Zizek’s Like a Thief in Broad Daylight
I am writing this summary of the introduction to Zizek’s Like a Thief in Broad Daylight with the goal that I bring more people into Zizek’s sphere of thought. If you’re interested I highly recommend it (it’s one of his least systematic works, being both easy and quick to read) .
First the Bad News, Then the Good News… Which May Be Even Worse
Zizek begins with a popular idea from Badiou, “from Socrates onwards, the function of philosophy is to corrupt the youth, to alienate (or, rather, ‘extraneate’ in the sense of Brecht’s verfremden) them from the predominant ideologico-political order, to sow radical doubts and enable them to think autonomously” (1).
Despite philosophy’s claim to remove underlying presuppositions, reveal that which might even seem ‘crazy’, science has been doing this at a much faster rate than philosophy can. Thus, following Badiou, the goal of philosophy now is “to make the young perceive the dangers of the growing nihilist order that presents itself as the domain of new freedoms”. This modern idea of nihilism which has been flowing through social media (most evidently) — which really is just “cynical opportunism accompanied by permanent anxiety”— disguises itself as that which liberates, it purports to free you from past bondage, “we are free to constantly re-invent our sexual identities, to change not only our job or our professional trajectory but even our innermost subjective feature like our sexual orientation” (4).
Although there is, of course, an issue with this thinking in that it is already inscribed in the very existing system we are living in already, “and also by the way consumerist freedom effectively functions: the possibility to choose and consume imperceptibly turns into superego obligation to choose.” These nihilist ‘freedoms’ only function through permanent acceleration, “the moment it slows down, we become aware of the meaninglessness of the entire movement.” The supposed freedoms this nihilistic consumerism prescribes has a two fold manner that is accelerated by modern social media (though we must remember the problem is the form, not the content, the problem does not lie in social media as many people claim), and is reflected in the young who, on the one hand, enjoy the consumerist society i.e. engaging in casual sex, vaping, drugs, alcohol, and so on… however, on the other hand, in a productivist manner, are pushed to earn a ton of money, make a career for themselves, become famous, basically the usual shit you see those ‘sigma grind set’ accounts post, furthering our burn-out societies issues (burn-out societies being inevitable in liberalism). Thus, as Zizek points out, under nihilistic consumerism “permanent transgression becomes the norm”; a meaningless pseudo-transgression is now normalized, inscribed into the superego.
A popular sort of movement seems to be emerging out of this with the worse ‘religious fundamentalism’, which is most clearly seen with Jordan Peterson, however, one might even say that there can be parallels with TikTokers such as “Kai Clips”, etc… (Keeping in mind that these ‘traditions’ which they advocate for are purely invented and artificial.) Zizek here uses an event that recently happened in his life to show a predicament religious fundamentalism is in, in relation to nihilistic consumerist society,
“In a hotel in Skopje, Macedonia, where I recently stayed, my companion enquired whether smoking was permitted in our room, and the answer she got from the receptionist was priceless: ‘Of course not, it is prohibited by the law. But you have ashtrays in the room, so this is not a problem.’ The contradiction between prohibition and permission was openly assumed and thereby cancelled, treated as non-existent: the message was, “It’s prohibited, and here is how you do it.’ This incident perhaps provides the best metaphor for our ideological predicament today.
Thus, reinstating this point of a pseudo-transgression immanent in society, it’s almost as if we are meant to transgress (5).
We also see another sort of contradiction — despite this idea of being self-determining subjects of absolute freedom — do we not see these very same subjects “ground the authority of their speech on [their] status as a victim of circumstances beyond [their] control” (7)? This is a universalized logic today that, I think, we can see most clearly with masking today! For example, on the one hand you as an individual are blamed if you don’t wear a mask, however, at the same time, the system is paradoxically the one at fault. “In today’s predominant form of individuality, the self-centered assertion of the psychological subject paradoxically overlaps with the perception of oneself as a victim of circumstances.” A problem Zizek sees in this liberal ideology regarding freedom is, it can, in its very inverse, silently become the freedom to express victim hood. Thus creating a passivity against radical political change.
From here the question arises, what are the actions we must take to create radical political change? It will not be through leftist pseudo-accelerationism that we achieve anything meaningful, Deleuze and Guattari seemed to know this very well, “capitalism confronts its own limits and simultaneously displaces them.” And it will also not be through a triumphant win such as the October Revolution. “On a closer look… we see that the change is already happening in broad daylight: capitalism is openly disintegrating and changing into something else. We do not perceive this ongoing transformation because of our deep immersion in ideology” (8).
