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Or vs And: Julian Assange, Pussy Riot and Modern Dichotomy

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Hamid Ismailov Hamid Ismailov | 17:01 UK time, Wednesday, 22 August 2012

I have noticed that one of the most acclaimed modern philosophers, Slavoj Žižek, is giving a lecture in Moscow about the difficulties of being a Hegelian in the modern world.

I'm neither a follower nor a connoisseur of Žižek's philosophy, but I sympathise with his thesis that the thinking discourse of the modern world is much more simplistic than Hegelianism or any other complicated philosophical system.

In fact, over the course of the 20th century it has always been bipolar or dichotomic.

It started with the Russian revolution, which for the simplicity of proletarian perception divided the world into 'them' and 'us', with different sorts of variations: 'capitalists vs proletarians', 'believers vs atheists', 'reds vs whites', etc. That latter form was a colour-blind mimicry, because as a matter of fact the world had become black and white.

Julian Assange speaking outside the Ecuadorian embassy

Julian Assange has been taking refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy since June 19

According to the founders of communism the world has always been divided by this principle into the exploited and exploiting.

But even those who didn't believe in Marxism followed the same thinking of 'them vs us'.

This was the case in the Second World War, when the so-called liberal West, united with Bolshevik Russia, fought against Nazi Germany.

Then during the Cold War, the former ally of the West -Communist Russia and its satellites - became public enemy number one.

And a similar thing happened during the so-called 'War on Terror' when the place of Communism was taken by Islamic extremism, once again ironically the former ally of the West during a previous struggle.

The rhetoric and pattern of these stand-offs between 'them and us' have stayed pretty much the same. It's just that the embodiment of evil - as opposed to the forces of 'good' - has changed from Hitler to Stalin to Bin Laden.

'Whoever is not with us is against us' became a motto of that philosophy.

I'm not applying any moral judgement here and I'm not looking into the reasons for those transformations; I'm just observing the historical pattern.

One might argue that this kind of binary worldview is in-built in the human mind: 'good vs evil', 'light vs darkness', 'male vs female', 'raw vs cooked', etc.

That may be true, but even there, if you look a bit deeper, some of those oppositions are not equal or symmetric. The quantity of light in the universe is not equal to the quantity of darkness, evil and good are not absolute and interchangeable dependant on the circumstances, and so on.

Pussy Riot in custody

Pussy Riot have vociferous supporters and detractors

Yet it seems that at the first opportunity we reach for our 'black or white' glasses to look at the events around us.

Take two examples which have been in the headlines over the last week: the saga surrounding Wikileaks' founder Julian Assange as he takes refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy, and the case of the anti-Putin punk band Pussy Riot, in Russia.

With regards to Assange, one side vehemently believes that he is 'white' and is persecuted because of his political activity, which is heroic.

Others, with equal passion, 'blacken' him, saying that if he is convicted of rape he will not be a hero but a criminal.

The same bitter division mars the case of the punk band Pussy Riot, who sang an anti-Putin song in Moscow Central cathedral.

I've seen believers who are horrified by the 'heresy' of their act and anathematising the band as hooligans.

The other party concentrates purely on the political meaning of their action and treats them as political dissidents.

In both cases, like in many others, one party cannot bear to hear the other one.

Black and white. Or, to be more precise, black or white.

Since we started on philosophical premises, you may know that among many other forms of logic there is disjunctive logic, which is symbolised by 'or' and also conjunctive logic, which leans towards 'and'.

In my previous entries about dialogue vs monologue, mono- vs multi-, totalitarianism vs democracy, etc... we were in fact talking about those 'ors' vs 'ands'.

Reality is not monochrome, monosyllabic or monodimensional. Rather, it's we who are quick to reduce it to black vs white.

So Žižek must be right, it's difficult to be Hegelian in our time.

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