Psychoanalyst and social critic Slavoj Zizek wrote, in a recent New York Times op-ed on the damage the American regime of torture is doing to all of us:
Knight of the Living Dead
By Slavoj Žižek
New York Times
SINCE the release of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s dramatic confessions, moral outrage at the extent of his crimes has been mixed with doubts. Can his claims be trusted? What if he confessed to more than he really did, either because of a vain desire to be remembered as the big terrorist mastermind, or because he was ready to confess anything in order to stop the water boarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques”?
If there was one surprising aspect to this situation it has less to do with the confessions themselves than with the fact that for the first time in a great many years, torture was normalized — presented as something acceptable. The ethical consequences of it should worry us all.
While the scope of Mr. Mohammed’s crimes is clear and horrifying, it is worth noting that the United States seems incapable of treating him even as it would the hardest criminal — in the civilized Western world, even the most depraved child murderer gets judged and punished. But any legal trial and punishment of Mr. Mohammed is now impossible — no court that operates within the frames of Western legal systems can deal with illegal detentions, confessions obtained by torture and the like. (And this conforms, perversely, to Mr. Mohammed’s desire to be treated as an enemy rather than a criminal.)
It is as if not only the terrorists themselves, but also the fight against them, now has to proceed in a gray zone of legality. We thus have de facto “legal” and “illegal” criminals: those who are to be treated with legal procedures (using lawyers and the like), and those who are outside legality, subject to military tribunals or seemingly endless incarceration.
Mr. Mohammed has become what the Italian political philosopher Giorgio Agamben calls “homo sacer”: a creature legally dead while biologically still alive. And he’s not the only one living in an in-between world. The American authorities who deal with detainees have become a sort of counterpart to homo sacer: acting as a legal power, they operate in an empty space that is sustained by the law and yet not regulated by the rule of law.
Some don’t find this troubling. The realistic counterargument goes: The war on terrorism is dirty, one is put in situations where the lives of thousands may depend on information we can get from our prisoners, and one must take extreme steps. As Alan Dershowitz of Harvard Law School puts it: “I’m not in favor of torture, but if you’re going to have it, it should damn well have court approval.” Well, if this is “honesty,” I think I’ll stick with hypocrisy.
Yes, most of us can imagine a singular situation in which we might resort to torture — to save a loved one from immediate, unspeakable harm perhaps. I can. In such a case, however, it is crucial that I do not elevate this desperate choice into a universal principle. In the unavoidable brutal urgency of the moment, I should simply do it. But it cannot become an acceptable standard; I must retain the proper sense of the horror of what I did. And when torture becomes just another in the list of counterterrorism techniques, all sense of horror is lost.
When, in the fifth season of the TV show “24,” it became clear that the mastermind behind the terrorist plot was none other than the president himself, many of us were eagerly waiting to see whether Jack Bauer would apply to the “leader of the free world” his standard technique in dealing with terrorists who do not want to divulge a secret that may save thousands. Will he torture the president?
Reality has now surpassed TV. What “24” still had the decency to present as Jack Bauer’s disturbing and desperate choice is now rendered business as usual.
In a way, those who refuse to advocate torture outright but still accept it as a legitimate topic of debate are more dangerous than those who explicitly endorse it. Morality is never just a matter of individual conscience. It thrives only if it is sustained by what Hegel called “objective spirit,” the set of unwritten rules that form the background of every individual’s activity, telling us what is acceptable and what is unacceptable.
For example, a clear sign of progress in Western society is that one does not need to argue against rape: it is “dogmatically” clear to everyone that rape is wrong. If someone were to advocate the legitimacy of rape, he would appear so ridiculous as to disqualify himself from any further consideration. And the same should hold for torture.
Are we aware what lies at the end of the road opened up by the normalization of torture? A significant detail of Mr. Mohammed’s confession gives a hint. It was reported that the interrogators submitted to waterboarding and were able to endure it for less than 15 seconds on average before being ready to confess anything and everything. Mr. Mohammed, however, gained their grudging admiration by enduring it for two and a half minutes.
Are we aware that the last time such things were part of public discourse was back in the late Middle Ages, when torture was still a public spectacle, an honorable way to test a captured enemy who might gain the admiration of the crowd if he bore the pain with dignity? Do we really want to return to this kind of primitive warrior ethics?
