The Return of the Big Lie

William E. Connolly
Johns Hopkins University
The facts are well known. A recent ad by the Romney campaign ran a video allowing viewers to watch and hear the very words of Barack Obama: “If we keep talking about the economy we’re going to lose.” That quote closed a series of statements attributed to the President. But the quote was undated and, well, incomplete. It turned out that it had been delivered by Obama during the 2008 campaign. It read in full “Senator McCain’s campaign actually said, and I quote, ‘if we keep talking about the economy we are going to lose.’”
Outraged Democrats protested the ad. “Neutral” commentators said it was “egregiously misleading” and a sign that the campaign in general was going to be rough. Romney refused to apologize. He said “what is good for the goose is good for the gander”--a quote that hovers somewhere between almost saying that he could identify similar misrepresentations from Obama and expressing identification with a base that is eager to have him run such lying attack ads. A senior advisor, Eric Fehrnstrom, announced that the ensuing controversy worked to the advantage of Romney because it called people’s attention to the economy: “...their reaction was quite hysterical,” he said, “But that was the point.”
The original ad was not simply an instance of misrepresentation; it was a Big Lie. A Big Lie is a representation that not only attributes to the opponent things he did not say but joyously reverses what was actually said to express loyalty to its base and disdain for the opponent. A Big Lie is joyous not simply because it misleads. It is so because it speaks to a portion of its base who welcome and demand such misrepresentations even if they are exposed as misrepresentations. A Big Lie, then, is a BIG lie, a lie expressing a perverse symbiosis between leaders and audience that allows its effects to reverberate even after it has been exposed. Thus correction of a Big Lie is insufficient to counter it. We now have a rather long record of Obama being called a Muslim, a socialist, and a Kenyan who is not an American citizen; these widely circulated charges express the characteristics of the Big Lie. And we have a record of followers of Palin and Bachmann introducing editorial changes into Wikipedia entries to alter the record so their gaffes have the look of historical accuracy. Perhaps we should think a bit more about how a Big Lie works. 
A Big Lie works because the most intense devotees who receive it are eager to have it circulate widely even if and when they know at one level that the evidence points in the other direction. The repeated charge that Obama stimulus package–-which in fact was far too small--did not decrease the unemployment rate that would otherwise have arisen possesses some of these characteristics.
Adolph Hitler introduced the phrase into popularity. He did so in a vintage manner. He attributed it to Jews and the Marxists who, he said, blamed German generals for the loss of WWI instead of casting blame upon “betrayers of the fatherland”. He then said in Mein Kampf:
All this was inspired by the principle–which is quite true within itself–that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily...” 
Hitler only got it partly right. He universalized a tendency that varies significantly from place to place and time to time. And, at least in this statement, he does not emphasize enough how a big lie requires a constituency already primed to receive it at one level even when at another level they know it is a lie. A Big Lie speaks to multiple levels of self and culture, calling up a visceral will to believe among resentful constituencies that overwhelms their awareness at a more refined level that the evidence is at odds with that will. Even if the factual correction is admitted, a residue of distrust and vilification of the candidate is retained.
A Big Lie today contains a yet more complex, layered message. Yes, it expresses a campaign to increase intensity of support among a core constituency eager to vilify opponents. But it simultaneously amplifies a vague sense already there among inattentive moderates that politics itself has become dysfunctional. This asymmetrical combination endows the Big Lie with its contemporary power. Thus it was not surprising when the former Chair of the Republican Party, Michael Steele, in a recent edition of “Hardball”, refused to condemn the Romney ad. Instead, he treated it--if vaguely and without examples--as a generic sign that the campaign was intensifying on both sides. Politics is rough, Michael Steele says, so this sort of thing is to be expected from all parties as the campaigns proceed. 
Steele’s response may seem off base and banal at first hearing. But it actually performs asymmetrical functions for two different constituencies: it refuses to take back what their most ardent followers want to hear and it justifies Romney’s Big Lie to others by equating it with all statements that exaggerate or abstract from context. It thus retains the base while also speaking to inattentive moderates and “independents” who they need to conclude that politics in general is and must be dysfunctional. A dysfunctional politics, after all, encourages the inattentive to identify with the fantasy of unregulated markets pried free from a dysfunctional state. The Republican use of filibusters works in a similar way. They want people to forget (or never notice) that they are the ones who have used this tactic more than anyone else in American history, and they want to help them remember that there is a stalemate in Congress. The inattentive who respond to the second part of that message thus vindicate themselves in remaining inattentive. Such an effect increases the power of the right edge of the Republican base, a base that is primed already to respond to messages of aspirational fascism
There is an element of truth in what Steele says. That is part of its power. Both sides do misrepresent and simplify too often. That needs attention whenever it occurs. But to draw every instance of misrepresentation under the same umbrella is to recapitulate the Big Lie. Again, it justifies that mode of politics to a receptive base as it encourages moderates to either withdraw from politics or to internalize lies they are already tempted to believe. 
The politics of the Big Lie becomes viable in a society in which one segment of the populace welcomes it, another attributes it to politics in general to avoid having to think about what it portends, and a third fails to explore how to engage a world in which factual correction is insufficient to contemporary politics.
We form part of the third constituency. We have to learn how to challenge Big Lies as we remember how factual correction is pertinent but insufficient to the challenge. Correction is insufficient because there is never a vacuum on the infrasensible register of politics. We thus have to participate ourselves on that register without allowing our participation to contribute to the Big Lie. Perhaps John Stewart provides an example of how to proceed as he enacts image laden messages with a complex character. His messages expose lies; they suggest alternatives; and they disclose by parody how his own messages themselves also work on the infrasensible register of politics. 
I have tried to think about the indispensability, complexity and dangers of such a politics in “Experience and Experiment” and in some postings on this blog. John Protevi also engages this issue. In a world of 24 hour cable news and a society riven by the politics of ressentiment more reflective intervention is needed on this territory by those who seek to preserve the life as well as the form of democracy.

