E-mail Interview by Merit Karise for SIRP (Estonia) with Teun A. van Dijk on the occasion of the Estonian translation of Van Dijk’s book Ideology (Estonia)

 

November 2005

 


Your book "Ideology" is published in Estonia, a society ruled by authoritarian Soviet regime and the respective discursive order for 50 years. Today, it has been replaced by democratic order, liberal market economy and the respective (and more implicit) ideology. "Ideology" means for Estonians primarily communism or socialism as ways of thinking and practices imposed from top-down and from outwards to inwards (Moscow to Estonia). Now, "ordinary people" perceive the current situation as "ideology-free", where the main worries are jobs, wages and housing. How do you define "ideology"?

True, ideology in everyday and political discourse in the West was traditionally associated with communism, and more generally with THEM, the Others, and not with Us. THEY have ideologies, whereas as WE have the truth. This well-known polarization is one of the most effective strategies of denying or to hiding one's own ideology. Of course, the "free" world of market economies is no less ideological, while based on the ideology of neoliberalist capitalism, whether or not this ideology is good (or better) for most people. In this ideology the freedom of the market (for instance from state intervention) is primordial, and found more important than the freedom of the peoples in the world, including the freedom from oppression by dictators (supported by the West), the freedom from vast military and arms spending (and hence lack of money for useful programs), freedom from hunger, freedom from poverty, freedom from male chauvinism and macho violence against women, and many more freedoms no less important than the freedom of business enterprise. If the people of Estonia have learned to understand and criticize soviet ideologies, they will also be well prepared to confront other ideologies -- such as those of neoliberalism -- as soon as they notice how many Estonians will be out of a job or limited to precarious, temporary, low-paid jobs in the neoliberal market economy. And that is only the economic part of the new (market) ideology. The symbolic part consist of not being able to publish the ideas that cannot be sold on that same market -- as well be seen in the junk programs on television, in which serious critique of the now dominant ideologies, will have virtually no place.

 

In sum, ideologies are neither limited to the left nor to the right, neither to communism nor to capitalism. They are everywhere where social groups or organizations get organized to impose or legitimate their power, or contest and struggle against the abuse of such power. Thus, we have both racist and antiracist ideologies, militarist and pacifist ones, sexist and feminist ones, and so on.  Some are bad for most people, some are good or better for most people. Ideologies control minds. They are shared social representations in the minds of the members of social groups. They control group attitudes as well as personal opinions, and hence also social practices and discourse. They legitimate oppression and they inspire revolution. They control our thinking as members of groups -- the religion, nation, ethnic group, gender (men or women), political party, profession, and so on.


 How much should we consider and bring out the historical context when talking about the We-They polarization? As in the case presented in the previous question, where the association of Them (Soviet Union and Russians) with ideologies (socialism and communism) by Us (Estonians) is based on a series of tragic events starting with the agreement between Stalin and Hitler to divide Middle and Eastern Europe, the occupation of Estonia, massive deportation of people to Siberia, oppression of Estonian culture and language etc, which all can be summed up as 50 years of authoritarian Soviet regime? And where the truth for Us was to get these facts out in the open, regain our independence and re-establish a democratic state?

 

