Slavoj Žižek speaks at Occupy Wall Street: Q&A transcript

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We should fight for a society where charity is not needed.

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Sarahana | October 11, 2011

zizek at occupy wall street

Yesterday I posted a transcript of Slavoj Zizek's speech at Zuccotti Park, where Occupy Wall Street protests are being held—Zizek, who we elected mentor of this blog on the merits of porn and Hollywood. Here is a transcript of the Q&A portion of that talk.

Do you have any suggestions how this movement can go forward after this?

Such a difficult question that I almost want to take the fifth ammendment. I refuse to answer it because the answer might incriminate me. All I'm saying is, and I'm sorry this will hurt some of you, that this dream of local participatory democracy is not the universal answer. Look at ecological problems. It is clear that [..?] large-scale decisions will have to be made. Probably millions of people will have to be moved. New desert in Africa emerging now. Somalia, Ethiopia, and so on. How will we do this? I think that the big problem is how to implement large scale decisions without falling into the trap of strong stage power. It can be done but we, the left, should also drop certain taboos: discipline, hard work, following orders on things on which we agree can be positive and important. It's not only a carnival. The difficult part is to do the work afterwards.

Do not allow the enemy to set your agenda. That if they say, “sacrifice, work”, we should just say “No, freedom, enjoyment”. We should take from the enemy their own tools. Think about family values. Many left liberals react to those who defend family values by criticizing family as a conservative insitution and so on. But should we not say, “The neo-liberal economics did much more to destroy family values than all the alternative cultures put together”? It's the same with private property. We should make clear to the people that we don't have a well-functioning system which for some irrational reasons we are trying to destroy. The system is destroying itself. So we are not against democracy. We are observing how democracy, in its present political form, is gradually undermining itself. And it's a very difficult task but there is hope. You here are the hope because you know Herbert Marcuse, the old leftist, who said something very nice: “Freedom is a condition of liberation”. That is to say, to be engaged in fighting for freedom, you have first to free yourself from the chains of ruling ideology.

Did you see a good Hollywood Marxist movie? John Carpenter's They Live, you know, where a guy finds some strange sunglasses, puts them on, and he sees the true message. For example, you have an advertisement for a Hawaii vacation, you put on the glasses, and what you see is, “Be stupid, enjoy, don't think”. So whenever you read the official media, imagine yourself putting these glasses on. I remember seeing, recently, an ad to help starving children in Africa. It said, “For the price of a couple of cappuccinos, you can save this child's life.” Let's put the glasses on. What you see is, “For the price of a couple of cappuccinos, we allow you not only no longer to feel guilty but even to feel as if you are really doing something about poverty without really doing anything”. We have to get rid of pseudo activities. For example, organic food. It's good to buy, I buy it. But remember what the danger. Is it not true that many of us buy it because it makes you feel good? “Look, I'm doing something to help the mother earth. I'm part of a wonderful project of humanity”. You know, it's an easy way out.

Charity, for me is not the answer. You know, once I called Soros, George Soros, who I appreciate. As a person he's not bad. I call him chocolate laxative. You know you can buy a laxative which has the form of a chocolate. But chocolate is usually associated with constipation. So, first they take billions from you, then they give you half back, and they are the greatest humanitarians. Of course, we should take this kind of money. But what we should fight for is a society where this kind of charity will not be needed. So I know I didn't answer your question, maybe next time better luck.

Americans have long been divided by the two-party system that pits us against each other over emotional issues, like gay rights, abortion. This is a divide-and-conquer strategy. If we don't let go of our differences, we'll keep butting our heads together while corporatism and the military industrial complex gut our democracy. Americans need to come together.

I agree with what the lady said but I prefer to put it in a more combative way. The divisions that the lady mentioned, I agree with her, are false divisions. These false divisions are here to cover up the true divisions and where the true enemies are. We need even more […?]. So let's all come together, but to fight the real enemy. When I visit another country, I am not interested in their culture—this is for UNESCO and official representatives. I'm interested in their struggles. Solidarity is not “Oh my God, we are all parts of the same great humanity”. Solidarity means we are part of the same struggle. [Break for mic check: two waves of crowd echo are being used for amplication at the moment]. You know, if I were to be CIA, I would have corrupted someone like you, to change it and censor it in a slightly different way [with each echo].

I would like your opinion on the consideration of a new form of government which relies on the structure of Anonymous.

Let me tell you something horrible. We pretend to be leaderless. But then you look closely, and you see often a very tough hierarchic structure, and that we don't even want to admit it's hierarchy. So what I think we need a new figure of a leader who in a way admits that he is no leader. Marx said something wonderful, although wrong, about Abraham Lincoln. Marx said that in the United States, even a totally average person like Lincoln can become the leader. Marx was wrong here about Lincoln. So even an average person like Lincoln was able to do great historical acts. Maybe this is the order that we want. The leader is not anonymous but you don't need a genius to be your leader. Everyone can be [one]. And believe it or not, it can be done. Experts, they should know, but they shouldn't be given power. Power should be given precisely to the average people. If we abandon this principle, we abandon democracy.

I've been having a lot of great conversations at this carnival. I don't consider myself to be a radical. I believe I'm of a privileged life and I have a good education. My question touches on what we already discussed. How do we have these conversations at home regarding anti-capitalism and socialism while gaining the support of people who share our ideas and beliefs? Without immediately frightening them and scaring them off? How do we have this conversation? What words?

We live in sad times for those in power, where people are no longer afraid of Communism as an enemy. But they are getting more and more afraid of what is happening here. We are not scaring the people. Are they not a sign that people are scared? So the choice today is not: Are people scared or not? They are scared. The problem is, who will determine for them the meaning of this fear? [interruption for "mic check" of two waves of crowd echoes]. I feel with this echo, it functions a little bit like, remember that Janet Jackson scandal few years ago? Showing her breast for a second, and then your free TV adpoted the Stanilist procedure in all live transmissions, you have a one second and a half delay. Sometimes I feel that this repeition in echo functions the same way.

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