Transcript: Slavoj Zizek at St. Mark's Bookshop
» Fake leftist melancholia; obscene Zionist pact.
Slavoj Zizek at St. Mark's Bookshop
First part of the talk is a theoritical discussion on melancholy, mourning and prohibition, addressing Judith Butler and Freud. It's followed by a discussion on Wall Streets protests, including (1) a dissection of Anne Applebaum's recent column in the Washington Post that claims democracy is incompatible with globalization, but also that the Occupy protests (which react to the consequences of globalized economy) are incompatible with democracy (2) the idea of a fake leftist melancholia as it applies to these protests (3) the need to preserve the vacuum the protests create, by refusing to engage in a dialogue with those in power, just yet. Later parts of the unscripted talk discuss the obscene pact of Zionism that allows pro-Zionism and anti-Semitism to co-exist in the same group (like American Christian fundamentalists). Towards the very end, there's a brief mention of the anticipated pact between the Egyptian army and the Muslim Brotherhood.
October 26, 2011 at St. Mark's Bookshop.
-- TRANSCRIPT --
I will simply begin by certain historical observations. You probably notice how some people, and I think precisely the wrong people, started to celebrate the Wall Street events as a new form of social carnival: so nice, we have there this horizontal organization, no terror, we are free, egalitarian, everybody can say whatever he or she wants, and so on, all that stuff. It is as if some kind of a carnivalesque collective experience is returning. And this tendency, much more than here, is alive, as you can expect, on the West Coast. A couple of days ago at Stanford they told me that — the other Sunday, about 9 days ago — that in the center of San Francisco, a guy speaking on behalf of those who occupy, said something like, “They are asking you what’s your program. They don’t get it. We don’t have a program. We are here to enjoy ourselves. Have a nice collective experience,” and so on and so on. That’s precisely what I want to render problematic. How? You know, I would like to start with maybe a surprising point: the relationship between melancholy and prohibitions. The idea is the following one: modern subject paradigmatically is melancholic and the thing he is melancholic about, the lost object, is precisely collective, transgressive experience of carnival. For example, there is quite a nice a book from 2007 by Barbara Ehrenreich, Dancing in the Streets, where her thesis is that with modernity proper, not renaissance, what is lost is precisely this collective carnivalesque experience: we are no longer dancing in the streets, pleasure becomes a private thing, and so on and so on.
What I want to problematize is precisely the implicit causality, which is: first something was prohibited, or rendered inaccessible — collective dancing in the streets, whatever — and then we get melancholic. But I think it’s the opposite way around. I think that melancholy comes first and prohibition is a way to avoid the deadlock of melancholy.
(Melancholy & Mourning)
One has to be very precise here about the structure of melancholy. The usual, I call it in a friendly way, [?], Judith Butler reading is that melancholics are more radical, faithful than those who go through the work of mourning. The idea is that mourning, the Freudian [?], means to accept the loss of the object. You work to it symbolize the loss and you pass over to the real object. Why? A melancholic is not able to drop the object, remains faithful to the object. Those of you know Judith’s work on gender and so on: remember what’s her precise point. A kind of a tricky, ethical, strictly ethical, rehabilitation of both gay and lesbian homosexuality. The idea is that our first object of libidal investment is the same sex parent. Why? The price for becoming normal heterosexual is that you identify with the lost object, and in this way you become the normative subject, like a woman identifies with mother’s feminity, a son with father’s masculinity. And in this way, you accept the loss because you yourself identify with the lost object and become normal. She delves into this in detail if you want, in her maybe best book, I claim, The Psychic Life of Power. And then the idea is that gay people are a little bit more ethical here. They don’t accept the loss of the, as it were, primordial object.
Okay, I see here many problems. The first one is, you know that Butler’s basic theory of gender is that gender is nothing natural, our gender identities are constructed through performative practices, re-enactments, so on and so on. My first very naive question here is: if this is true, how then can the child identify with the same sex parent prior to any performative identification and so on? It’s as if the child nonetheless experiences sexual difference, father, mother before... okay it’s another one.
