When considering the social and political dialogue that surrounds climate change or evolution, I often come up against this notion that not all sides of these conversations are equal. Dialogue, in its most productive understanding, is a dialectic of sorts, a civilized discussion bridging between differing perspectives, seeking the right place of reason, which could be closer to one initial position than another so long as the project is not to convince categorically, neither to persuade nor compromise, but to seek truth (if such a thing exists).

I don’t think that creationism should be taught in science classes because creationism is not a scientific theory.

I think it is dangerous to allow climate change deniers to take up space in public discussion when all evidence points to a warming world whose corollary is the need to change attitudes and actions rather immediately.

Slavoj Žižek’s “Are we in a war? Do we have an enemy?” was published nearly ten years ago in the London Review of Books. Written shortly after America’s “war on terror” began, it makes a case against taking seriously those who advocate for the allowance of torture. Žižek especially wants to shame those who make a case for legitimizing torture in extreme situations, as when a person refuses to reveal time sensitive information that could save many lives. Rather, “it is absolutely crucial that one does not elevate this desperate choice into a universal principle: given the unavoidable and brutal urgency of the moment, one should simply do it. Only in this way, in the very prohibition against elevating what we have done into a universal principle, do we retain a sense of guilt, an awareness of the inadmissibility of what we have done.” Žižek believes that attempts to legitimate torture as an option when dealing with an enemy is for that enemy to have won already, which I take to mean that through this self-dehumanization we are dehumanized as if through war/battle/conflict. To allow the legitimization of torture to be taken seriously in a debate about how to deal, in this particular case, with terrorism is to subvert the integrity of the debate such that, “any consistent ethical stance has to reject such pragmatic-utilitarian reasoning.”

I find Žižek’s proposal compelling for a couple of reasons. First, the idea that torture might ever be the right thing to do is incendiary, but raises a question about how unethical behaviour might also be ethically productive. Second, what opens up when certain topics or interpretations are categorically ruled out of a debate? How would the dialogue around climate change shift if climate change deniers were not permitted to take up equal yet opposite space in political discourse? Might America’s tactics in the “war on terror” be more humble and culturally sensitive if  acting like egotistical brutes were outside the realm of permissible reactions?

And then, relating this all back to curating, I consider again the productive space of failure, and contemplate invasive strategies for framing discussions that might be as generative as they are heavy-handed.


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