The Long March through Social Imagination

xtro realm / Climate Imaginary Reader

Social imagination appears to be suspicious – engagement with it may be easily questioned, as if it naively suggests that the social being of humans can be significantly determined by arbitrary association and the chaotic connection and disconnection of ideas produced by a reliance on impressions. As if it assumed, as a sign of a false idealism, that there is a mental sphere which could be effective in spite of the fact that it is detached from material processes. As if it also referred to the presumption that there is a fantasy which could become an efficient whole, despite not being collectively and completely coordinated beyond the contingencies of the individual mind. To sum it up, it seems that ideology, the order of discourse and the system of ideas cannot be based on mere imagination.

Thus, we need a surplus of intellectual effort in order to think of social imagination. Those who have reflected upon our social reality by keeping in mind the role of social imagination might be of great help. For instance, Cornelius Castoriadis referred not only to the general dimensions of imagination, but also precisely to the imaginative aspects of ecology, of our relation to our environment. Meanwhile, one must not forget that, for Castoriadis, imagination and creativity are not value-neutral categories. He claims that “man, qua creative power, is man when he builds the Parthenon or the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, as well as when he sets up Auschwitz or the Gulag”1. Similarly, there are also harmful or misleading ideas with regard to ecology.

Capitalist imagination, with its techno-scientific and industrial structural components and its commodification of nature, will continue with environmental expansion until it destroys its very own conditions, becoming essentially self-contradictory. This kind of imagination suggests that change is possible only if a green techno-science and green industrialism are created – that is to say, it cannot transcend beyond its own framework, even stabilizing and perpetuating its problems. In exactly the same way, a distorted (and seemingly emancipatory) ecological imagination is also possible: a kind of fantasy that substantially misleads us, suggesting that we should rely on Mother Nature – a warm-hearted Gaia who has in fact never existed in this sense.2 One might wonder whether people are capable of an imagination that takes into consideration what humans’ real place in the world is, keeps in mind that nature cannot be separated from society, and proves to be ready for the most difficult tasks: eliminating the productivist, seemingly infinitely invasive paradigm and enforcing the self-limitation of society

Relying on the ideas of Valerii Podoroga and Elena Petrovskaia, Susan Buck-Morss was not referring to imagination only in order to refer to a mere political logic, but to grasp a topographic concept, a political “landscape”, a concrete visual field in which political actors occupy theirs positions.3 According to Social Imagination,4 written by C. Wright Mills, imagination helps us to connect the personal with the structural. It can surpass the monotony and apathy of everyday life, and with its virtuosity enable a change of perspective which can unveil seemingly necessary and natural facts as contingent ones. As it is well known, Benedict Anderson discussed imagined communities, reflecting on the imaginative dimensions of nationalism in this manner (recall the invented traditions and mythological fictions about nations). By relying on the critical analysis of Orientalism, Maria Todorova wrote a book about Imagining the Balkans5. In the same spirit, there are books about Balkan mythopolitics (Ivan Čolović6) or about the imaginary Albanian of the Serbs (Aleksandar Pavlović7).

Randomroutines: Fencescape, 2013, courtesy of the artists. Photo: Dalibor Novotný

Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe referred to the Jacobin imaginary as something that defined the crisis horizon within Marxism-Leninism, and as an ideology that must be eliminated for the sake of a radical democratic project8. In his Imagining the State, Mark Neocleous finds that imagination is necessary: our only opportunity to think of the state as an invisible, abstract entity is to imagine it by projecting it in a concrete visual form (by personification, or by imagining it as a body or a mind, a Leviathan or a Behemoth)9. At one point Neocleous reminds us of the fact that, in the past, it was considered treason – punishable by death – when somebody “imagined” the death of the king (“when a man doth compass or imagine the death of our lord the king”)10. Imagination was thus not a mere arbitrary fantasy about unreality, but was entwined with purposefulness and planning.