Of course group polarization (Us vs. Them) has a powerful historical dimension. This is obviously the case, as you explain, for Estonia vs. the Soviet Union, as it is for the Dutch and Nazi Germany as from 65 years ago until today. Oppression is not forgotten, and constantly remembered in studies, stories of victims, as well as literature. The Holocaust has been the prime example of such an historical background, especially, but not only for the Jews. Slavery is for Africans anywhere in the Americas. And for the victims of the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. Although communism was the official ideology of the Soviet Union, the occupation of Eastern Europe, as I understand it, is rather the consequence of Soviet imperialism, rather than of communism, and goes back to older Russian oppression. The same, at the other side of the world, with U.S. hegemony and its support for fascist regimes in the Americas -- which was undertaken primarily as a form of U.S. imperialism, and only secondarily as a form of anti-communism, or the application of political and commercial liberalism. In other words, polarization in the minds of peoples is based on their own experiences, and the victims obviously have good reasons to reproduce such polarization through their terrible suffering. Thus, whereas in Eastern Europe massacres took place in the name of communism, in the Americas they took place in the name of anti-communism, but the fundamental issue is one of power and hegemony. As long as states are compliant with U.S. imperialism, they are considered 'friends' or 'allies' or 'moderate', whatever terrible things happen there. The same was true in Eastern Europe. For us as critical scholars it is important to analyze, criticize and condemn ANY form of domination, any power abuse, in whatever name it is being exercised. This was also the reason why I never was a communist and always critical of Soviet imperialism or "leftist" dictatorships, as is still the case in Cuba. And today, given the situation in the world, and my direct experiences with oppression in South America, also for personal reasons (my wife is from Chile), I of course am specifically critical of U.S. imperialism in the world. That people in Estonia, given their historical experiences, rather focus on soviet imperialism and the ideology that condoned it, is no more than logical. The problem is that one of the elements of such logic, namely that the enemies of my enemies are my friends, may have caused many to see the U.S. as the land of freedom, democracy, etc. only, instead of also seeing its very negative aspects, such as slavery, segregation, racism, and the support of fascist regimes in their "backyard". In the same way, many leftist people in Europe saw the Soviet union as the enemy of their enemy, and hence made them blind for soviet terror.

 

Where and how do ideologies manifest themselves today? Where can we see and find them?

Ideologies are manifest anywhere where social actors engage in social practices as group members. They are most explicit in discourse, for instance in the programs of the government and the political parties, in textbooks, in the mass media, in scholarship and so on. They are implicit in hiring and firing in business companies, in sexist violence against women, ion limiting the immigration of people from the Third World, in buying and selling of arms, in selective investments and low wages being paid, and so on. They are explicit when these need to be legitimated in government programs, economic theory, or newspaper editorials, news reports, and in general in elite discourse. It is through such discourse that neoliberal, sexist, racist, and militarist ideologies are reproduced in society.

 

You do not consider for example conservatism a clean-cut group ideology, but instead a meta-ideology that controls other ideologies such as neoliberalism, sexism and racism. Why so?

 

Conservatism is a vague notion that is not as such a good description of an ideology, but rather a state of mind or general orientation to develop or sustain ideologies of domination (power abuse) against those who have less power in society: lower class people, women, immigrants and minorities, children, the elderly, and so on. In that sense it is rather a meta-ideology of all those ideologies which we have come to describe as anti-egalitarian.

 

You have dedicated a lot of attention to racism in your research and works. In "Ideology", you talk about "contemporary racism" or "cultural racism" that has replaced biological racism. What is "contemporary racism" or "cultural racism"?

 

Cultural racism, also called the "new" racism, is no longer based only on 'racial' appearance, such as skin color, but also or primarily on such cultural properties of groups as language, religion, customs, and so on. Hence the mixture of anti-Islam and anti-Arab. Since 'racial' racism has been declared (by the United Nations) to be politically incorrect, many people have recourse to a seemingly more 'respectable' racism in which the differences between cultures is emphasized -- usually in favor or 'our own' culture, of course. Thus, in this kind of cultural racism we typically see more problems in THEM Arabs and Muslims, than in US Christians, even when the radicals of both have created the same kind of problems in the world.

 

How are ideologies (e.g., racism) born in the first place? For example, inhabitants of Estonia (mainly Estonians and Russians) form a homogeneous community as to skin color, who have so far almost no personal contacts or experiences with black people. Still, xenophobic and racist attitudes towards them seem to be already here and getting stronger. Can ideologies "arrive" first, before the actual people whom these ideologies target, or before personal contacts with them take place?

 

Yes, ideologies may be acquired before actual experiences. Most of the time, racism and other ideologies are based on hearsay, communication, discourse and the mass media, not derived from personal observation or social practice. Overgeneralizations are at the basis of ethnic prejudice, and not conclusions of real experiences. Many ideologies, such as religious ones, have no empirical basis at all. The crucial point is power. In order to reproduce one's power one not only need forms or oppression, but also compliance, and such compliance is gained through ideologically based persuasion. If states in Western countries have economic problems, it is easy to blame them on immigrants rather than on directors or businesses who have salaries of millions of dollars or euros, or on the workers who do not want to have insecure jobs. The power of ideologies is symbolical. They influence people's minds in such a way that they see and interpret the real world in a biased way -- the way preferred by the dominant elites. Thus, resistance against oppression may be seen as terrorism. The occupation of an oil-rich country as liberation. The non-occupation of other countries terrorized by dictators as respect for international law. Racist hiring practices as "freedom" of the market. Racist immigration restrictions as the protection of the country against foreign "invasions". In sum, ideologies are the cognitive basis of domination. Fortunately, they are also the cognitive basis of resistance and change.