Vow to Hire Heroes

Steven Johnston
University of South Florida

Three days before Thanksgiving, Barack Obama signed into law the VOW to Hire Heroes Act, a piece of political legislation of, at best, dubious economic value. It offers tax credits to employers who hire veterans. Both parties lined up to support the bill knowing full well that it amounted to little more than political pandering. Despite the fiscal crisis supposedly plaguing the American state, the legislation found few if any detractors. The debt owed the brave men and women who make enormous sacrifices to keep America safe, secure, and free rendered discussion irrelevant. The United States military is perhaps the only institution that transcends the fanatical obstructionism of the Republican Party, an entity so hell-bent on free market utopianism (among others) that it continues to inflict enormous damage on the country and its future. Good patriots that they are, Republicans no doubt believe that harming the country they love is proof positive they love it (with a partial exception for Ron Paul). True, former Republican Senator and Defense Secretary William Cohen recently took the GOP to task for endangering the country’s national security with its anti-tax hysteria, but Cohen issued his rebuke not on behalf of the well-being of the United States but of the American empire.
Does the United States military deserve the plaudits routinely showered on it? This is an open question. For one thing, it is not a citizen army composed of people serving their country in the spirit of equality and mutual obligation. It is a self-selecting professional mercenary force. Too many Americans clearly prefer to have someone else shoulder the responsibility for common security. They have other and better things (the list is endless) to do with their lives.  This might seem (to them) like a free ride without repercussions, an attitude no doubt fostered by a culture of exceptionalism. Nevertheless, entrusting a free way of life to guns-for-hire enables adventurist presidents like George W. Bush to endanger the country at will without genuine fear of domestic blowback. The military draws for support on regional cultures, perhaps especially in the south, that thrive on war and the warrior ethos. They tend to support overwhelmingly the very party and policies that place them in harm’s way and exact such staggering tolls on them and their families. It’s a tangled web of narcissism, masochism, and sadism, which I cannot explore here.
The imperial adventures they authorize, whether deposing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq or fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, do not involve American safety, security, or liberty, widespread legitimizing rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding. To keep American forces deployed worldwide for longer and pointless engagements, the country keeps throwing an increasing number of benefits in their direction, both material and symbolic. Mercenaries must be compensated.

