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.

Photo: Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller / Global Oneness Project
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Image source: Sunmyon Chon/National Institutes Of Natural Sciences, Japan
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It seems that pretty much every galaxy we see is spinning around a supermassive black hole. When we say "supermassive," we mean BIG: Each is about 100,000 to tens of billions times the mass of our Sun. Serving as the loci around which our galaxies twirl, they're clearly important to maintaining the universal structures we see. It would be nice to know how they form. We have a pretty good idea how normally-huge-but-not-massive black holes form, but as for the supermassive larger versions, not so much. It's a supermassive missing piece of the universe puzzle.

Now, in research published in Monthly Notices of the Astronomical Society, astrophysicists at Tohoku University in Japan reveal that they may have solved the riddle, supported by new computer simulations that show how supermassive black holes come to be.

The direct collapse theories

Glowing gas and dark dust within the Large Magellanic Cloud

Image source: ESA/Hubble and NASA

The favored theory about the birth of supermassive black holes up to now has been the "direct-collapse" theory. The theory proposes a solution to a cosmic riddle: Supermassive black holes seem to have been born a mere 690 million years after the Big Bang, not nearly long enough for the standard normal black hole genesis scenario to have played out, and on such a large scale. There are two versions of the direct-collapse theory.

One version proposes that if enough gas comes together in a supermassive gravitationally bound cloud, it can eventually collapse into a black hole, which, thanks the cosmic background-radiation-free nature of the very early universe, could then quickly pull in enough matter to go supermassive in a relatively short period of time.

According to astrophysicist Shantanu Basu of Western University in London, Ontario, this would only have been possible in the first 800 million years or so of the universe. "The black holes are formed over a duration of only about 150 million years and grow rapidly during this time," Basu told Live Science in the summer of 2019. "The ones that form in the early part of the 150-million-year time window can increase their mass by a factor of 10 thousand." Basu was lead author of research published last summer in Astrophysical Journal Letters that presented computer models showing this version of direct-collapse is possible.

Another version of the theory suggests that the giant gas cloud collapses into a supermassive star first, which then collapses into a black hole, which then — presumably again thanks to the state of the early universe — sucks up enough matter to go supermassive quickly.

There's a problem with either direct-collapse theory, however, beyond its relatively narrow time window. Previous models show it working only with pristine gas clouds comprised of hydrogen and helium. Other, heavier elements — carbon and oxygen, for example — break the models, causing the giant gas cloud to break up into smaller gas clouds that eventually form separate stars, end of story. No supermassive black hole, and not even a supermassive star for the second flavor of the direct-collapse theory.

A new model

ATERUI II

Image source: NAOJ

Japan's National Astronomical Observatory has a supercomputer named "ATERUI II" that was commissioned in 2018. The Tohoku University research team, led by postdoctoral fellow Sunmyon Chon, used ATERUI II to run high-resolution, 3D, long-term simulations to verify a new version of the direct-collapse idea that makes sense even with gas clouds containing heavy elements.

Chon and his team propose that, yes, supermassive gas clouds with heavy elements do break up into smaller gas clouds that wind up forming smaller stars. However, they assert that's not the end of the story.

The scientists say that post-explosion, there remains a tremendous inward pull toward the center of the ex-cloud that drags in all those smaller stars, eventually causing them to grow into a single supermassive star, 10,000 times larger than the Sun. This is a star big enough to produce the supermassive black holes we see when it finally collapses in on itself.

"This is the first time that we have shown the formation of such a large black hole precursor in clouds enriched in heavy-elements," says Chon, adding, "We believe that the giant star thus formed will continue to grow and evolve into a giant black hole."

Modeling the behavior of an expanded number of elements within the cloud while faithfully carrying forward those models through the violent breakup of the cloud and its aftermath requires such high computational overhead that only a computer as advanced as ATERUI II could pull off.

Being able to develop a theory that takes into account, for the first time, the likely complexity of early-universe gas clouds makes the Tohoku University idea the most complete, plausible explanation of the universe's mysterious supermassive black holes. Kazuyuki Omukai, also of Tohoku University says, "Our new model is able to explain the origin of more black holes than the previous studies, and this result leads to a unified understanding of the origin of supermassive black holes."