“The same holds for psychoanalytic treatment, where resolution also comes ‘as a thief in broad daylight’, as an unexpected byproduct, never as the achievement of a posited goal. This is why psychoanalytic practice is something that is possible only because of its own impossibility — a statement which many would instantly proclaim a typical piece of postmodernist jargon. However, did Freud himself not point in this direction when he wrote that the ideal conditions for psychoanalytical treatment would be those in which psychoanalysis is no longer needed? This is the reason why Freud listed the practice of psychoanalysis among the impossible professions. After psychoanalytic treatment begins, the patient resists it by (among other ways) deploying transferences, and the treatment progresses through the analysis of transference and other forms of resistance. There can be no direct, ‘smooth’ treatment: in a treatment, we immediately stumble upon obstacles by way of working through these obstacles.
Isn’t radical emancipation in the exact same predicament?
“Revolutions are only possible against the background of their own impossibility: the existing global-capitalist order can immediately counter all attempts to subvert it, and anti-capitalist struggle can only be effective if it deals with these countermeasures, if it turns into its weapon the very instruments of its defeat.
One must realize there will never be a perfect time for radical emancipation, “one has to take the risk and intervene, even if reaching the goal appears (and is, in some sense) impossible — only by doing this can one change the situation so that the impossible becomes possible, in a way that can never be predicted” (9). Here I think a quote from Zizek’s The Day After the Revolution is perfect,
“With Lenin, as with Lacan, the revolution ne s’autorise que d’elle-même: we must assume the revolutionary act as not being covered by the big Other — the fear of taking power ‘prematurely’, the search for the guarantee, is the fear of the abyss of the act. Therein lies the ultimate dimension of what Lenin incessantly denounces as ‘opportunism’, and his wager is that ‘opportunism’ is a position which is inherently false, masking the fear of accomplishing the act with a protective screen of ‘objective’ facts, laws or norms (XXII).
Here, I claim, we must put down this defeatism that is often seen on the political side of TikTok, of which we find pretentious “oh look at me, the revolution is impossible, communists are dumb, guys, I’m so smart” . Here, remembering Marx must be done to an even greater extent, the notion of Communism as a “stateless, moneyless, classless society” is idiotic, nor can it be thought of as an “ethico-political axiom”. Communism, as Marx said himself in The German Ideology, “is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence” (GE, 56–57). Communism arises in reaction to Geist , and the deadlocks that are created by it (11). “For Hegel, ‘idea’ is a concept which is not a mere Ought (Sollen) but also contains the power of it actualization” (12). The task of the Left is not just to propose a new order, but also to change the prospect of what appears possible.” For instance, let us look at the Soviets… was it not that, at the time, all the economists were stating how quickly the country would collapse? Claiming it could not last more than 10 years, at the most (14)?
 The numbers in parenthesis are the page numbers to the book so you can see what I am talking about for yourself. The page numbers of what I am referencing is shown when I am done with the page (i.e. I might write 4 paragraphs without any reference to page numbers, however, once I write a page number down the prior 4 paragraphs without page numbers are all references to that given page number, I am doing this so as to clutter the least possible amount).
 I didn’t want to do that many huge quotes in a row, however, I think the following is beneficial so I thought I’d just put it in the notes, “Although it may appear that we are hopelessly at the mercy of media manipulation, miracles can happen, the fake universe of manipulation can all of a sudden crumble and undo itself. In the campaign that preceded the 2017 UK General Election, Jeremy Corbyn was the target of a well-planned character assassination by the conservative media, which portrayed him as undecided, incompetent, non-electable, and so on. So how did he emerge so well out of it? It is not enough to say that he successfully resisted the smears with his display of simple honesty, decency, and concern for the worries of ordinary people. He did well precisely because of the attempted character assassination: without it he would probably remain a slightly boring and uncharismatic leader lacking a clear vision, merely a representative of the old Labour party. It was in his reaction to the ruthless campaign against him that his ordinariness emerged as a positive assert, as something that attracted voters disgusted by the vulgar attacks on him, and this shift was unpredictable: it was impossible to determine in advance how the negative campaign would work.”
 This explanation was grabbed from my Love as Being and the Law of Preservation article, this of which you can find on my medium, “Referring to how Kain puts it, ‘[Idea is] aims, aspirations, values, role, significance, and meaning to itself’ (Hegel and Right, 2). As for Spirit, through [Idea’s] activity in the world, [Idea will be embodied in] laws, practices, customs, institutions, ethical life, art, culture, philosophy, religion, and so forth. In this way the Idea becomes objectified, concretized, institutionalized. It is no longer a mere idea, but a reality. Spirit is this very reality. As this concretized idea is recognized by its people, it will animate their will, passion, activity, and drive (Hegel and Right, 2). Spirit is self-containing. Nothing is higher. The Absolute is nothing but the dialectical unfolding of Spirit, to produce a greater Right (Hegel and Right, 3).”