What I want to say is that I want to problematize the underlining notion of melancholy. I think a good old-fashioned return to Freud, which has political bearing today, is very helpful here. Namely if you read closely Freud in his Mourning and Melancholy, he says something almost exactly opposite. His point is not melancholic subject more remains faithful to the object — no no no. He says something wonderful: he says that melancholy is something like mourning in advance. A melancholic treats the object of libidinal investment as lost while the object is still here.
And I can give you — I mean there are nice examples. For example, from literature: the couple of Countess Olenska and Newland in Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence. Why is the couple’s relationship basically melancholic? Because in a very nice way it is rendered this paradox of melancholy: while they’re still together, they treat each other as if the loss, you know, the shadow of future loss is already here part of the relationship. How does this mourning in advance — mourning of an object which is still here — work? We come here to the crucial distinction established by Lacan between object of desire — what you desire — and object cause of desire — that what makes you desire an object.
I think you can retract in a very precise way: his point is that what happens in melancholia is not that you lose the object; you have the object but you lose the desire for the object: you lose the object cause of desire. Everything is here, you lose the desire for it. So the true lost object in melancholy is this desire, and I think this explains very nicely a subtle paradox, since we are here in United States, melting pot, lost European — or whatever, African, Asian identities. Let’s say you decide to go to United States and you are sad about leaving your country. What really makes you sad? I claim it’s not that “Oh my God, this is my country I will never see it again”; it’s something much nicer, I claim. It is that what you are silently aware of is that after 10, 20 years in United States, you will stop missing your country. You will lose the desire for it. That’s the true horror.
Again, I claim that melancholy occurs not when we lose the object, but precisely when the object is here but we lose the desire for it. This is why modern philosophical subject cogito is deeply melancholic. Everything is here, but you no longer desire it. And so I claim that this is the enigma of modernity. It’s not some kind of protestant ethics which prohibits I don’t know what. It’s that you lose desire, and prohibitions come — precisely a desperate, secondary attempt to resuscitate desire. You know the St. Paul [?] trick like if something which is experienced as lost, if we on the top of it prohibit it, then maybe we will be able to desire it again. So again I claim that this is how we have to account for this loss of premodern forms of collective enjoyment and so on. It’s not that they were prohibited, they were precisely lost, disinvested prior to.
Why is this important? Because I think we should treat this nostalgic, hippie attitude towards Wall Street precisely as an example of false, fake melancholy, as if somehow we regain the old collective feeling and so on. I claim that precisely this is false.
Why? Let me do a little bit of critique of certain reactions to Wall Street. The symbol of Wall Street is, as we all know, the metal statue of a bull, there in the center. And I think, some people, but not too many people, use — it came to me, I read it somewhere — this so obvious dirty word with play that you know, we talk about bullshit. We really got the shit of the bull. No?
(Zizek's Response to Anne Applebaum)
So, while the standard reaction of the Wall Street itself against the protest is the expected, vulgar bullshitting, I want to draw your attention to a more intelligent, but I think even more disgusting reaction; a critical rejection of Wall Street; a very liberal, sophisticated one: it was done a couple of days ago by Anne Applebaum, you know, the lady who wrote a book on gulag and so on. Again, it’s a very sophisticated argumentation. She even, in a slightly tasteless but almost convincing way, she [?] the [?] Monty Python film, The Life of Brian, where this Brian, the new Christ figure shouts to the people, “You are free individuals!” and then all of them shout, together as a crowd, “Yes we are free individuals!”; claiming that my functioning of repetition reminds her of that.
Okay, but nonetheless I claim... her reaction to it, and I will just read you two long paragraphs; I think they are worth quoting. It’s ideology at its purest, precisely in the way they make her argumentation appear convincing. So again, the basis of Applebaum’s reasoning is the idea that the Wall Street type protests around the world are:
similar in their lack of focus, in their confused nature, and above all in their refusal to engage with existing democratic institutions. In New York, marchers chanted, “This is what democracy looks like,” but actually, this isn’t what democracy looks like. This is what freedom of speech looks like. Democracy looks a lot more boring. Democracy requires institutions, elections, political parties, rules, laws, a judiciary and many unglamorous, time-consuming activities...
“Yet,” she goes on:
in one sense, the international Occupy movement’s failure to produce sound legislative proposals is understandable: Both the sources of the global economic crisis and the solutions to it lie, by definition, outside the competence of local and national politicians...
