Zizek's new effortpost is worth discussing at length. It ties together many ideas of psychoanalysis, ethics, and politics. Some highlights
So, what can psychoanalysis tell us about the victory of APRUEBO in Chile? Instead of a pseudo-Freudian probing into the unconscious depths of a nation, it would be productive to begin with Lacan’s notion of the Master Signifier and apply it to the space of ideology. Let us begin with a comparison between Chile and the United States.
One of the bad surprises of the US presidential elections was how many votes Trump gained also outside what people consider his constituency – among Blacks, Latinos, even the poor ones, and many women – plus how many votes Biden gained among old white men who were supposed to vote in much larger bloc for Trump. This unexpected reversal proves that Republicans are now, if anything, more of a working class party than Democrats, and that the almost symmetric 50/50 division of the US political body is not directly reflecting a class division but is the result of a whole series of ideological mystifications and displacements.[...]
In stark contrast to this clear 50/50 division, the victorious APRUEBO in Chile referendum got no less than 78.27% of the total votes against RECHAZO, which got only 21.73% of the total votes. What is crucial is that this enormous voting gap is directly proportional to the concentration and distribution of wealth and privileges, with a much smaller group of the population being part of the elite (the “Rejection” option) and a majority group being aware of this social inequality and injustice (the “Approval” option). So, Chile is unique not because of some exotic particularity, but, precisely, because it renders directly visible the class struggle, which is obfuscated and displaced in the US and elsewhere. Chile’s uniqueness (exception) resides in the very universality of its situation.
But here we should avoid the illusion that the disposition of votes in Chile was more “natural,” faithfully reflecting predominant class divisions, while in the US the electoral count doesn’t “reflect” faithfully the class division, but is distorted by ideological manipulations. There is nothing “natural” in political and ideological struggle for hegemony. EVERY
hegemony is the result of a struggle, whose outcome is open. The victory of APRUEBO in Chile does not only demonstrate the absence of ideological manipulations, so that the distribution of votes could “faithfully” reflect class division; APRUEBO won because of a long and active struggle for ideological hegemony.
In this context, we should use Ernesto Laclau’s theory of the struggle for ideological hegemony, which is ultimately the struggle for Master Signifiers – not only which Master Signifier will predominate, but also how this Master Signifier will organize the entire political space. Let’s take the obvious example: ecology, the struggle against global warming and pollution. With the exception of (more and more rare) deniers, almost everybody agrees that the ecological crisis is one of the central issues today, that it poses a threat to our very survival. The struggle turns around what Laclau called “chain of equivalences”: to which other signifiers (topics of ideologico-political struggle) will “ecology” be linked? We have state ecology (ony a strong state can deal with global warming), capitalist ecology (only market mechanisms – higher taxes on products that pollute our environment are the way out), anti-capitalist ecology (the dynamics of capitalist expansion are the main cause of our ruthless exploitation of nature), authoritarian ecology (ordinary people cannot understand the complexity of ecological crisis; we have to trust strong state power supported by science), feminist ecology (the ultimate cause of our troubles is the social power of men who are more aggressive and exploitative), conservative ecology (we need to return to a more balanced traditional mode of life), etc. The struggle for hegemony is not just the struggle to accept ecology as a serious issue, but much more the struggle for what this word will mean, how it will be linked to other notions, including science, feminism, capitalism…
< interjecting to add here that this is what /leftypol/ is all about, not just about communism winning, but which-communism will win
The imposition of a new Master Signifier is, as a rule, experienced as “finding the right name” for what we are trying to grasp. However, this act of “finding” is productive; it establishes a new symbolic field. In Chile, the Master Signifier of the ongoing protests and of the APRUEBO movement is “dignity.” Chile is not an exception here: despite poverty, hunger and violence, despite economic exploitation, the protests that are exploding from Turkey and Belarus to France regularly evoke dignity. Again, there is nothing specifically Leftist or even emancipatory in “dignity”. If one were to ask Pinochet himself about it, he would without any doubt celebrate dignity, though by including it in a different “chain of equivalences” along the patriotic-military line: his 1973 coup saved Chile’s dignity from a totalitarian-Leftist threat. For the partisans of APRUEBO, on the contrary, “dignity” is linked to social justice that will diminish poverty, universal healthcare, guaranteed personal and social freedoms, etc. The same goes for with “justice”: Pinochet would undoubtedly advocate justice, but his kind of justice, not egalitarian economic justice. “Justice” would have meant that everybody, especially those at the bottom, should know their proper place… One of the reasons for the triumph of APRUEBO was that they won the struggle for hegemony, so that, if now “dignity” and “justice” are mentioned in Chile, they mean what APRUEBO stands for.
This, of course, doesn’t imply that political or economic struggles can be reduced to discursive conflicts.
What it does imply is that the level of discourse has its own autonomous logic, not only in the sense that economic interests cannot be directly translated into symbolic space, but in a more radical sense: how economic and social interests are perceived is already mediated by discursive processes. A simple example: when a country is starving, hunger is a fact. But what matters is how this fact is experienced. Is its cause attributed to Jewish financiers? Is it perceived as a fact of nature (bad weather), or as an effect of class exploitation? Another example: only after the rise of feminism was the subordinated role of women in their families and their exclusion from social life perceived as an injustice. Before that moment, to be married to a loving husband and well provided for was considered great luck. The first step of feminism is not a direct step towards justice, but the awareness of women that their situation is unjust. In a homologous way, workers don’t protest when they live in poverty; they protest when they experience their poverty as an injustice, for which the ruling class, as well as the state, are responsible.
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