[From Sotiris Triantis]
Slavoj Zizek – in a video titled ‘Don’t Act. Just Think’ – suggests that in the social and political realm we should not act but think. It’s an odd, somewhat counter-revolutionary thesis. Historical change has always been brought about by collective action.
A more useful model might be: ‘First Think, Then Act’. When Noam Chomsky was asked by the German student magazine Zeit Campus what we should do in order to change the world, he replied: ‘Look around, analyze the problems, ask yourself what you can do and set out on the work!’ Chomsky’s view reflects both core parts of activism: Thought (analysis) and Action (synthesis). Zizek’s framework unfortunately includes only the analytic part.
The classic binary opposition between ‘thinking’ and ‘acting’ must be reconsidered. Instead of perceiving thought and action as a duality of opposites, it would be better to perceive them as two elements in a feedback loop in which thought leads to action and then action leads reflectively to a new level of experience and thus knowledge for thought.
Zizek, in Violence: Six Sideways Reflections, suggests that we should always think before we act. We should resist to the calls of pseudo-activism that always tries to engage us in action. He argues that we should always ‘learn, learn and learn’, as Lenin did after the beginning of World War One in 1914:
He withdrew to a lonely place in Switzerland, where he ‘learned, learned and learned’, reading Hegel’s logic. And this is what we should do today when we find ourselves bombarded with mediatic images of violence”. [p.7]
The problem is that if we always learn without acting then we never apply our knowledge. Zizek seems to perceive learning and acting as two separate elements in a binary opposition and doesn’t emphasize the way in which they are related.
Thinking is indispensable in order to plan the way to change. Nonetheless, the type of thinking that people need is not individual thought about the world’s problems; this type of thinking keeps people isolated and therefore far from acting. What they need instead is collective and reflective thought that can lead to a well-planned and successful action. Knowledge and thought are not sufficient for change.
Sotiris Triantis was born in Athens, in 1990. He is currently a postgraduate student of Social Cognition at University College London.
P.S. The Arab Spring is a perfect example of how the interactions between information sharing and participation in a socio-political movement can bring a huge change. In this massive movement people did not only think what to do with the situation but they also re-acted. In the meantime, the role of social media was crucial because they provided people with an information bomb that enabled them to act.
Generally, effective communication between the members of any movement is undoubtedly the key to success. This is how Arab Spring was transformed from a vast ‘online’ dialogue to a massive ‘offline’ movement. [See Saleem Kassim, Twitter Revolution: How the Arab Spring Was Helped By Social Media]