A few days ago I was walking along in the main building of the University of Vienna on my way to the library, thinking about something abstract and not paying attention to my surroundings, when suddenly a grey haired, vaguely professorial looking man was walking next to me and saying: “Do you know: they used to tell children not to whistle?” I looked at him blankly. “Do you know where that comes from? It’s because they weren’t allowed to whistle in Church.” I was at a loss as to what to say. He regarded me for an instant in silence and then said: “How repressive! Telling children not to whistle! … I experienced this myself!” And then, shaking his head, “I don’t know if you are on the right path, young man, I don’t know.”
I thought to myself: “Seriously? We’re standing in the University of Vienna where year after year clever professors lecture large audiences on how the Church served to dupe the people, keeping them docile to the ruling class, comforting them with lies and illusions, turning the aggression caused by their oppression away from the oppressors and toward themselves (penance) or toward heretics and Jews; or how She violently repressed the deepest human drives, laying on our culture a staggering burden of guilt, causing all kinds of psychosis, neurosis and so on; or how even now She is a nest of unspeakable hypocrisy and exploitation or whatever… And yet when you see a priest you feel compelled to go up to him and complain about… kids being forbidden to whistle? Seriously?”
Afterwards I came up with three theories about what might have been going on:
1) He had been whistling when he saw me and involuntarily stopped, causing a chain of thought that ended in his bizarre speech. (I didn’t hear him whistling, but then I wasn’t really paying attention to what was going on).
2) He meant it as a kind of masterpiece of understatement. As in the young Žižek writing in one party Yugoslavia: “Latest election polls: it looks like the Communists will win yet again!” This would fit with the ironical and understated character of Viennese people generally, and Viennese anti-clericals in particular.
3) (The least satisfying, but most plausible theory). There is no intelligible explanation. It was an act of random irrationality; the social equivalent of a Lucretian swerve.