Slavoj Žižek: Political Correctness is a More Dangerous Form of Totalitarianism

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Slavoj Žižek doesn’t buy into political correctness. In fact, it frightens him. The famed philosopher and social critic describes political correctness as a tacit form of totalitarianism, an act of coercion built upon the premise that “I know better than you what you really want.”

This isn’t to say that people should be allowed to go around treating others poorly, but Žižek argues that employing coercion and scare tactics to instill a state of forced behavior completely missed the point. To Žižek, the kinds of obscenity targeted by political correctness are much more effective at breeding a sense of shared solidarity than most alternatives.

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Transcript: Of course I have nothing against the fact that your boss treats you in a nice way and so on. The problem is if this not only covers up the actual relationship of power but makes it even more impenetrable. You know, if you have a boss who is up there, the old fashioned boss shouting at you, exerting full brutal authority. In a way it’s much easier to rebel than to have a friendly boss who embraces you or how was the last night with your girlfriend, blah, blah, all that buddy stuff. Well then it almost appears impolite to protest. But I will give you an example, an old story that I often use to make it clear what do I mean by this. Imagine you or me, I’m a small boy. It’s Sunday afternoon. My father wants me to visit our grandmother. Let’s say my father is a traditional authority. What would he be doing? He would probably tell me something like I don’t care how you feel, it’s your duty to visit your grandmother. Be polite to her and so on. Nothing bad about this I claim because I can still rebel and so on. It’s a clear order.

But what would the so called post-modern non-authoritarian father do? I know because I experienced it. He would have said something like this. You know how much your grandmother loves you but nonetheless I’m not forcing you to visit her. You should only visit her if you freely decide to do it. Now every child knows that beneath the appearance of free choice there is a much stronger pressure in this second message. Because basically your father is not only telling you you must visit your grandmother but you must love to visit it. You know he tells you how you must feel about it. It’s a much stronger order. And I think that this is for me almost a paradigm of modern permissive authority. This is why the formula of totalitarianism is not – I don’t care what you think, just do it. This is traditional authoritarianism. The totalitarian formula is I know better than you what you really want and I may appear to be forcing you to do it but I’m really just making you do what without fully knowing what you want and so on. So in this sense yes, I am horrified by this. Also another aspect this new culture of experts where an injunction is presented just as a neutral statement.

For example, one example that I like and let’s not have a misunderstanding here. I don’t smoke and I’m for punishing tobacco companies and so on and so on. But I’m deeply suspicious about our phobia about smoking. I don’t buy it that this can be really justified just based on scientific knowledge how cigarettes hurt us and so on and so on. Because my first problem is that most of the people who oppose smoking then usually are for legalization of grass and so on and so on. But my basic problem is this one. Look, now they found a more or less solution – e-cigarettes, electronic cigarettes. And I discovered that now big American airline companies decided to prohibit them. And it’s interesting to read the reason why. The reason is not so much that it’s not yet sure are they safe or not. Basically they are. The idea is that if you smoke during the flight e-cigarette you publicly display your addiction and that is not a good pedagogical example for others and so on and so on. [transcript truncated]

Directed / Produced by Jonathan Fowler, Elizabeth Rodd, and Dillon Fitton

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