What does Slavoj Žižek mean when he talks about ideology?
He goes on and on about ideology, but what does it mean?
- Žižek is often a profound thinker, but he can be difficult to understand.
- His ideas about ideology are well known, but not often understood.
- The fact that his best explanation of the idea involves a John Carpenter movie is the most Slavoj Žižek thing ever.
Slavoj Žižek is one of the most famous philosophers in the world. Known for his mannerisms, frequent use of film references, and love of a shocking statement, he has been interviewed, parodied, and discussed for years.
However, most people only know him for his occasional stunts and fun interviews. His actual thought often eludes people. This is a shame since it is often insightful and profound. Today, we'll look at what he means when he turns to his favorite topic, ideology.
What is ideology?
When most people hear the word "ideology," they think of a large set of socio-political beliefs that typically end in "ism;" communism, liberalism, conservatism, etc.
When Žižek uses the term "ideology," he is using it in a Marxist sense. For Karl Marx, ideology is a series of discourses that push false ideas on people. When people buy into these false ideas, they develop a "false consciousness" about the world, how it works, and their place in it. According to Marx, without ideology, no society could function for very long.
As an example, in Medieval Europe, religion was used as an ideology to support the structure of society. Serfs were told that the people in charge were put there by God and that the way the world worked was the only divinely ordained way it could work. No wonder people who were essentially slaves didn't rise up; they were told God wanted them at the bottom.
According to Marx, other ideologies like capitalism or liberalism work the same way. They are created, work to help sustain a particular social structure, and ultimately fall out of favor when a new idea comes to force. When this happens, the whole structure of society can change in a hurry as a new ideology fills the void.
Žižek, himself essentially a Marxist, starts with this idea and goes further.
Taking off on the development of the idea of ideology done by Louis Althusser, Žižek incorporates psychology into ideology. While for Marx, ideology is a conscious exercise, Žižek suggests that ideology is also a subconscious phenomenon that helps to shape the world we live in.
Woah, slow down. What?
This part is a little more confusing, so bear with me.
Žižek is building off Althusser, who fused the idea of ideology with the psychology of Jacques Lacan. According to Lacan, we don't interact with the world as it is, but rather as we represent it through language. Because of this disconnect, ideology moves down from being about the world as it is to being about how we view the world to begin with.
In technical terms used by Dino Felluga at Purdue:
"Ideology does not 'reflect' the real world but 'represents' the 'imaginary relationship of individuals' to the real world; the thing ideology (mis)represents is itself already at one remove [sic] from the real. … .In other words, we are always within ideology because of our reliance on language to establish our 'reality'; different ideologies are but different representations of our social and imaginary 'reality.'"
With this understanding, ideology takes on a new role. It no longer merely hides how the world works from people but helps to shape how they view and talk about it in the first place.
To help understand this, have a joke that Žižek likes to tell.
"A man comes into a restaurant. He sits down at the table and he says, 'Waiter, bring me a cup of coffee without cream.' Five minutes later, the waiter comes back and says, 'I'm sorry, sir, we have no cream. Can it be without milk?'"
This joke, from the movie Ninotchka, shows how the same object, black coffee, can be changed by how we think about it. While physically the coffee is the same, we conceptualize coffee without milk and coffee without cream as two different things. Ideology, which influences how we subconsciously view the world, is one of the factors that determines if we see our black coffee as lacking cream or milk.
This line of thinking can be applied to everything, not just coffee.
Crucial for Žižek is his argument that we are all influenced by the prevailing ideology even if we think we aren't. In the same way that we may think we are looking at the world as it really is when we think of all black coffee as "coffee without milk," ideology can cause us to look at things in a very subjective way while also telling us we are entirely objective about it.
While some thinkers, like Richard Rorty or Tony Blair, have suggested we're are in a post-ideological age, Žižek argues that the appearance of such a thing is evidence that the dominant ideologies have finally "come into their own." That is, they are so entrenched that people are no longer able to see them.