The emergence of an international protest movement without a coherent program is therefore not an accident: It reflects a deeper crisis, one without an obvious solution. Democracy is based on the rule of law. Democracy works only within distinct borders and among people who feel themselves to be part of the same nation. A “global community” cannot be a national democracy. And a national democracy cannot command the allegiance of a billion-dollar global hedge fund, with its headquarters in a tax haven and its employees scattered around the world.
Unlike the Egyptians in Tahrir Square, to whom the New York protesters openly (and ridiculously) compare themselves, we have democratic institutions in the Western world. They are designed to reflect, at least crudely, the desire for political change within a given nation. But they cannot cope with the desire for global political change, nor can they control things that happen outside their borders. Although I still believe in globalization’s economic and spiritual benefits — along with open borders, freedom of movement and free trade — globalization has clearly begun to undermine the legitimacy of Western democracies.
“Global” activists, if they are not careful, will accelerate that decline. Protesters in London shout,“We need to have a process!” Well, they already have a process: It’s called the British political system. And if they don’t figure out how to use it, they’ll simply weaken it further.
End of quote. For this, in my universe, you go to gulag. Why? Let me explain. Firstly, the first thing to note, you notice how Applebaum reduces Tahrir Square protests to the calls of Western-style democracy. It’s as if, you know, they really want what we already have here. Once we do this, it of course becomes ridiculous to compare the Wall Street protests to the Egyptian event. How can protestors here demand what we already have? That is to say, democratic institutions? What is there lost from view — that’s why I oppose this idea — is the general discontent with the global capitalist system which obviously acquires different here and there. So I again claim that she misses the point.
Different as they are, protests here, in Southern Europe, in Egypt, whatever; what unites them is they’re precisely not political in the narrow sense of more democracy, or whatever. They signal a kind of a shared global discontent with their capitalistic system. And now I come to the crucial point: the most shocking part for me of Applebaum’s argumentation, a truly weird gap in her line of reasoning occurs at the end of the passage I read to you. After conceding that the catastrophic economic consequences of global capitalist financial dealings are due to their international character out of control of democratic mechanisms, she remembered to make this point clear: what happens at the level of international capital is simply out of control of democratic mechanisms. And she draws from this the necessary conclusion. Here, we should agree with her, I quote it again: “Globalization” — she means capitalist globalization — “has clearly begun to undermine the legitimacy of Western democracies.”
Because again, things happen there which are out of control of at least normal, the way we have them, democratic processes. Okay, so far, we can agree because I claim this is precisely what the protestors are drawing attention to, that global capitalism undermines potentially democracy. But instead of drawing the only logical, further conclusion that we should start thinking about how to expand democracy beyond its state multi-party political forum, which obviously leaves out destructive consequences of economic life; instead of this, Applebaum performs a weird turnaround and she shifts the blame on protestors themselves who raise these questions.
Her last paragraph deserves to be read again. Listen.
“Global” activists, if they are not careful, will accelerate that decline. Protesters in London shout,“We need to have a process!” Well, they already have a process: It’s called the British political system. And if they don’t figure out how to use it, they’ll simply weaken it further.
End of quote. So her logic is, since global economy is outside the scope of democratic politics, any attempt to expand democracy to be will only accelerate the decline of democracy. What then can we do? Remember, she says, we should engage in the existing political system. But wait a minute. Paragraph above, she says that precisely this system cannot do the job. So it’s very strange, her conclusion. Her conclusion is basically we cannot do anything. We have our democracy. If you buy it, you have to accept that global capital movement and so on are outside its scope. If you try something more, democracy no longer functions. But it is here I claim that you should go to the end. To the end, even in anti-capitalism.
There is no lack of anti-capitalism today. We are even witnessing an overload of the critique of the hours of capitalism. Books, newspaper, in-depth investigations, TV reports. You know, you cannot open a newspaper without reading this company is polluting environment, corrupted bankers continue to get fat bonuses while their banks are saved by public money, sweatshops in the third world where children work over time and so on.
