Zizek, the Decalogue and The Problem with (too much) Liberation

It is…crucial to bear in mind the interconnection between the Decalogue (the traumatically imposed Divine Commandments) and its modern obverse, the celebrated ‘human rights’. As the experience of our post-political liberal-permissive society amply demonstrates, human Rights are ultimately, at their core, simply Rights to violate the Ten Commandments. ‘The right to privacy’ – the right to adultery, in secret, where no one sees me or has the right to probe my life. ‘The right to pursue happiness and to posses private property’ – the right to steal (to exploit others).  ‘Freedom of the press and of the expression of opinion’ – the right to lie. ‘The right of free citizens to possess weapons’ – the right to kill.  And, ultimately, ‘freedom of religious belief’ – the right to worship false Gods.  Of course, human Rights do not directly condone the violation of the Ten Commandments – the point is simply that they keep open a marginal ‘grey zone’ which should remain out of reach of (religious or secular) power: in this shady zone, I can violate these commandments, and if power probers into it, catching me with my pants down and trying to prevent my violations, I can cry: ‘Assault on my basic human Rights!’ The point is thus that it is structurally impossible, for Power, to draw a clear line of speraration and prevent only the ‘misuse;’ of a Right, while not encroaching upon the proper use, that is, the use that does not violate the Commandments.

Slavoj Zizek, Fragile Absolute, 110-111

the seventh commandment

Here, Zizek’s piercing examination of liberal society hits the perverse underlying motivations of modern society right on the head. As society shifted away from the authority of tradition and faith, toward the “new” science and philosophy of foundationalism, as represented in Descartes and Galileo’s 17th century projects, we see a shift away from a life that is rooted with the meta-narrative of Scripture, which entails the Decalogue (or Ten Commandments), towards the meta-narrative of the individual and autonomous self.  The self, freed from the commands to care for the “Other,” freed from the pursuit of the common good of humanity, is now given access to achieve “Whatever it is I so desire.” And “At whatever or whomever’s cost I see fit.”  It is this switching of the “big” stories that has had huge implications in not only in the way we treat each other and think of God, but how we treat the earth and value creativity (I value my own creativity as self-realization not as an act of worship).  This switching of meta-narratives is not only found in the “secular” parts of the world, those “profane” parts of life, but also the sacred.  Thus we find theology, Christian philosophy, and biblical studies all falling victim to the whims of the liberated-self.  In our freedom, we are left to help or hurt one another, we are left with the choice to do whatever appears good to us at that time, and in our freedom we find ourselves lost, asking “Is God even there at all?”  The liberated, liberal, autonomous self is at once free (from God) and a slave (to ourselves).

For more see Alasdair Macintyre On Rights and Protest: Are We Just Talking To Ourselves?