To conceptualize this, we'll use another one of Žižek's favorite examples; think of how many people sincerely believe there is no alternative to modern liberal capitalism. Not just full-blown laissez-faire types, but those who think that the only possible changes to the system are minor tweaks like a higher minimum wage or different tax rates.
Žižek argues that this very line of thinking is an example of ideology in action. It isn't that there aren't alternatives to our current model of capitalism — there are — it's that people are so taken in by capitalist ideology that they cannot even fathom an alternative way of organizing a society. The brilliance of it is that they don't think they're being taken in by anything; they'll tell you they're neutral and objective the entire time! This mechanism makes ideologies self-sustaining and so difficult to critique or escape from.
How seriously should I take this notion of ideology?
Perhaps obviously, these ideas, from Marx's starting point all the way down to Žižek's stance, are controversial.
Noam Chomsky, who has had a bit of a spat with Žižek in the past, held Lacan to be a "charlatan" and you can imagine what he thinks of a theory that relies heavily on his psychoanalytic theories to work. Žižek's work, in general, is often accused of being muddled, unclear, and occasionally mistaken when he tries to take ideas from other fields into philosophy.
Zizek also uses the idea of ideology to express other notions he has about psychology, society, and government that even more controversial, but we won't get into them here. So, don't take this idea of ideology as gospel just yet.
On the other hand, the idea that we make certain assumptions about the world around us or about what is "natural" or "obvious" and that the prevailing ideology around us often influences these assumptions isn't too bold a claim. After all, most intelligent people would admit to thinking about things the way they do, at least in part, because of where they're from and how they were raised.
How can I use this idea in my life?
For those who haven't seen it, the film is about a man who realizes that the world is controlled by aliens who use subliminal messages to influence the human race. It is only by the use of special glasses that he can see through the illusions and understand the world as it is.
It sounds weird, but it's a good film.
Žižek, while spliced into They Live, explains that ideology is much like the glasses in the film — only backwards. We are all wearing glasses all the time that prevent us from seeing the world as it is and show us the world through the lens of ideology. Most people don't understand this and will strongly object to this notion. The trick is to try to get the glasses off, or at least to know how they change your perspective.
Thus, the most immediate use of this idea might be the simplest. Remember that you're probably not as objective as you think and that things that you think are obvious, common sense, and far beyond political discussion may be none of those things. Žižek wants you to question everything about society, especially when something seems to be so obvious it shouldn't be questioned.
Northwell Health CEO Michael Dowling has an important favor to ask of the American people.
- Michael Dowling is president and CEO of Northwell Health, the largest health care system in New York state. In this PSA, speaking as someone whose company has seen more COVID-19 patients than any other in the country, Dowling implores Americans to wear masks—not only for their own health, but for the health of those around them.
- The CDC reports that there have been close to 7.9 million cases of coronavirus reported in the United States since January. Around 216,000 people have died from the virus so far with hundreds more added to the tally every day. Several labs around the world are working on solutions, but there is currently no vaccine for COVID-19.
- The most basic thing that everyone can do to help slow the spread is to practice social distancing, wash your hands, and to wear a mask. The CDC recommends that everyone ages two and up wear a mask that is two or more layers of material and that covers the nose, mouth, and chin. Gaiters and face shields have been shown to be less effective at blocking droplets. Homemade face coverings are acceptable, but wearers should make sure they are constructed out of the proper materials and that they are washed between uses. Wearing a mask is the most important thing you can do to save lives in your community.
Two massive clouds of dust in orbit around the Earth have been discussed for years and finally proven to exist.
- Hungarian astronomers have proven the existence of two "pseudo-satellites" in orbit around the earth.
- These dust clouds were first discovered in the sixties, but are so difficult to spot that scientists have debated their existence since then.
- The findings may be used to decide where to put satellites in the future and will have to be considered when interplanetary space missions are undertaken.