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In direct contrast to German philosophy which descends from heaven to earth, here we ascend from earth to heaven. That is to say, we do not set out from what men say, imagine, conceive, nor from men as narrated, thought of, imagined, conceived, in order to arrive at men in the flesh. We set out from real, active men, and on the basis of their real life-process we demonstrate the development of the ideological reflexes and echoes of this life-process.11

Karl Marx–Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology

The real motives impelling him [the actor] remain unknown to him, otherwise it would not be an ideological process at all. Hence he imagines false or apparent motives.12

Friedrich Engels’ Letter to Franz Mehring

Social imagination appears to be suspicious – engagement with it may be easily questioned. The same applies to ideology understood as imagination. One might say that the concept of ideology has gone through many modifications. In principle, one might sketch an outline of ideas from Hegel to Lukács (not always under the name of „ideology”, however) which were heavily attacked by later thinkers. They rejected the insight according to which ideology is a bare misunderstanding, a mystification, distortion, mere illusion, dust in the eyes, and the result of trickery. Thus, ideology does not function as deception in Plato’s cave: there is not a clearly identifiable clique or secret group that would, by manipulation and the mere movements of their hands, deceive the minds of the vulnerable. As it is claimed by this naive model, “the ‘false consciousness’ case commits one to the view that ideology is simply unreal, a fantasy entirely disconnected from social reality”13. However, one might also ask whether “false” is identical to “unreal”, and whether it is not justifiable in many ideological cases to retain the opposition of true and false.

At a decisive time, the exponents of historical materialism and sociology found it suitable to make the concept of ideology free of these alleged misunderstandings. Among other claims, they suggested that ideology does not operate as a true/false binary, that is to say, it does not have a veridical status but it is essentially much more value-neutral. Therefore, it is no coincidence that they speculated that even communist societies would have an ideology. They were discussing ideology only in the sense of social relations mediated by an objective fantasy, or not even in that sense. Thus, they even rejected the concept of commodity fetishism as an idealistic residuum. They sought to emphasize how embedded ideology is in social practice, and to question the repressive hypothesis according to which ideology has simply negative effects: oppression and obstruction, sanction and limitation. Instead, they highlighted the constitutive and productive force of ideology – its positive contribution to sociability – in a functionalist manner. They also battled against idealism by reducing the distance between consciousness and practice, for instance, by emphasizing the contemporary dominance of cynical reason. That “they do know it, but are still doing it” utterly eliminates the motive of false consciousness given that consciousness is not false anymore and does not even differ minimally from practice as a sui generis phenomenon – it is a mere addition.

It was a “logical fag end” that certain theoreticians tried to eliminate the concept of ideology in this quite disturbing manner (as demonstrated by Foucault’s discourse or Bourdieu’s doxa, etc.) at the same moment when many self-proclaimed diagnosticians announced the end of ideologies. The binary nature of the false and the true, of consciousness and unconsciousness, of depth and surface finally disappeared, all of them placed on the same plane of immanence. As Fredric Jameson formulates with regard to the cultural logic of post-modernity, “there no longer exists any such ‘deeper logic’ for the surface to manifest and […] the symptom has become its own disease (and vice versa, no doubt)?”14

As they believe in there being only the one surface, imagination has become more and more suspicious because it presupposes a conscious surplus, an essential distance from the surface plan of practice and, what is more, can even imply the true/false binary. The very idea of imagination suggests the danger that, not only do they “not know it, but are doing it”, but possibly even that “they do not know it, but they are thinking of something more”. How can they distance themselves from the earth? Accordingly, imagination is mere epiphenomenal rubbish, a misty, otherworldly reconciliation of otherwise real contradictions. Obviously, this is not the sphere where emancipation and revolution might happen. We do not have to fantasize, we only have to act. We have to stand on the grounds of reality: this is how the philistine finishes his thread.

However, we can take into account not only those who opposed this tendency by reintroducing the concept of ideology, but also those who attributed a significant role to imagination. One should recall the ambivalent Althusserian notion of ideology which referred to the imaginary and experienced relations between individuals, the representational mode of the real conditions of their being. “In ideology, the real relation is inevitably invested in the imaginary relation”15. In a Lacanian manner, the subject of ideology conceived in an Althusserian way thinks of herself as a united entity (that is to say, there is an original irrecognition of her own fragmentation) and as a subject who controls her own practice without any serious difficulties so that all this is embedded in the dynamics of desire. According to this approach, imagination is not “unreal” but is connected to images (just as in the Lacanian theory of the mirror stage). Thus, it is not mere illusion but an effective element of social reality.