Meanwhile, Occupy Wall Street participants offer and risk their lives in the name of democracy. They do so not only without prior promise of remuneration from an obliging state but also with a reasonable expectation of downright indifference from a highly depoliticized country. Such indifference enables, even encourages police forces from coast to coast to abuse and assault fellow citizens with a sense of impunity.

Mayors from New York to California invoke concerns for public hygiene and equal access to public space to justify their militarized responses to democracy in action. New York’s mayor, learning from a previous public relations disaster, planned, in secret, a late night raid on Zuccotti Park to clear Occupy Wall Street activists. Bloomberg’s late night pincer movement resembled the totalitarian tactics of the secret police in the Soviet Union depicted so brilliantly by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. It’s not that the thuggish behavior of American mayors, high-ranking campus officials, and their police auxiliaries doesn’t provoke outrage: witness the effective response to the UC-Davis Chancellor, the suspension of the Davis Police Chief, and the Berkeley Academic Senate’s vote of no confidence scheduled for Monday, November 28 against that school’s chancellor for police violence against students of Occupy Cal.
Still, the outrage tends to be unduly confined to the already like-minded. It does not produce widespread disgust followed by real political consequences. We are not (yet) Egypt. Bloomberg’s career should have ended with this vicious middle-of-the-night assault on citizens. Of course, it should also have ended following the 2004 GOP Convention in New York where similar police state tactics were implemented against citizens enacting democracy as George Bush waged his personal war of choice in Iraq, but as the recent GOP debate in Washington suggests, no politician will pay a price for sacrificing civil and political liberties in the name of security. Why is it that most Americans tolerate, even cheer, police violence against citizens? Is it that identification with gratuitous displays of state power allows them to imagine that they themselves also possess agency in a world that routinely and rudely reminds them they are impotent?
Occupy Wall Street protestor & USMC Sgt. Shamar Thomas shares his views on police repression with NYPD officers (full video here).
Back to patriotism and economics: You would think the Occupy Wall Street movement might generate a jobs bill to assist the unemployed millions who are entitled to as much consideration as war veterans. No, they are entitled to greater consideration, for these activists actually contribute to democracy by bringing it to life. They do not spread death across the globe in the name of freedom or nation-building. The students who were brutalized at UC-Davis need no lessons in courage from camouflaged warriors who won’t hesitate to go into battle as long as thousands of others are willing to do likewise, as William James famously claimed. (This is one reason James scorned traditional war memorials.) If heroes should be employed, start with the courageous citizens who risk life and limb and occupy space in America’s major cities on behalf of the 99%. A major jobs bill might even stave off the economic collapse that looms on the horizon, thanks in part to European recklessness and intransigence. Such collapse would likely be accompanied by widespread state coercion singling out the usual political suspects for blame, applauded by a majority always in need of scapegoats. Think of it as Sinclair Lewis’s nightmare come true.

