The Best Time I Pretended I Hadn’t Heard of Slavoj Žižek


One weird trick to frustrate the hell out of a Marxist bro


The other night, I pretended I didn’t know who Slavoj Žižek, the Slovenian Hegelian Marxist and cultural critic, was. I’ve done this before, but never to such triumphant effect. This Marxist bro I was talking to made a reference to Žižek that he obviously assumed I would get, and my heart sank. He was a nice guy, actually, but I saw the conversation stretching out in front of us, and I saw myself having to say things about Žižek and listen to him say things about Žižek, and I saw that I really did not want this to happen. “This is a bar,” I wanted to say, the same way that my grandmother might have said “This is a church.” A bar is not the appropriate venue for a loud, show-offy conversation about The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology.

At first, I thought I might be able to get away with ignoring the reference. Not so. He made another one, and then another one, and then said, sort of desperately, “Žižek argues that…” I saw the gap, and I took it. I asked him who that was, and he assumed I hadn’t heard him over the music. “ŽIŽEK” he shouted. “SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK.” I told him I’d never heard of such a person, and his eyes widened. His attempts to explain were met with the same denials. Celebrity philosopher? Nope. Lacan? Nope. Hegel? Nope. I stopped short of saying I had never heard of Karl Marx, but only just. This guy couldn’t believe it. How could I have never heard of Žižek?

He moved through the stages that everyone moves through when they have fallen prey to the Žižek Maneuver: disbelief, defiance, and finally, dizzy irritation. Maybe even a bit of actual anger. I could see that he thought I might be messing with him, but he could not prove it. He gave up on me shortly afterwards, and ignored me for the rest of the night. Later I saw him talking to his friends and pointing at me. I imagined what he was saying: “That girl over there, she doesn’t even know who Žižek is. ŽIŽEK.” I smiled at him and waved.


This is the Žižek game, and I am going to teach you how to play it. Think of these instructions as the opposite of the ones offered in “How to Be Polite,” Paul Ford’s beautiful essay about graciousness and its effects on other people. Ford’s advice is meant to be lived by. My advice is intended only for special occasions. It is for when you have an itch to scratch, and that itch is called, “a puerile desire to get on other people’s nerves.” All you do is stonily deny any knowledge of a person or cultural touchstone that you should, by virtue of your other cultural reference points, be aware of. These will of course be different for everyone, but my favorites include:

Žižek, John Updike, MORRISSEY (only for experts), Radiohead, Twin Peaks, David Lynch in general, Banksy (only for streetfighters), Withnail and I, Bauhaus (movement), Bauhaus (band), Afrika Burn, the expression “garbage person,” A Clockwork Orange, Steampunk (this one is really good), Jack Kerouac, “Gilmore Girls,” Woody Allen, the expression “grammar nerd,” the expression “grammar Nazi,” cocktails, bongs, magical realism, millennials, Cards Against Humanity, trance parties, bunting, many comedians, William Gibson, burlesque, the Beats, The God Delusion, sloths, anarchism, Joy Division, CrossFit, “The Mighty Boosh,” and Fight Club.


Find someone who is crazy about Morrissey, and pretend you have no idea who that is. It drives people nuts. I don’t know why, but it does. Just kidding, I know exactly why, because I myself have been on the receiving end of the Žižek Maneuver. This girl I had a bit of a crush on told me she had never watched “Twin Peaks,” and it damn near killed me. The reason I had a crush on her in the first place is because we liked so many of the same books, and movies, and music. How could she have never watched “Twin Peaks?” Was she messing with me? How? It did not for a second occur to me that she just hadn’t got round to it. My immediate response was to believe that she had deliberately not watched it in order to get on my nerves. When she told me later that of course she had watched “Twin Peaks,” my eye started twitching.

This is the beating heart of the Žižek Game: the disbelief that something you care about has failed to register on the consciousness of another. The agony of suspecting that someone has looked at Slavoj Žižek’s Wikipedia page and thought “I do not need to know about this man.”

The game has a few rules. They are there for your safety, as well as that of your opponent.

1. This game can only be played with people who don’t know you very well. Otherwise you will be out there lying to some bros about how you don’t know what Fight Club is, and your brother will just lean over and say “Bullshit. I’ve watched it with you twice.” Game over.

2. Choose your opponent carefully. It has to be someone who is cut from the same cloth, because they need to be stunned by your apparent ignorance. I live in Cape Town, which feels like one of the most cliquey cities in the world, so it’s easy for me to find people to play with. It might be harder where you are.

3. Choose your subject carefully, too. The game works best when you choose something that is normally the prompt for a great deal of intellectual posturing, of talking in a loud, bored voice.

