Zizek: “Now the field is open”

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Because (he says) capitalism is no longer self-evidently legitimate, and people are in a mindset where they can actually imagine a world without it, as opposed to making alterations within it (more social justice, etc), “the field is open” for a new kind of system.

The crucial point Zizek makes is about ideology, which is ultimately societal narcissism. (See minutes 8:30-10) And when that narcissism is threatened the response is rage, which for a society is revolution.

History is full of examples of what happens after the rage– vacuums filled by dictators, and Zizek (18:00) acknowledges that this is a risk.

What he doesn’t believe (and I do) is that the “capitalist” system has a purpose that isn’t to promote democracy or equality or prosperity, but specifically to prevent authoritarianism. Inequality is the consequence, which we must try to adjust as it arises. Criminals, corruption, thugs, bosses, cronyism, tribalism/nationalism– these are the natural states of human beings. So are, unfortunately, murderers, rapists, arsonists, cannibals. Contrary to the Wired Creed, I see no evidence we have “evolved,” we’ve just made one of those two choices harder and less rewarding. What the system prevents is physical domination of A over B (though it allows for psychological domination through branding.) You’re going to have to pick which of those two worlds you want to live in over the next 25 years. I wish there were other choices.

Zizek is enamored with the Arab spring because it is a truly secular uprising looking for real change, and he “prays” it doesn’t turn into a marriage between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Army. But that is the point of disagreement: “the field is open” to address the “discontent with the status quo”, but since there is no concerted effort to do anything practical it will inevitably be filled by authoritarianism.

Zizek’s final example is better suited to my point than his: China didn’t double its defense spending, it doubled its spending on internal security. He says that’s a risk. I say that’s the “Capitalism with Asian values” Time Magazine et al, was calling for in 2008.

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19 Responses to Zizek: “Now the field is open”

  1. JohnJ says:

    Inequality isn’t a consequence; it’s a feature. When no one is free to be more prosperous than the least motivated person, everyone is poor. No one should have the power to hold everyone else back. There’ll always be poor people. Allowing individuals to pursue their own goals and try to reach their own individual limits doesn’t make poor people poorer.

    • Somebody says:

      Allowing individuals to pursue their own goals and try to reach their own individual limits doesn’t make poor people poorer.

      Yes but, if the economy is not a zero sum game, then that means the reason for me not being rich is simply because I am not good at making money. It means that I lack the skills necessary for accumulating wealth.

      If the economy is a zero sum game, if somebody gets rich only when someone else gets poorer, then I have an excuse. I can go: “Look at all these rich assholes who took everyone’s money! What am I to do?”

      • JohnJ says:

        If the economy were a zero-sum game, it couldn’t be true that the world is richer than it was two thousand years ago.

        • mitthrawnuruodo says:

          It’s all about time frame. In the short run, the money supply is fixed by the Fed (or the gold standard or a currency board or whaterver); this makes it a zero sum game. It would be erroneous to suggest that Wall Street stole their money from OWS, since most OWS people weren’t going into finance anyway. More accurately, every dollar you get paid is one dollar less profit for the company. In this short run model, competition between companies and in the labor market eventually reduce profits to zero. Constant innovation and finding new ways to add value to products is the root of all long term growth. In short, an Occupier sees the short run zero sum game, but if that Occupier were to invent the Next Big Thing, he will have broken the game. Camping out a few blocks away from Wall Street stealing blankets from homeless people helps nobody.

          • claudius says:

            It would be erroneous to suggest that Wall Street stole their money from OWS, since most OWS people weren’t going into finance anyway.

            It does not matter if you’re in finance or not. The American taxpayer was sold out.

            If you’re going to say that most people in OWS don’t pay their taxes, no arguments there.

          • JohnJ says:

            Even if the money supply were zero-sum (it isn’t), that doesn’t mean that wealth is zero-sum. The fact that there are forms of wealth other than money is why the world is so wealthy now, and also why competition doesn’t reduce profits to zero, whether looking at things in the short-term or long-term.

  2. operator says:

    The crucial point Zizek makes is about ideology, which is ultimately societal narcissism. (See minutes 8:30-10) And when that narcissism is threatened the response is rage, which for a society is revolution.

    So the backlash to Zizek’s proposed Western ideology of “spiritualized hedonism” would be ..?

    What he doesn’t believe (and I do) is that the “capitalist” system has a purpose that isn’t to promote democracy or equality or prosperity, but specifically to prevent authoritarianism.

    … but this purpose evaporates the moment that empirical units of standards and measures and metallurgy are traded for fiat currency and, in Zizek’s terminology, the nascent authority immediately establishes its capacity for violence – look at how quickly the Federal Reserve Act (1913) dismantled US capitalism (1929)… and the beating continues.

    Consider: capitalism in its subverted forms is arguably more deleterious to human life – if not the potential for the evolution of better social systems – because there is no obvious dictator to depose. We have only our bankrupt hedonist selves to blame (or so the ringers might tell us to protect their cash cow) … though perhaps that’s obvious, given that the future is laid out as a choice between two flavors of the same heads-I-win-tails-you-lose coin flip.

  3. EvelynTremble says:

    “What the system prevents is physical domination of A over B (though it allows for psychological domination through branding.) You’re going to have to pick which of those two worlds you want to live in over the next 25 years. I wish there were other choices.”

