Interpassivity: Your pleasant alternative to believing in political participation

Slavoj Žižek, How to Read Lacan:

“…one should supplement the fashionable notion of interactivity with its uncanny double, interpassivity. It is commonplace to emphasize how, with new electronic media, the passive consumption of a text or a work of art is over…. Those who praise the democratic potential of the new media generally focus on precisely these features: on how cyberspace opens up the chance for a large majority of people to break out of the role of the passive observer following a spectacle staged by others, and to participate actively not only in the spectacle but more and more in establishing the rules of the spectacle.”

Here’s the dream we talk about, and Žižek drills in on an idea I’ve been wrestling with for years:

“The other side of interactivity is interpassivity. The obverse of interacting with the object (instead of just passively following the show) is the situation in which the object itself takes from me, deprives me of, my own passivity, so that its object itself that enjoys the show instead of me, relieving me of the duty to enjoy myself…. This brings us to the notion of false activity: people do not only act in order to change something, they can also act in order to prevent something from happening, so that nothing will change.”

Populism, as it shows itself on the Web, is a kind of false activity that relieves people from really participating in politics. Donating to a campaign, the primary form of interaction with political campaigns, is vastly accelerated, but engagement with issues is not. We donate thinking it will change things, but we go back to letting someone else run things—the same old order with a new mask. We find an inspiring leader and trust them, same as always. It is like joining a church and thinking that saves you. And we react defensively against criticisms of the candidates and the systems we use to “govern” interpassively.

“Is not this need to find another who ‘really believes’ also that which propels us in our need to stigmatize the other as a religious or ethnic fundamentalist…. Perhaps this is why ‘culture’ is emerging as the central life—world category. With regard to religion, we no longer ‘really believe’, we just follow (various) religious rituals and behaviours as part of a respect for the ‘lifestyle’ of the community we belong to…. ‘Culture’ is the name for all those things we practise without really believing in them, without taking them quite as seriously.”

We don’t really believe in politics, but we play at the rituals and even invent new ones, that reassure us we are in control of our society. What we really need is to do is become political, regardless of the tools we use, and take on the role of participant with all that effort means.