from the world's big
10 jokes from philosopher Slavoj Žižek
What better way to understand the world around us than through jokes?
- Slavoj Žižek is a remarkably funny philosopher, who has a joke for every theory and can explain things in a fun way.
- His tendency to joke has helped endear him to the public, though it does sometimes irk curmudgeons.
- Not every joke he makes is suitable for republishing here.
Join Slavoj Žižek live on Big Think today (June 11) at 1 pm ET!
Slavoj Žižek is a world famous philosopher with dozens of books to his name. He is well known for his quirky style, anti-capitalist commentary, dedication to subjects that most people wouldn't think a philosopher worries about, and his tendency to be very funny.
While he is renowned for his work on Marxism, psychology, and ideology, he finds the time to comment on nearly everything there is to comment on. He has made a couple of movies, written the captions for a clothing catalog, and has run for office in his native Slovenia in addition to his academic work. He also enjoys making pasta.
He makes no attempt to hide his love of wit. He often refers to his love of the Marx Brothers and took time in a book about how bound we are to ideology to explain a Monty Python joke. While some of his jokes are unsuitable for publication here, we have compiled a list of seven of his best jokes for you to enjoy. These jokes are all sourced from the book Žižek's Jokes. They are, in turn, sourced from his various works and interviews about topics as diverse as freedom, theology, communism, popular media, how we try to sanitize the world with language, and cooking.
"The task today is to give the protesters red ink."
In an old joke from the defunct German Democratic Republic, a German worker gets a job in Siberia; aware of how all mail will be read by censors, he tells his friends: "Let's establish a code: if a letter you will get from me is written in ordinary blue ink, it is true; if it is written in red ink, it is false." After a month, his friends get the first letter, written in blue ink: "Everything is wonderful here: stores are full, food is abundant, apartments are large and properly heated, movie theaters show films from the West, there are many beautiful girls ready for an affair—the only thing unavailable is red ink."
And is this not our situation till now? We have all the freedoms one wants—the only thing missing is the "red ink": we "feel free" because we lack the very language to articulate our unfreedom. What this lack of red ink means is that, today, all the main terms we use to designate the present conflict —"war on terror," "democracy and freedom," "human rights," etc.—are false terms, mystifying our perception of the situation instead of allowing us to think it. The task today is to give the protesters red ink.
Derrida feat. Žižek
There is an old Jewish joke, loved by Derrida, about a group of Jews in a synagogue publicly admitting their nullity in the eyes of God. First, a rabbi stands up and says: "O God, I know I am worthless. I am nothing!" After he has finished, a rich businessman stands up and says, beating himself on the chest: "O God, I am also worthless, obsessed with material wealth. I am nothing!" After this spectacle, a poor ordinary Jew also stands up and also proclaims: "O God, I am nothing." The rich businessman kicks the rabbi and whispers in his ear with scorn: "What insolence! Who is that guy who dares to claim that he is nothing too!"
Jokes can explain precisely what Žižek wants the left to do, kinda:
The God we get here is rather like the one from the old Bolshevik joke about an able Communist propagandist who, after his death, finds himself in hell, where he quickly convinces the guards to let him leave and go to heaven instead. When the Devil notices his absence, he quickly pays a visit to God, demanding that he return to hell what belongs to the Devil. However, immediately after the Devil starts to address God: "My Lord …" God interrupts him: "First, I am not Lord but a comrade. Second, are you crazy talking to a fictional being?—I don't exist! And third, be short, otherwise, I'll miss my party cell meeting!"
This is the God today's radical Left needs: a God who wholly "became man"—a comrade among us, crucified together with two social outcasts—and who not only "doesn't exist" but also himself knows this, accepting his erasure, entirely passing over into the love that binds members of the Holy Ghost (the party, the emancipatory collective).