Overcoming Shame: The Rhythm and Resonance of Occupation

John Protevi
Louisiana State Univeristy

Deleuze and Guattari say in A Thousand Plateaus: "Ideology is a most execrable concept concealing all of the effectively operating social machines." I take that to mean that we have to thematize political affect to understand "effectively operating social machines." From this perspective, the real "German Ideology" is that ideas are where it's at, rather than affect. It's political affect that "makes men fight for their servitude as stubbornly as though it were their salvation."
Why won't "ideology" cut it? It doesn't work because it conceives of the problem in terms of "false consciousness," where that means "wrong ideas," and where "ideas" are individual and personal mental states whose semantic content has an existential posit as its core, with emotional content founded on that core, so that the same object could receive different emotional content if you were in a different mood. (There are lots of ways of thinking about cognition and emotion, without even bringing in the relations of this "analytic" vocabulary with that of the Husserlian noesis/noema scheme. Still, I hope this will suffice just to get some traction on the problem.)
Thus to take up the great poster, "Shit is fucked up and bullshit," the core act posits the existence of shit, and then we express our emotional state by predicating "fucked up and bullshit" of it, whereas we could have predicated "great and wonderful" if we were in a different mood. 
But that is "execrable" for Deleuze and Guattari, because it's far too cognitivist and subjectivist.
It's too cognitivist because it founds emotion on a core existence-positing act, and too subjectivist by taking emotion to be an "expression," something individual that is pushed outward, something centrifugal. For them, emotion is centripetal rather than centrifugal, or even better, emotion is for them the subjectivation, the crystallization, of affect. Now DG do have a corporeal / Spinozist notion of affect involved with the encounter of bodies, but they also have what we could call a "milieu," or "environmental" sense of affect. Here affect is "in the air," something like the mood of a party, which is not the mere aggregate of the subjective states of the party-goers. In this sense, affect is not emergent from pre-existing subjectivities; emotional subjectivities are crystallizations or residues of a collective affect.
To take a concrete example: what counts in the effective social machine demonizing welfare in the USA is the shame attached to receiving public aid without contributing to society with your tax dollars. It's shameful to have lost your job or your home; you're stupid, a loser to have been in a position to lose it, and you're a lazy, stupid loser if you haven't found another one, or if you never had one in the first place. You arrive at this American shame by aggregating individualized, subjectivized, packets of shame; you get shamed subjects as crystallization of the collective affect of shame in the American air.
And so you don't combat this shame by trying to change individual people's ideas, one by one, with information about unemployment trends; you combat it by showing your face, by embodying your lack of shame, by putting a face on unemployment or homelessness. You thus counteract the existing collective affect by creating a positive affect of, shall we say, joyful solidarity. Shame isolates (you hide your face); joyful solidarity comes from people coming together. It's joy released from the bondage of shame, to follow up on the Spinozist references.
Oakland Occupation Re-takes Snow Park, Holds Vote, Approves General Strike, Forces Mayor Kwan and Oakland PD to Back Down, Blares Michael Jackson's Thriller.
What's especially heartbreaking, then, about the We Are The 99% Tumblr site, is that so many people still have some shame, as they only peak out from behind their messages. Hence the importance of the Occupy meetings; shared physical presence, showing your whole face: these create the positive affect, the shamelessly joyful solidarity needed to overcome shame fully.*
Fighting the residual shame, the half-faces of private pictures sent to a website: that's what makes the collective occupation of space so important: bodies together, faces revealed, joyously.
This is a simple, powerful talk by Judith Butler at OWS, calling upon the classic "very well then, we demand the impossible" trope, and ending with the wonderful line, "we're standing here together, making democracy, enacting the phrase, 'We the People'."
And here's the text of a longer talk by Butler in Venice about constituting political space while acknowledging the material precarity of bodies, developed alongside a critical analysis of Arendt's notion of a political "space of appearance." The overall aim is set forth here, I believe:
a different social ontology would have to start from the presumption that there is a shared condition of precarity that situates our political lives.
A brief excerpt from the beginning of the talk sets out some of the main lines of thought: 