 

How can one explain to "ordinary people" that racism or nationalism is bad, if they feel that they are just protecting their usual way of life - culture, language, job and living space?

The problem is no so much "ordinary people". They know discrimination of other people is bad because they may have been discriminated against themselves, as poor people, as jobless people, as women, and so on. I have shown in my work, and especially in my book Elite discourse and racism (1993) that the main problem is the elites. They are the ones who have most power, and hence most control over public discourse, and therefore much more influence on the formation of prejudice and the reproduction of racism than "ordinary people". Popular racism is real, but largely pre-formulated or instigated by the "symbolic" elites such as the politicians, journalists, professors and writers. Look who exacerbated the ethnic war in former Yugoslavia -- these were rather the elites (politicians, journalists, etc.) than ordinary people. The same was true in Rwanda and its radio broadcasts. The same again was true in Nazi Germany and its propaganda. And again today it is again the elites who deny their racism, because it is inconsistent with their positive self-image as progressive and cosmopolitan citizens. They are the ones who hire and fire, decide who may legally enter the country, who has access to politics and the mass media, who will be published or seen on TV. They control all decisive means of communication, interaction and organizations. If minorities are excluded and marginalized, as a group, at large, this is nearly always because of dominant elites -- even when the orders may be executed by ordinary people such as low level bureaucrats, journalists, police officers or teachers. To fight racism, one must fight elites.


You have also studied and criticized the role of elites and media in legitimating and sustaining racism. Where and how does their racism manifest itself? If the elites and media control the access of voices to public space, then who and how can fight their well-formulated and at the same time low-key racism?


Elite racism is largely symbolic racism, that is, racism expressed in dominant discourse and images controlled by the elites, such as parliamentary debates, laws, news reports, editorials, opinion articles, TV programs, movies, textbooks, and so on. It may be quite indirect and subtle, and in that case it is harder to detect and to resist. It may appear quite 'logical', 'natural' or common sense. It may need detailed, critical discourse analysis, and profound knowledge of everyday racism in order to understand and oppose.

Elite racism can be resisted in various ways. First, by resistance of minority groups themselves, sometimes violent, as we know from the Civil Rights Movement in the USA in the 1960s, the Brixton "riots" in the UK in 1981 and those of French young immigrants in the hot autumn of 2005. Second, by resistance of a minority of antiracist elites, despite their marginal access to public discourse, for instance by winning over change agents (a leading politician or journalist) for their case among the elites. Third, by marshalling international solidarity -- as was for instance the case against the Apartheid regime in South Africa. Unless there is a revolution or a similar profound change in power relations, as was in the case in South Africa, racism will only change when the elite change. One should always begin to address the prime minister, the chief editor of a newspaper, the director of a factory, and other leaders. If they give the bad example, those whom they dominate will be inclined to follow them if it is in their best interest (and often excluding Others is beneficial for your own interests). But if they give the good example, for instance by formulating and executing politics of gender or racial diversity, then there is a chance that also their country, newspaper or organization will change with them, even when this is a long and complex process. So, to change, we need to change the leaders, especially the symbolic leaders, those who are responsible for dominant public discourse and hence for the management of the minds of the people.


You write in your book that the frame you offer is just a sketch and that you wish to continue with empirical research to improve it. What kind of empirical research have you conducted since or how have you improved the sketch presented in "Ideology", 7 years after it was first published?