How Žižek explains fantasmatic identification
There is a nice joke about Jesus Christ: in order to relax after the arduous work of preaching and performing miracles, Jesus decided to take a short break on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. During a game of golf with one of his apostles, there was a difficult shot to be performed; Jesus did it badly and the ball ended up in the water, so he did his usual trick: he walked on the water to the place where the ball was, reached down and picked it up. When Jesus tried the same shot again, the apostle told him that this is a very difficult one — only someone like Tiger Woods can do it; Jesus replied, "What the hell, I am the son of God, I can do what Tiger Woods can do!" and took another strike. The ball again landed in the water, so Jesus again took a walk on the surface of the water to retrieve it. At this point, a group of American tourists walked by and one of them, observing what was going on, turned to the apostle and said: "My god, who is this guy there? Does he think he is Jesus or what?" The apostle replies: "No, the jerk thinks he is Tiger Woods!"
This is how fantasmatic identification works: No one, not even God himself, is directly what he is; everybody needs an external, decentered point of identification.
Noting quite explains complicated political issues like a good joke
When the Turkish Communist writer Panait Istrati visited the Soviet Union in the mid-1930s, the time of the big purges and show trials, a Soviet apologist trying to convince him about the need for violence against the enemies evoked the proverb "You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs," to which Istrati tersely replied: "All right. I can see the broken eggs. Where's this omelet of yours?"
We should say the same about the austerity measures imposed by IMF: the Greeks would have the full right to say, "OK, we are breaking our eggs for all of Europe, but where's the omelet you are promising us?"
He can describe the exact differences between different kinds of socialism with jokes too!
Take the old joke about the difference between Soviet-style bureaucratic Socialism and Yugoslav self-management Socialism: in Russia, members of the nomenklatura drive themselves in expensive limousines, while in Yugoslavia, ordinary people themselves ride in limousines through their representatives.
Nothing is sacred to Žižek’s sense of humor:
Christ says to those who want to stone the woman taken in adultery, "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone!" he is immediately hit by a stone, and then shouts back: "Mother! I asked you to stay at home!"
A reminder to double-check precisely what you're presupposing
A joke from the early 1960s nicely renders the paradox of the presupposed belief. After Yuri Gagarin, the first cosmonaut, made his visit to space, he was received by Nikita Khruschev, the general secretary of the Communist Party, and told him confidentially: "You know, comrade, that up there in the sky, I saw heaven with God and angels—Christianity is right!" Khruschev whispers back to him: "I know, I know, but keep quiet, don't tell this to anyone!" Next week, Gagarin visited the Vatican and was received by the pope, to whom he confides: "You know, holy father, I was up there in the sky and I saw there is no God or angels …" "I know, I know," interrupts the pope, "but keep quiet, don't tell this to anyone!"
A short joke is a good joke
And lastly, how to make soup
Here is how anyone can make a good soup in one hour: prepare all the ingredients, cut the vegetables, etc., boil the water, put the ingredients into it, cook them at a simmer for half an hour, stirring occasionally; when, after three-quarters of an hour, you discover that the soup is tasteless and unpalatable, throw it away, open up a good can of soup, and quickly warm it up in a microwave oven. This is how we humans make soup.
- Slavoj Žižek: Why Tolerance Is Patronizing - Big Think ›
- Slavoj Žižek: Why 'Political Correctness' Gets In Its Own Way - Big ... ›
- Slavoj Žižek: Political Correctness Is a More Dangerous Form of ... ›
- Why Slavoj Zizek thinks political correctness is dumb - Big Think ›
Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.
"One way the internet distorts our picture of ourselves is by feeding the human tendency to overestimate our knowledge of how the world works," writes philosophy professor Michael Patrick Lynch.
- Social media echo chambers have made us overconfident in our knowledge and abilities.
- Social psychologists have shown that publicly committing to an opinion makes you less willing to change your mind.
- To avoid a descent into epistemic arrogance and tribalism, we need to use social media with deep humility.
Egos in echo chambers<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjg2ODI5MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMTQyNjU0N30.xnwbPsm30g2e27f24SqYr4rTleVRaWoHI21DKw9pMSs/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C393%2C0%2C364&height=700" id="9bb82" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91dac428fbfff07936186e088bc977c8" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
An echo chamber is an infinity of mirrors.
