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November 22, 2005

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Lynn

Nice critique.

Adam Kotsko

I can't think of a single time that Zizek has ever offered a positive proposal, in either his popular or academic writings. I haven't read The Whole Thing, obviously, but I'd say I'm at 60-70% at this point, and the odds of those positive programs being in the remaining works are diminishing rapidly.

Unless, of course, we count the suggestion that one should go to analysis.

Amish Lovelock

Took up the Lenin book in Japanese today. The main points of query were:

1. What is Zizek's definition of capitalism?

2. Anti-capitalism/anti-Western, but not anti-modern - after Laclau.

3. The Party. What the hell is it?

4. Cyberspace and the commodity: From MCM to just MM - what happens to object petit a in pure capitalism?

Hoorah.

s0metim3s

Is the problem with Zizek that he offers no policies or no analysis. If the latter, I agree: he's been repeating his 'theory' mantra-like for each occasion for some time, each instance another opportunity for a sale. If the former, I think the pressures of the public intellectual might be best set aside, particularly when it amounts to little more than a bit of throat-clearing and then pointing to oneself ... Because I'm pretty sure the kids in the banlieues aren't waiting around for Zizek to tell them what is to be done.

Virgil Johnson

This may seem a bit of a trite answer - but it is very difficult to think outside of a box, especially when your inside of one. We have had discussions about this before on this blog - many think that it is easy to objectify, but it is not.

We all have a tendency to act like we are not part of any problem, when we are enmeshed in this system without remedy - the reality is that we find it hard to think outside of our own little world(s) - this is what capitalism produces. We are all the "rugged individualists" that we say we despise, so we can come to no collective conclusions of import with lasting effect.

It all boils down to simply this - and it is the capitialistic verity, if it is no sweat off of my nose than why should I strain to come up with an answer? Unfortunately, this is the reason why no viable answers arise.

We have anesthetized ourselves with the cares and the questions and answers of this system. We have prioritized our lives to the drum beat of this beast - this is what happens when we smother the reality of life with the paltry cares of priviledge.

Unfortunately it ends with not only the marginalizing of the poor, the weak and the minority - but in their being crippled, killed and swept aside as so much human waste. However, before that occurs they may riot, than we might lazily wake up and say - "oh, is something wrong?" The only reason we awoke is not because we care, but as some attempt to assuage our guilt in the general sense, and if we are close to the problem (like living near by, etc.) it is because it just might effect us - other than that, most simply don't give a damn. So the short answer to the question of why no viable answers is - we do not care enough to come up with viable answers, now insert my previous comment.

Nate

hi Virgil,
s0metim3s certainly doesn't need any help from me, but here's my two cents. First off, who's this 'we' you are talking about? I certainly don't identify with it, but perhaps I misunderstand. It does strike me as interesting that your we doesn't include the poor, the weak, or the minority. It also strikes me that the implied presumption is precisely that these particular who are left out of the we folks don't have any viable answers of their own, and that's why they need us. That doesn't make sense to me. Also, let's say some great viable ideas were formulated - by Zizek, or anyone else - what next? Stand outside the neighborhoods and factories with leaflets until everyone's onboard with the great and heretofore missing viable idea?

All that said - and I genuinely apologize if there seems to be unfair vitriol here, it's a bad habit of mine - I sympathize with what I think your impulse is: it's a species of tourism to just read about the riots etc. Agreed, but not the worst of crimes. I suspect, though, if something more practical is what you've got in mind, that there are people already around doing things like raising money for court costs and ammunition, helping with media, etc etc, as well as other 'solidarity' actions for pressure (like the recent occupations in Italy), as happened with the uproar in Ukraine not too long ago. I imagine that those relationships aren't articulating themselves just in english, though, and that they'd be more inclined to accept help that doesn't assume they don't have any viable ideas of their own.
Best wishes,
Nate

Virgil Johnson

Nate,

Nice response, maybe I could have clarified it a bit more. Let's just say the "group" that could possibly have some clout, those who could collectively effect good ideas fail to do so. Why? Because they are comfortable, they think they have all that they need - and if others are dissatified, well, that's just to bad.