We might also think of Nicos Poulantzas who followed the path of Althusser, and whose theory is also full of ambivalent insights. He opposes theory according to which ideology is mere trickery and which misleadingly subjectivizes it (which would mean that fascism simply made fools of the masses). However, he emphasizes that twisting and hiding things is an organic part of the ideology enforced by the state, and that this always has to be taken into consideration. Poulantzas is convinced that there is a secrecy with regard to power and bureaucracy which serves as an organizer of the discourse, so significant that the state often conceals its own strategy even from the bourgeoisie (to avoid the risk of the lower classes discovering the intentions of power). The state never conceals or masks everything: complex conditions determine what can be brought to the knowledge of the masses and what cannot. Poulantzas’ arguments reach their peak in the analysis of authoritarian etatism: “State policy is elaborated under the sign of secrecy, established as a permanent matter of State through hidden mechanisms, (…) that almost entirely escapes the control of public opinion”16. Ideology and imagination are heavily influenced by manipulation with secrecy which is implemented by the authoritarian state. In fact, this is simply the maximization of already existing bureaucratic secrecy. In other words, misled consciousness and the thus determined imagination are very much real.

Cosmic Voyage (1936). Photo: Moving Patterns

The historical materialist emancipation and re-thinking of imagination are also possible by other methods. It is enough to recall how Marxist aesthetics read science-fiction. According to Darko Suvin, this genre is convenient for interrupting our ideological slumber and for creating an alternative reality through the estrangement effect (distancing us from our own reality), thus opening a path for revolutionary practice17. One can also think of Ernst Bloch who argued for the significance of Aladdin’s lamp or Karl May’s novels: they include lines full of fantasy, Utopian projections, unfulfilled hopes and unsatisfied dreams that invite us beyond the realm of capitalist society. Much like Orientalism, fashion or avant-garde art (or, horribile dictu, the Ku Klux Klan), they express desire toward what is to come. Ideology and imagination are not simply to be unveiled, but can contain an emancipatory surplus by pointing forward to alternative times and spaces. A sudden moan, an extraordinary dream or an unusual journey can thus appear different. The Blochian view sees small revolutions breaking out everywhere which then perhaps develop into an even greater venture. Dissatisfaction with the status quo and progress toward radical novelty are essentially entwined”18. Imagination thus expresses subrational desires while still being the result of a conscious process. It invites us to Utopian spaces but still unfolds from our immanence. Finally, even though it denies the existing reality, it wants to affirm something else. Taken altogether, Utopian anti-capitalist authors all say yes to imagination in a certain sense.

Imagination is a constitutive part of our social reality. As our simplifying cognitive mapping and the naturalization of our social being, it is a necessary element of our societies. “The imaginary is thus in one sense clearly false: it veils from our eyes the way subjects and societies actually work. But it is not false in the sense of being mere arbitrary deception, since it is a wholly indispensable dimension of social existence, quite as essential as politics or economics”19. However, it should be added that imagination is a component of our sociability in the sense that it carries within itself Utopian-emancipatory contents. Is it possible that one day ideology will have to be reconceptualized as deception once again? When a satisfying analysis of social imagination is completed, it will embrace many historical examples: the Platonic noble lie, the simulacra imperii referred to by Tacitus and by the theoreticians of the reason of the state (together with the principle qui nescit fingere nescit vivere, according to which one who is not capable of deception cannot live), or William Warburton’s investigations on dual religion: namely, one which is the privilege of the elite and the other which serves as the deception of the people, keeping them in illusion. Or William Bagehot’s analysis of the British dual system which was composed of “dignified” institutions and “efficient” ones, the former functioning as a complex set of ideologies and practices that “provide a link to the past and excite the public imagination”20. And, almost needless to say, it will also embrace the collection of Utopias and communal dreams…

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[Lies] are much more plausible, more appealing to reason, than reality, since the liar has the great advantage of knowing beforehand what the audience wishes or expects to hea.r21

Hannah Arendt, The Crisis of the Republic

The central role of fiction related to secrecy comes from the very dynamics of modernity. Not having been the functional aspect of the absolutist state, which was organized according to the principle of arcana imperii, secrecy has become an essential device in the (now existing) public sphere, concealed state-like processes, and (now existing) intimacy – regardless of whether it has to do with bedroom secrets or encounters behind closed doors. Secrecy that is not simply dark and unknown, but whose existence is very well known to ordinary citizens (in that they know that there are secret services and state secrets, regulated by law) necessarily opens up a place for guesses. Since the form is well-known but the content concealed, there is a possibility for extensive speculation, and the effet de secret (Jacques Derrida) results in the mass production of fiction. In societies in which it is expected that every public affair be analyzed and discussed by public reason, that is to say, where the topics – in principle relevant to all – are expected to be transparent, verifiable and accountable, state secrecy is a bizarre exception that inspires and moves the fantasy of citizens. Secrecy known only in its being but not in its content already has a “space of reflexion”22 owing to which many phenomena come into existence: wide-spread suspicion and accusation, a systemic lack of confidence, paranoia, bogus or well-founded conspiracy-theories and alternative narratives.

