“With all my admiration for Noam Chomsky, I partially disagree with him. Its an underlying premise of his work that you don’t have to do any theory – just tell all the facts to the people. The way ideology works today is much more mysterious … People just do not want to know too much. There’s an active refusal to know.” – Slavoj Zizek
One of the widely reported statistics during the war with Iraq was the large number of American’s who believed that Iraq was responsible, at least in part, for September 11th. They still do. In a recent Newsweek Poll, when asked “…do you believe that Saddam Hussein ‘s regime in Iraq was harboring al Qaeda terrorists and helping them to develop chemical weapons, or not?” 72% said yes! And, 33% of people in another poll agreed with this statement: “Iraq gave substantial support to al Qaeda, but was not involved in the September 11th attacks.” While a full 20% agreed with this one: “Iraq was directly involved in carrying out the September 11th attacks.” And in response to a Gallup Poll about whether “the Bush Administration deliberately misled the American public about whether Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, or not?” the numbers have gone up, but still remain at only 39% saying “yes” (up from 31% three months ago).
Doug Henwood recently asked the Slovenian philosopher and cultural theorist Slavoj Zizek, what he thought about this. I found Zizek’s response so compelling that I violated my own laziness rule and copied the whole thing out below. (I usually only quote what I can copy and paste!). You can hear the full radio interview here. Or purchase the latest copy of the excellent Left Business Observer newsletter and read the interview there.
Henwood: A large portion of the American population believes that Saddam was behind September 11. Only about 17% of respondents to one poll could correctly say that there were no Iraqis among the hijackers on September 11. Where do you think these fantasy views come from? Also, there’s a tendency of the American left that thinks that all you have to do is get the facts out there, and things will take care of themselves. How do fantasies figure in politics and how do you counter therm?
Zizek: Now that’s a good, big question. Big in the sense that I don’t have good answers to it. With all my admiration for Noam Chomsky, I partially disagree with him. Its an underlying premise of his work that you don’t have to do any theory – just tell all the facts to the people. The way ideology works today is much more mysterious … People just do not want to know too much. There’s an active refusal to know. If you ask average citizens with enough of their own worries, they’d say, “Dont’ even tell me this. We pay taxes so the government can do all the dirty things that I don’t want to know about.”
The question isn’t of any real link between al-Qaeda and the Iraqi regime. I remember a debate on TV where some viewers’ calls made their point clear, which is: we are not talking about empirical links. Both Saddam and al-Qaeda hate the U.S.. That’s enough of a link. You cannot really help by making factual refutations. The key factor is not that people are duped – there’s an active will not to know. Remember the Reagan presidency, when the media pointed out his factual mistakes. That only raised his popularity. This was the point of identification. With Bush, you have an almost ideal image for how things work: a naïve, unknowing president, and a sinister figure of knowledge, like Dick Cheney, the operative, who really controls him. This is really quite a nice metaphor for how things work.
People like to identify themselves. “I can be stupid but I’m still at the top. The wiseguy is my vice, he is doing all the dirty jobs for me.” There is something appealing in this, I think. Again, my basic position is drop the point that people want to know; people don’t want to know. I’m not engaged in any conservative psychology of, you know, “People prefer ignorance, it’s only for us, the evolutionary or spiritual elite to lead them.” I’m not saying this is an eternal fact. I’m just describing how specifically today’s ideology works, though a direct appeal to the will of ignorance.