Photo: Robert Brook via Getty Images<p>"One way the internet distorts our picture of ourselves is by feeding the human tendency to overestimate our knowledge of how the world works," <a href="https://www.chronicle.com/article/Teaching-Humility-in-an-Age-of/240266" target="_blank">writes</a> philosophy professor Michael Patrick Lynch, author of the book <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Internet-Us-Knowing-More-Understanding/dp/1631492772/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=the+internet+of+us&qid=1578414237&sr=8-1" target="_blank"><em>The Internet of Us: Knowing More and Understanding Less in the Age of Big Data</em></a>, in <em>The Chronicle of Higher Education</em>. "The Internet of Us becomes one big reinforcement mechanism, getting us all the information we are already biased to believe, and encouraging us to regard those in other bubbles as misinformed miscreants. We know it all—the internet tells us so."</p> <p>In other words, the internet encourages epistemic arrogance—the belief that one knows much more than one does. The internet's tailored social media feeds and algorithms have herded us into echo chambers where our own views are cheered and opposing views are mocked. Sheltered from serious challenge, celebrated by our chosen mob, we gradually lose the capacity for accurate self-assessment and begin to believe ourselves vastly more knowledgeable than we actually are. </p>
The consequences of public commitment<p>But it's not just the social reinforcement mechanism of like-minded crowds that is killing intellectual humility. It's also our own digital trails—the permanent records of our previous opinions.</p> <p>"Here's another way that Twitter may harm democratic debate," New York University Stern School of Business professor Jonathan Haidt <a href="https://twitter.com/jonhaidt/status/1214008345893523457" target="_blank">tweeted</a> in January 2020, attaching a couple pages from Robert Cialdini's seminal marketing book <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Influence-Practice-Robert-B-Cialdini/dp/0205609996/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=influence+cialdini&qid=1580757318&s=books&sr=1-1" target="_blank"><em>Influence</em></a>. "Publicly committing to an answer makes people less receptive to info suggesting they were wrong." In the excerpt from <em>Influence</em>, Cialdini summarizes an experiment by social psychologists Morton Deutsch and Harold Gerard in which three groups of students were shown a set of lines. One group was asked to write down their estimates of the lines' length and turn their estimates in to the experimenter; the second group was asked to write down their estimates on a Magic Pad, then erase the pad before anyone could see; and the third group didn't write down their estimates at all. After the students were shown new evidence that suggested their original estimates were inaccurate, Cialdini writes: </p> <p style="margin-left: 20px;">The students who had never written down their first choices were least loyal to those choices. . . . [B]y far, it was the students who had publicly recorded their initial positions who most resolutely refused to shift from those positions later. Public commitment had hardened them into the most stubborn of all.</p> <p>Thanks to social media, most of us have publicly committed ourselves to our opinions. Our feeds are years of publicly published diary entries with our frozen-in-time thoughts on politics, news, relationships, religion, and more. Savvy social media users worry about how their digital trails will affect their future job prospects, but few people worry about how their digital trails might be affecting their own minds. By committing ourselves publicly to our present opinions, we may be hardening ourselves to future information that would otherwise change our minds—and thereby foreclosing upon our capacity for intellectual humility. </p>
Rewarding hot-takes and takedowns<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjg2ODMwMi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMjA3NDE0MX0.OAlSZ6lODdoQmy6t_sDjPaZgz4OIaM2kdowbtaTOV4I/img.jpg?width=980" id="fe928" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6a3297818bfebe40c5e4d3cbb88c80db" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
All we need is more likes.