assembly and speech reconfigure the materiality of public space, and produce, or reproduce, the public character of that material environment. And when crowds move outside the square, to the side street or the back alley, to the neighborhoods where streets are not yet paved, then something more happens. At such a moment, politics is no longer defined as the exclusive business of public sphere distinct from a private one, but it crosses that line again and again, bringing attention to the way that politics is already in the home, or on the street, or in the neighborhood, or indeed in those virtual spaces that are unbound by the architecture of the public square....
But in the case of public assemblies, we see quite clearly not only that there is a struggle over what will be public space, but a struggle as well over those basic ways in which we are, as bodies, supported in the world – a struggle against disenfranchisement, effacement, and abandonment.
Oakland Occupiers Trying to Help a Fellow Activist in a Wheelchair Escape the Tear Gas While the Oakland PD Fires Rubber Bullets and Lobs Flash Grenades in the Name of 'Breaking Up a Fire Hazard.'
I'd like to add something here about the way the human microphone works, quite literally, to amplify the constitution of political space by assembled bodies. The human microphone offers an entry into examining political affect in the enacting of the phrase "We the People" at OWS. It shows us how direct democracy is enacted by producing an intermodal resonance among the semantic, pragmatic, and affective dimensions of collective action.
For some time now I've been fascinated by William McNeill's Keeping Together in Time: Dance and Drill in Human History (Harvard, 1995). McNeill studies the political affect dimension of entrainment by collective bodily movement as in communal dance and military drill. J Scott Kelso has all sorts of small scale examples of entrainment, analyzed using dynamic systems modeling. A famous macro example is the Millenium Bridge episode. Colwyn Trevarthen has studied mother-infant inter-corporeal rhythms in terms of "primary intersubjectivity." I put a lot of this research together in an essay in Theory & Event.
The upshot of this research is that humans fall into collective rhythms easily and that such collective rhythms produce an affective experience, a feeling of being together, an eros or ecstasis if you want to use classical terms, the characteristic joy of being together felt in collective action.
So I wonder if the human microphone, an invention of the OWS assembly when NYC banned electric bullhorns, doesn't contribute a little to the joful collective affect of OWS. (Needless to say, the prospect that the human microphone might aid in the production of such collective joy frightens the right-wing commenters.) It's not quite a choir, but it's a chorus, and so the bodies of the chanters (their chests, guts, throats, eardrums) would be vibrating at something close to the same frequency, something close to being in phase. 
Now I'm not a reductionist; the semantic cannot be reduced to the corporeal; the message isn't dissolved into the medium. What interests me is how in the human microphone the message (enact the phrase "We the People") is resonant with and amplified by the medium (collective rhythm). In her Venice talk Butler analyzes the Tahrir Square chant translated as "peacefully, peacefully" in these terms: 
Secondly, when up against violent attack or extreme threats, many people chanted the word "silmiyya" which comes from the root verb (salima) which means to be safe and sound, unharmed, unimpaired, intact, safe, and secure; but also, to be unobjectionable, blameless, faultless; and yet also, to be certain, established, clearly proven[1]. The term comes from the noun "silm" which means "peace" but also, interchangeably and significantly, "the religion of Islam." One variant of the term is “Hubb as-silm” which is Arabic for "pacifism." Most usually, the chanting of “Silmiyya” comes across as a gentle exhortation: “peaceful, peaceful.” Although the revolution was for the most part non-violent, it was not necessarily led by a principled opposition to violence. Rather, the collective chant was a way of encouraging people to resist the mimetic pull of military aggression – and the aggression of the gangs – by keeping in mind the larger goal – radical democratic change. To be swept into a violent exchange of the moment was to lose the patience needed to realize the revolution. What interests me here is the chant, the way in which language worked not to incite an action, but to restrain one. A restraint in the name of an emerging community of equals whose primary way of doing politics would not be violence.
This is an insightful, eloquent analysis of the pragmatics and semantics of the chant. So it's not to undercut it that I call attention to the material dimension of the resonating bodies that accompany the semantic content and pragmatic implications of this chant. It's to point to the way in which an analysis of material rhythms reveals the political affect of joyous collectivity, and the inter-modal (semantic, pragmatic, affective) resonance such chanting produces.
So I'm going to propose that a full enactment of direct democracy means producing a body politic whose semantic ("we are the people, we are equal, free, and deserving of respect in our precarity and solidarity"), pragmatic (the act of respecting and supporting each other the assembly performs), and affective (the joy felt in collective action) registers resonate in spiraling, intermodal feedback.

