Slavoj Žižek Answers the Question “Should We Teach Children to Believe in Santa Claus?”

Local par­ent tells oth­er local par­ent how to raise their chil­dren: this sce­nario has pro­voked many a neigh­bor­hood list­serv flame­war, and maybe a street brawl or three. Unkempt and inflam­ma­to­ry philoso­pher Slavoj Žižek telling par­ents how to raise their chil­dren? Well… maybe a few hun­dred eye­rolls.

I exag­ger­ate. Žižek only address­es one small aspect of parenting—a benign, cul­tur­al­ly spe­cif­ic one at that, which ranks far beneath, say, health and edu­ca­tion and falls in line with whether one should pre­tend to be a noc­tur­nal crea­ture who lives on children’s teeth, or to see a giant rab­bit in the spring.

We’re talk­ing about San­ta Claus, and to lie or not to lie to your kids is the ques­tion posed to Žižek by stu­dents at SUNY Brock­port in the low-qual­i­ty video above. If you can adjust to the audio/video, you’ll hear the cul­tur­al the­o­rist give an inter­est­ing answer. I can’t vouch for its con­so­nance with child psy­chol­o­gy, but as a par­ent, I can say my tiny demo­graph­ic con­firms the insight.

Though he’s near­ly inaudi­ble at first, we even­tu­al­ly hear Žižek say­ing, “No… they will absolute­ly take it as this cyn­i­cal [rea­son?] of ‘let’s pre­tend that it’s real,’ no mat­ter how much you insist that you mean it lit­er­al­ly.” For those who might ago­nize over the ques­tion, it may be most kids aren’t near­ly as gullible as we imag­ine, just good sports who don’t want to let us down.

This would not be a Žižek answer if it did not veer into claims far more ambi­tious, or grandiose, than the ques­tion seems to war­rant. Sens­ing per­haps he’s on shaky ground with the whole par­ent­ing advice thing, he quick­ly moves on to the sub­ject of “what does it mean, real­ly, to believe?” Belief, says Žižek—in the sense of indi­vid­ual, inward assent to meta­phys­i­cal propositions—is a mod­ern inven­tion.

In attempt­ing to make Saint Nicholas believ­able to chil­dren, we’ve para­dox­i­cal­ly turned him into a car­toon char­ac­ter (and in the U.S. and else­where ban­ished his lov­able demon side­kick, Kram­pus). Kids see right through it, says Žižek in anoth­er inter­view above. And so, “You have a belief which is nobody’s belief! Nobody believes in the first per­son.”

Why, then, not just admit we’re all pre­tend­ing, and say “we’re enjoy­ing a sto­ry togeth­er”? We do it every night with chil­dren, this one just involves food, lights, fam­i­ly, gifts, sweaters, uncom­fort­able trav­el and maybe reli­gious cer­e­monies of your tra­di­tion. You can often hear Žižek opine on those kinds of beliefs as well. My only com­ment on the mat­ter is to say, sin­cere­ly, Hap­py Hol­i­days.

via Crit­i­cal The­o­ry

Relat­ed Con­tent:

In His Lat­est Film, Slavoj Žižek Claims “The Only Way to Be an Athe­ist is Through Chris­tian­i­ty”

Slavoj Žižek: What Ful­fils You Cre­ative­ly Isn’t What Makes You Hap­py

Hermeneu­tics of Toi­lets by Slavoj Žižek: An Ani­ma­tion About Find­ing Ide­ol­o­gy in Unlike­ly Places

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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