“Words are never ‘only words’; they matter because they define the contours of what we can do.”
― Slavoj Žižek
It’s quite commonplace to say that if one looks at the same thing from different perspectives ,one will get will be a different picture . It is as mundane to justify differences in the perception of an object by differentiating the point from which you perceive that object, the point from which you are the subject.
If I take a look at a memorial of the fallen German soldiers at Stalingrad from the perspective of one who lived the events , there is a good chance that I am going to have not only a different feeling as compared to the feeling of a young man who perceives it just by passing near that memorial in his spare time but probably my emotions are going to fully personalize the experience, making me the barred subject of a momentary understanding of a phenomenon.
The object we perceive is indeed conditional upon the viewing angle ,nothing is clearer.This phenomenon is known in physics and postmodern philosophy as a parallax .What is though more difficult to understand is the exact opposite of the phenomenon : is it truly possible two look at two different things from the exact same perspective and after some time to finally look back from the initial different angle and think for a moment that the two objects are one and the same?
If we are to look at the refugee crisis we are facing right now, the answer will appear clear:yes. And to understand why this is the case, we need to stop for a moment and analyze the exaggerated claims that have monopolized mass media in the last months with regards to this issue.The reality is that the answers we give when trying to solve a problem offer more details about us than about the problem we are trying to solve, the answers offer us a glimpse of the angles people are looking from.
IN OUR DELUSION WE TRUST
On one hand, we had the old school hardline conservatives that remained close to their natural state of anger and exclusion, the ones that based on a statistically unjustified feeling of angst (at least from the standpoint of historical statistics on the linkage between immigration, terrorism and other key elements of the equation) have created a public hysteria that reified itself and became the only Real element of the discursive structure.In turn , this has created a new dimension of dismay, exploited in the end by the same conservative voices that referred to current events as “things that we have already known”. I refer here to that attitude full of superiority of those people that when put face to face with the astonishing act of terror were not showing grief, but only telling
people “ We told you this would come”. The attitude they were taking was not that of individuals trying to make an objective analysis, but that of moralists trying to emphasize on their premonitory ideas.This form of performing on the public stage is theological in nature, based on a purely mystical belief in the Real of subjective Symbolic experiences.
Slavoj Žižek , a Slovenian philosopher and critic of contemporary society, explains this phenomenon of irrational massive panic that spreads itself by referring to a movie that is now a classic , Jaws by Steven Spielberg. Zizek explains why a simple action film about the danger of a shark captured the attention of so many people : people feel that there is always something deeper, even if there is no deep layer, so in that case they knew that the movie could not be merely about a shark, not a film with such a budget, so they associated the shark with different values which in their eyes could justify the grand cinematic effort . The shark could be the embodiment of a nuclear weapon , the threat of Communism, the Cold War, Russia , Cuba , whatever came to their mind, the most important was that they naturalized these fears in an animal , something that could not be controlled .
It’s an interesting conclusion that his interpretation of Jaws gives us . People are relieved when they can point to fears that are real and systemic and assign them to a natural factor , thus escaping accountability : if that something is really natural, it’s not our fault that they came here , nature is not our responsibility. Escaping
responsibility for our actions and denying our role , even if minimal, in the formation of an element of danger is an anthropological element worth noting.Thus, naturalization becomes a leitmotif of historical fears that can be evidenced in many societies with incredibly serious consequences .The oppressive bourgeois existing in the Soviet Union of Lenin , the depraved Jew in Nazi Germany , the incognito communist in 50s America;the structural problems of a society are transfigured in the form of a natural human type that can be put against the wall , saving us from the commitment of true responsibility.
I tend to think that it was the same with the current wave of refugees. Fear of Daesh and of the terrorists is normal, fear is necessary, but for people it has been much easier to deny their role in the crisis by transposing fear into a natural element: the man who flees war as a refugee. When we were able to find the man to adjust our need to blame, that man has not escaped this rhetoric. Here were created numerous assumptions: certain infiltrators and terrorists are certainly crafting a plan of Islamization and many other certainties rooted in the existence of those people as refugees. The big problem with such a view is that it will never be purely false. There will always be parts that are truthful, even if minor parts, whose truths will justify the expansion of this type of negative rhetoric, which reduces the complex motivations of refugeesas atomized elements of the human existence to a natural state of flesh and bone deprived of any place in the Moral Realm of the West.
HUMAN, ALL TO HUMAN….