Reinventing the dead: United 93

Steven Johnston
University of South Florida

September 11, 2011 marked the tenth anniversary of what has come to be known, both nationally and internationally, as 9/11. Lest anyone forget (not that this was possible, of course, in the United States), we were inundated with reminders in the months, weeks, and days leading up to the commemorative ceremonies that took place in New York City, Arlington, Virginia, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. As with prior anniversaries, the proceedings unfolded as if they had not been elaborately planned and choreographed.

This year Shanksville seemed to receive greater attention than it has in years past. Perhaps this was due to the significant progress made on the national memorial at the crash site. Perhaps it was due to the dominant patriotic narrative that has emerged surrounding United 93. Regardless, former Presidents Bill Clinton (video) and George W. Bush (video) delivered solemn yet stirring remarks to honor and salute the murdered passengers. The story they told: Like the first responders in New York, it was suggested, the passengers of United 93 took decisive action under extraordinary circumstances. Insofar as al Qaeda’s coordinated attacks on the United States amounted to a declaration of war, the passengers on United 93 staged an insurrection and converted a revolt into the first counterattack in the global war on terrorism. Though it cost them their lives, they were successful. The passengers of United 93, who morphed from hijack victims to citizens to patriots in the course of this flight, saved countless lives through their selfless actions. Their example endures as an inspiration to the rest of us, who must find a way to match their heroic service. The romance of this narrative is undeniable. It could even be argued that within its frame, the story has a happy ending: evil defeated, good triumphant and confirmed

The 9/11 Commission Report is the source for this patriotic legend. That it contains fictional elements will surprise no one. Did the passengers of United 93 actually save lives? Though treated as certainty, the evidence is ambiguous and inconclusive. There were fighters in the Washington area that might have shot it down or crashed into it kamikaze-styleMany want to deny this possibility because it seems to detract from the actions of the passengers of United 93. Either way, the hijackers apparently remained in control of the plane until it crashed and the cockpit recording suggests that they crashed it to prevent the passengers from assuming control. This was the hijackers’ backup plan. If the primary target (most likely the United States Capitol) could not be reached, the plane was to be crashed, which would still be counted a success. In short, the hijackers may have failed to reach their initial intended target, but they did not fail, not according to the terms they set for themselves.

From The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation
The dominant narrative that shapes the fate of United 93 disallows precisely such an account. The story that we (must) tell ourselves cannot countenance anything other than American agency in control of events, to say nothing of an American victory. The story of United 93 is thus a struggle over the terms of death. Murder must be made politically meaningful and the extraordinary actions of ordinary people lend themselves to creative recovery. They had to die and die willingly, for that is how they proved themselves (and the country) to be exceptional—ordinary no more but patriots for the ages. What does it mean, however, for the official narrative to claim that the passengers of United 93 sacrificed themselves to save others when they were going to die already and knew it? This is not a question to be asked, at least not on a patriotic memorial occasion. That’s not why the country was “celebrating” 9/11, to quote Rudy Giuliani.

Paul Greengrass’s United 93 (see the trailer here) might constitute a more fitting memorial to the passengers of United 93 precisely because it is not a patriotic rendering of events. The passengers, unnamed in the film, took action after they learned or realized three things: the World Trade Center had been attacked; the pilot and co-pilot were either seriously injured or dead, but certainly not flying the plane; and the plane had descended to such a low altitude that the hijackers had no intention of landing it. At this point, the passengers knew they had to act or die. In their midst was a trained pilot who, with assistance, might have been able to land the plane if the passengers could gain control of it (and ignoring for the moment the presence of fighter planes that might have downed it). Just minutes before United 93 crashed, the cockpit voice recorder registered the following words from one of the passengers: “In the cockpit. If we don’t, we’ll die.” In other words, the passengers of United 93 acted in the name of life—their lives, the lives of their loved ones, with whom many of the passengers were speaking during the last moments of the flight. They did not act for the country, but out of a spirit of resistance that characterizes life itself. This makes them no less remarkable or admirable; if anything it renders them more human. Why do we need to convert them into something other and supposedly greater than what they were? Doesn’t the country’s commitment to death (to killing and dying for it) normalize righteous anger, hate, enmity, and a false sense of innocence and exceptionalism? Doesn’t the country’s easy embrace of a horror story, in which sacrifice of life for country trumps the value of life itself, reflect and further an affective political orientation that resonates with the possible advent of fascism, a prospect recently explored by Bill Connolly? People should beware the kind of commemoration also known as the making of patriots.