What are they?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xODgyMDA0NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNTM1ODc0Mn0.NH33LuauIo__sUBi4tvhwxDcsvhflDFD-Nhx9FjlSNk/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=148%2C0%2C149%2C0&height=700" id="cec96" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="acb78abe2ab46a17e419ad30906751d6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Artist's impression of the Kordylewski cloud in the night sky (with its brightness greatly enhanced) at the time of the observations.
G. Horváth<p>The<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kordylewski_cloud" target="_blank"> Kordylewski clouds</a> are two dust clouds first observed by Polish astronomer Kazimierz Kordylewski in 1961. They are situated at two of the <a href="https://www.space.com/30302-lagrange-points.html" target="_blank">Lagrange points</a> in Earth's orbit. These points are locations where the gravity of two objects, such as the Earth and the Moon or a planet and the Sun, equals the centripetal required to orbit the objects while staying in the same relative position. There are five of these spots between the Earth and Moon. The clouds rest at what are called points four and five, forming a triangle with the clouds and the Earth at the three corners.</p><p>The clouds are enormous, taking up the same space in the night sky as twenty lunar discs; covering an area of 45,000 miles. They are roughly 250,000 miles away, about the same distance from us as the Moon. They are entirely comprised of specks of dust which reflect the light of the sun so faintly most astronomers that looked for them were unable to see them at all. </p><p>The clouds themselves are probably ancient, but the model that the scientists created to learn about them suggests that the individual dust particles that comprise them can be blown away by solar wind and replaced by the dust from other cosmic sources like comet tails. This means that the clouds hardly move but are <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2018/11/news-earth-moon-dust-clouds-satellites-planets-space/" target="_blank">eternally changing</a>. </p>
How did they discover this?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xODgyMDAzNi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1Nzc4MjQ4MX0.7uU9OqmQcWw5Ll1UXAav0PCu4nTg-GdJdAWADHanC7c/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C180%2C0%2C181&height=700" id="952fb" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a778280a20f1c54cd2c14c8313224be2" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
"In this picture the central region of the Kordylewski dust cloud is visible (bright red pixels). The straight tilted lines are traces of satellites."
J. Slíz-Balogh<p>In their study published in the <a href="https://academic.oup.com/mnras" target="_blank">Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society</a>, Hungarian astronomers Judit Slíz-Balogh, András Barta, and Gábor Horváth described how they were able to find the dust clouds using polarized lenses.</p><p>Since the clouds were expected to polarize the light that bounces off of them, by configuring the telescopes to look for this kind of light the clouds were much easier to spot. What the scientists observed, polarized light in patterns that extended outside the view of the telescope lens, was in line with the predictions of their mathematical model and ruled out other possible sources. </p>
Why are we just learning this now?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xODgyMDAzOS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MjUyNDMyMH0.Zl8GmQ_rJHiL4b7hN0r_YBmgb6_ZqIRvqOVuko2ubpw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C141%2C0%2C185&height=700" id="87afe" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="dd4c0b5088e601d7279cc5eb226f8b7b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
"Mosaic pattern of the angle of polarization around the L5 point (white dot) of the Earth-Moon system. The five rectangular windows correspond to the imaging telescope with which the patterns of the Kordylewski cloud were measured."