4. Your success in this game depends on your ability to cope with people thinking you are dumb. This is so important. Adolescent conditioning—I grew up in a city with a strong surf/skate subculture of people who like to get extremely high—means that I am not only comfortable with people thinking I am dumb, I actually lean into it. I pretend I’ve never heard of Roman Polanski all the time. I do not falter, and neither must you. Your opponent must never have the satisfaction of looking down on you. When they begin to scoff and roll their eyes, because how could you have never heard of the Weimar Republic, you must simply smile and shrug your shoulders. If you look abashed, your opponent has won.

5. Please note: do not confuse this game with the phenomenon known as “performative dislike of something that other people love.” Saying that you hate the Beatles is not at all the same thing as saying that you have never heard of the Beatles.

6. Most importantly: Don’t do this to anyone who will be hurt by it, as opposed to merely irritated. If a nerd is holding forth enthusiastically on his chosen topic, it’s unkind to say that you don’t know what he’s talking about. He will be crushed. Similarly, if someone is very excited about something, it’s best just to go along with it. When I was about eleven, my dad got a new job and, with it, a company car. This was a big deal. My family had a long history of owning extremely shitty and/or impractical cars, so any departure from this tradition was cause for celebration. (That my dad’s new car was a Volvo station wagon should give some idea of how low the bar was.) I told this girl at my school about it, the day after the car arrived at our house. She was the first person I saw, and I just burst out with it: “My dad got a Volvo.” Don’t laugh — I was only eleven, and his previous car had been 1983 Renault sedan whose front doors didn’t close properly, so it let in a lot of rain. The interior was often damp and muggy as a result, like a greenhouse, and sometimes there were little mushrooms growing on the floor of the passenger side. The Volvo, with its Swedish engineering, and its doors that closed every time, was thrilling to me. The girl (she was very popular) looked at me with narrowed eyes and said “I don’t know what a Volvo even is.” Whether or not she was telling the truth is irrelevant. Maybe she really didn’t know what a Volvo is, or maybe she just wanted me to be quiet, but I remember a feeling of deflation far beyond what was reasonable. What was I supposed to say? “A Volvo is a kind of car?”


As I said, this really is only for special occasions, but up there are the rules for when you need them. And you will, one day, need them. You’ll be out, and someone will start to talk about Žižek. This is a bar, you will think, as you begin to panic about what the future holds. Now you know what to do. Go forth and conquer.




Huntington kemudian merumuskan teorinya tentang political order dan political decay. Dalam memahami teori Huntington ini, penting dipahami dua konsep vital: partisipasi politik (political partisipation) dan institutionalisasi politik (political institutionalitation). Partisipasi politik adalah keleluasaan bagi kelompok di masyarakat untuk berpartisipasi di arena politik, sementara institusionalisasi politik adalah proses dimana prosedur dan pengorganisasian alokasi power di masyarakat mendapat nilai dan menjadi stabil. Stabilitas politik, atau political order, adalah hasil dari institutionalisasi politik yang lebih intens dan maju daripada kecepatan dan skup partisipasi politik. Sebaliknya, instabilitas politik—political decay—adalah akibat dari skup dan kecepatan partisipasi politik yang melampaui tingkat institutionalisasi politik. Dalam teori ini, kecepatan dari partisipasi politik dan institusionalisasi politik penting untuk diperhatikan.

Political Participation > Political Institutionalization = Political Decay

Political Participation < Political Institutionaliation = Political Order

Institusi dan proses institutionalisasi kemudian menjadi penting dan sentral dalam teori Huntington. Ia mendefinisikan institusi sebagai “pola perilaku yang stabil, berulang, dan dijunjung” dalam masyarakat dimana institusi mewujud dalam organisasi dan prosedur. Sementara institutionalisasi adalah “proses dimana organisasi dan prosedur menjadi stabil dan dijunjung” oleh masyarakat (hal.12). Fungsi institusi menurut Huntington adalah, “temper, moderate, and redirect that power so as to render the dominance of one social force compatible with the community of many.” (hal. 9).

Jadi institusi memediasi dan meredakan efek power yang digunakan berbagai kelompok sosial secara telanjang dalam arena politik. Dapat dicatat, definisi Huntington perihal institusi sedikit berbeda dengan definisi institusi di literatur New Institutional Economic, yang meminjam definisi Douglas North. Menurut North, institusi adalah peraturan dan regulasi.

Sebagaimana yang James Madison pernah tulis di The Federalist No.51: “the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.” (Madison via Huntington, hal.7).

Stabilitas terlebih dahulu setelah itu barulah demokrasi?



Pagi ini ketika membuka Facebook, saya tergelitik dengan sebuah postingan bernuansa SARA yang ditulis oleh Jonru Ginting, seorang mantan wartawan kompas yang kini aktif menulis berbagai buku, dan aktif membela PKS (kadang secara membabi buta), entah beliau salah satu kadernya atau bukan.