Marxism as Spiritual Bypassing

Timothy Morton
  U.C. Davis

Having read the transcript of Žižek's talk at OWS several times, and having listened to it (stirring in the main), I think I discern the outlines of how he will, if true to form, eventually wash his hands of the affair. 
Just as the protesters in the UK recently were at some point accused of not being well organized enough, so will the OWS protesters fall afoul of a critique from Žižek. But who critiques the critiquer?
I think I can discern the form of Žižek's critique: it will be an accusation of narcissism. The seeds have already been planted:
There is a danger. Don’t fall in love with yourselves. We have a nice time here. But remember: carnivals come cheap. What matters is the day after. When we will have to return to normal life. Will there be any changes then...
Now before I talk about narcissism per se I want to talk about the accusation of narcissism, which I find identical to a certain Buddhist critique of a certain pathologized version of spirituality called “Western Buddhism”—now not only by Žižek, but also by many others. So it's a relevant detour.
The accusation is often made from the standpoint that seems to be “above” or “beyond” “mere” immersion in affect, which is judged beforehand as bad. Narcissism is said to be bad self-reflection, like a self-swallowing snake (Hegel's phobic image of the Buddhist meditator, ironically lifted from Hinduism).
What if we were to turn the tables a little here and do a Hegelian reading of the subject position from which the accusation is staged?
   In order to do this, I want to take another detour through a phenomenon well known to people who change their religion, for instance Christians who become Buddhists. The Buddhists who are psychotherapists or are in some kind of therapy are often accused of not being proper Buddhists. Since the self is an illusion, why care for it?
Well the technical answer is, that you make the accusation itself from the very point of view of a “self,” even though you say there is no self. This is similar to the eliminativist materialist position (which also uses Buddhism, viz. Metzinger). The assertion that there is no self is made by something that for all intents and purposes walks and quacks like a self. Metzinger would be annoyed if I pointed this out? I rest my case.
“Wherever you go, there you are” (Buckaroo Banzai, Husserlian philosopher of the 1980s).
Moreover it is the non-therapy Buddhists who are making a mistake. They are doing what is known as spiritual bypassing. This is when you have a lot of pain, and you just try to yank yourself out of it into some transcendental sphere, and think you've become a proper Buddhist. But eventually you have a lot of problems in your life, that are not solved by your self-yanking. So you may become disillusioned.
Becoming a Buddha definitely means transcending the human. But to know how to do that, you have to be a human first. My teacher Tsoknyi Rinpoche talks about the importance of attaining a “healthy human being level” before you jump. So while he pokes fun at what he calls the “California practitioner,” who has figured out how to have a good time as a human, it seems necessary that we pass through a Californian stage in the dialectic.
The accusation of narcissistic pleasure seeking comes from a place of wounded narcissism. The false jump into Buddhism seeks to skip the painful step of facing that wound.
Which brings me back to Žižek's accusation of narcissism. Is it perhaps the case that a certain kind of Marxist is guilty of doing exactly what the fundamentalist Buddhist is doing—jumping over a necessary dialectical step?
Might this be because in essence there is nothing wrong with narcissism? If I had a dollar for every time a narcissistically wounded person accused someone else of narcissism …
   Narcissism is just an ego-syntonic feedback to yourself. If this feedback gets disrupted or wounded, you can easily develop syndromes such as borderline personality disorder, psychopathic personality disorder, or yes, indeed, narcissistic personality disorder. There is a difference between a personality disorder and mere narcissism.
The Tibetan for narcissism is champa: it just means kindness and it starts with yourself. Monks are taught to give a ball to themselves by passing it from one hand to the other. Eventually they are ready to die for the other. Take it away Jacques Derrida:
There is not narcissism and non-narcissism. There are narcissisms that are more or less comprehensive, generous, open, extended. What is called non-narcissism is in general but the economy of a much more welcoming and hospitable narcissism. One that is much more open to the experience of the Other as Other. I believe that without a movement of narcissistic reappropriation, the relation to the Other would be absolutely destroyed, it would be destroyed in advance. The relation to the Other, even if it remains asymmetrical, open, without possible reappropriation, must trace a movement of reappropriation in the image of one's self for love to be possible. Love is narcissistic...
In a larger view, is this one significant reason why revolutions often fail—why they can devolve into endless cycles of recrimination and pathologization?
So let's cut the carnival some slack.