Since the citizen does not know what exactly the state secret is, nothing exists except for the labors of imagination. Thus in a moment, everything in modernity is flooded by secrecy and related speculations. Spy fiction is merely one case of the general omnipresence of fiction; the constructivist interpreters of secret services are far behind the constructions already existing within institutionalized secrecy. From Ian Fleming to Graham Green, from Kenneth Benton to David Cornwell, there are many who had experiences as both spies and spy fiction authors. As David Trotter puts it, “the British Secret Service, like the British spy novel, invested in … the same fantasy”23. In these societies, fiction has a constitutive role. Recall that Oliver Stone’s movie JFK, which speculated about the deep state, provoked an official investigation. Cryptophilia is at the same time a love of imagination. Of course, we can disenchant fiction, but only at the expense of remystifying it later on. The mystique of secrecy can in certain cases be overwhelmed by extreme measures. This is what Hannah Arendt, who believed that there are significant analogies between totalitarian movements and secret societies, claimed: “The Nazis started with the fiction of a conspiracy and modeled themselves, more or less consciously, after the example of the secret society of the Elders of Zion”24. It should also be noted that The Protocols of the Elders of Zion are also a fiction, created by the Russian tsarist Ohrana.

Oliver Stone: JFK (1991). Photo:

It is enough to consider the two occurrences which are most often reflected on in intelligence studies: the Cold War and the September 11 attacks. In 1956, George Kennan symptomatically discussed how “the image of Stalinist Russia poised and yearning to attack the West … was largely a creation of Western imagination”25. Fiction, bluffs and double-bluffs were, of course, mutual and multi-layered. Oleg Tumanov, an intelligence defector, fabricated simple confabulations even in his own autobiography26. Aldrich Ames, working as a double agent faithful to the Soviets, lied that he gained large amounts of money owing to his wife and passed the polygraph tests twice27.In general, there were too many fake defectors and double agents who compiled fictive reports28. Of course, every double agent could maintain herself or himself by building a systematic fiction. As Frederick P. Hitz formulated it, “the spy must live the legend he has constructed for himself”29 (“legend” being an important word in the intelligence vocabulary). Ill-founded suspicion and fictive fabricated charges were also essential elements of this epoch. The deep states of these decades also created fictions through their psychological operations, unveiled many times while being surrounded by huge scandals. As a matter of fact, the governments were those who aroused hysteria (as in the case of the Palmer Raids or during the McCarthy Era) or produced false conspiracy theories (as in the case of the Tonkin incident, the Watergate scandal, the Iran–Contra case, or the October Surprise in 1980).

Deep state analysts like Peter Dale Scott talk of deep structural events because they have discovered a large gap between fiction and reality30. The most surprising types of fiction were those bombings which were suggested to be the results of extreme leftist terrorism, while in fact the extreme right or the CIA were responsible for them, as it happened in Europe (first of all, in Italy). There were also similar plans in the USA (as in the case of Operation Northwoods during which Cubans had to be accused of terrorism) 31. False flag operations were widespread. It must also be mentioned that fake news is not a contemporary phenomenon: the Soviets were already taking pains to propagate their dezinformatsiya, for instance, in order to accuse the American state of the most important assassinations (John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Robert F. Kennedy). One must also not forget Operation Neptune which transmitted information about Transatlantic support for the Nazis, or Operation Infektion which suggested that AIDS was created by the American state.32 Perhaps it is no coincidence that many intelligence agents were driven crazy by the proliferation of fiction to the extent that they too began to produce fictions full of fantasy for their own sake. Frank Wisner, a high official in the CIA, suffered from manic depression and received shock therapy – he was stammering about Hitler, he heard voices and had visual hallucinations33. As a result of “CIA-syndrome”, an officer grabbed a gun in the building of the Yugoslav secret service in order to defend himself from the attack of the Americans – he was later diagnosed with persecution mania34.