Idea's are like elbows, everyone has a couple (trying to shy away from the asshole reference). Frankly, it is usually those who have no other alternative that "do something" that goes radically against the normative grain. In other words, there has to be a time when people realise that passing out flyers - marching down the streets - lighting candles - proliferating blogs - raising money, etc. is not enough no matter how well intentioned. Why? Because essentially with all of this feverish activity nothing of import changes.

This is the demented genius of capitalistic countries - they maintain a base of people who are satisified, and because these choice people think they have something of value they are unwilling to radically move toward change, massively - collectively - no matter how righteous the issue might be (in countries like Central and South America it is not necessary to create such a broad base). Their entire life consists of gaining what they are told is valuable by an elite group, supported by an overwhelming media that grinds this tripe into their heads 24 hours a day. So, instead, you have these splinter groups trying to assault the citadel of their specific concern - but nothing that challenges the system as a whole, because the desirable duped (those who believe they have a vested interest in this system) are unmoved.

Does that bring some clarification for you Nate? I hope so. As much as idea's are helpful, they do nothing unless it is supported and pushed to the wall by those that are the perceived base supporters of the system. If this does not happen, because the gap is growing larger between the privileged (shrinking rapidly) and the disenfranchised (growing larger), primarily due to the greed of those at the top (classic out of control capitalism) - you will eventually have an unstopable explosion. That beast puts to shame the present beast in ferocity - and not much is left standing after it is unleashed. Essentially I am proposing something that makes common sense, not merely a radical rattling of the sword. However, all my words amount to nothing but an uneventful yawn to those who think they really have something unique that they cannot and will not do away with, period.

Nate

hi Virgil,

Thanks for clarifying (and I hope Jodi doesn't mind us setting up camp in her place to argue, I'm new here and don't know the protocols). That said, I don't understand your final line. I'm quite sympathetic to what I think are some of your impulses. I agree - blogs and books and all that aren't enough. But if we push on that, what really is? Guilt is infinite. I find that tremendously unlivable, though.

Aside from all that, two more things. First, I'm not at all clear what it would be to assault the capitalist system as such in its entirety, short of a well-organized global revolution which is frankly too far beyond my own capacity to imagine at all concretely to be a suggestion I know what to do with. (Despite my deepest agreement.) And that revolution concept would have to be defined - I don't think it includes states, Jodi I think thinks it does.

To my mind the basic issue is the compulsion to sell our(selves as) labor power. That's the crux of the matter and I think that's quite simple. But how to do anything other than work at a very local level on that issue is completely beyond me, to such a degree that if I think too much about it I find it paralyzing and despair inducing.

Second thing - you seem to have an implicit wall that people hit: people with no alternative and so forth, an idea the immiseration creates organization. I think that's not the case.

Organizing creates organization (and the reasons why people organize, and why some attempts succeed and other fail, are tremendously varied). Everyone always has something more they could lose, at least potentially, and everyone always has much they could gain. There is no point of degradation at which resistance just happens, people act or fail to act at very different points on the implied hierarchy of conditions, and when they do (or don't) it's always at least partially a decision.

To my mind, one of the key reasons why people don't do more and do more effectively is that most of us have no idea what to really do. Organizing an AFL-CIO style union in one's workplace, not a very radical thing, not something that's particularly antithetical to the logic of capital, is incredibly difficult even if carried out perfectly and most people have no idea how to do it even kind of badly, practically speaking. I think that's a much more pressing problem than any kind of prevalent belief in and approval for how the world is going, or any kind of lack of grander vision: the need for dissemination of stories about and knowledges on how to do things where one is located. Of course, you could say that my own implicit view is that these micro-level activities might perhaps coalesce into something bigger. That's what I stake my hopes on, but I may well be wrong.

take care,
Nate

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