okay, how about a local example: all the critical responses to hanson and One Nation i read (and i read a lot), both journalism and analyses, set out to show that that what hanson was saying was premised on factual errors. as a constant, a distinction was drawn between rationality (which the critics were representatives of) and emotion (hanson and her supporters); science and politics; etc. now, we can note that this was a particularly inneffective way of convincing people 'we' weren't about to be "swamped by asians" (since that theme has been picked up of late by those who positioned themselves as the reasonable ones viz hansonism); but we should also note a couple of other things: a) that the distinction between rationality and emotion in this case was also an emotional one on the part of the ostensible anti-hansonites (that is to say, a political, rhetorical or propagandistic point), but more importantly perhaps, b) that not once did anyone bother to question the presumptions at work which both the supposedly more rational and the apparently more emotional shared. eg: hanson would cite figures of demographic projections if current immigration levels were sustained, something like 'australia will be 70% asian by 2050' or somesuch. her critics would retort that this was based on false projections, and it would more likely be 30%, or somesuch. but no one dared to suggest or even ask: 'if the background of most people in australia is going to be 70% asian by 2050, then so what?' similar wranglings occured on data relating to numbers of asian migrants already here, numbers of overall migrants, the effects of migration on unemployment (the 'they're taking our jobs' theme), and so on. ie., both those who opposed hansonism in these terms and hanson already shared a view of the world as peopled by ethnicities and/or races, that non-anglo ethnicities/races were not 'us', and that they posed a threat or at least a difference to 'our way of life'. in short, no one really challenged the racism because racism was only supposed to consist of claims of superiority/inferiority. hanson was quite right to respond, in these terms, that she had never been racist, since not once did she claim that 'others' were inferior, merely (!) that 'they' were different from 'us' -- and her rationalist critics already agreed with this.
but as to your specific questions:
> Why is this so bad a claim? Social change happens all the time, and I'da
> thought the best change is most possible where the changer/changee does
> continue to harbour logically untenable bigotries. And where's the value
> in presuming the inapplicability of rationality, anyway?
yes, social change happens all the time; but i don't assume that it will only happen out of rational reasons; i wouldn't denigrate emotions as somehow the place where only bad things happen viz rationality. as for bigotry: it can be peddled equally well in rationality as in emotions; and the charge that only those who were not rational (in the debates re hansonism) would beleive hanson turns out to be not only inneffective as a strategy, but it also presumes (as does for instance the stuff we're hearing about the referendum result) that the distinction between rational and emotional is a class difference. i don't presume the innaplicability of rationality, but i do assume that its use in debates is not always a rational thing. all i heard over and over again, in both the debates over hansonism as well as the referendum, were that the hansonites and the 'no' voters were stupid, emotional, blah blah. all that did was cement people's attachments (since it was pretty easy to show that those doing the accusing were doing so pretty emotionally) and make those doing the accusing feel intellectually superior.
> Exactly what is it about or in the world that makes it irrational here -
> such that the beliefs of those in it are its product, ie. something
umm.. capital is irrational but this doesn't make it any less real, and nor does it make it any less real if we acknowledge its irrationality. we still have to abide by it in ways that shape what we do every day. this has consequences, unless you want to seal off what you think (or how) from how you and i live.
> Well, I guess an irrational belief is as good as any other at cohering
> people and keeping internal antagonism down. But the price of that is
> coherence and more antagonism viz those against whom we identify our
> selves/binding ties .
> So if there's a rational pointer to coherence and
> peace, based on recognising society's internal mode of organisation as
> problem and its ensuing transcendance (that is, if it were consciously
> removed by people who were rational in this sense) as the answer, we'd be
> irrational not to desire it, I reckon. Yep, even in the language of
> desire, it makes sense, no? It's an enjoyable fantasy already, and it
> surely could be an enjoyable actuality (certainly, I don't see why it
> be less enjoyable than my nationality [I've had a few, and they're much
> a muchness, really - and there are ever more like me in this age of mass
i don't disagree.
> I realise I'm a bit of a simpleton at this stuff, but I just can't get my
> aching head around the thought (even the possibility) of a politics based
> on everything always already being irrational. I'm not sure I know what
> means, for a start (but then how do you explain an irrational universe
> within it, eh?). And I have no idea what 'progressive' would mean in its
> context. Nor why socialism might be a 'good' thing in it. Or doable for
> that matter.
why would it be a problem to say that socialism is also about desire? would that make it less acceptable?
> I've not read this bloke, and I don't say there's not a good reason to
> a look at him, but I'd need to know why you reckon this particular bit is
> so especially useful, Ange. I can't make hide nor hair out of it.
well, i first read bits of zizek when i was doing some stuff on ideology, a fairly academic exercise. i was impressed, but not excited (the stuff on film, as a crude pedagogical illustration, was kinda interesting though in a detached way). i read his stuff again in the context of writing some stuff on One Nation, and here i was excited by it (though perhaps alongside balibar from whom zizek takes quite a bit). it gave me a way of entering into a debate which was reduced almost entirely constricted into a debate between respectable and crude versions of racism, ie, a debate which wasn't really about whether or not hanson was right, but about who 'we' was and should be represented by and as. it also (alongside balibar again) gave me a way of thinking about the emergence of 'multicultural racism', of the ways in which certain presumed anti-racist politics (or policy) is often a way of asserting the ideological validity of racism...
in short, subject formation; and since i take it part of our task is to move from proletariat to class, then that interests me a lot.
> to suggest that zizek, though, has somehow escaped the desire
> for progress, reason, freedom --those enlightenment ideals-- hardly seems
i don't think this is what i suggested at all. i recall suggesting quite the opposite in fact not so long ago: that zizek, as well as lacan, were devout enlightenment rationalists, ie., that the irrational, from a psychoanalytic perspective, is amenable to rational analysis. i think they'd both agree, contrary to what is generally imputed to them. i just think they don't erect a wall between rationality and irrationality (or rather, reason and emotion), and would see the attempt to do so as itself a part of a desire to do so. so, i think they'd agree with you. it's not accurate to say that they have escaped enlightenment ideals and desires, and nor would they claim to have done so.