Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

“Under the illusion that the borders are disappearing, they are actually rapidly growing”

Interesting report over at Kosmopolito on a recent lecture by frequently controversial Slovenian lefty intellectual Slavoj Zizek. For followers of the post-Marxian philosopher, there’s probably not much new – but some of his ideas are well worth pondering at greater length, not least for those of us interested in the future of Europe. As Kosmopolito’s Tanchi notes Zizek as commenting,

“Under the illusion that the borders are disappearing, they are actually rapidly growing.”

These borders need not be the traditional lines on maps – they can be cultural as much as any kind of arbitrary physical boundary. Indeed, Zizek has much pondered the concept of multiculturalism, now gradually falling out of favour, as in this interview from back in August. Anti-multicultural right-wingers may be surprised at just how much they find themselves agreeing with this self-professed communist:

I think here we had enough of this multicultural ideology, which for me at least is often an inverted racism – namely for example when people come here – typically multiculturalists would say: “Oh I want to understand how you are different.” No… We need today codes of discretion, not more understanding. I think we should totally object to this liberal blackmail; we should understand each other – no the world is too complex we can not – I hate people, I don’t want to understand people. I want to have a certain code where I don’t understand your way of life and you don’t understand mine but we still can coexist.

Yet it’s not just a racial or national lack of understanding or rivalry that can be the problem – it can also be political. When the people become alienated from the political class, resentment can arise just as much (if not more so) than when fear or mistrust of “the other” leads to rising ethnic/cultural tensions. And it all stems from a lack of understanding on both sides – often coupled with a patronising tone from one or the other. The same tone that tells us that British National Party supporters join through resentment at lack of opportunity and personal failure is used to explain away the “No” votes to the European Constitution in France and the Netherlands (and subsequently the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland). As Zizek noted three years ago, after the French referendum,

The elite proposed to the people a choice that was effectively no choice at all. People were called to ratify the inevitable. Both the media and the political elite presented the choice as one between knowledge and ignorance, between expertise and ideology…

Patronise the people – even if they deserve it – and they will turn on you. Witness the recent kerfuffle in the UK on reality TV show Strictly Come Dancing, where the most useless contestant was repeatedly kept on by the public vote seemingly just to spite the expert judges.

Perhaps thanks to the weapons of mass destruction that never were, though the trend started long before that (Watergate, perhaps?) the world has become a more cynical, distrustful place – and politicians are among the least trusted of the lot. If a politician tells us that something is the case, we the people tend to believe the precise opposite. If a politician – sitting comfortably in their plush houses on their vast, taxpayer-funded salaries – tells us that they understand our concerns, our first reaction is to snort in derision.

And so the borders go up between the political elites and the people. Turnouts at elections drop year after year. More votes are cast for the winner of Big Brother than in general elections. Party membership tails off as even the most politically engaged lose faith and interest. Resentment grows along with populism, as politicians desperately try to re-engage with the public to the extent that Cabinet ministers feel the need to comment on The X Factor in parliament, or simply follow whatever mindless witch-hunt the tabloid press are up to this week.

If we’re alienated from our national politicians, what hope for those EU level politicians, about whom we know nothing?

And then, of course, there’s the psychological borders rising between the people themselves as opinions and resentments become entrenched and no amount of debate can change minds. Non-geographical borders along the purple America model, where resentment grows, and two ideologically wildly different nations live – literally – side by side in the same geographical territory.

Ignore the obvious race and religion based forms of multiculturalism – what happens when mutually-exclusive political cultures begin to arise within a democratic society?

But this post is already overlong and rambling, so perhaps that’s one for another day…