Slavoj Zizek on a debate stage with Jordan Peterson
Slavoj Zizek and Jordan Peterson have two very different ways of looking at the world. (Image via Google Images)
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Slavoj Zizek on a debate stage with Jordan Peterson

The reaction to the debate between the anti-PC psychologist and the Slovenian Marxist shows that it’s easy to surrender thought to public intellectuals.

Ideology has been a big incentive for action over the course of history. We know that humans have fought over scarce resources, but they also have a strong system of beliefs that they are willing to defend at high costs. But how they get their belief system is a different conversation that has to do with the fundamental question brought up by American political scientist Harold Lasswell: Who gets what, when and how? He argues that the ruling elites engage in forms of power and manipulation against the counter-elites, and thus, ideology comes into the picture.

If we look at the state of ideology over the 20th century, we can see that more than 100 million people were killed as a result. I’m not going to get into the details, but you get the idea of how it went down. So, you have a group of people who think that other groups’ ideals are so corrupted that there is no way to change them. And what do they do? They try to eliminate them. I’m mainly talking about World War II, but the same thing was happening during the Cold War — two big nations fighting for two different ideologies.

Moreover, looking at the state of ideology today, here in the U.S. we have two main political ideologies: left wing, with liberals and the Democratic party, and right wing, with conservatives and Republicans. People tend to have their belief systems deeply ingrained in those ideologies. For example, we have both sides arguing as to why the other side is corrupt. Sound familiar? But now we have a new phenomenon occurring that is partly the consequence of the internet and social media. This is the popularization of ideological representatives. And I’m not talking about government or religious figures. This is a part of a collective thinking that is guided by “the chosen ones” — the ones who are selected by the public, or the ones whom the public allows to do their thinking for them.

Jordan Peterson

A clinical psychologist and professor from University of Toronto, mostly notorious for his debates on political correctness, female wage gap and gender pronouns. His main view on bettering the world has to do with “fixing yourself.” He believes that people need to work on personal responsibility and bettering themselves first, and in this way they can better the world around them.

Quotable phrases: “Make your bed!” “Clean up your room!!”

Slavoj Žižek

A Slovenian Philosopher and researcher at the University of Ljubljana, also known as “the most dangerous philosopher in the West.” He is more notorious for his work on continental philosophy, political theory, Marxism, Hegelianism and theology. Zizek’s work deals with ideology and he thinks that in order to better the world one needs to stop indulging in ideology. He believes that ideology consists of the wrong ways we try to define reality and a post-hoc rationalization of why institutions do what they do.

Quotable phrases: “If you want to get rid of ideology, first you have to beat yourself.”

Zizek versus Peterson

Peterson argues against the postmodern neo-Marxist position held by, in his terms, “the radical left.” This position emerged during the ‘60s but was initiated by the Frankfurt School, which emerged after World War II as a response to the rise of fascism in Europe. It had notable members including Herbert Marcuse and Theodor Adorno, who used a Marxist and Freudian (psychoanalysis) framework for analyzing the world around them. Nevertheless, the position Peterson has a problem with is the idea of how oppression is the result of nefarious actions by the elites. Peterson believes that this belief creates a victim mentality that doesn’t do the world any good.

On the other hand, Zizek is a Marxist. He supports the notion that capitalists generate profit by exploiting the labor classes. This said, Zizek’s view on the postmodern condition is different than Peterson’s. He thinks that our ideology is the product of our discomfort with our present condition. And our present condition being part of a capitalist system smartly divides a nation into ideologies to keep the people in place. Nevertheless, the two go face to face in a debate on Marxism.

The Debate

Watching the chosen ones have a debate in a big auditorium is something that reminded me of a sports event. Whenever Zizek made an argument, those rooting for him began screaming, and the same for Peterson. It was a competition from the audience as to who could chant and scream harder. I don’t know if they were listening carefully to what the two were saying.

Peterson’s way of speaking is carefully executed. He takes great care with his tonality, and he is concise and tries to give out secure and bold statements. I think that being a psychologist helps him understand how to control people’s attention. On the other hand, Zizek is an experience to watch. His ticks and mannerism are eccentric and eclectic. His way of speaking consists of simultaneously squeezing his nose and grabbing his ears followed by his thick Eastern European accent. I couldn’t understand certain things he was saying.

When it comes to who won the debate, it is important to point out the following: Peterson opened by saying basically that Marx and Engels only considered the economic aspect of society. This is wrong if your topic of debate is Marxism. In fact, Marxism is grounded on historical (Hegelian), religious, political and economic implications. It is noted that Marx wrote thousands upon thousands of pages to make his point. But the most important thing I want to say is that here you have a “chosen intellectual” completely unprepared to have an intellectual discussion. And for some reason, people end up clapping and screaming in favor of Peterson. For some reason, the people in the event were oblivious to the topic of debate and were focusing on satisfying their system of beliefs via Peterson.

Nevertheless, the two had things in common when it comes to the current state of identity politics in the United States. They both kind of agree on the dangers of the excesses of the victim mentality in the left.

A Takeaway

I understand that people don’t have the time to read entire volumes on Marxism or whatever the topic may be. I understand that people are busy with their jobs and lives, and moreso in this pandemic. But it is important to notice the conformity sometimes people choose when it comes to reinforcing their belief system. By this, I mean that people seldom engage in critical thinking. People let others do their thinking for them, which is evident in the case of Peterson or Zizek.

If I can propose something, it’s that you consider the context and possible motivations behind an ideology. Even your own. Try to understand why people want certain things and why they are acting in certain ways. The reason for this is because there is danger in letting a small group of people do the collective thinking for the majority.

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