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Blog // Thoughts
July 12, 2005

On Fundamentalism And Resentiment

I’ve been pondering anew this quote from Slavoj Zizek, which I cited in a paper entitled Meaning Making and Truth Making: Symbols, Truths and Intersubjectivities, ‚Äú‚Ķthe difference between authentic fundamentalists and the ‚Äúmoral majority‚Äù perverted fundamentalists is that the first (for example, the Amish in the USA) get along very well with their American neighbours […]

I’ve been pondering anew this quote from Slavoj Zizek, which I cited in a paper entitled Meaning Making and Truth Making: Symbols, Truths and Intersubjectivities,

“…the difference between authentic fundamentalists and the “moral majority” perverted fundamentalists is that the first (for example, the Amish in the USA) get along very well with their American neighbours because they are centered on their own world, not bothered by what goes on out there, among “them,” while the moral majority fundamentalist is always haunted by the ambiguous attitude of horror/envy with regard to the unspeakable pleasures in which sinners engage…

The conclusion to be drawn from this is a simple and radical one: moral majority fundamentalists and tolerant multiculturalists are the two sides of the same coin, they both share the fascination with Other. In the moral majority, this fascination displays the envious hatred of the Other’s excessive jouissance, while the multiculturalist tolerance of the Other’s Otherness is also more twisted than it may appear – it is sustained by a secret desire for the Other to REMAIN “other,” not to become too much like us. In contrast to both these positions, the only TRULY tolerant attitude towards the Other is that of the authentic radical fundamentalist.”

This horror/envy dynamic, or what I termed “the technology of resentiment” has come to mind quite a bit this week. The notion of resentiment come from Nietzsche and implies the torment felt as one relives experiences of feeling impotent and powerless. I talk of a technology of resentiment, because I feel there is an acute kind of feeling brought on my globalisation, particularly by those who wish to react against it.

Broadly there are two ways we can respond to globalistion. We can either embrace it, enjoy it and let it define us. We can negotiate and enjoy difference, experience other cultures, let other points of view question our own. This is cosmopolitanism. Or, we can reject it and focus on our existing identities and stories. We can close off discussions of identity, prioritise our exisitng culture and highlight the differences between ourselves and others. This is localism. Everyday people are choosing one or or the other, or maybe oscillating inbetween (ethnic cuisine is a case study in this), so as the world becomes more interconnected, it also becomes more open to local conflicts and reactionary movements.

More often than not fundamentalism and localism go hand in hand (though not always, which is something for a future post). Zizek’s point, however, is that fundamentalism need not be subject to the horror/envy dynamic, or to resentiment. It all hinges on the way the fundamentalist views those around them. The fundamentalist disposition towards cosmopolitanism is open to political manipulation (Duncan Macleod has an interesting post on the cultural associations of sipping latte that relates to this.

The way that anti-cosmopolitanism can be manipulated for poltical or commerical gain by emotionally potent oversimplifactions (like latte-sipping or chardonay-drinking) is far more of a root issue than a right or left divide, and far more telling than talking the language of liberal v conservative. Particularly when that manipulation utilises the technology of resentiment.

Responses
Scott 17 years ago

I agree with the distinction between an authentic fundamentalism (despite the connotations of “fundamentalism”) and the moral majority obsession with horror towards the “Other.”

The question that raises for me, though, has to do with the “shared fascination with Other.” Only because it seems that both the left & the right demonizes the other without understanding (and therefore rightly criticing) the Other. In more tangible terms, I see so much scapegoating of immigrants, homosexuals (regardless of my theological stance), and the poor.

It seems that Christians should be more “fascinated by the Other,” fascinated in terms of focused and intent on engaging, serving, loving and witnesses to the “Other” — whoever that may be.

I hope that connects.

f 17 years ago

Thanks for the comment!

I will follow this up with another blog soon. However, it is worth clarifying that I don’t personally buy into fundamentalism or localism. My take is that we need to be engaged with the other in exactly the way you describe, but the best way to do that is in cosmopolitan and global way.

Eddie 16 years ago

I generally like your distinctions and consider myself cosmopolitan.

I think fear- or hate-based fundamentalists, like many in the Moral Majority, tend to use law and power to achieve their ends. This explains why they sought to reform a nation from the top down. But faith-based people know how to speak the truth in love, which given time, produces unity and reforms a nation from the bottom up.

It is my conviction that having a secular-religious dichotomy exacerbates fear, the fear of the unknown or the different. A righteous-unrighteous dichotomy, on the other hand, is based on faith, which enhances courage. The former dichotomy sets up an artifical but comfortably simple bright line rule. The latter requires that I dig deeper to see if the idea or difference I am now exposed to (because I had the courage to be exposed) meets the Philippians 4:8 standard. Thus, I have a greater degree of liberty but a greater degree of responsibility as well.

Fernando Gros 16 years ago

Philippians 4 is a great verse to turn to on this issue! You might be interested a prior blogpost, HERE.

I think you are 100 per cent right in connecting fear with a secular/religious divide.

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