This is why, in the end, the greatest victims of torture-as-usual are the rest of us, the informed public. A precious part of our collective identity has been irretrievably lost. We are in the middle of a process of moral corruption: those in power are literally trying to break a part of our ethical backbone, to dampen and undo what is arguably our civilization’s greatest achievement, the growth of our spontaneous moral sensitivity.
Cynicism as a Form of Ideology
The most elementary definition of ideology is probably the well-known phrase from Marx's Capital: "Sie wissen das nicht, aber sie tun es" ("they do not know it, but they are doing it"). The very concept of ideology implies a kind of basic, constitutive naďveté: the misrecognition of its own presuppositions, of its own effective conditions, a distance, a divergence between so-called social reality and our distorted representation, our false consciousness of it. That is why such a 'naive consciousness' can be submitted to a critical-ideological procedure. The aim of this procedure is to lead the naďve ideological consciousness to a point at which it can recognize its own effective conditions, the social reality that it is distorting, and through this very act dissolve itself. In the more sophisticated versions of the critics of ideology -that developed by the Frankfurt School, for example — it is not just a question of seeing things (that is, social reality) as they 'really are', of throwing away the distorting spectacles of ideology; the main point is to see how the reality itself cannot reproduce itself without this so-called ideological mystification. The mask is not simply hiding the real state of things; the ideological distortion is written into its very essence.
We find, then, the paradox of a being which can reproduce itself only in so far as it is misrecognized and overlooked: the moment we see it 'as it really is', this being dissolves itself into nothingness or, more precisely, it changes into another kind of reality. That is why we must avoid the simple metaphors of demasking, of throwing away the veils which are supposed to hide the naked reality. We can see why Lacan, in his Seminar on The Ethic of Psychoanalysis, distances himself from the liberating gesture of saying finally that "the emperor has no clothes". The point is, as Lacan puts it, that the emperor is naked only beneath his clothes, so if there is an unmasking gesture of psychoanalysis, it is closer to Alphonse Allais's well-known joke, quoted by Lacan: somebody points at a woman and utters a horrified cry, "Look at her, what a shame, under her clothes, she is totally naked" (Lacan, 1986, p.231).
But all this is already well known: it is the classic concept of ideology as 'false consciousness', misrecognition of the social reality which is part of this reality itself. Our question is: Does this concept of ideology as a naive consciousness still apply to today's world? Is it still operating today? In the Critique of Cynical Reason, a great bestseller in Germany (Sloterdijk, 1983), Peter Sloterdijk puts forward the thesis that ideology's dominant mode of functioning is cynical, which renders impossible- or, more precisely, vain — the classic critical-ideological procedure. The cynical subject is quite aware of the distance between the ideological mask and the social reality, but he none the less still insists upon the mask. The formula, as proposed by Sloterdijk, would then be: "they know very well what they are doing, but still, they are doing it". Cynical reason is no longer naďve, but is a paradox of an enlightened false consciousness: one knows the falsehood very well, one is well aware of a particular interest hidden behind an ideological universality, but still one does not renounce it.
We must distinguish this cynical position strictly from what Sloterdijk calls kynicism. Kynicism represents the popular, plebeian rejection of the official culture by means of irony and sarcasm: the classical kynical procedure is to confront the pathetic phrases of the ruling official ideology — its solemn, grave tonality — with everyday banality and to hold them up to ridicule, thus exposing behind the sublime noblesse of the ideological phrases the egotistical interests, the violence, the brutal claims to power. This procedure, then, is more pragmatic than argumentative: it subverts the official proposition by confronting it with the situation of its enunciation; it proceeds ad hominem (for example when a politician preaches the duty of patriotic sacrifice, kynicism exposes the personal gain he is making from the sacrifice of others).
Cynicism is the answer of the ruling culture to this kynical subversion: it recognizes, it takes into account, the particular interest behind the ideological universality, the distance between the ideological mask and the reality, but it still finds reasons to retain the mask. This cynicism is not a direct position of immorality, it is more like morality itself put in the service of immorality — the model of cynical wisdom is to conceive probity, integrity, as a supreme form of dishonesty, and morals as a supreme form of profligacy, the truth as the most effective form of a lie. This cynicism is therefore a kind of perverted 'negation of the negation' of the official ideology: confronted with illegal enrichment, with robbery, the cynical reaction consists in saying that legal enrichment is a lot more effective and, moreover, protected by the law. As Bertolt Brecht puts it in his Threepenny Opera: "what is the robbery of a bank compared to the founding of a new bank?"
