Thursday, 2 May 2019

Žižek Won, Peterson Lost

If you want to know why the rightist intellectuals are no match for the leftist intellectuals, you should watch the debate between Slavoj Žižek and Jordan Peterson. Žižek makes point after point for which Peterson has no answer. Peterson seems out of his depth throughout the discussion; he can’t get Marxism and postmodernism out of his head. He keeps making incorrect assertions about Marxism and postmodernism, while Žižek keeps correcting him.

Peterson opens with the debate with a monologue on Karl Marx—he confesses that he has very little knowledge of Marx because he read only one book by Marx The Communist Manifesto. But then he goes on to offer a cliched critique of Marxism. Why focus so much on Marxism when you have so little knowledge of the work that Marx has done?

Žižek, on the other hand, dwells on contemporary issues, issues that are of importance for people today and he comes out as a much stronger intellectual. On Donald Trump, Žižek makes this interesting point: “Does Donald Trump stand for traditional values? No. His conservatism is a postmodern performance—a gigantic ego trip. In this sense of playing with traditional values… Trump is the ultimate postmodern president. If we compare Trump with Bernie Sanders, Trump is the postmodern president at its purest while Sanders is a rather old fashioned moralist.”

When Peterson uses the term ‘postmodern neo-Marxism,’ Žižek responds that he understands what Peterson refers to when he uses this term. But he points out that this term is incorrect because the true Marxists focus on political economy, while postmodern thinkers and identity politics people focus on culture—they are not Marxists.

I think Žižek is right, the term ‘postmodern neo-Marxism’ makes no sense. I have no idea from where Peterson got the idea that the postmoderns are neo-Marxists. Žižek notes that the postmodern thinker Michel Foucault was not a Marxist. He says, “Foucault’s main target was Marxism.” The worst point in the debate for Peterson is when he is unable to name a single intellectual who represents the “post-modern neo-Marxist” camp that he regularly rails against.

Here’s the YouTube video of their debate (the video starts 38 minutes in):

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