    It’s these “It must be either this or that, both of which conveniently I have foreseen in my wisdom” bits that make me suspicious – there’s usually a third possibility at the very least, although I wouldn’t hazard a guess what it might be.

  4. ExOttoyuhr says:

    I’m very impressed that al-Jazeera holds interview segments like this — although I hope that the majority are with people whose philosophies are less counter-intuitive (or at least less proud of it) than Zizek’s.

    Where does he think a more authoritarian system will develop from, especially in the US and Western Europe? Asian-values capitalism — let alone, say, Julius Evola or Esoteric Fascism — would be impossible to impose in the absence of popular support or at least popular acquiescence, and both the right and the left in the US (in particular) have a distinctly anti-authoritarian character.

    Even if the US ends up in receivership to China, I’m skeptical that popular acquiescence to an authoritarian system would be easily acquired. Americans get angry when they’re scared (cf. Pearl Harbor or September 11th), so I think a Tiananmen Square approach to compelling popular acquiescence would be more likely to produce a large war.

    In other news, going from economic and ideological ruler of the world to economically and ideologically collapsing basket case in 63 years is some sort of new land speed record. Even the Yuan Dynasty lasted for 97.

  5. Guy Fox says:

    Here’s some evidence in support of world 1 (i.e. a state of nature where everyone’s in one protection racket or another). The interesting question is whether clubs remain trumps, or if technology has added a new level to the strategic interaction, i.e. whether software is the new kung-fu, or the old dogs need not learn any new tricks ’cause disemboweling your foes still works best. Either way, it seems the State is out. We’re stuck with Abercrombie & Fitch or something like the Muslim Brotherhood (‘something like’ including ATTAC, the Vatican, Saddleback, or the Tea Party).

    Some clever sod already asked whether Asian values capitalism might be a third option, and he concluded that it works just like world 1 does.

    When someone develops a bunker-busting TweetⓇ and a delivery mechanism that prevents either World 1 or 2 from getting their grubby hands on it, call me. Until then, I’ll be stocking a bunker of my own and trying to keep my kith and kin far from false prophets.

  6. Vidar says:

    It’s not about the successor of capitalism.

    Firstly, if the field really was open there would be no need for someone to announce it, it would’ve been passé. Secondly, as TheLastPsychiatrist point out in the last paragraph the “capitalism with asian values” is being played within the existing structure, they’re welcome to join.

    Zizek boast that “field is open” but doesn’t attempt to fill it. It do appears like Zizek doesn’t act on his own insights. What am I missing here?

    Operator
    in Zizek’s terminology, the nascent authority

    Using an exclusive terminology rarely improves public debate. The practice isn’t helpful to shed light on the issues at hand, it serves to conceal ignorance at best.

    • operator says:

      Using an exclusive terminology rarely improves public debate.

      Discussing a person’s terms without accepting that person’s definitionsis a race to the bottom. Even if you don’t agree with him, you have to accept Zizek’s definition before you can explain why you do not agree with what his terminology details.

      From the video:

      Statement: “The problem with Hitler was that he was not violent enough.”

      Explanation: “No, Hitler did not “have the balls” really to change things. All his actions were fundamentally reactions: he acted so that nothing would really change; he acted to prevent the Communist threat of a real change.”

      The practice isn’t helpful to shed light on the issues at hand, it serves to conceal ignorance at best.

      If you cannot see how chiding someone for attempting precision in the discussion of Zizek’s comments is a failure to improve upon public debate of Zizek’s comments, perhaps the problem is not with the people discussing Zizek’s comments in relation to the world at large.

  7. Vidar says:

    I regretted that remark about terminology (language) a minute after.

  8. Lopt says:

    Call it “spiritual hedonism” or whatever else you want, when the revolution comes there will still be people with power over other people, only the titles will change. And hopefully this new spirituality embraces the concept of overwhelming force and terrific productivity, because otherwise it just won’t be competitive against the modern military state, i.e., will be invaded or overthrown eventually.

    This is the same thing we see every time there’s a crisis, the same thing that happened two and a half centuries ago– the old system is denigrated, so we search history and philosophy for some other way to run things. However, there’s nothing obvious or even really persuasive to switch to, which, by the way, really undermines the negotiating position of the protesters. So while the field may be open, it’s not like democratic capitalism has any serious contenders. Barring some computational game theory group publishing a paper proving some other system is mathematically better than what we’ve got now, the only real option is to modify or reset the systems of government that we have now.

    • Guy Fox says:

      we search history and philosophy for some other way to run things. However, there’s nothing obvious or even really persuasive to switch to … a paper proving some other system is mathematically better than what we’ve got now”

      You might be barking up the wrong tree by focusing on the institutional architecture. The problem isn’t necessarily the institutions but the people in them. As Disraeli said, “When men are pure, laws are useless; when men are corrupt, laws are broken.” As my pappy woulda said, “The most dangerous part of the car is the nut behind the wheel!”.

      the only real option is to modify or reset the systems of government that we have now
      Go ahead and tweak the rules and institutions as you like, but as long as you fill those containers with base and venal contents, you’re just playing historical musical chairs.

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