“Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action comes, stop thinking and go in.”
― Napoleon Bonaparte
[From Sotiris Triantis]
In a previous article here on the PEL blog ‘Don’t Act. Just Think’: A Short Comment on Slavoj Zizek’s Critique of Activism, I argued that thinking is not enough in order to effect radical change in collective problems such as poverty, oppression or unemployment. In this article I argue that collective actions are not only vital in modern societies but that they are the cornerstone of every deliberative process. Social and political thought consists in activist movements.
I begin with this assertion: collective actions can make people start thinking. In contrast an individual’s thought (if unexpressed) does not make other people think or act. In the public sphere citizens use multiple media (images, video, text) that can create social coordination and action. All these can play the role of an externalized mind and the internet now acts like media’s global memory. The internet can be seen as a medium that offers food for thought and not only as a passive platform of content consumption and commerce.
Zizek in the aforementioned video mentions that the majority of protests should be characterized as “pseudo-activist” demonstrations with no elements of fruitful change or creation:
Don’t get caught into this pseudo-activist pressure. Do something. Let’s do it, and so on. So, no, the time is to think. […] In the twentieth century, we maybe tried to change the world too quickly. The time is to interpret it again, to start thinking.”
At this point, there is no objection that we should start thinking. But how is it going to happen? Don’t people need stimuli which will serve as ‘food for thought’? Any protesting images may play a highly awakening symbolic role in mass psychology. Even if collective actions (and here is the core point of my disagreement with Zizek’s view) are not perfectly planned down to the last detail, their existence in today’s public sphere is crucial because their digital “imagization” can alert a large amount of the population. But in order for these revolutionary scenes to be created, we need activism.
Paralysis by Analysis
Most philosophers prefer to think analytically and not synthetically – they might have an outstanding ability of analyzing situations but most of the times they are tragically incapable of suggesting solutions. When Zizek was asked about what he would do if he was about to make decisions in a governmental level he claimed that his job is not to suggest solutions but to criticize the solutions proposed by the responsible ones (politicians). Here we could shortly bring to our mind the view of Konrad Adenauer – the great post-war Chancellor of Germany – who believed that if intellectuals were about to govern any state then that state would be destroyed. One suitable answer to those who fantasize a perfect world but do not encourage any action towards something better is the following phrase from Roland Barthes: “The only given is the way of taking.”
― Sotiris Triantis