There is, however, a catch to all this overflow of critique of capitalism. What is, as a rule, not in question in this critique is the democratic, liberal political frame of fighting against these excesses. The explicit or implicit goal is to democratize capitalism. By this it’s meant not to think deeply about our democracy, but simply to extend our standard notion of politics, party politics, representative democracy into more interventionist one. Extend democratic control of economy through the pressure of the public media, parliamentary inquiry, harsher laws, honest police investigations, and so on. But never questioning the democratic institutional framework of our state of law. This remains the sacred cow even when we are dealing with the most radical forms of this, I call it, ethical anti-capitalism — Seattle movement, Porto Allegre, and so on. I think they’re moralism, like greedy bankers, dishonest companies, is a sign of their weakness.
It is here that Marxist key insight remains valid today, I claim, more than ever. For Marx, and this is for me the true lesson of Wall Street protests, the question of freedom should not be located primarily into the political sphere proper: Does a country has free elections? Are the judges independent? Is the press free from hidden pressures? Are human rights respected? And the similar list of questions, different independent Western institutions apply when they want to pronounce a judgment on a country.
The key to actual freedom rather resides in the apolitical, what appears to be apolitical. Network of social relations. From the market to the family where the change needed if we want an actual improvement is not political reform but a change in apolitical social relations of production.
So Anne Applebaum is right. We do not vote about who owns what, about relations in a factory and so on. All this is left to process outside the political sphere proper. And it is illusory to expect that one can effectively change things by simply extending our parliamentary democracy into this sphere, for example, by organizing democratic banks under people’s control. Radical changes in this domain should be made outside the sphere of legal rights. Such democratic procedures, of course, can play a very positive role. No matter how radical their anti-capitalism is, the solution they seek resides in applying representative democratic mechanisms but again, and Applebaum is right, they live out of control; the economic sphere proper and so on.
In this sense only, don’t misunderstand here, I think that Alain Badiou was right in his claim that today — it sounds terrible — the name of the enemy, he wrote once, is not capitalism, empire, exploitation or anything similar, the name of the enemy today is democracy. Now you will say, “ha ha, now we got you, totalitarian!” or whatever. No no no, I claim, what he only wanted to say is that our too blind attachment to formal democratic party state mechanism prevents our approaching a true problem. So again, I think what Applebaum accepts as the fact, “We can’t do anything, that’s it”. This precisely I claim is the starting point of the deep dissatisfaction which exploded in all anti-Wall Street protests. This precisely they feel that we have certain political multi-party system, obviously we are witnessing dangerous, even catastrophic phenomena in economy, and it’s obviously that this type of democratic system, the way it is now, cannot do the work; because it implies precisely this duality which is very nicely emphasized in Applebaum, between political sphere where we are all free but we have to follow the procedures, proper democratic procedures and so on, and economics sphere of private relations, whatever, which is left out. It is obvious that the urgent task today is precisely to find a way to control or to regulate — I don’t like the word 'control' here — precisely that sphere without of course returning to old 20th century totalitarian notions and practices.
So I think what Applebaum is complaining about, “Oh these protests are not clearly formulated, they don’t know what they want.” Let’s return briefly to psychoanalysis. This is a typical dialogue between a patriarchal husband and a hysterical wife, you know. The wife complains, of course in a confused way, and the standard male chauvinist answer is, “say clearly what do you want?” This is of course oppression at its purest. It means “either shut up or formulate it in my terms.”
(The Need to Preserve the Vacuum Created by Wall St. Protests)
Bill Clinton said this very nice in a sympathetic reaction to Wall Street protestors — which is why I claim Bill Clinton practices clinching; you know what is clinching, you embrace the enemy no? Like we should talk and so on but show us, tell us, give us concrete proposals, what do you want? Well my simple answer is that — and Bill Clinton says ominously, “because your demands create a vacuum, and if you don’t bring quickly concrete proposals which will fill in this vacuum, who knows who will fill in this vacuum?” But at this point, I claim, precisely we should maintain this openness in all ominous directions. We don’t need dialogue with those in power. We need critical dialogue with ourselves. We need time to think. We effectively don’t know. And nobody knows. On the one hand we should reject the cheap — because Mao was never so stupid — psuedo-Maoist idea, “Learn from the people, people know”. No, they don’t know. Do we intellectuals know? Also, we don’t know. I mean, any intellectual who says, “Okay, people now have some confused ideas, oh I have a ready and precise plan of what to do,” they are bluffing. We don’t know where we are.