We might pose similar questions with regard to 9/11. The event is shrouded by many suspicious and presumably fictitious aspects, providing excellent grounds for conspiracy-theories of those who do not accept the official interpretation. On the other hand, typically, numerous experts point to a failure of the imagination regarding the mistakes of American secret agencies, as they were unable to imagine the perspective of the Other and believed – due to mirror-imaging – that enemy is just as rational, caring for life and wary as they themselves35. Many intelligence experts encourage agencies, at the sign of such intelligence culturalism, to become better-informed about the Other – otherwise they will be faced with an imagined enemy instead of a real one. The anthrax letters deserve special attention because it was revealed that they can be linked to an American laboratory which researches biological weapons, not to Saddam Hussein or to terrorists. It is worth adding that the whole case is full of fictitious details, such as the hoax letters. David Shoham, the very same person who claimed that the anthrax letters can be connected to Iraq, in January 2020 asserted that COVID-19 was produced as a biological weapon by the Chinese government. Henceforth, imagination has special experts.

Perhaps more important is the familiar fiction related to 9/11: the Iraqi (nuclear and biological) weapons of mass destruction, and the systemic and enduring lies about them. Fitful efforts at the narrative construction of reality can be easily detected through the fact that, for a period of time, it was forbidden to make videos about dead soldiers “coming home” from Iraq and Afghanistan. The role of imagination and fiction is also well-illustrated by Lindsay Moran, who wrote her autobiography as an ex-CIA agent and left the agency because of her growing disillusionment with the intelligence bureaucracy, especially after the September 11, 2001 attacks. “Call me naïve, but when I was a girl-watching James Bond and devouring Harriet the Spy, all I wanted was to grow up to be a spy. (…) Getting in was a story in itself. I peed in more cups than you could imagine, and was nearly condemned as a sexual deviant by the staff psychologist. (…). Survive interrogation, travel in alias, lose a tail. One thing they didn’t teach us was how to date a guy while lying to him about what you do for a living. That I had to figure out for myself”36.

A final but significant example is related to Coronavirus albeit in an indirect way. Namely, during Operation Dark Winter, led by the Johns Hopkins Center and the fellow workers of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, there was a computer simulation which speculated about what would happen if a bioterrorist attack were launched against USA by the introduction of smallpox to the American public37. A few months before the real accusations against Iraq related to the anthrax letters were initiated, the Dark Winter simulation created false news which – among other stories – reported that Iraq might be supporting the hostile actors. Moreover, the experimenters even simulated that mainstream media outlets (such as the New York Times) would be sent anthrax letters if the U.S. did not withdraw its troops from the Middle East. In typical fashion, in the case of real anthrax attacks, it later transpired that Judith Miller received letters which turned out to be harmless – that is to say, fictitious.

To add to all of this, Dark Winter was an operation that included fiction within fiction: they simulated that the masses are dangerously misled by those who spread fake news, quackery and uncontrollable statements on the internet. Incidentally, independently of this project, American intelligence described the 9/11 attack as surprising and unimaginable, in spite of the fact that one year before the events they also simulated planes being flown into the Pentagon, thus anticipating the future events by fiction. Futhermore, fiction related to bio-terrorism has a long history: Ken Alibek, who defected to the US from the Moscow-based Biopreparat, provided confabulations for the Americans much earlier. “Many of Alibek’s sensational claims and dire warnings regarding the Soviet bio-weapons program in the 1990s would later be proven to be imaginative falsehoods. Despite this, Alibek retained influence in the biotechnology industry and Washington, where the ability to sell fear is often a sought-after trait”38.

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As it is suggested, just as the chasm between poverty and wealth is growing, so is the gap between truth and falsehood. Several years ago we received a diagnosis according to which we are living in the age of post-truth politics. This would mean that we are facing a discourse that is indifferent towards the veridical status of propositions, that is to say, it is not interested in whether they are true or not – instead, it builds upon feelings or the collective narcissism of “own truths”. This analysis concludes that, in the last few years, the new ideology of a little clique has been developing behind the façade of democracy. We have numerous reasons to express our doubts about this diagnosis. Firstly, the relativization of truth is not a contemporary phenomenon, as demonstrated by the extensive history of propaganda. Moreover, it is disturbing that this diagnosis claims that putting truth into parentheses is a Trumpist exception, despite the fact that – as far as the USA is concerned – lies are an organic part of 20th century history. After all, what was I. F. Stone investigating? Secondly, asserting that the true/false binary has completely disappeared is obviously false. Of course, this indignant diagnosis of the post-truth age itself indicates that our sensibility toward the veridical dimensions of propositions have not disappeared. Furthermore, it is enough to pay attention to Trump’s rhetoric to see that the true and the false have not been eliminated. It is especially perverse when Trump himself criticizes fake news or the deep state39. (The two problems are excitingly entwined in the topic of deepfake.) In these cases we are not simply facing a twofold lie, namely, a meta-lie which describes fidelity to truth in a false manner, but something far more complex. As Trump obviously tries to claim that something is true (not merely place true and false into parentheses), the most that can be said in these cases is that he is wrong about something.

