Is political correctness a solution — or a desperate cover-up?

No offense, says Slavoj Žižek, but maybe we need to incorporate some "gently racist" icebreakers into our conversations.

Slavoj Žižek: I know that there is a lot of sexual harassment, racism and so on in our lives and I don't doubt that the majority of people who promote political correctness mean it sincerely. I'm not saying that. I'm not saying in the way of right wing paranoia that they are evil people who want to destroy American way of life, I'm just saying this that the way they approach the problem is that instead of resolving it the predominant effect is just to keep it under check and allowing the true problem, racism, sexism, to survive in a more covered up version and so on and so on. For example, I always like this extreme example. Let's take racist jokes. Yes they function in a racist way, but for me the true overcoming of racism is not that you prohibit racist jokes, but that you establish a social, not even only social change, new society, but even such a change of atmosphere that you can tell exactly the same jokes without appearing a racist. When you are simply in a true relationship of equality, respect and so on, sometimes dirty jokes, even gently racist jokes done in a non-racist way, by this I mean that you including yourself and you make fun of yourself and so on, they're incredible. I think your American term is icebreakers.

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Because it's easy to be a non-racist in this political correct way oh I respect your food, your national identities, no. When does it happen real contact with another? I claim it's very difficult to arrive at it without a small exchange of an obscenity. It works in a wonderful way. So I claim for me and ideal post racist situation is let's say I am an Indian and you are an African American. We are telling all the time dirty jokes to each other about each other about ourselves, but in such a way that we just laugh and the more we are telling them the more we are friends. Why? Because in this way we really resolved the tension of racism. What I'm afraid, now coming back to your question, with political correctness is that it's a desperate reaction. They know they cannot solve the real problem so they escaped into controlling how we speak about it. And by real problem I don't to mean in a primitive way just economic redistribution and so on, but even the symbolic fact of actual social relationship and so on.

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You know what should political correct people learn, British customs. Why? Because British and Japanese, different countries, but they are two of the countries which are mega masters in how to reproduce all the brutality of domination, despising the other but without being offensive with an utmost nice speech elegance and so on. You know that's the miracle of truly successful racism that you reproduce all the prejudices but with a very soft point apparently respecting the other and so on and so on. So again, what also bothers me with political correctness or distolerance of the other is that tolerance is a false notion today. I always like this example: I always tell my students when they claim if you are against tolerance what are you for brutal racism? No. I tell them okay there is one guy who did quite a lot against racism, Martin Luther King. Look at his speeches. He never even mentions the word tolerance. I checked it up you can download his speech. If you were to tell him that we white people need to be more tolerant towards the black people he would have laughed probably. So this is a very suspicious idea that this translation of domination of racism and so on into terms of tolerance. No, tolerance is a very ambiguous term. Quite often tolerance can even work as it's own opposite in want sense?

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Look, if you take a typical upper middle-class American, I would like to put him on her, I saw them, together with a real low class African-American or white guy, I can guarantee you they would be horrified with all the dirty jokes will get at this and so on. And for them they would have been very intolerant towards him. So for me there is always intolerance, something off. Let's keep it disturbs me. At the proper distance don't allow them to come to close to me. Tolerance often means intolerance for the actual other. They accept the other, in it is the purified other. Like, for example, for politically correct people Native Americans, whatever you call them, I don't want to call them that. You know my old joke, which is true. I met some Native American so-called university people who told me they hated they're Native Americans. Why? Because it has this uncanny settle nature culture, we are native and what are you then? Cultural Americans or what. They told me we much prefer to be called Indians; at least our name is a monument to white man's stupidity who thought they are in India when they are here. So I love this. They are so fanatically suspicious about this false patronizing appraisal of the white liberals.

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Like you know, we usually say we brutally exploit nature, mining and so on, but Native Americans do it differently. They talk to mountains; they have this more organic dialogic approach and so on and so on. They shaped this so much. One of them even so brutally told me I love this. This is true. He gave me, I forgot his name I'm very sorry, a short text he wrote where he demonstrates through statistics, I don't know if it's true, let's say he tries to demonstrate that Native Americans, so-called Indians, killed more buffaloes and burned more forests than all white people together. What was his point? His point was precisely don't idealize us. You are patronizing us by making this politically correct pure people who are holistic blah, blah, blah. No. Please we can also be evil; we can also be horrible and so on and so on. You see it's the same problem with refugees in Europe, intelligent Native Americans are terribly sensitive against the oppressive other side of this politically correct way of Native Americans have some ancient wisdom holistic approach and so on and so on. I mean that's why, and I'm sorry if I repeat an old story of mine, but that's why I sincerely admire Malcolm X. You know why? What does it mean X? It means, of course, we don't have family name. We black slaves were torn out deprived of our roots and like family links and so on when they were kidnapped from Africa and so on.

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But what's his genius? His way is not the way of that stupid Hollywood best seller Alex Haley who wrote Roots. Let's find our roots. No, his idea is what is this X? It means we have no roots; we are deprived of roots. What if this gives us a new freedom to establish a new more universal community than that of white people? It's an ingenious idea of seeing what appears and each terrible trauma being deprived of your roots you have no proper tradition, family tradition and so on is a new chance of freedom.