But I think that this openness is precisely what is great about these protests. It means that precisely a certain vacuum open the fundamental dissatisfactions in the system. The vacuum simply means open space for thinking, for new freedom, and so on. Let’s not fill in this vacuum too quickly. Because the only way to fill it in is either by stupid utopian thinking — “we should have a Leninist party back” or whatever — or with this pragmatic approach: “raise the taxes for the rich by 2%” or whatever. Okay, nothing against this second one, first of all. But my god, this is not the solution, you know what I mean? The system is in crisis, the important thing is precisely that vacuum is open. And if some people experience this as terror, something violent, “Look they don’t want to even talk with us.” Yes, precisely I like this ominous dimension, you know? “You want to talk with us. No thanks.” At this point, no dialogue. We have to keep the situation open.
So who knows then?, if neither intellectuals nor so-called ordinary people know. What I would like here to propose a solution. No, not a solution, just a metaphor. In a book that I advise you to buy, it’s my favorite Soviet writer who was of course a dissident practically not published, and you have back there, I think, on a table some New York Public Library books or whatever, I bought here a week ago, a book on some kind of special discount. It’s a book by Andrei Platonov, an incredible Russian writer, which has afterword by John Berger, well known European progressive writer. In referring to all these protests, although he referred to older protests, but I think he gives a wonderful analysis. Here is what he says, I quote: “The multitudes” — here I don’t like it, it has to be censored, it sounds too much Negri [?]:
The multitudes have answers to questions which have not yet been posed, and they have the capacity to outlive the walls.
The questions are not yet asked because to do so requires words and concepts which ring true, and those currently being used to name events have been rendered meaningless: Democracy, Liberty, Productivity, etc.
With new concepts the questions will soon be posed, for history involves precisely such a process of questioning. Soon? Within a generation.
(The Ordinary People)
What I like in this idea is not that it turns around the usual relationship between intellectual vanguard and ordinary people; “ordinary people are stupid, oh we are not.” According to this vision, “Oh we don’t know what we want. We ask the question to the intellectual, he will provide answers.” Here, you make notice, it’s the opposite. It’s really as in psychoanalytic treatment. Ordinary people have the answers, they even are the answers. Like a symptom. What they don’t know is the proper question to which they are an answer. This is what maybe we intellectuals know. You know, we should refer here to a wonderful point by Claude Lévi-Strauss, apropos the prohibition of incest. Where he says, no, prohibition of incest is not an enigma in the sense of we don’t know what it is. He says, prohibition of incest is an answer, but we don’t know to what question it is an answer. And I think this is how, if we approach in this way the protests, I think we intellectuals should not patronize those immediate non-intellectual protestors. We should — the worst patronization would be to celebrate them as ‘oooh, the wisdom of ordinary people’, like, you know, Mao in late fifties in China. ‘Go and learn from farmers’ and so on. You know, whenever a leader tells you this, it always means “Learn from the people, but we in the central committee of the party know better than the people what the people really want” or whatever. So, no, do not patronize the people.
(The True 99%)
Start asking critical questions, like Udi Aloni, who is now somewhere to stab me into my back, I think, draw my attention to this famous 99%. We are 99%, you the enemies are 1%. The point is not only like how many of Americans would really recognize the protestors as 99%. What is more interesting for me is that, Who are these 99%? Not Wall Street. Are they Wall Street protestors? Probably they are. But I raise the question, Are they ready to recognize that the true 99% are not only they, dissatisfied Americans, but the poor starving, I don’t know, in Somalia, in Congo, all around the world. These are the true 99%.
For example, if you want a battle, I’m not saying we should now just listen to its other silences and do nothing. There are battles to be fought. Like, I’ve written in one of my earlier books about this new list of countries in [?] to grab land in undeveloped countries. From what I read recently, it is exploding. Let’s take a country now which is in the grip of starvation. Ethiopia. Do you know that there western companies are buying incredible parts of the most fertile land, and to make things worse, look how fragile things are. You know, in Ehtiopia, there is the origin of Nile, the river. And all the balance of the three countries, Ethiopia, Sudan, especially Egypt, relies on this agreement concluded, if I know correctly, I’m not sure, even in colonial times or later, that Ethiopians should not use more than a certain very low percentage of Nile water because if they do more then Egypt can have unpredictable consequences.