Thirdly, diagnosticians of the post-truth age are often satisfied with the epistemological surface and with emphasis on the novel technical circumstances of the new ideology (social media, the democratization of virtual participation, etc.), instead of reflecting on the question of what kind of societal reasons lie behind these processes. (Is it declassing the middle class? Late capitalist workers losing conditions for a secure life? The competition between the “own truths” of the multipolar world?) Fourthly, according to the pragmatist concept of truth, what functions well in the proper framework is already true. If we want to understand the functionality of ideology, we cannot be satisfied with the true/false binary or with the diagnosis regarding post-truth. Of course, it could easily happen that a refugee really committed the crime of which he or she is accused. What is most important is not the truth of the information, but the conceptual web that we are using. Finally, it is embarrassing to deal with the simplification that the diagnosticians of the post-truth age use in order to mock alternative facts. Note some American examples: did the publication of the Pentagon Papers not demonstrate that precisely the “alternative truths” are correct? Did the Church Committee not shed light on the fact that secret agencies were surveilling American citizens within COINTELPRO? When Gary Webb was accused of spreading bogus conspiracy theories, was it not true that the CIA was aware of the weapon and drug trafficking of the Contras (as a special senate subcommittee, chaired by then-senator John Kerry, found “considerable evidence”)?40 When important American media outlets such as The New York Times or The Los Angeles Times began to eliminate the expression “torture” from their reports on waterboarding in order to get rid of negative connotations, was it not the task of the ordinary citizen to challenge the governing media to be faithful to the reality of facts? Instead of opposing Trump to a noble official-administrative truth or complaining about the reduction of the freedom of speech in the opposite direction, people ought to cherish verifiable and well-grounded alternative interpretations.

The figure of the refugee occupies a special role in contemporary ideology (similar to the figure of the Muslim who was born in Europe but is allegedly destroying the continent from the inside). Almost needless to say, this ideology unfolds in the sphere of the imagination. It is well known that, just as antisemitism does not require the presence of actual Jews (for instance, in Poland or in most East-European countries), Islamophobia and anti-migration stances do not require the presence of strangers in the neighborhood. There are a lot of analogies between antisemitism and these phenomena:

As Gábor Balázs claims:

these are precisely the same barbaric superstitions, Christian beliefs or folk myths aroused in the case of ‘Islam’, as it was in the case of XIX-XX century antisemitism. They have too many children (they overpopulate us – in XIX century Jewish families there were more children, than in Hungarian, German, Polish etc. ones), they take space from the natives, unemployment grows because of them (Le Pen: ‘five million immigrants – five million unemployed’, cf. numerus clausus), they repress women (it is hard to imagine more patriarchal families than in the Jewish homes) and, anyway, they are from the East, they smell, they pray as if they are crazy and they want to raise their churches everywhere (a mosque or a synagogue – times change) … To put it simply: they are strangers who migrated here and obviously want to stay – with their stupid habits. The language of xenophobia is always what is spoken by the dominant class and its servile intellectuals (as in the case of XIX-XX century antisemitism).41

Ideology is at its peak power when it combines these two aspects: they claim that Jew conspiracy and, almost needless to say, George Soros himself is behind the movements of the refugees. According to certain sources, in Hungary about forty-nine per cent of people believe Jews secretly run the world42.

The exponents of climate change denial encourage us to rethink the importance of ideology and imagination with regard to the endangerment of nature. Firstly, one should not overlook the significance of lies here. The fact that oil companies like Shell or Exxon knew about the possible catastrophic consequences of their business as far back as the 1980s but kept silent,43 or (as the case of the Heartland Institute demonstrates) the fact that behind scientists denying the climate catastrophe there are factions of capital, political cliques and lobby groups44 undoubtedly shows that our imagination is not influenced only by the abstract imperative of capitalist expansion, but also by concrete power-relations. Secondly, just as with the counterargument to the diagnosis of post-truth, the denial of ecological processes did not begin recently but in those civilizations which disappeared because of “climate change”, and the crisis of today actually began decades ago (the first warnings being in the 1950s). This also means that people must learn from the past, taking lessons from bygone struggles.