The Ideology project is a long-term project. I planned later books, with more empirical examples, on ideology and social cognition, ideology and society and ideology and discourse. I started the book on ideology and social cognition, but a major chapter of that book, on discourse and knowledge, made further research on knowledge necessary. And when I started that research I noted that such a theory needed a theory of context, because knowledge is shared by the participants of interaction and communication, and therefore part of the context of discourse. So, I am now finishing (very slowly) a book on context. I wanted to use racist examples again, but have decided that after so many books on racism, I have nothing new to say, and focus on another important issue: parliamentary rhetoric after September 11, such as the debates in the Spanish and British parliaments legitimating the invasion of Iraq. That is, I am now more interested in everyday political discourses of manipulation. These and other papers can be found on my website: www.discourse-in-society.org.


In connection with studying ideologies (and not only with that), you have been engaged with developing, teaching and advocating discourse analysis. How do you define and characterize discourse analysis, including critical discourse analysis?


The answer to this question would and should fill a book, if not a library. Contemporary discourse studies (DS) has many directions, approaches and sects, each defining the aims of DS in a different way. Summarizing and abstracting from the differences, I would say that DS should be the systematic study of written and spoken discourse in their cognitive, social, political, historical and cultural contexts. Critical Discourse Studies (CDS) is discourse studies like any other, using different methods, but with the overall aim to specifically focus on, and criticize, the abuse of power in and by discourse.


In Estonia (as well in other countries), we can find scholars who do not consider discourse analysis a scientific method. How would you defend discourse analysis in front of such positivist scholars? To what extent would it be possible to develop a methodological dialogue between the methods based on discourse analysis on one hand and the methods based on positivist epistemology on the other hand?


Obviously, this is their problem, not ours. However, CDS is and should be open to criticism if it wants to be critical itself. It should learn to permanently improve its theories, methods and goals. Linguistics and the social sciences are still young and hardly perfect disciplines, and this is a fortiori the case for DS and CDS, whose methods are both "positivist" and "post-positivist", distinctions I find quite useless today, as is the case for "modern" and "postmodern". In that sense I may reject some vague, apolitical postmodern writings just as much as apolitical positivist studies of irrelevant aspects of language and discourse.  For CDS what counts is what theories and methods are useful to study and resolve important social problems. Sometimes this is a detailed and technical study of pronouns in racist conversations, sometimes a more global study of the role of the mass media in the reproduction of sexism or militarism.

Those who criticize CDS often do so not so much because they are suddenly worrying about scientific method, but rather because they are afraid of critical science. CDS uses the same explicit (though hardly perfect) theories and methods as in CS and other disciplines of the humanities and social sciences. However, what some critics cannot accept is that scholars are also part of society, and hence responsible citizens, who because of their symbolic power may be expected to contribute to the critical analysis of power abuse by the power elites, also within the sciences and the universities. Constructive criticism of CDS is necessary and useful. Other "methodological" criticism of CDS is a strategy hiding its real aims: it is not a critique of method, but also a political position, namely a conservative one, by those who deny that their criticism and hence their scholarship are also political.


You are not the kind of scholar, who watches society from a safe distance between the walls of university, you have been active in society, for example, via the organization PAREL you established. What have been the results of your activism and what are you engaged in now?
 

I do define myself as a critical scholar, but hardly as an activist. For that I should have been much more active than I was outside the university. I see my main task as educating students and do critical (and other) research, and from that position I analyze some of the major problems of society, such as racism. Practical results are few and slow, but at least in the Netherlands some critical analyses of textbooks may have contributed to better, non-racist, textbooks. Much more difficult is changing journalists, especially because they are the only profession about which we (and they) never read something critical in the newspaper -- for obvious reasons. At least, some of our publications and actions might have led to some awareness of the problem of racism in the press. Real change will only take place, as I said, when the leaders, such as the chief editors of newspapers, change, and that takes time. And such change will come about only when minority groups have enough symbolic and economic power to challenge de dominant ideologies and discursive practices, e.g., through boycotts etc.


 How would you assess the ideological situation in Europe today, where they talk on one hand about the necessity of global liberalism and the virtues of expansion, and where on the other hand the "old" European countries establish limitations and quota on immigration to protect their interests, while immigrants wage a street war (the recent events in Paris)?