J. Slíz-Balogh<p>The objects, being dust clouds, are very faint and hard to see. While Kordylewski observed them in 1961, other astronomers have looked there and given mixed reports over the following decades. This discouraged many astronomers from joining the search, as study co-author Judit Slíz-Balogh <a href="https://ras.ac.uk/news-and-press/research-highlights/earths-dust-cloud-satellites-confirmed" target="_blank">explained</a>, <em>"The Kordylewski clouds are two of the toughest objects to find, and though they are as close to Earth as the Moon are largely overlooked by researchers in astronomy. It is intriguing to confirm that our planet has dusty pseudo-satellites in orbit alongside our lunar neighbor."</em></p>
Will this have any impact on space travel?<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c3d797fff5430c64afcb5a49bddc3616"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Ou8N3v9SFPE?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Lagrange points have been put forward as excellent locations for a space station or satellites like the <a href="https://jwst.nasa.gov/about.html" target="_blank">James Webb Telescope</a> to be put into orbit, as they would require little fuel to stay in place. Knowing about a massive dust cloud that could damage sensitive equipment already being there could save money and lives in the future. While we only know about the clouds at Lagrange points four and five right now, the study's authors suggest there could be more at the other points.</p><p>While the discovery of a couple of dust clouds might not seem all that impressive, it is the result of a half-century of astronomical and mathematical work and reminds us that wonders are still hidden in our cosmic backyard. While you might never need to worry about these clouds again, there is nothing wrong with looking at the sky with wonder at the strange and fantastic things we can discover. </p>
New cancer-scanning technology reveals a previously unknown detail of human anatomy.
- Scientists using new scanning technology and hunting for prostate tumors get a surprise.
- Behind the nasopharynx is a set of salivary glands that no one knew about.
- Finding the glands may allow for more complication-free radiation therapies.
PSMA PET/CT technology<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="676e611b970c9b516cace0870447b325"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/RHAyoQF09X4?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>PSMA PET/CT is a new combination of <a href="https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/pet-scan/about/pac-20385078" target="_blank">PET scans</a> and <a href="https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/ct-scan/about/pac-20393675" target="_blank">CT scans</a> that is believed to offer a more reliable means of locating prostate cancer metastasis. A <a href="https://www.cancer.gov/news-events/cancer-currents-blog/2020/prostate-cancer-psma-pet-ct-metastasis" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">study</a> published last spring suggests it may be the most accurate way to diagnose prostate cancer metastasis than any method previously available.</p><p>Prior to PSMA PET/CT, the primary way to look for metastatic prostate cancer was to image the body using x-ray-based CT scans and to perform bone scans, since bone is where prostate cancer often spreads. CT scans, however, often miss small tumors, and bone scans can generate false positives as a result of other damage or abnormalities that have nothing to do with prostate cancer.</p><p>PSMA PET/CT scans track the travels of an intravenously administered radioactive glucose tracer throughout the body. For hunting down prostate cancer, this tracer contains a molecule that binds to the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1472940/" target="_blank">PSMA</a> protein that's present in large amounts in prostate tumors. The molecule is linked to a radioisotope, <a href="https://netrf.org/2018/11/13/gallium-68-scan-for-neuroendocrine-tumors/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">gallium-68</a> (Ga-68).</p><p>In last spring's research, PSAM PET/CT was shown to be 27 percent more accurate than previous methods at finding metastases (92 percent accuracy as opposed to 65 percent). In addition, it was found to be much less likely to produce false positives, and it was particularly good at detecting tumors far removed from the prostate.</p>
A good kind of avoidance behavior<p>"Radiation therapy can damage the salivary glands," says Vogel, "which may lead to complications. Patients may have trouble eating, swallowing, or speaking, which can be a real burden."</p><p>The researchers looked back through the cases of 723 patients who had undergone radiation treatment, interested in seeing if inadvertent radiation of the tubarial glands was associated with the complications experienced by the patients. It turned out that this <em>was</em> the case: In cases where more radiation had been delivered to this area, patients did indeed report more in the way of complications of the type one would expect when salivary glands are radiated.</p><p>Now that we know the tubarial salivary glands exist, therapists can stay out of their way. Vogel says, "For most patients, it should technically be possible to avoid delivering radiation to this newly discovered location of the salivary gland system in the same way we try to spare known glands."</p><p>He's hopeful that that things may be about to get at least a bit better for cancer patients: "Our next step is to find out how we can best spare these new glands and in which patients. If we can do this, patients may experience less side effects which will benefit their overall quality of life after treatment."</p>
A new survey found that 27 percent of millennials are saving more money due to the pandemic, but most can't stay within their budgets.