But let us not stop there, because the extremes exist on the whole spectrum of thought.Beyond the reaction born out of fear, we also had the reaction born of a deep sense of shame and guilt. I refer in particular to the waves of people who blamed our inability to prevent, our inability to manage, our inability to solve. I do not at any point deny our problems in the fight against terrorism or the way in which various Western actions destabilized Middle East. But what I do want to do is to show that although this vision is one positive for the refugees, it is one which transforms the refugees into pawns of a game long lost by the Western countries that now have a duty bound not by human nature and our commonalities, but by guilt.
So far we have accused conservative groups, we talked about how transposition of fearis something fundamentally human, but also something inherently wrong, distorting reality. Now I will try to express a defining concept as practiced by the groups in antithesis, the liberal consensus whose sole contribution to settling this problem was to assume that we are primary culprits , without any anchorage in reality. The second type of transposition is the transposition of human beings into nothing else but entities at our mercy. Why these groups welcome so dearly refugees ( many among those who support open borders are in this category ) has nothing do with a cold analysis of the facts that they make and that in the end is showing the conclusion of dire necessity, not even because of a public policy that generated an instinctual empathy . It’s simply a form of mercy associated with our ability to decide what is really happening with their lives.The refugee becomes the archetype of our own salvation, the object that we, as proper powerful subject of the mighty West can use in order to achieve redemption for our past sins. We do not treat a human being as the human he is, but as a tool to achieve a desperate end of crushing Imperialism without denying imperialism as it really is, as a cause and not conclusion.
The reason for which people adhering to the liberal consensus want to help those in need is not because they have a need, but because we have a need to walk away without any shame, proud that they have contributed to the progress of society, proud that even though they did not contest the war in itself, they managed to save a person devastated by it. The interesting part is that those individuals have the strong belief thatthey possess the peculiar capacity of legitimizing actions because they are superior, because they are manipulating the strings of history into forgetting the bigger picture- this is the strange way in which refugees are helped, but the cause is never solved, and refugees will come only in larger numbers, while their sovereignty as humans is destroyed by those who think they can be the narrators of another person’s life.
If we were to analyze the speeches of the people I am talking about, they would be full of “I’s and less enthusiast of using any other pronoun. It is by this metric that the angle from which we see refugees is not anymore that of a human linked to us by perpetual suffering translated into empathy, but that of an instrument in convincing ourselves we are facing terrorism by the grace of our mercy.
THE LACANIAN TWIST
But to get back to the original , the opposite of a parallax . If I asked ten years ago the people ‘s opinion about refugees fleeing the war, it would have been quite consistent, quite homogeneous . Probably because most nations have been at one time a crisis that led to massive waves of refugees , but that does not matter , the fact is that we can say that the opinion of the masses would have been one not necessarily positive , but a neutral one . People would have understood the necessity and urgency of the moment, it would not have been dramatically exaggerated. People would not be questioning that among the many waves of refugees that fled the GDR many of them would be Stasi agents, even if there are theoretical probabilities. It would have been normal.
If I would have asked people about terrorism, the same kind of cohesive opinion would have appeared. People would have condemned it, scared ,naturally by some events inside their country or by events they heard of from a certain media outlet. But the reaction would have been normal and definitely not extreme.It would have been normal. What remains interesting is the paradigm of 2016, when the point of view of the two becomes mobile, when we look at a phenomenon through the other’s perspective, the year in which terrorism becomes visible due to the massive wave of refugees that it generates and refugees become visible because of terrorist attacks and the war on terror.
The views, the angles of looking at these terms are not static, we no longer perceive terrorism as terrorism and refugee as a refugee but comes to superimpose the two terms because of the volatility of perception.
Jacques Lacan , one of the most relevant modern psychoanalysts speaks of the concept called objet petit a, by describing the object of desire that remains purely unobtainable . For each term there is such an objet petit a which raises the need for any sort of understanding of that term , but tempers desire when we realize that we will never have a complete understanding of that phenomenon. It is the search of perfection in an object by searching for the invisible imperfection. It is the angle from which you can see the Form of the object you are looking at, the signifier of the truth a word can employ.
But when the two terms , two objects of desire overlap, not only do they overlap, but this happens also to their symbols. When terrorist overlaps refugee , our desires are revealed to be expressed by a single vision by which we perceive two different concepts. And we will never be able to see two symbols from one angle, but we will try
and during the process we will crush the symbol that we find to be useless.
This is the real problem of today. That we are faced with two different scenarios and with two different challenges but our extreme ways of perceiving reality has made the majority incapable of making a difference between what in the past would have been the difference of common sense.
The reversed parallax of 2016 is the impossible angle from which we believe we see one thing, but, in fact, we are always moving our perception through a plethora of different elements….