You point at one of the major contradictions of globalization, namely economic, financial and cultural world domination by rich western countries, and primarily the USA and the EU, on the one hand, and a anti-globalization at home, by regional politics, discrimination and exclusion. Obviously, the contradiction is only apparent, and perfectly coherent within the ideologies that sustain world domination: freedom of the (= our) market worldwide, and protection of our interests also worldwide, as well as of our welfare states at home.


Also your homeland Holland has experienced sharp ideological conflicts recently – the murder of Pim Fortuyn, a rightist populist and gay politician by a left wing environmentalist, the murder of film director Theo van Gogh by a Muslim radical and finally "no" to the constitutional treaty of EU. How has the situation in Holland become like this, a country that was among the first ones to support the idea of the European Union?

The situation in Holland -- which by the way is no longer the country where I live since I moved to Barcelona more than 6 years ago -- is only superficially contradictory. Holland has been great as a nation of merchants (and reverends!), and they were also great at selling the ideological product "Holland" as a progressive, modern nation. Racism in such a country was of course always violently denied, and my writings and those of others severely attacked and ridiculed in the press. In my fieldwork and other studies since the 1980s I already was able to show that this beautiful image was mostly one for export, and did not correspond to widespread modern racism, especially also among the elites, for instance in the press. Thus, unlike others I was not surprised at all by the electoral and ideological success of Fortuyn. Islamophobia in Holland is a normal product of feeling oneself culturally superior to "backward" (and fundamentalist, if not "terrorist") Muslims. This already became obvious in the elite reactions in Holland against the fatwa of the ayatollah Khomeini against Salman Rushdie. By way of "goodbye" to Holland I wrote a book on a notorious racist affair in which I suspected a famous Dutch writer and columnist, Gerrit Komrij, to be involved in writing a racist, anti-Islam, pamphlet, written under a pseudonym, on the occasion of the Rushdie Affair. The unanimous reaction in Holland was a furious reaction to my thesis -- which was supported by extensive text analysis and comparison: How dare I accuse such a famous writer of racism!!! My critics conveniently ignored that the same writer had published various racist columns under his own name. In any case, no publisher wanted to publish my book (so I did so myself, with my own money) and afterwards not a single newspaper published a review... so that the book did not sell at all. This is only one of many similar events. And not only in the Netherlands. The same (or worse) is true in another rich and modern state in Northern Europe: Denmark. And in the case of the assassination of Theo van Gogh it was also generally ignored (especially also abroad) that this man was hardly a defender of human rights, let alone of women's rights -- which of course is no justification of his murder of course. One positive thing one may say of the Netherlands: that it usually was a relatively no-violent country (if one disregards the racist violence in its colonies, e.g. in Indonesia and Surinam), and in that sense the assassinations are very much inconsistent with the tradition. But it should not be forgotten that where the Dutch were somewhat more progressive than other countries was in the field of personal rights, e.g. of homosexuals or euthanasia. Group rights, such as those of women and minorities, are a totally different story. Except in politics, there are very few women in high positions, such as in the boards of large corporations, as well as in the universities. In our Faculty of the Humanities of the University of Amsterdam, we only had a few women full professors although most students are women. In sum: Holland is much less progressive than the image of itself it sells abroad.


So far, we have talked about ideologies and racism mainly on the example of "old" European countries, where the relations between groups have developed over a long period of time in the context of a rather stable, slowly changing social order. How would or should the study of ideologies be different (if it should be different at all) in fastly developing and changing transition societies (like Estonia and other Middle or East-European states that regained their independence in the beginning of 90s), where the social structures that were valid for decades are radically changing, sometimes turned totally upside down?

I wished I knew enough about Middle- and Eastern European countries so that I could give a serious answer to that question. I am sure that Estonians and others in those regions have answers to those questions. It is indeed interesting to watch that the fast, radical, change of ideologies in these countries contradicts the usual slow development and change of ideologies. Apparently, socialism and communism were ideologies imposed from above and inconsistent with the experiences and interests of the people, so that they could not be sustained by popular ideologies, as is the case for racism in Europe. And since, through television, most people in Eastern Europe were rather well informed about the West, and could compare their economic situation, there was enough underground resistance against the adoption of the official ideologies. So when the State no longer could maintain its control, also its official ideologies were quickly replaced by that of the powerful Other: that of the West. Ironically, this is also the case for the ethnic prejudices in Eastern Europe. Under official socialism the dominant ideology was internationalism and solidarity with the Third World. As soon as this ideology disappeared also the deep-rooted and old popular ideologies against local minorities could be much more expressed and distributed, e.g. against Jews and Roma ("gypsies").