Use social media with humility<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="3b500b34517ad4ebc17d84476dcee8c7"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/AWUDFge4t-4?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>"Think about the last conversation you had where you thought, golly, that was such a great conversation," <a href="https://theihs.org/" target="_blank">Institute for Humane Studies</a> president Emily Chamlee-Wright said in an <a href="https://bigthink.com/sponsored-institute-for-humane-studies/master-conversation" target="_self">interview with Big Think</a>. "The chances are good that it was a kind of conversation that left you feeling smarter. It was the kind of conversation where you felt like you discovered something new, that it left you deeply curious about something else."</p> <p>Chamlee-Wright, a former economics professor and provost who has <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/whats-missing-campus-speech-debate-discursive-ethics-chamlee-wright/" target="_blank">written</a> <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12115-019-00413-1" target="_blank">extensively</a> about discursive ethics, explains why intellectual humility is the first basic design principle of a good conversation. </p> <p style="margin-left: 20px;">[T]he world is an incredibly complicated place. None of us can ever have the full lock on truth. We can only see the world from a particular vantage point. And that means that our knowledge is going to have special insight because of our vantage point, but it's also going to be limited because of our vantage point. And so that limited knowledge that we can have about the world means that we must enter into any conversation with a deep sense of humility, because I need you to help me fill in my knowledge gaps. Right? And you need me. </p> <p>Consider this: Social media presents limitless possibilities for good, learning conversations—like deep canvassing—between strangers across the globe. If each social media user approached online interactions from a position of deep intellectual humility, recognizing that every other user represents an opportunity to fill knowledge gaps and grow, our social networks could become an unprecedented engine of human progress—instead of the drag-down into tribalism they currently seem to be. </p>
Health officials in China reported that a man was infected with bubonic plague, the infectious disease that caused the Black Death.
- The case was reported in the city of Bayannur, which has issued a level-three plague prevention warning.
- Modern antibiotics can effectively treat bubonic plague, which spreads mainly by fleas.
- Chinese health officials are also monitoring a newly discovered type of swine flu that has the potential to develop into a pandemic virus.
Bacteria under microscope
needpix.com<p>Today, bubonic plague can be treated effectively with antibiotics.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unlike in the 14th century, we now have an understanding of how this disease is transmitted," Dr. Shanthi Kappagoda, an infectious disease physician at Stanford Health Care, told <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">Healthline</a>. "We know how to prevent it — avoid handling sick or dead animals in areas where there is transmission. We are also able to treat patients who are infected with effective antibiotics, and can give antibiotics to people who may have been exposed to the bacteria [and] prevent them [from] getting sick."</p>
This plague patient is displaying a swollen, ruptured inguinal lymph node, or buboe.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p>Still, hundreds of people develop bubonic plague every year. In the U.S., a handful of cases occur annually, particularly in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/plague/faq/index.html" target="_blank">where habitats allow the bacteria to spread more easily among wild rodent populations</a>. But these cases are very rare, mainly because you need to be in close contact with rodents in order to get infected. And though plague can spread from human to human, this <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">only occurs with pneumonic plague</a>, and transmission is also rare.</p>
A new swine flu in China<p>Last week, researchers in China also reported another public health concern: a new virus that has "all the essential hallmarks" of a pandemic virus.<br></p><p>In a paper published in the <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/06/23/1921186117" target="_blank">Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences</a>, researchers say the virus was discovered in pigs in China, and it descended from the H1N1 virus, commonly called "swine flu." That virus was able to transmit from human to human, and it killed an estimated 151,700 to 575,400 people worldwide from 2009 to 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.</p>There's no evidence showing that the new virus can spread from person to person. But the researchers did find that 10 percent of swine workers had been infected by the virus, called G4 reassortant EA H1N1. This level of infectivity raises concerns, because it "greatly enhances the opportunity for virus adaptation in humans and raises concerns for the possible generation of pandemic viruses," the researchers wrote.
The word "learning" opens up space for more people, places, and ideas.
- The terms 'education' and 'learning' are often used interchangeably, but there is a cultural connotation to the former that can be limiting. Education naturally links to schooling, which is only one form of learning.
- Gregg Behr, founder and co-chair of Remake Learning, believes that this small word shift opens up the possibilities in terms of how and where learning can happen. It also becomes a more inclusive practice, welcoming in a larger, more diverse group of thinkers.
- Post-COVID, the way we think about what learning looks like will inevitably change, so it's crucial to adjust and begin building the necessary support systems today.