Slavoj Zizek was a ton of fun. I disagree with a ton of his philosophical ideas – the vanguard-style Leninist (or Lenin-ish) political philosophy, his more faithful Freudian heritage, the Hegelian framework of all his thinking.
Some of his ideas I can’t really be bothered with – like his returns to the ethical and political meanings of Jesus and Christ. Just not my thing.
He has great concepts on the utopian issue. So his works can help people understand the issue and explore it. That’s what philosophy is for.
But he hates Anti-Œdipus. I can understand, because he’s so much a Lacanian, and that book pretty much trashes a lot of the fundamental concepts of Lacan’s psychological, psychiatric, and social-political thought. That’s a shame. Because I’m on Deleuze and Guattari’s side in this.
I’m not going to get into the full purpose of Anti-Œdipus. For that, you can read Ian Buchanan’s book on it, which walks you through the core background context and the most straightforward account of their ideas.
Today, I just want to talk about one key argument of Anti-Œdipus, one that I’ve discussed in different contexts before, but which I want to focus on again now. What would a genuine political revolution be?
We all know the jaded attitude toward political leaders describing themselves as an agent of change. “You gotta have hope!” “This will be Our Revolution™,” “I’m gonna drain the swamp!” The answer is in the lyrics to the greatest Who song ever – “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”
What does that lyric mean? A leader is always embedded in a huge network of institutions and relationships. Those are the relationships that give him power over others. State military, police, and bureaucratic institutions, of course, are an incredible form of legal and sometimes potentially violent control.
|Because Presidents have to do President shit. Wisdom from a brave voice.
One of the stereotypical rallying cries of democracy is “Throw the bums out!” When you’re sick of how the current group of powerful people is handling things, you can rise up and fire them. Democratic institutions are about building peaceful procedures for doing this so you don’t have to risk death to help overthrow a government – you just leave work early to vote or volunteer on a campaign.
But throwing the bums out a few years isn’t how you build virtuous institutions. You make the institutions virtuous for another while. But eventually, the corruption of access to huge amounts of material power and control over others sets in. And you have to throw them out too.
Frantz Fanon warned of these problems in The Wretched of the Earth when he described the dimensions of liberation needed for a genuinely free society. Simply occupying the same institutional place as a corrupt autocrat doesn’t restore virtue to those institutions. It just changes who sits in the positions that have the power to dominate people.
Real revolution changes all the institutions of domination – military, police, law, riches, racism – so that they no longer dominate. But Deleuze and Guattari in Anti-Œdipus look past institutions to an even deeper ground for the will to dominate.
As long as the desires to dominate, control, and oppress others still exists, we’ll never be able to build institutions that can’t be corrupted to become oppressive. We literally have to destroy our desire to have power over others at all. Free your mind, your heart, your spirit – and your ass will follow.