the interrogations of shamshouma

The interrogation of the Good.


One of Shamshouma’s favorite activities is to interrogate the “good”! So it seems very suitable to start my first post writing about it. It is kind of like Lars Van Trier’s movie Dogville, good people are dangerous. Liberal communists (or the democratic left), humanitarian capitalists (like Bill Gates), philanthropists and the good Samaritans who function and inscribe to a global code of ethics around love, the eradication of poverty and violence, the importance of charity and donations and humanitarian emergency action, are more likely to be seen as doing good than as a major obstacle against the possibility of a real and progressive struggle to social justice and change. But they are.

What makes the discourse of “the good” so powerful, so commonsensical and seductive is that no one can be against love, health and aid. How can you be against human rights? But the problem is that this form of pragmatic universal morality, interfering to solve concrete problems like poverty, AIDS, famine etc, in a quick way, systematically blocks any possibility for a real form of sustainable politics of social justice.

But what can we do with a good person who really worries about poverty and violence and can afford to worry? Who can fight against poverty because he profits from it? Who has no corporate interests because he co-owns the corporation and does charity work through it? Humanitarianism, philanthropy and liberalism are all moral universals that turned into entrepreneurial industries, which not only create and reinforce the social production of capitalism, but also work towards keeping the system’s status quo in stagnating balance.

In Violence (2008), Zizek makes his position towards “the good people” very clear when he cites a poem by Bertolt Brecht entitled “the interrogation of the real”

Step forward: we hear

That you are a good man.

You cannot be bought, but the lightning

Which strikes the house, also

Cannot be bought.

You hold to what you said

But what did you say?

You are honest, you say your opinion.

Which opinion?

You are brave.

Against whom?

You are wise.

For whom?

You do not consider your personal advantages.

Whose advantages do you consider then?

You are a good friend.

Are you also a good friend of the good people?

Hear us then: we know

You are our enemy. This is why we shall

Now put you in front of a wall. But in consideration of

Your merits and good qualities

We shall put you in front of a good wall and shoot you

With a good bullet from a good gun and burry you

With a good shovel in the good earth”

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2 thoughts on “The interrogation of the Good.

  1. Hmm, that’s a really disturbing poem.
    Liberal ethics, that even if not easily admitted, are the foundation of progressive thought, require you to judge people by their choices and actions, which has to apply also to the judgments of the assumed opponents. This might be tedious and painful, as one could realize that some of the perceived “bad”, might in fact be “good”, while your own allies might be bad, or at least not that good, with too many excuses to ever getting to do anything good… This can make one feel uncomfortable, confused. It is extremely seductive to give up this annoying principle to judge people by their choices and actions, and is this not a bourgeois concept anyway, and therefore a secret tool of oppression? How much easier it is to judge people by their association, group, class – does not revolutionary justice say whoever is with us, with me, is good, and who is not with us, is bad? So let us ridicule their concept of “good”, it is not ours. But which one is ours, what is our “good”? What are our principles? Social justice? Progress? Stop! Of course there is no need to explain or define, explaining is a bourgeois concept anyway, that will only make you a target for the enemy’s smart-asses, trained in twisting words and meanings, the oppressor’s special agents in form of journalists, lawyers, professors, writers… To hell with them! Good is, who is in power– once we have the power, your “good” does not matter anymore. This way, we have made a full circle – first angered, shocked by the injustice suffered by individuals – because this is what caused our compassion, what politicized us – injustice towards individuals! – we begin opposing other individuals, people we think responsible, but then suddenly it is so much easier to be opposing their kind, “them others”, them who are not with us… We lose patience for their individuals and their individual actions, and their bourgeois concepts of individual responsibility, used as an excuse for injustice and privilege! Patience for individualist principles was induced in us by their values, which we now have left behind. We want to win, win over them, that’s the only principle. We become tribal again, ultimately, crypto-fascist. We made the full circle. We shoot the good, as they shot the good. We started fighting, because it outraged us when they were shooting the good. Now, we replaced their wrong principle with no principle, other than that of power.

    I am not surprised that the champaign communist Zizek likes this one, as it frees him from the obligation to argue his point thoroughly and allows him to define his own good and bad – (I suggest: good who likes to drink, and eat, and laugh, and sleep with Zizek, bad who does not) But oh dearest Bertolt, what were you thinking? I bet you regretted this poem after you grasped what was done by the ones who had applied the advice given in a sea of blood and hybris.

  2. waw, that’s such a hyper-liberal comment! it made me feel a bit scared to be honest. I basically have something to say to every single sentence but i’ll just say that you missed the point. my post is not about criticizing what is good in general or goodness as a moral and political way of life. it is about creating a form of counter-discourse that could interrogate the people, institutions, discourses, instruments and technologies that are taken for granted as “good”, as the humanitarian way to be. and i do not regret posting the poem at all, it is a very powerful poem that speaks the hegemony that the good possesses. but you have managed to turn the whole argument upside down, which is very liberal of you. and what’s also very “liberal” is you linking tribes to fascism.

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