Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Critique of Pure Ideology

The lingua franca of our time is English. When Hamlet was written the Danish princes were studying at Wittenberg so one may assume the lingua franca of that time was German. Paul's missions to the Greeks were possible because, as an educated Pharisee, he was fluent in the lingua franca of his time. Through Latin and German the ancient Greek of the world of the Semitic patriarchs transmogrified into the latest Germanic language to hold the title: American English.

The Chinese millionare and the Arab Sheikh, Slavoj Zizek and Angela Merkel, Michael Eric Dyson and the ISIS recruiters they all have this in common: if they want to reach the widest possible audience with their ideological arguments they must do so in American English. Whether the language is a tool to open a factory in the rust belt, recruit a new commander, explain the relationship of hip-hop to Marxism or bemoan the latest exploits of Vladimir Putin, American English is the HTML code of the Netflix world.

There is an artist called Brysci who makes videos on his YouTube channel using "Call of Duty". After the fashion of our time the video game footage is mixed with Brysci's original raps. Brysci's ideology also depends on his grasp of American English. In one of his videos (my personal favorite) he used the phrase "snatchin' dog tags" as a heavily armed soldier does just that. My seven year old son asked me if that was true, if soldiers did snatch dog tags off their fallen victims.

My answer to my son, as an American, son of a Vietnam bomber pilot, grandson of a Korea fighter pilot was as follows: "I can only imagine that the practice of snatching dog tags was practiced by our enemies but it is not likely that we engaged in it as our enemies did not wear dog tags". He responded "In 'Call of Duty' our enemies are Russian". I quickly thought about what dog tags must be called in Russian, drew a blank, and pictured my friends in Moscow who'd returned from Chechnya and Afghanistan but I could not form a mental image of American style dog tags on them. I thought of the Viet Cong, the mujahadeen, and the native americans and could not imagine dog tags on any of them and it was at this moment that I understood the ideology of Brysci.

For the sake of my son's posterity, if he ever decides to root out the sources of his ideology, I want to be as clear as possible about the ideological elements of this conversation. Zizek's favorite American philosopher (after Sam Harris and Noam Chomsky of course) is Donald Rumsfeld. He likes to employ Rumsfeldian analysis to situations such as this so I, being a Zizekian (Hegelian, Freudian, Marxist, Lacanian) will follow suit.

The known knowns: My dad was a combat B-52 pilot in the Vietnam Conflict who retired as a Lt. Col. from the USAF, my paternal grandfather was a Marine infantry grunt in WWII who retired from the US Army, my maternal grandfather was a fighter pilot in the Korean Conflict who attended West Point and retired from the USAF as a Lt. Col., and my great Aunt was one of the first female Marine officers who used her education as a mathematician to break Nazi and Imperial Japanese codes. I enlisted in the USAF at age 17 in order to receive my AFROTC scholarship.

The known unknowns: Is it common practice for soldiers to remove the dog tags from their fallen enemies? Did the Viet Cong, North Koreans, Nazis and Imperial Japanese use dog tags?

The unknown unknowns: DK

The unknown knowns: The use of dog tags is a universal military practice transcending time and culture.

Because my son is seven and his source Brysci is not much older (I assume) I can easily dissect the ideological components of this exchange. My son is assuming the unknown known of Brysci that dog tags are a culturally and chronologically universal practice. I am subject to all the unknown knowns inherent in the known knowns of my family history which is comprised of a multi-generational martial culture which extends back to Imperial Prussia and the meaning of our family name.

But such an ideological analysis is a relatively new phenomenon and, I claim, unique to the generations, as Buckminster Fuller put it, "born after man landed on the moon". Indeed Zizek himself, for all his training in psychoanalysis, use of colloquial humor, and self awareness rarely, if ever, discusses the ideological implications of his imprisonment by the pro-Soviet regime in Yugoslavia, his childhood under Tito, or his identity as an Eastern European intellectual speaking to a Western European (and in this I include North American) audience.

Freud's identity as a Jew profoundly impacted his development of the science of psychoanalysis (Totem and Taboo , Malinowski, Willhelm Reich), Marx's identity as a Jew influenced the economic system we know today as Marxism (as distinct from the ideology known as Marxism which Marx wold not recognize as a product of his work) and thus as a new dawn of Zizekian film critique, literary criticism and political theory emerges we must demand that Zizek himself carefully scrutinize the Rumsfeldian "unknown knowns" which are at work in his unconscious.

I would ask my friend Slavoj to perform this simple analysis on himself following the rough sketch I used to began my own analysis of my childhood:

Think of a time you saw your parents (preferably individually) upset about something. Using the first incident that arises with each parent analyze the ideological baggage which may have resulted.

For Example: When I was 11 (1982) a woman came to my Junior High School in California and gave a slide presentation of her trip to the Soviet Union. I distinctly remember the beautiful oil paintings on the ceilings of the subway stations. As I often did I gushed over what I'd learned at the dinner table that night and to this day feel sick to my stomach when I remember my mother's reaction:

"They showed you what? Pictures of the Soviet Union and how wonderful it is there?"

The rest is a blur but my mother called the school the next day and got nowhere (this was Northern California after all) and became even more exasperated by the response of the principal to her concerns than she had been after the initial revelation. I distinctly remember the term "brainwash" being used in my mother's conversations with both myself and my hapless school principle who by now no doubt was wishing he'd chosen a different profession. To my parents credit they did send me to the Soviet Union a few years later to see for myself that it was a nation of gulags and cannibalism and my response was to settle down in Moscow and marry a nice Tbliskaya Armyanka who was a member of the Communist Party of Russia. But I digress.

The point is that my mother's visceral response to the "Soviet brainwashing" comprised of a tourist's slide show indicates the ideological underpinnings of my upbringing. Thus it is no surprise that I was at university before I knew that Karl Marx was a German economist. As a child he was merely a religious figure of some kind representing child cannibalism and gulags.

My friend Slavoj! Come have some mint tea and we will discuss the first time your mother lost her mind over something you'd been taught in school. Was it the day you learned the Italians were going to help Tito build the first Yugo factory? What was the discussion around the dinner table the night the Soviet tanks crushed the demonstrations in Budapest? How did your family respond to the assassination of Malcolm X, Prague Spring, Solidarity etc.

If you would be so kind to post your answers as a comment below I would be eternally grateful. Yours in solidarity (just kidding), David

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