Thirdly, in the case of the ecological crisis it is especially important not to be satisfied with the mere question of truth or lies – one must interpret the facts and contextualize them. Fourthly, it is not enough to debate with climate change deniers – the position of the other side must also be understood. Is it not understandable if a coal-mine worker from Wyoming is not enthusiastic about the plan to close his factory? Fifthly, Castoriadis was correct in claiming that imagination is in itself value-neutral. Our contemporary ecological imagination is influenced from many directions, such as those organizations and corporations who are keen on donning green clothes by introducing green industry and green technology. Eco-fascism is also dangerous to our imagination in its certainty that we need an authoritarian state in order to return to Mother Nature. Imagination is a field of conflicts and we should not accept that there is only one possible official interpretation – the contesting alternative interpretation can also be true.

* * *

We are facing a strange situation. Ideology naturalizes the status quo as normal and we have to be faithful to our propositions regarding nature in order to denaturalize our present social conditions. Recently, I participated in an online discussion in which one participant (an MIT employee) claimed that the sea level will rise significantly in Myanmar only by the end of the 21st century. It is not our task to deal with this issue but the next generation’s, he claimed (my data suggests that the escalation of the catastrophe will begin in 2050, but this is not the issue at hand). At this point I remembered something. Blaise Pascal’s wager implies that a rational person should live as though God exists. If God does not actually exist, such a person will incur only a modest loss, whereas if God does indeed exist he stands to receive infinite gains and avoid infinite losses. I thought that, mutatis mutandis, perhaps I should say the same of the case of the ecological crisis. If we really change to green and limit growth, at least we have a more human- and nature-friendly society. But if we save humanity too, that would not be a deplorable consequence. Pascal’s wager was a leap of faith. We need a leap of imagination.

Mark Losoncz (1987) defended his PhD at the University of Novi Sad. He accomplished part of his doctoral research at École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) in Paris and he also conducted a post-doctoral research at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich. He is a research fellow at the Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory (University of Belgrade). He is author and/or editor of eight books. His works are published in English, French, German, Serbian/Croatian, Slovenian and Hungarian.

The Climate Imaginary Reader is edited by the members of xtro realm artist group, Rita Süveges and Anna Zilahi, editor of visual material is Gideon Horváth.

The publication of the text was supported as part of the Risk Change (2016–2020) project by the Creative Europe program of the European Union and National Cultural Fund of Hungary.

Climate Imaginary Reader

Introduction to Issue 9 – by Anna Zilahi
The World as Contingent Space – by Anna Zilahi
The Politics of Susceptibility – by Héla Hecker
Climate Change, COVID-19, and the Space Cabin: A Politics of Care in the Shadow of Space Colonization – by Réka Patrícia Gál
Between Two Giants: Materialism and the Social Imaginary in the Energy (Transitions) of Hungary – by John Szabo
Beyond the Postcard: an Ecocritical Inquiry on Images of Nature – by Rita Süveges
The Long March through Social Imagination – by Márk Losoncz


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1 Cornelius Castoriadis, The Rising Tide of Insignificancy (The Big Sleep), accessed July 20, 2020,

2 Cf. Csaba, András, “Felvetések az ‘ökológiai ideológia’ térnyerésével kapcsolatban,” Új Egyenlőség (blog), June 9, 2019.

3 Susan Buck-Morss, Dreamworld and Catastrophe: The Passing of Mass Utopia in East and West Dreamworld (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press), 12–13.

4C.W. Mills, The Sociological Imagination (London: Oxford University Press, 1959)

5 Maria Todorova, Imagining the Balkans (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997)

6 Ivan Čolović, Politika simbola: Ogledi o Političkoj Antropologiji (Belgrade: XX Vek, 2000)

7 Aleksandar Pavlović, Imaginarni Balkanac: Simbolika Kosova i Figura Albanca u Srpskoj Kulturi (Beograd: IFDT, 2019)

8 Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouff, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (London: Verso, 1985), 2, 5, 69–77, etc.

9 Mark Neocleous, Imagining the State (Maidenhead: Open University Press, 2013)

10 Statute of Treasons of 1351, 25 Edward III. Cited by Neocleous, IN.: Imagining the State (Maidenhead: Open University Press, 2013), 3.

