Europe’s most precious legacy is its atheism.


The Culturalization of Politics

Question of intolerance.
‘Culturalization of Politics’: Political differences are neutralised into ‘cultural’ differences which can only be ‘tolerated’.

Samuel Huntington’s ‘clash of civilisation’ vs Francis Fukuyama’s ‘end of history’.

Paradox: the ultimate source of barbarism is culture itself, one’s direct identification with a particular culture which renders one intolerant towards other cultures.

Culture is collective and particular. The individual is universal.

If culture is the source of barbarism and intolerance, the only way to overcome the burden is to extricate oneself from culture: the subject has to be kulturlos.

Kant vs Rorty.

The Effective Universality
Liberalism harbours male dominance. Liberalism privileges the modern Western culture. Liberalism is marked by a strong bias of freedom of choice.
The liberal idea of a ‘free choice’ always gets caught in a deadlock.
In the Western ’tolerant’ multicultural sense, the ‘subject of free choice’ can emerge only as the result of an extremely violent process of being torn out of a particular lifeworld, or being cut off from one’s roots.
This violence is hugely liberating as it makes us experience our own cultural background as contingent.
Liberal multiculturalism is profoundly anti-‘essentialist’.
To modern Europeans, other civilisations are caught in their specific culture, while modern Europeans are flexible, constantly changing their presuppositions.

Universal vs particular.

Universality is achieved when individuals no longer identify with a particular social situation. These individuals are forever out of joint with and lack a place in a given social structure. The appearance of abstract universality produces violence: it violently disrupts a preceding organic entity.

The key moment of any aesthetic struggle is the rise of universality out of the particular.

The test of the greatness of a work of art is its ability to survive being torn from its original context.
E.g. Shakespeare, Wagner’s Parsifal, Nietzsche.

Claim for Universality of capitalism and its threat.

The emancipatory struggle: the repressed, the exploited and suffering, the ‘parts of no-part of every culture come together in a shared struggle. Not the cultures in their identity.

Primo Levi, a Jew or a human. Levi was a human precisely and only insofar as he was uneasy with or unable to fully identify with his Jewishness.

Acheronta Movebo: The Infernal Region
On habits.
A complex network of informal rules (and meta-rules) that tells us how to behave in specific circumstances.
E.g potlach; polite offers meant to be refused; etc.

Totalitarian regimes are regimes of merci: severe legal regulation that everyone can be declared guilty. The regimes refrain to enforce the law is on account of its mercifulness.
Potential culpability of citizens and mercy of the regime.

Symbolic exchange made up of ‘empty-gestures’. Offers made to be rejected.
In a society each one is ordered to freely embrace what is covertly imposed on us: we all must love our country and our parents.
Empty symbolic gestures are gestures – offers – meant to be rejected. Although nothing has actually been exchanged, there still is a gain for both parties in their pact of solidarity (friendship).
Similar logic in process of apologizing.

Robespierre and John Brown as figures without habits.

The difference between Europe and the Us is the latter’s excess. E.g. ground floor counted as 0 or 1.

Our identities are made of habits and they define what we are as social beings. Habits are the medium of social violence.
Difference between lower-class and middle-class lies in the way they relate to smell.
A Neighbor is someone who smells.
I am ready to love my neighbors as long as they don’t smell too bad.
Decaf coffee, fat-free cakes, diet Cola, alcohol-free beer and wind-free beans.

‘Heart of darkness’ of habits:
Catholic Church paedophilia is inscribed into its very functioning as a socio-symbolic institution.
Institutional unconscious of army and Church.
Obscene underground of unconscious habits is difficult to change. Acheronta movebo as the motto to every radical revolution.

Schumann’s voiceless ‘Humoresque’. Two unrelated melodic lines that must rely on a third ‘virtual’ intermediate level. An impossible real that would annihilate the existing lines if actualised.
Freud’s ‘A Child Is Being Beaten’.

Mechanism of ideology: the explicit ideological text or practice is sustained by an unplayed series of obscene unconscious supplements.
Acheronta movebo as a practice of critique of ideology means not directly changing the explicit text of the law but intervening in its obscene virtual supplement.

Abu Ghraib tortures compared to US initiation rituals. Abu Ghraib was to exclude, initiation rituals to include. The ‘free choice’ of those undergoing initiation rituals an exemplary case of false free choice.

A Few Good Men’s Code Red. Such a code is ‘illegal’, yet it reaffirms the cohesion of the group.

Abu Ghraib was a Code Red. An insight into the obscene underside that sustains American values of dignity, democracy and freedom.

Walter Benjamin: ‘Every clash of civilisations really is a clash of Barbarism’.


Benjamin with Hitchcock  


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