we are all manipulated

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By SLAVEJ ŽIŽEK*

The material power of ideology deceives us in the very gesture of warning us against deception.

Those who accept the Covid vaccines, as well as those who reject them, see the opposing group as lambs walking of their own free will towards the slaughterhouse. Perhaps both are correct. But those who buy fake vaccination certificates are paying the butcher.

Greek media revealed last month a fraudulent scheme allegedly involving thousands of anti-vaxxers and hundreds of doctors. Those who did not want to be vaccinated against Covid, but still apparently wanted to avoid the restrictions imposed on the unvaccinated, paid doctors a fee of around 400 euros to be inoculated with “water”.

The doctors involved in the scheme, however, would soon deceive them, substituting the "fake" liquid for the real contents, actually injecting the vaccine without the anti vaxxer knew. The doctors – ethical and corrupt at the same time – would still take the bribe. And, in a hilarious final twist: the anti-vaxxers “secretly” vaccinated would naturally face – and describe to others – the side effects of the vaccine without, however, being able to explain how or why they arise.

While I condemn the doctors who participated in this fraud, I cannot judge them too harshly. After all, when they issued the documents confirming the vaccination of anti-vaxxers, weren't cheating: it really had happened. In the end, the only people tricked were those who wanted to cheat and enjoy the benefits of vaccination without getting a dose. Such people were thus deceived through the truth itself. They just didn't know that they were exactly what they pretended to be: vaccinated.

Is the problem, then, that the doctors, in addition to lying to their patients, also pocketed the bribes? Even here, we can say that if they didn't take the money, their patients would suspect that they weren't really unvaccinated. The real ethical problem lies in the fact that patients were vaccinated against their explicit will – which, in this situation, I consider only a minor infraction, as their intention was to cheat and obtain the Covid vaccination passes. For that reason, they were a threat not only to themselves but to others.

Many of those who oppose the vaccine argue that mandatory vaccination is not only an attack on our individual freedom of choice, but also a violent bodily intrusion, comparable to rape: when I am vaccinated, I am raped by the public, not just a medical authority… As if our bodies really were ours alone.

Recently, in Slovenia, there was a case of an elderly woman dying slowly in a hospital, unable to eat and surviving on six or seven simultaneous infusions. When offered the vaccine, she fiercely rejected it, saying that she did not know its contents and that she did not want any foreign substances introduced into her body.

But wouldn't that be the situation to which we are all subjected? Vaccinated or not, aren't we already controlled and manipulated in ways unknown to us?

What is really interesting about the Greek anecdote – whether it is true or not – is that it operates as a example in Pierre Bayard's sense, presenting in a pure form, rarely found in social reality, the way in which we are controlled and manipulated. Just when we think we've deceived public authorities, our cheating is already included in their self-reproducing cycle. We are, in a way, worse off than the lamb in the slaughterhouse: we act like little lambs eagerly paying for their own slaughter.

As Lacan said, les non-dupes err: Non-fools make more mistakes, like lower-class white Americans who weren't fooled by the liberal establishment but ended up voting for Donald Trump.

It should also be noted how the “lambs to the slaughter” logic applies to both sides of this conflict. For skeptics, the lambs are the people who lined up to get the vaccine or, when doses were hard to find, even bribed doctors to get vaccinated. For others, the lambs are the denialists, who, by refusing to collaborate with the pandemic restrictions, are a threat to their own lives and the lives of other people.

It is often heard that protests against the vaccine are more than a demonstration of scientific irrationality: they would condense a series of other dissatisfactions, such as the feeling of loss of control over their own lives, submitted to the power of medical authorities and other corporations etc. And for that reason, we should talk to them, not just despise them.

The problem I see here is exactly the same as with anti-Semitism, which expresses a protest against financial exploitation and the like. Likewise, in the case of violence against women, the men who abuse them often do so to relieve the frustrations they accumulate when they are humiliated in their social life. What, in all these cases, makes such a “benevolent” and “comprehensive” view collapse is the surplus enjoyment generated by the behavior in question: brutalizing women obviously provides a perverse enjoyment. The same goes for the pogroms anti-Semites and anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, which also generate their own perverse mockery. We must, then, complement the Lacanian formula of psychoanalytic ethics – that “the only thing you can be guilty of is having given in to your desire” – with: you are always guilty/responsible for your jouissance, even when it is externally imposed.

Therein lies the material power of ideology: in addition to training us to be tolerant of power, or even to actively participate in our own submission, it deceives us in the very gesture of warning us against deception. It does not rely on our trust in public order and its values, but on our distrust – its underlying message is: “Don't trust those in power, you are manipulated, and here's how to avoid being scammed!” Sometimes innocence is the best weapon against deceit.

*Slavoj Žižek is a professor at the Institute of Sociology and Philosophy at the University of Ljubljana (Slovenia). Author, among other books, of The year we dreamed dangerously (Boitempo).

Translation: Daniel Pavan

Originally published on RT Portal.

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