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The decaffeinated Other


However, a closer look reveals how [progressive liberal] multicultural tolerance and respect of differences share with those who oppose immigration the need to keep others at a proper distance. “The others are OK, I respect them,” the liberals say, “but they must not intrude too much on my own space. The moment they do, they harass me – I fully support affirmative action, but I am in no way ready to listen to loud rap music.” What is increasingly emerging as the central human right in late-capitalist societies is the right not to be harassed, which is the right to be kept at a safe distance from others. A terrorist whose deadly plans should be prevented belongs in Guantánamo, the empty zone exempted from the rule of law; a fundamentalist ideologist should be silenced because he spreads hatred. Such people are toxic subjects who disturb my peace.

On today’s market, we find a whole series of products deprived of their malignant property: coffee without caffeine, cream without fat, beer without alcohol. And the list goes on: what about virtual sex as sex without sex? The Colin Powell doctrine of warfare with no casualties (on our side, of course) as warfare without warfare? The contemporary redefinition of politics as the art of expert administration as politics without politics? This leads us to today’s tolerant liberal multiculturalism as an experience of the Other deprived of its Otherness – the decaffeinated Other.

Slavoj Zizek, if you are not familiar, is a rather atypical thinker.

I would add school Christmas concerts without Christmas songs to his list. Christmas without Christ? I am sure there are others.

An interesting quote i thought i would pass on, referenced during a presentation last week on interreligious dialogue. I am not sure it is fair to progressive liberals as it sounds more like libertarian liberals, and then there are plenty of people self-describing as liberal who would not fit either… but it does highlight the problem of tolerance if seen as a sufficient goal, and the idea of a whitewashed, bland, decaffeinated neutral zone in which no one is allowed religious or cultural expression under the guise of allowing all a safe place to be together.

A truly safe place is one in which we can be ourselves while respecting the other, not the place where we all have to give up who we are so as not to ‘inflict our religion/politics/personality’ on the other. The challenge is to be true to ourselves while being true to the other. It is not (as the right extreme would have it) that by allowing the other to be truly present we are short-changing our own self and therefore should not or cannot enter into dialogue and encounter, nor is it (as the left extreme would have it) that we must all refrain from being our true selves so that all can be present together in an empty nothingness of secular space.

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