As I said before, the April 19 debate between Jordan Peterson and Slavoj Žižek is a great waste of time. Žižek, the philosopher, exists on a planet that has a pretty close relationship with reality. Jordan Peterson, a self-help guru, exists on a planet that glows only with the fantastic and sheer power of willing things to be so no matter what the reality. But the debate is going to happen. Žižek, who used to be one of the great philosophers of our times (if Alain Badiou is our Plato, then Žižek is certainly our Socrates), has decided that something or other will be achieved by this Toronto encounter with the self-help guru. And so, what I have to say in this post is much like the transformation of matumbu to maguru. In Shona, the former is the guts of an animal (in this case, that of a cow), and the latter is how you cook them into something edible. To get from one to the other, you pull and wash the crap out of the matumbu. The whole kitchen smells during the process.
And so, this post is that African kitchen. It's the cleaning, and the pulling, with the hope that in the end, Jordan Peterson's fans will better understand the things their leader has put into their mouths. Let's begin with this: Žižek is not a "cultural Marxist."
He is instead a restorationist of philosophical projects that were dumped hard by post-structuralists (a movement of French intellectuals who rejected Hegel, Marx, or anything to do with grand historical narratives). Žižek says this in his books. The subject, as described by Descartes, must be restored, and, more importantly, economism, or, as he puts it, "the primacy of the economy" must be restored. The struggles against homophobia, Islamophobia, the oppression of women and people of color must, in Žižek's thinking, take a back seat to the first and universal enemy, which is capitalist exploitation by the logic of exchange value. This is actually traditional Marxism, and what you call cultural Marxism actually has little or nothing to do with it. But I think what happened is that many of Peterson's followers learned about Herbert Marcuse's relationship with the black American radical woman Angela Davis and bit on it (the image: Marxist/Afro) in much the same way a dog bites on a rock.
And here is what the Peterson people will not let go of: Herbert Marcuse was associated with the Frankfurt School, a group of thinkers who applied some (certainly not all) Marxist critical tools to their moment, which was between the 1930s and the 1960s. But anyone who is familiar with Marcuse's work would certainly place the German 20th-century philosopher—and deep member of the Nazi party—Martin Heidegger above Marx in his intellectual development. Indeed, he only entered Marxism through an incomplete text, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, by the young Marx. Marcuse found in its pages an existential language that squared with the teachings of his professor, Heidegger. But the point is: the Frankfurt School was abandoned by critical theorists in the 1970s, and, over the past 30 years, has only been renewed by schools of criticism that are nowhere near the orthodox Marxism. One is the Neue Marx-Lektüre (“New Marx Reading″), and the other is Open Marxism. I will not go into the details (that the former completely reformulates the value theory; and the latter emphasizes experience, or how one subjectively experiences an existence that has money/value as its universal, or geist), but you will not find hoards of #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter activists mesmerized by these thinkers. And, to be honest, that situation is unfortunate.
Here is a sample from a book, The Capitalist Schema. Time, Money, and the Culture of Abstraction by a philosopher, Christian Lotz, who is associated with Open Marxism:
My thesis [in the book] is as such not revolutionary, as I here follow the main insights of Marx’s philosophy. Though in recent philosophy traditional forms of thinking about the mind, thinking, science, etc., are under attack by philosophies that pay more attention to class, race, gender, history, and society, so far, we have not yet found the core of how to bridge, let alone solve, these problems, as it is clear that a theory of knowledge cannot simply be replaced by a social theory, especially if these are done in a postmodern fashion. In this sense, Marxist theory is here taken to overcome postmodern theorizing.
And so you have Moishe Postone, Michael Heinrich, and Riccardo Bellofiore (New Marx Reading thinkers); and Werner Bonefeld, Frederick Harry Pitts, and Christian Lotz (Open Marxists) returning to the central and peripheral figures of Frankfurt School for a number or reasons, all of which were left in the cold by post-structuralism (or what Peterson's followers call "postmodern Marxism"—by the way, the American critical theorist, Fredric Jameson, who made that the word postmodern famous in the 1980s used it in the way we use neoliberalism now). None of these thinkers (New and Open Marxists) have whispered in the ear of an Angela Davis—regrettably. But if you need more clarity on these developments in critical theory, I really recommend you put down the self-help pipe and spend a few days reading Left Hemisphere. Mapping Critical Theory Today by Razmig Keucheyan. No jargon in it. Seriously, it's that easy. The dark clouds over your mind will quickly clear.
Also, if you really need self-help advice, I strongly recommend you commit a year of your life to Spinoza's Ethics. This 17th-century philosopher offers advice that does not point in the direction of yourself for salvation (that kind of recommendation might, true, be very enlightening to a silverback gorilla), but to others (Spinoza's "the human is a god to a human"). The weaker you are, the stronger your society is. If this logic is confusing, then you do not know the animal that is actually you.