11 Karl Marx, The German Ideology, accessed July 25, 2020,

12 Friedrich Engels, Marx and Engels Correspondence (International Publishers, 1968), accessed July 25, 2020,

13 Terry Eeagleton, Ideology: An Introduction (London: Verso, 1991), 15.

14 Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1991), XI.

15 Louis Althusser, For Marx (London: Allen Lan, 1969), 234.

16 Nicos Poulantzas, State, Power, Socialism (London: NLB, 1978), 225.

17 Darko Suvin, Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1979)

18 Márk Losoncz, “A lájkoló ész kritikája.” Kalligram Folyóirat 21, no.10: 82-90.

Cf. Douglas Kellner, Ernst Bloch, Utopia and Ideology Critique, accessed July 25, 2020,

19 Eagleton, Ideology, 143.

20Michael Glennon, National Security and Double Government (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 5–6.

21 Hannah Arendt, The Crises of the Republic (Mariner Books,1972, 6.)

22 Eva Horn, Der Geheime Krieg: Verrat, Spionage und Moderne Fiktion (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch, 2007), 124.

23 Cited by: Horn, Der geheime Krieg, 169.

24 Hannah Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism (New York: Harvest Book, 1979), 378.

25 Cited by: Neocleous, Critique of Security (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008), 97.

26 Night West, “Cold War intelligence defectors,” In Handbook of Intelligence Studies, ed. Loch K. Johnson. (New York: Routledge, 2007), 230.

27 Stan A. Taylor, “Counterintelligence failures in the United States.” In Handbook of Intelligence Studies, ed. Loch K. Johnson (New York: Routledge, 2007), 241.

28 Taylor, “Counterintelligence”, 237–252.

29 Frederick P. Hitz, The Great Game: the Myths and Reality of Espionage.( New York: Vintage Books, 2004), 62.

30 See for instance:

Peter Dale Scott, “The American Deep State, Deep Events, and Off-the-Books Financing.” The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol.12, Iss.14, No.3. (Apr 06, 2014),

31 See for instance: Ola Tunander, Democratic State v Deep State.” Wikispooks, January 1, 2008.

32 David Robert Grimes, “Russian fake news is not new: Soviet Aids propaganda cost countless lives,” The Guardian, June 14, 2017.

Also: Neil MacFarhquhar, A Powerful Russian Weapon: The Spread of False Stories, The New York Times, August 29, 2016.

33 Tim Weiner, Nasleđe Pepela: Povijest CIA-e (Zagreb: Faktura, 2011)

34 Marko Lopušina, CIA u Srbiji 1947–2010, (Beograd: Knjiga Komerc, 2010), 116.

35 For instance: Scott Aatran, “A Failure of Imagination (Intelligence, WMDs, and “Virtual Jihad”),” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, Volume 29 (2006), 285–300.

36 Lindsay Moran, Blowing my Cover: My Life as a CIA Spy (New York: Berkeley Books, 2005), Back cover.

37 Whitney Webb – Raoul Diego, “All Roads Lead To Dark Winter.” The Last American Vagabond, April 1, 2020.

38Whitney Webb and Raoul Diego, “A Killer Enterprise: How One Of Big Pharma’s Most Corrupt Companies Plans To Corner The Covid-19 Cure Market,” The Last American Vagabond, April 9, 2020.

See also: David Willman,Selling the threat of Bioterrorism,” The LA Times, July 1, 2007.

39 For instance: Peter Dale Scott, Donald J. Trump and the Deep State, Part 1,” Who. What. Why., February 6, 2017,

Peter Dale Scott, “Donald J. Trump and the Deep State, Part 2,” Who. What. Why., February 7, 2017.

Peter Dale Scott, “Trump VS. ‘Deep State’? That’s how Light Gets In.” Who. What. Why., March 6, 2017.

See also: David Rohde, In Deep: The FBI, the CIA, and the Truth about America’s “Deep State”, (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2020)

40 Ryan Devereux, “How the CIA Watched over the Destruction of Gary Webb,” The Intercept, September 25, 2014,

41 Balázs Gábor, “Mekka bölcseinek jegyzőkönyvei,” Red News, February 28, 2015,

42German Sirotnikova, Miroslava, “Trust in Democracy Fragile in Central Europe, Balkans – Report,” Balkan Insight, June 23, 2020

43Benjamin Franta, “Shell and Exxon’s Secret 1980s Climate Change Warnings,” The Guardian, September 19, 2018,

44Bob Ward, “Leaked Files Expose Heartland Institute’s Secrets,” New Scientist, February 16, 2012,

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