 Many Post-Socialist transition countries can be characterized by ethnic relations, where the tables were turned almost overnight - the former dominant majority group (Russians in the Soviet Union) became a minority group almost overnight in the newly independent small countries (former Republics of SU). How well do the theoretical approaches developed on the empirical base of clearly formulated or well-formed relations between the white dominant group and the black or colored minorities suit for the study of such ethnic relations that have changed radically over a very short period of time?


            Part of that answer is already implied in what I just said about Eastern European ethnicism against Roma and Jews. Russians may now be a minority in Estonia, but their discrimination is not ethnic, but rather sociopolitical, while the Russians representing the old masters. This is similar to the anti-German feelings in Holland after the Nazi occupation. There are many such examples in the world, of animosity between groups that are ethnically-racially the same or closely related, but where economic, historical, or political domination or competition is at stake. It may be hoped that after a few generations the "ethnic" Russians will be totally integrated in Estonia. On the other hand, discrimination of Russians who have always lived in Estonia, e.g. because their parents or grandparents went to live there, is of course as wrong as any other discrimination, even if one can understand it.


           Do you assume that the relations between majority and minority groups, together with respective discursive and social practices are always similar in all societies and that the majority group always discriminates by all possible means the minority group? Can it be possible that in the societies with complicated historical context (e.g., in postcolonial and transition societies) the relations between the (new) majority group and the (new) minority group are not one-dimensional, but that the discrimination of Others and cultural racism exists in the discursive practices of both groups?


Of course majority-minority relations are different in different social, political or historical contexts. Minorities are not always and not everywhere oppressed. I was talking of my own research on ethnic  minorities from Africa, Asia and the Americas, in the USA, Europe (as well as in Australia, South Africa, etc.), that is in European dominated societies. Throughout history, as from colonialist occupation, exploitation, and oppression until today in many countries, the "ethnic" or "racial" others have been marginalized, problematized, and oppressed, in a variety of ways. My definition of racism is in terms of systems of domination and power abuse by Europeans against these ethnic Others. Whatever minorities may feel about the (ethnic) majority, e.g. blacks about whites, it cannot, by definition, be called racism, because they do not have the power to translate such feelings into forms of power abuse. The same is true for women and men in the system of sexist discrimination. In other words, each system of domination and each system of resistance needs to be analyzed against its historical context. Many groups may have prejudices about other groups, but only in specific situations they are able to translate such prejudice into systematic discrimination, exclusion and oppression. In that respect, I am critical of all forms of power abuse, wherever. Thus, in Israel I may be critical against power abuse of the strong Israeli state and army against Palestinians. In Europe, and especially also in Eastern Europe, I may be critical of anti-Semitism and anti-Roma discrimination. As an independent critical scholar I try not to be blind in one eye, and condone discrimination and oppression by those who are normally considered as our "friends." In the same way as virtually all Dutch elites attacked me because I showed that Dutch elites are part of the problem of racism, I would not be afraid to criticize Eastern European, or Estonian, anti-Semitism, or anti-gypsy discrimination in Romania or Hungary -- even if my friends there do not understand my critique. The moral criteria are very simple: You simply do not treat others in ways that you would not treat members of your own group. Thus, although anti-Russian feelings in Estonia are as understandable, given the historical record, as anti-German feelings in the Netherlands, it obviously cannot be condoned that the children or the children of the children are blamed for the misdeeds of their parents or grandparents. It is quite different political situation, however, to resist the power of the Russian state. Again: we need to analyze each situation in its own right, but apply general moral criteria when we criticize those who are in power at each moment.


