Utopia as Emergence Initiating a Truth. Thought of the Day 104.0

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It is true that, in our contemporary world, traditional utopian models have withered, but today a new utopia of canonical majority has taken over the space of any action transformative of current social relations. Instead of radicalness, conformity has become the main expression of solidarity for the subject abandoned to her consecrated individuality. Where past utopias inscribed a collective vision to be fulfilled for future generations, the present utopia confiscates the future of the individual, unless she registers in a collective, popularized expression of the norm that reaps culture, politics, morality, and the like. The ideological outcome of the canonical utopia is the belief that the majority constitutes a safety net for individuality. If the future of the individual is bleak, at least there is some hope in saving his/her present.

This condition reiterates Ernst Bloch’s distinction between anticipatory and compensatory utopia, with the latter gaining ground today (Ruth Levitas). By discarding the myth of a better future for all, the subject succumbs to the immobilizing myth of a safe present for herself (the ultimate transmutation of individuality to individualism). The world can surmount Difference, simply by taking away its painful radicalness, replacing it with a non-violent, pluralistic, and multi-cultural present, as Žižek harshly criticized it for its anti-rational status. In line with Badiou and Jameson, Žižek discerns behind the multitude of identities and lifestyles in our world the dominance of the One and the eradication of Difference (the void of antagonism). It would have been ideal, if pluralism were not translated to populism and the non-violent to a sanctimonious respect of Otherness.

Badiou also points to the nihilism that permeates modern ethicology that puts forward the “recognition of the other”, the respect of “differences”, and “multi-culturalism”. Such ethics is supposed to protect the subject from discriminatory behaviours on the basis of sex, race, culture, religion, and so on, as one must display “tolerance” towards others who maintain different thinking and behaviour patterns. For Badiou, this ethical discourse is far from effective and truthful, as is revealed by the competing axes it forges (e.g., opposition between “tolerance” and “fanaticism”, “recognition of the other” and “identitarian fixity”).

Badiou denounces the decomposed religiosity of current ethical discourse, in the face of the pharisaic advocates of the right to difference who are “clearly horrified by any vigorously sustained difference”. The pharisaism of this respect for difference lies in the fact that it suggests the acceptance of the other, in so far as s/he is a “good other”; in other words, in so far as s/he is the same as everyone else. Such an ethical attitude ironically affirms the hegemonic identity of those who opt for integration of the different other, which is to say, the other is requested to suppress his/her difference, so that he partakes in the “Western identity”.

Rather than equating being with the One, the law of being is the multiple “without one”, that is, every multiple being is a multiple of multiples, stretching alterity into infinity; alterity is simply “what there is” and our experience is “the infinite deployment of infinite differences”. Only the void can discontinue this multiplicity of being, through the event that “breaks” with the existing order and calls for a “new way of being”. Thus, a radical utopian gesture needs to emerge from the perspective of the event, initiating a truth process.

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