It is clear, therefore, that confronted with such cynical reason, the traditional critique of ideology no longer works. We can no longer subject the ideological text to 'symptomatic reading', confronting it with its blank spots, with what it must repress to organize itself, to preserve its consistency — cynical reason takes this distance into account in advance. Is then the only issue left to us to affirm that, with the reign of cynical reason, we find ourselves in the so-called post-ideological world? Even Adorno came to this conclusion, starting from the premiss that ideology is, strictly speaking, only a system which makes a claim to the truth — that is, which is not simply a lie but a lie experienced as truth, a lie which pretends to be taken seriously. Totalitarian ideology no longer has this pretension. It is no longer meant, even by its authors, to be taken seriously — its status is just that of a means of manipulation, purely external and instrumental; its rule is secured not by its truth-value but by simple extra-ideological violence and promise of gain.
It is here, at this point, that the distinction between symptom and fantasy must be introduced in order to show how the idea that we live in a post-ideological society proceeds a little too quickly: cynical reason, with all its ironic detachment, leaves untouched the fundamental level of ideological fantasy, the level on which ideology structures the social reality itself.
Piše: Slavoj ŽIŽEK
Jedan od najslavnijih suvremenih svjetskih filozofa u New York Timesu je prije desetak dana objavio komentar u kojem analizira posljedice nekih metoda u ratu protiv terorizma na suvremeni svijet. Žižekov je tekst, po obicaju, poziv na razmišljanje svima. Dani ga prenose u cijelosti
Otkad je objavljeno dramatično priznanje Khalida Shaikha Mohammeda, moralno zgražanje nad obimom njegovih zločina pomiješano je sa dvojbama. Može li se vjerovati njegovim tvrdnjama? Šta ako je priznao više nego je zbilja učinio: zbog sujetne želje da bude upamćen kao veliki teroristički vođa ili pak jer je bio spreman priznati bilo što da bi zaustavio "usavršene metode ispitivanja", uključujući mučenje tipa uranjanja glave pod vodu dok ne počne gušenje.
Ako postoji neki nenadan aspekt cijele ove situacije, on ima manje veze sa samim priznanjem, a više s činjenicom da je prvi put u dugom nizu godina mučenje normalizirano - odnosno predstavljeno kao nešto prihvatljivo. Etičke konsekvence toga trebale bi zabrinuti sve nas.
Zločinac ili neprijatelj
Makar je obim Mohammedovih zločina očevidno strašan, treba primijetiti da ga Amerika nije tretirala na način na koji se tretiraju zločinci, čak i oni najgori, onako kako su u civiliziranom svijetu prije sudenja i robije tretirani čak i najizopačeniji ubice djece. Svako legalno suđenje i kažnjavanje Mohammedovo sada je nemoguće: nijedan sud koji radi unutar zapadnih pravnih sistema neće prihvatiti nezakonito zatvaranje, priznanje dobiveno mučenjem i slične stvari. (To se, na perverzan način, poklapa sa Mohammedovom željom da ga se ne tretira kao zločinca, nego kao neprijatelja.)
Nisu, dakle, samo teroristi ušli u sivu zonu zakona, u nju ulazi i borba protiv njih. Danas faktički imamo "zakonite" i "nezakonite" zločince: prvi imaju pravo na zakonsku proceduru (na advokate i tome slično), dok su potonji izvan granica zakona, njima se bave vojni sudovi i smije ih se držati zatočenima skoro beskrajno.
Mohammed je postao ono što talijanski politički filozof Giorgio Agamben zove "homo sacer": biće zakonski mrtvo makar je biološki još uvijek živo. I on nije jedini koji živi izmedu dva svijeta. Predstavnici američke vlasti koji ih zatvaraju postali su njihovi svojevrsni pandani: dok se ponašaju kao zagovornici moći zakona, oni djeluju u zrakopraznom prostoru u kojem je zakon suspendiran i koji zakon ne regulira.