(A New Multi-Centric World)
Now, this is starting to happen. Companies — and I’m not blaming you, even Americans here; no no I claim we are entering a new multi-centric world. So, this maybe a surprise for you: you are not always automatically the bad guys today int he world. I don’t hate United States. Bad guys are Arab Emirates, India, China, South Korea; these are the worst. They are buying like crazy. They bought recently, again, gigantic tracts of land in Ethiopia, the country where in its other part there is draught, massive starvation now. Colonize it, fire the local farmers strictly, grow plans for export, so on. And this is happening on an incredibly massive level. Now I can understand this happening — maybe, I’m not so sure, but conditionally — in countries like Brazil or Argentina where at least they do have enough water and enough of fertile land, which is not fully exploited. But in countries like — I don’t know where it’s happening, I don’t know: Kenya, Somalia, Ethiophia, Mozambique, and so on; it’s a catastrophe. So there are battles to be fought but nonetheless, my message is: time for thinking. Be patient.
And again, the crucial thing is to avoid this duality of either “oh we just have a good time, forget consequences” or this call for cheap pragmatism. What is important is that that taboo is broken. We know the system is potentially in a serious crisis. At the same time we know that the 20th century is over not only in the mechanic calendar sense. Which is to say that the 20th century solution — Stalinist communism, the traditional democracy and so on — don’t work. There is work to be done and I think only this refined interaction between educated intellectuals and so called ordinary people, where again we should not, absolutely not act as the ones — as we say in Lacanian theory — subjects supposed to know. All we can do is provide the tools to formulate the right questions. And with this interaction with those apparently formless demands from the people, maybe there is a hope that something new will emerge. Because, you know, what always — I repeat this always, I’m sorry, some of you already know these phrases; what terrifies me is this idea of “oh now we have a wonderful carnival.” Yeah but screw it, what interests me is the day after. My primordial fear is that the movement will slowly disperse and then what? Ten years after you will meet with your friends, drink bear, and “oh my God, what a wonderful time did we have there but now I have to go back to my banking job now.” Someone has to imagine. The process of thinking has to begin. So again, it’s patience. It’s precisely — sorry, for some of you may be obscene — what in Christianity they call the work of love, which is slow, patient, hard work.
(The Obscene Pact of Zionism)
Well, again, the first thing is to locate what is happening here today in global context, like the one who wants to stab me in my back, my good friend Udi Aloni, just published a book, I advise you to read it, What Does a Jew Want? It’s a collective reader with Alain Badiou, Judith Butler, and some other minor persons [like me] and so on, where it’s something really wonderful because it’s in support of Palestinian struggle for independence but — that’s the miracle — from the standpoint of Jewish spirituality. The reasoning is not “oh we should constrain ourselves”; no, it’s this deep insight into how what is happening now in the Middle East with new Zionist politics; the victims will be the Jews themselves. Not in the sense that they will be overrun by Arabs, but in the sense that the very — how should I call it — spiritual substance of Jewish [?] is changing.
Something terrible is happening. What? Did you notice something about that big bad guy Breivik in Oslo? Shooting guy. Read — I didn’t but my friends sent me some passages — his manifesto. And you will find something extremely ominous. He is representative of something terrible for me. The figure of Zinoist anti-Semitic political agent. On the one hand, Breivik was totally pro-Zionist. He said yeah Israel should expand West Bank, Israel is our barrier against Arab invasion, blah blah. At the same time, once you move within European states and United States, he is the good old anti-Semitic subject. He writes how in France and West Europe, there are not too many Jews, there is no problem, but in the UK and especially United States, you have 60 million Jews, that’s a problem you will have to solve it. So you see this paradox. You can say this is stupid European, but your name of Breivik is Glenn Beck. You know, he was fired from Fox News for anti-Semitic remarks but do you know that he is at the same time unconditionally pro-Zionist. For me the tragedy of the politics of the state of Israel is that it seems to accept this obscene pact with, for example, Christian fundamentalists. You know, my bells start to ring when I learned American Christian fundamentalists started to — and this is new phenomenon, if I remember correctly, it’s some 10, 20 years back — fully support the state of Israel in its expansionist policy.