Saya biasanya malas menanggapi sebuah tulisan yang saya anggap konyol, namun berhubung Pak Jonru ini cukup dikenal oleh masyarakat, punya banyak pengikut, maka saya merasa wajib untuk memberikan sanggahan jika ada tulisannya yang saya anggap tidak sesuai. Bukan semata-mata untuk mengoreksi atau mengubah pandangan beliau (yang saya yakin sangat sulit karena dilihat dari usianya), melainkan agar pengikutnya itu tidak ikut terjebak dalam pemikiran yang sesat.

Berikut adalah kutipan status yang ingin saya tanggapi kali ini:

Catatan: saya menggunakan fitur embed status, jika status tidak muncul di halaman ini, silahkan klik link berikut.

Oke, sebelumnya saya perlu tegaskan bahwa saya bukan orang yang anti diskusi masalah SARA, saya biasa melakukannya dan saya kerap melakukan kritik dan mengungkapkan ketidaksukaan secara terbuka pada ajaran agama tertentu, jadi poin terakhir saya setuju, tapi tidak dengan soal bagaimana memandang demokrasi.

Kesalahan terbesar dari pemikiran Pak Jonru terlihat dari kalimat:

Dalam demokrasi, seharusnya mayoritaslah yang memimpin.

Sungguh lucu kalimat ini, dengan logika seperti itu maka kita bisa mengatakan bahwa untuk masyarakat yang mayoritas penduduknya bodoh, maka pemimpinnya juga harus bodoh, untuk masyarakat yang mayoritas penduduknya adalah perempuan, maka perempuan lah yang harus memimpin, untuk masyarakat yang mayoritas miskin maka pemimpinnya harus miskin. Artinya kita selama ini telah salah memilih pemimpin.

Saya punya pandangan yang berbeda, bagi saya:

Dalam demokrasi, pemimpin yang terpilih bukan mewakili siapa masyarakatnya melainkan apa yang diinginkan oleh masyarakatnya

Dalam artian sekalipun masyarakatnya bodoh, namun jika mereka menginginkan pemimpin yang cerdas maka kemungkinan untuk orang yang cerdas terpilih sebagai pemimpin semakin besar, begitu juga dengan agama, sekalipun masyarakatnya mayoritas muslim namun jika mereka menginginkan figur yang tegas, cerdas, sederhana, dan pluralis, maka tokoh dengan figur itulah yang akan menjadi pemimpin, entah tokoh itu seorang muslim atau tidak, bukan menjadi soal.

Kemudian saya juga tergelitik dengan pernyataan bahwa di Bali, gubernurnya seharusnya adalah seorang Hindu, begitu juga presiden di India, sedang di Jakarta gubernurnya adalah seorang muslim karena penduduk di Jakarta mayoritas muslim.

Nah, saya pikir Pak Jonru kurang mempelajari sejarah. Saya orang Bali, saya tahu betul bali pernah diperintah oleh seorang gubernur yang beragama Islam, yaitu Soekarmen, begitu juga dengan Kapolda Bali yang pernah beberapa kali dipimpin oleh non Hindu seperti Burhanidin Andi yang seorang muslim, dan Kapolda Bali sekarang yaitu Benny Mokalu yang beragama Katolik (lebih minoritas lagi di Bali), tapi tidak ada masalah, karena kami paham bahwa mereka dipilih berdasarkan kapasitasnya.

Hal serupa terjadi di  India yang beberapa kali dipimpin oleh seorang presiden muslim seperti Zakir HussainMohammad Hidayatullah, dan Abdul Kalam, yang sekalipun mendapat banyak kecaman dari masyarakat Hindu tapi toh beliau dipertahankan sesuai konstitusi. Ini lah yang seharusnya dilakukan oleh sebuah negara, tidak takut diancam oleh kelompok agama yang radikal dan tetap mempertahankan keputusan selama tidak bertentangan dengan konstitusi, sebagaimana Jakarta yang mempertahankan Lurah Susan dan Gubernur Henk Ngantung yang beragama Katolik setelah dikecam beberapa kelompok masyarakat.

Jadi apa yang ditulis oleh Pak Jonru bukan hanya memberikan pendidikan politik yang buruk, tapi juga berusaha menyesatkan masyarakat dengan informasi yang salah. Parahnya lagi, beliau yang mengajak untuk diskusi terbuka (seperti yang ditulis di akhir statusnya) ternyata tidak melakukan hal tersebut. Pak Jonru yang saya tahu suka melakukan blokir, akun facebook saya sudah diblokir hanya karena menulis tanggapan mengenai PKS, begitu juga dengan beberapa teman saya yang mendapat laporan yang sama, mereka diblokir setelah mengkritik tulisan beliau. Itu sebabnya saya menulis disini dan berharap beliau membacanya.