The Dangers of Ideological Purity

Violence: Six Sideways ReflectionsI recently read Violence: Six Sideways Reflections by Slavoj Žižek. I’ll have more to write about it later. But there was one line that really struck me.

The great thing about Žižek is that he can write a book titled Violence without talking all that much about violence.

In the fourth movement, “Antinomies of Tolerant Reason” he talks primarily about religion in a general sense.

He then mentions a justification I hear (And use!) all the time:

If you love God, you can do whatever you want, because when you do something evil, this is in itself a proof that you do not really love God… However, the ambiguity persists, since there is no guarantee, external to your belief, of what God really wants you to do.

Even though America is a very religious country, it is all cultural religion. People have a vague feeling that they believe in God and he loves them and blah-de-blah-de-blah. We also have this ridiculous liberal idea that people’s religious beliefs should be respected regardless of how ridiculous they are.[1] As a result, I don’t see this idea discussed much in public regarding religion.

But I do hear it a lot regarding politics.

I feel bad about it myself. I’ve done a lot of thinking about how my political beliefs differ from those of the Soviet Union. After all, I believe in much of the same stuff that Stalin claimed to believe in. Very briefly, it comes down to why Stalin had to whack Leon Trotsky. The people of USSR didn’t mind suffering for the sake of the greater good in the early days of the revolution. Stalin used this willingness to be the autocrat he was clearly born to be. Also: he was in no important way different from any mainstream Republican politician.

It is frustrating to watch the finger pointing that goes on after a tragedy. Right now, I can just feel both sides of the political chattering classes anxiously waiting to find out if James E. Holmes was a righty or a lefty. Whack jobs like the unfortunate Holmes skew heavily conservative and libertarian. I think there is something to the fundamental appeal to conservatism: anger. But the main thing is that the left had its try at violence (e.g. Weather Underground), and they learned from it. Typical liberals: always learning shit.

In situations like this, it is a big mistake to claim to know what God wants. (And by God, I mean whatever: conservatism, socialism, or even, well, God.) It makes people who are already too ideological even more so. It is what causes people to claim, for a random example, that the problem at that Aurora movie theater wasn’t too many guns; it was too few. If only everyone had guns, this would never happen. Or, as we saw in the 60s (and still do to some extent in local “peace and justice” movements), the push for more and more ideological purity.

But don’t get the idea that I’ve gone all centrist. The conservatives are the single biggest threat there is to our way of life. And although you can find all this religious-based search for purity on the edges of the American left, it is everywhere on the American right (e.g. the No-RINO sign at the Republican booth at the fair last year). This leaves me with one question:

How can any self-respecting Republican from 30 years ago continue to be a Republican?

[1] People say they’ve met with aliens from another plant who told them to stop waging war and start being good. These people are publicly mocked. People say a guy died 2000 years ago so that after they die they will get to go to a happy place where everyone is fairies and elves and they can have all the cotton candy they want. These people must be respected! (It is interesting that since I don’t believe in the guy who died 2000 years ago, I won’t go to the happy place. Jeffrey Dahmer, on the other hand, having decided to believe in the guy who died 2000 years ago after Dahmer murdered 17 other men, does get to go to the happy place. Yeah, we should definitely have respect for that religion!)

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “The Dangers of Ideological Purity

  1. Damn! I was going to recommend Slavoj Zizek to you on a number of occasions, but it kept slipping my mind, anyway, haha, I knew you’d get along with him, and that you’d dig him. I’ve been a fan of his for a few years, but I haven’t read "Violence", though you definitely make it sound interesting, and it sounds like classic Zizek to me. I’m sold!

    Heads Up: You should, if you haven’t seen it already, watch Zizek’s series: "A Perverts Guide to Cinema", he does some very interesting analysis of some classic (and contemporary) films in that and I think you’d get a big kick out of it?

  2. @karl – I will check that out. However, I’ve found it hard to listen to him. The combination of his accent and his slight speech impediment makes taking the information in very difficult–especially fore me, since I don’t learn well that way.

  3. @frank: I know exactly what you mean. I guess, since I grew up in a household where I heard Slavic accents all the time, that part never hindered me all that much, but his speech impediment can certainly become distracting. Fortunately, the movie’s made very well, so I don’t think you’ll have a problem? It’ more than a talking "Zizek" head and there’s scenes from the films integrated along side his commentary, so it’s much easier going than his usual ‘speeches’. All in all, I think it’ll be an interesting bit of ‘pop philosophy/psychology’ to view-entertaining if nothing else.

  4. @karl – It is interesting to have read him before seeing and hearing him. Frankly, he looks and speaks like some ranter on the Berkeley campus. It just goes to show my prejudices and how they can harm me.

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