Now I ask myself, what is happening? If there ever in this world was a group of people in whose very — ironically I’m saying — genetic identity anti-Semitism is part of it, no? It’s American Christian fundamentalists. What is happening now, all of a sudden, pro-Zionists. I claim because it’s precisely obscene pact, which is, We the state of Israel allow you to remain the same as you were which cost us years ago being victims of programs, if you allow us to play the same role on the West Bank. I’m very much a pessimist here. So again, I’m not saying we should simply, immediately bring out one, universal big struggle. I’m just saying that it would strengthen every local movement, which has to fight its own local struggles; to be a little bit aware of how it fits into global events today.
(Value of Debate on Universal Healthcare)
For example, I’m not telling you, again, Don’t do anything. Although I, like everyone, but it’s fashionable today, am disappointed in Obama, but I still think it’s a great thing when he triggered the debate about public, universal health care. It was the right debate even [?] compromise totally diluted the solution. But see, why it was well-chosen topic. Because it was a demand, universal health care, for something which we obviously cannot dismiss as some leftist communist distractive utopia. No, it exists elsewhere, and it functions, in Canada, in Scandinavian and other European countries but at the same time, obviously, it did disturb the very core of American ideology of freedom. You know that the public [?] focus on this. They want to deprive us of the freedom of choice, and so on. Such topics we need. Topics which are clearly economically possible, can mobilize the people, and at the same time appear almost impossible but for purely ideological reasons.
So again, this is all I can offer you. This slow work, where we avoid this false leftist melancholy, which is a very comfortable position of enjoying your situation. I’m here a puritan, you know. Okay, I’m a puritan also protestant in the sense that, you know, my favorite rule about sexuality is the protestant one. As they say, ‘Everything is permitted as long as you feel guilty about it.’ But what I’m saying is that it’s really this eager carnivalesque or melancholic pleasure in plain. Like I already see some of my friends who say, Oh my god, I see Wall Street, they are already tired, it will be over. You know this, this is typical melancholy; they are still there, demonstrating; these people already cannot conceal their joy at imagining how beautiful it will be to be sad when it will be over.
Work, work, this is the good protestant attitude. Work, work. Don’t be afraid of words like work, discipline, community and so on. We should take all this from the right wingers. Don’t allow enemy to take from you to determine the terrain of the struggle. People think today that if you mention work, discipline, soldiers, fight, ‘Oh you’re a neo-fascist.’ No, are you aware that this idea of workers in uniforms marching in discipline; sorry to tell you, Hitler took this from social democracy. And maybe it’s time for us to get it back. Don’t allow the enemy — this is so important today; Don’t allow the enemy to blackmail you in the sense of determining the terrain of the struggle. We shouldn’t decide in opposition to the enemy.
(Egyptian Army & Muslim Brotherhood)
So again, there is room for cautious optimism. With all problems I know dangers are always on the horizon. For example, some Egyptian friends don’t like when I say this but other Egyptian friends of mine are telling me, that now there is a possibility, very serious one, let’s hope it will not be coming true; in Egypt the result will be, what, a kind of obscene pact between the army — which is still, remember, totally the same old Mubarak army — and the Muslim Brotherhood. The deal which one can see in the horizon is Muslim Brotherhood will get more or less some kind of ideological hegemony in exchange for the army keeping its power and all its corrupted structure. So there is a long [?] but remember nonetheless a new era is here. A certain taboo fell down. People are accepting the fact that we don’t live in the world of Pelican Brief and All the President’s Men, where they’re very anti-capitalists but the guilty are a couple of corrupted managers, CEO’s, politicians.. and then we get rid of these guys and everything will be okay. No, the problem is in the system, and we have to start to think, bearing in mind the tragic experience of 20th century. So in other words, at least I can say as a philosopher, we live in maybe potentially tragic times, but there is more than enough job for us philosophers. It’s our time. Thank you very much.
Posted on October 27, 2011. More on: slavoj zizek