The last major work on ideology published in Estonia was "The Sublime Object of Ideology" by Slavoj Zhizhek. In the end of your book you state that the development of a fully fledged theory of ideology cannot be left only to philosophers, among other scholars. Why so and how do your and Zhizhek's approach to ideology differ? The following cut from an interview with Zhizhek inspired the last question, no 17: "If Yugoslavian socialism produced a thoroughly cynical citizenry, a country of people who understood that the last thing the regime desired was for them to believe too ardently in the official principles of communism, this, argues Zhizhek, was ideology at its most effective. "The paradox of the regime was that if people were to take their ideology seriously it would effectively destroy the system," he says. In his account, cynicism and apathy are explanations not for the regime's failure but, perversely, for its success. "The conventional wisdom is that socialism was a failure because, instead of creating a 'New Man,' it produced a country of cynics who believed that the system is corrupt, politics is a horror, and that only private happiness is possible ," he argues. "But my point is this: Perhaps depoliticization was the true aim of socialist education? This was surely the daily experience of my youth.")

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I have read Zhizhek, but do not see how he has contributed something fundamentally new to our understanding of ideology. Rather, he continues a long tradition of philosophers, whereas I propose a multidisciplinary theory involving detailed discourse analysis, detailed cognitive and social psychology and detailed analysis of social practices and interaction, within a coherent framework. I am not aware of any other approach that takes such an integrated view of ideology.  Also, obviously, I never was and am not a Marxist, nor a neo-Marxist, and hence am much less influenced by the strong Marxist influence in the history of the theory of ideology. So I also distance myself from contemporary approaches that integrate that tradition, whether inspired by Lukacz or Gramsci or Althusser, or even Stuart Hall, whether or not some of their ideas or notions have appeared to be useful, or may concur with them on other issues, as is the case for the analysis of racism by Stuart Hall.


 Your book is published in a country, where the euphoria of regaining independence is gone and where cynical people, alienated from politics are pursuing personal success and building personal life, so that the successful ones form a fertile ground for neoliberalism and the poorer for xenophobic and racist attitudes to protect their scarce resources. If ideology is a set of shared beliefs, then how to get people to believe in something constructive and positive, how to get them to act collectively? Zhizhek has said in one of his interviews: "My dream is to combine an extremely dark, pessimistic belief that life is basically horrible and contingent, with a revolutionary social attitude." What is your dream or guiding thought?

 

What Zhizhek says about the former Yugoslavia applies to many countries. Apathy and cynicism is rife in many forms of oppression. Not believing in politicians and observing corruption everywhere is part of daily life in large parts of South America and Africa, and parts of Asia. Again, it does nor matter whether defended in terms of communism or in terms of neoliberalism. If you say that increasingly the same is true in Estonia -- and I guess in much of Eastern Europe -- I guess I am hardly surprised, and it confirms what I just said: that such an attitude is likely possible under socialism as well as under liberalism, especially under those who under both systems suffer most. Ideologies are shared group representations, and they can be used for many aims -- either to dominate, oppress or to resist. Although I am profoundly critical of injustice, inequality, oppression, especially where it marginalizes most people, as is the case for sexism worldwide, or of racism in many countries, or as the cause of poverty anywhere, I am not a pessimist. There always have been, and always will be forms of resistance, of reformulating ideals and set new collective aims. The Civil Rights Movement in the USA, the Anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa, the feminist movement anywhere, and the resistance against soviet-imperialism and communism in Eastern Europe, are examples of such movements, as have been pacifism and the ecological movements and anti-globalization today. And we see that because of such struggles the forms of domination tend to change and occasionally also bring more egalitarian situations. I see that despite the antiracist movement throughout western Europe racism or xenophobia is growing, especially in Denmark, Holland, Austria, Italy, and France, although it is present. As is already the case in several countries (the USA, the UK and France) this will spurn more resistance of minority groups especially when these are growing in political, economic and symbolic power, as is already the case for Hispanics in the USA. Our only hope are thoroughly democratic societies, where ethnic minorities are not marginalized or oppressed, where diversity is the norm, and gender and ethnic differences have become irrelevant. This is a tall order and a very long term process, but if we compare to centuries ago, and look at some countries, we see that although nothing is perfect, we have come a long way since blatant colonialism, slavery, ethnic genocide, sexism and racism. In sum, most of us are able, both individually or with a group, to struggle for a better society, and I am glad to see that despite widespread cynicism many do.

END