Nekima sve ovo ne smeta. Realistički protuargument glasi ovako: rat protiv terorizma je prljav i čovjek se može naći u situaciji da može spasiti hiljade života uz pomoc informacija koje se mogu dobiti od zatočenika te se stoga moraju poduzeti ekstremni potezi. Kako kaže Alan Dershowitz s Pravnog fakulteta na Harvardu: "Ja se ne zalažem za mučenje, ali ako se već treba desiti, vraški je dobro imati sudsko dopuštenje." Eh, ako je to "iskrenost", hvala na pažnji, ali meni se više svida "licemjerje".
Televizija i stvarnost
Tačno je, većina nas može zamisliti situaciju u kojoj bismo se poslužili mučenjem - recimo, ako treba spasiti voljenu osobu od trenutne užasne opasnosti. Ja mogu zamisliti takvu situaciju. U tom je slučaju, međutim, ključna stvar ne pokušati uzdignuti vlastiti očajnički izbor u univerzalni princip. U slučaju trenutka neizbježne brutalne urgentnosti, takvo što bih jednostavno učinio. Ali to ne smije postati prihvatljiv standard, mora se u pravom smislu osjetiti užas onoga što se učinilo. Jer kad mučenje postane tek jedna u nizu metoda od kojih se sastoji rat protiv terorizma, sav smisao užasa se gubi.
Kada u petoj sezoni TV serije 24 postane jasno da onaj koji stoji iza terorističke zavjere nije niko drugi do američki predsjednik, mnogi od nas su uzbuđeno iščekivali da li će Jack Bauer i protiv "lidera slobodnog svijeta" koristiti metode kojima se inače služi kada od terorista treba otkriti tajnu koja može spasiti hiljade života. Da li će mučiti predsjednika?
Stvarnost je prevazišla televiziju. Ono što je u seriji 24 uznemirujući i očajnicki izbor Jacka Bauera u stvarnosti je postalo uobičajena stvar.
Na neki način, oni koji su protiv podvrgavanja zarobljenika mučenju, ali ga prihvataju kao legitimnu temu za debatu, opasniji su od onih koji ga otvoreno odobravaju. Moralnost nikada nije stvar puke individualne savjesti. Moralnost uspijeva samo ako ju podržava ono što Hegel zove "objektivnim duhom", skup nepisanih pravila koja sačinjavaju pozadinu onoga što poduzima svaki pojedinac i kazuje nam šta je prihvatljivo, a šta neprihvatljivo.
Primjera radi, jasan znak napretka zapadnih društava jest činjenica da nije potrebno navoditi argumente protiv silovanja: "dogmatski" je priznato kako je silovanje nešto loše. Kada bi neko opravdavao silovanje, bio bi toliko ridikulozan da bi se instantno diskvalificirao za bilo kakvu dalju raspravu. Isto bi trebalo vrijediti i za mučenje.
Kao u Srednjem vijeku
Jesmo li svjesni šta je na kraju puta koji se otvara legitimiziranjem mučenja? Znakovit detalj u vezi Mohammedovog priznanja daje dobar nagovještaj. Rečeno je kako su se i ispitivači podvrgli uranjanju glave pod vodu te da su bili u stanju izdržati u prosjeku petnaestak sekundi prije nego bi bili spremni priznati bilo šta. Mohammed je, medutim, izdržao dvije i pol minute i time zavrijedio njihovo zavidljivo poštovanje.
Jesmo li svjesni da takve stvari nisu bile dio javnog diskursa još od Srednjeg vijeka, kad je mučenje bilo javni spektakl, častan test koji je zarobljenom neprijatelju mogao donijeti poštovanje gomile ako bi dostojanstveno podnio bol? Želimo li se zbilja vratiti ovoj primitivnoj ratničkoj etici?
Zbog toga su najveće žrtve prihvatanja mučenja kao nečeg normalnog ustvari oni koji za to znaju, informirana publika, odnosno mi sami. Dragocjen dio našeg kolektivnog identiteta je nepovratno izgubljen. Nalazimo se usred procesa korupcije morala: oni koji imaju moć upravo lome kičmu naše etike, umrtvljuju i uništavaju ono što je možda najveći domet naše civilizacije, rast naše spontane moralne osjetljivosti.
Preveo: Muharem Bazdulj