Philosopher and cultural critic Slavoj Žižek has a bone to pick with the PC movement. While he doesn’t buy into the right-wing paranoid view that the politically correct among us are "evil people who want to destroy the American way of life," he does think they’re doing some damage. Žižek questions whether censoring our expression really addresses racial tension – or does it merely give birth to a politer form of racism (or sexism, or religious and political differences)? Tolerance has started to work against its own agenda, becoming a patronizing insult to those who think differently to you, a way of brushing off and compartmentalizing differences rather than listening and connecting. Žižek recommends we add a tasteful dose of obscenity and humor to our interactions with each other in order to make them more genuine. Covering up racism with nicer words doesn’t eradicate it, but laughing at each other’s differences – in the right way – can unite a world of "others". Slavoj Žižek's most recent book is Refugees, Terror and Other Troubles with the Neighbors: Against the Double Blackmail


Slavoj Žižek's most recent book is Refugees, Terror and Other Troubles with the Neighbors: Against the Double Blackmail.

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The Barry Glacier gives its name to Alaska's Barry Arm Fjord, and a new open letter forecasts trouble ahead.

Thanks to global warming, the glacier has been retreating, so far removing two-thirds of its support for a steep mile-long slope, or scarp, containing perhaps 500 million cubic meters of material. (Think the Hoover Dam times several hundred.) The slope has been moving slowly since 1957, but scientists say it's become an avalanche waiting to happen, maybe within the next year, and likely within 20. When it does come crashing down into the fjord, it could set in motion a frightening tsunami overwhelming the fjord's normally peaceful waters .

"It could happen anytime, but the risk just goes way up as this glacier recedes," says hydrologist Anna Liljedahl of Woods Hole, one of the signatories to the letter.

The Barry Arm Fjord

Camping on the fjord's Black Sand Beach

Image source: Matt Zimmerman

The Barry Arm Fjord is a stretch of water between the Harriman Fjord and the Port Wills Fjord, located at the northwest corner of the well-known Prince William Sound. It's a beautiful area, home to a few hundred people supporting the local fishing industry, and it's also a popular destination for tourists — its Black Sand Beach is one of Alaska's most scenic — and cruise ships.

Not Alaska’s first watery rodeo, but likely the biggest

Image source: whrc.org

There have been at least two similar events in the state's recent history, though not on such a massive scale. On July 9, 1958, an earthquake nearby caused 40 million cubic yards of rock to suddenly slide 2,000 feet down into Lituya Bay, producing a tsunami whose peak waves reportedly reached 1,720 feet in height. By the time the wall of water reached the mouth of the bay, it was still 75 feet high. At Taan Fjord in 2015, a landslide caused a tsunami that crested at 600 feet. Both of these events thankfully occurred in sparsely populated areas, so few fatalities occurred.

The Barry Arm event will be larger than either of these by far.

"This is an enormous slope — the mass that could fail weighs over a billion tonnes," said geologist Dave Petley, speaking to Earther. "The internal structure of that rock mass, which will determine whether it collapses, is very complex. At the moment we don't know enough about it to be able to forecast its future behavior."

Outside of Alaska, on the west coast of Greenland, a landslide-produced tsunami towered 300 feet high, obliterating a fishing village in its path.

What the letter predicts for Barry Arm Fjord

Moving slowly at first...

Image source: whrc.org

"The effects would be especially severe near where the landslide enters the water at the head of Barry Arm. Additionally, areas of shallow water, or low-lying land near the shore, would be in danger even further from the source. A minor failure may not produce significant impacts beyond the inner parts of the fiord, while a complete failure could be destructive throughout Barry Arm, Harriman Fiord, and parts of Port Wells. Our initial results show complex impacts further from the landslide than Barry Arm, with over 30 foot waves in some distant bays, including Whittier."

The discovery of the impeding landslide began with an observation by the sister of geologist Hig Higman of Ground Truth, an organization in Seldovia, Alaska. Artist Valisa Higman was vacationing in the area and sent her brother some photos of worrying fractures she noticed in the slope, taken while she was on a boat cruising the fjord.

Higman confirmed his sister's hunch via available satellite imagery and, digging deeper, found that between 2009 and 2015 the slope had moved 600 feet downhill, leaving a prominent scar.

Ohio State's Chunli Dai unearthed a connection between the movement and the receding of the Barry Glacier. Comparison of the Barry Arm slope with other similar areas, combined with computer modeling of the possible resulting tsunamis, led to the publication of the group's letter.

While the full group of signatories from 14 organizations and institutions has only been working on the situation for a month, the implications were immediately clear. The signers include experts from Ohio State University, the University of Southern California, and the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska.

Once informed of the open letter's contents, the Alaska's Department of Natural Resources immediately released a warning that "an increasingly likely landslide could generate a wave with devastating effects on fishermen and recreationalists."

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Image source: whrc.org

The obvious question is what can be done to prepare for the landslide and tsunami? For one thing, there's more to understand about the upcoming event, and the researchers lay out their plan in the letter:

"To inform and refine hazard mitigation efforts, we would like to pursue several lines of investigation: Detect changes in the slope that might forewarn of a landslide, better understand what could trigger a landslide, and refine tsunami model projections. By mapping the landslide and nearby terrain, both above and below sea level, we can more accurately determine the basic physical dimensions of the landslide. This can be paired with GPS and seismic measurements made over time to see how the slope responds to changes in the glacier and to events like rainstorms and earthquakes. Field and satellite data can support near-real time hazard monitoring, while computer models of landslide and tsunami scenarios can help identify specific places that are most at risk."

In the letter, the authors reached out to those living in and visiting the area, asking, "What specific questions are most important to you?" and "What could be done to reduce the danger to people who want to visit or work in Barry Arm?" They also invited locals to let them know about any changes, including even small rock-falls and landslides.

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