After the courage of hopelessness: Notes on seeing Slavoj Zizek in Amsterdam last night
I just got back from hearing Slovoj Zizek speak, passionately, in Amsterdam at the Westerkerk (Church) and feel happy to report that he kept up his reputation, as one of the most important public intellectuals of our time, etc…witty, challenging and comprehensive…etc. Now, forgive me as i mangle some of his thoughts together with my own. These are loose notes, please do forgive my blunders.
My recollections are splintered as you might expect, and also further fragmented from the rather dull Q & A period, and distractions from the other panel members, respect due. Zizek himself seemed like an Alien from another planet at times, when he referenced ‘V for Vendetta’ he baffled others on the panel, as if they were not aware of the novel? maybe i miss-read their response? And so Zizek’s comment about wanting to know what happened after the revolution, or what a ‘V for vendetta 2’ would portray, was lost on the rest of the panel. I would have said ‘Jerusalem!’ that is what happens after the revolution. The punchline echoed the sentiment of ‘what happens the day after?’ and how does the revolutionary event change the day to day perception of the people? how can the changes be sustained over time?
Zizek talked on Ecology, and on catastrophe of the ecological variety, and its relationship with global capitalism. And was critical of the carry-on-regardless attitude of those who make token gestures like recycling, buying organic food and bio diesel, without addressing the deeper causes face on, and at the root. The root being whatever Zizek’s complex analysis of capitalism is. I like the phrase the rich have all the money and the poor have none.
He spoke of the symptom often being misread as the cause. And he constructively criticised the left for these symptomatic solutions to problems, that now have glaringly obvious foundations. Interesting ‘Simtome’ is a word used by Lacan, and Zizek borrowed from James Joyce, used to illustrate this ‘sypmtom for cause error.’
For example, he described how, paradoxically, it is the far-right party in Poland that recently created Worker’s Union rights, which traditionally you might associate with the left. And examples of how in fact, the so called unelected in Brussels, of the European Union, have so far averted far worse humanitarian disasters than we currently see around us, by intervening over fully legitimised elected parties, such as the aforementioned in Poland, so to avert openly racist, xenophobic and homophobic policy. Zizek points out, to his horror, that the voting people, for the most part across Europe are against immigration and integration, preferring insular and right leaning political parties and leaders. The decision by Angela Merkel to go ahead and open the gates to the immigrants, against the popular will of the German voting public, is another example of this kind of overpowering of the will of the people by executive order, but here in favour of progressive ideas, to help refugees, in this example, or to curb xenophobia in the other.
The message on Brexit is similar. The will of the voting public in Europe is right leaning, democracy has led to those with the most hatred and ignorance going to the polls and winning. (my words and emphasis) The left, left shocked, without a strategy or alternative to democracy (myself included). Okay, we have Bernie Sanders in the U.S, and Corbyn in the UK. What is to be done?
I think that the UKIP movement and the Leave campaign were always an old guard conservative Trojan horse, designed to bring back the old classicist, racist, rather greedy, capitalist Tories, back into the control room, with a new flavor of xenophobia, oh and some good old hatred of the poor, the vulnerable, mentally and/or physically disabled, those on welfare, artists, and more or less anybody that is not them.
This forces me to reconsider the idea i have clung to for a while, concerning open source democracy and representative democracy. And to think about a constitutional framework as a kind of safe guard, at a transnational, global scale, which prevents the violation of basic human rights. (um, sounds a bit like a global world order, whoops) To be defined, and with luck expanded upon. I agree that democracy is a mean bitch, and reminded of the quotes “never underestimate the stupidity of people in large groups” and “monarchy is rule by one imbecile, democracy by 500 imbeciles”
At one point Zizek said that if most white people were to hear how he talks with his black friends, they would be appalled and understand his lack of political correctness. He touched on the subject of Zionism and right wing conspiracy theories, and used Anders Brevic as an example of an openly right wing Zionist. He went on to point out that some conspiracy theorists propose that there is a Judeo Muslim conspiracy behind the turmoil in Europe and the near east. Another Zionist conspiracy. I have heard Zizek on a previous occasion mention these wild conspiracy theories, but adding how in the past 12 months such wild conspiracies are surfacing within the mainstream political sphere. Full on crazed far right white supremacy at it’s most toxic and devoutly blinded. Others have recently traced the rise of the American trumpism to 4chan message boards and the likes of Alex Jones, helping to perpetuate fantastical conspiracies about the ‘global elites’ the ‘globalists’ and their attempt to create prison planet earth.
Some of the most stimulating parts of his talk were those where he quoted and improvised on Sloterdijk, who should have been on the panel but had an accident up a mountain. he talked of the new anthropocene period, where humanity can no longer ignore its footprints all over the face of the planet. And that these boots are powered by capitalist expansion, commodification and complete ignorance to the ecological threats upon us. Furthermore, Zizek pointed out some cruel Hegelian reversals, where for example, the fixed hole in the Ozone layer of Antarctica, in fact has helped increase rates of global warming due to the greenhouse effect.
And gives an all to familiar example of a company capitalizing on newly uncovered, dry land, revealed due to melting ice caps in Greenland. The company imply that this new green land, in green land is green land, to mean green – ecologically friendly.
I would add is that this land should be a graveyard commemorating the destruction of the natural environment over the last 500 years of industrialization and progress.
I was fascinated to hear him discuss his friends in America and their computer studies, or research into the predictive abilities of computers versus the abilities of humans, with regards to questions such as will this marriage or relationship last. The computer program is fed a whole array of data sets stretching back in time, and calculates the approximate scenario. The punchline here is that the computer program increasingly knows you, better than you know you. (related software has been disrupting the stock market too, according to Zizek, due to producing better stock predictions than highly payed wall street stock analysts.
I imagine this is due to the susceptible nature of humans, emotions, desires, complexes, delusions and amplifications, improvisations, which all lead to spur of the moment decisions, which in fact are rarely representative of the longer game perspective, habits, activities, changes. Zizek also joked that perhaps this is the way to get rid of Gert Wilders, with computers like this. I am reminded of an unanswered question i have, why are our politicians, world leaders and communicators not wired up to a simple lie detector? or some such device to monitor for bullshit, in real time? here is direct democracy connected to a hierarchy of values based on an verifiable. transparent field. Call it a Bushit detector in Honor of the master of Bullshit George W. Bush. Catalogue name: Nightmare Bushit’ Whirl.
Zizek said words to the effect that if you don’t address the likes of Gert Wilder’s, and Le Pen, then what else are you standing for? This is the fight for Europe. To figure out our common ground, and shared weirdness, and basically agree to tolerate each other. Respect my atheism because of it, not in spite of it, in response to a religious argument, along the lines of respect my beliefs because…not in spite of.
The term spaceship earth jumped out at me, in the context of the work of Peter Sloterdijk, due to its use by Buckminster Fuller. Although i have yet to look into Sloterdijk’s use of the term, i hope it related to Fuller’s all-around-the-world synergy and shared resources. Zizek mentioned that in the future countries will need to figure out temporary land loans, in the wake of ecological crisis, and other unforeseen problematic relations between sovereign states in times of dire catastrophe.
I can simply image solving the refugee crisis by giving a certain people, defined by their homelessness, land, perhaps only temporarily, but under a sovereign agreement. Ending the status of immigrant and native. I mean, if people are not living on the land (i.e the billions of square meters on earth currently not occupied by humans, but capable of sustaining a life of relative comfort) why not let them?
I think that’s enough memory exercise from me. I’ll close by saying that above all Zizek seemed kind and forgiving, open for debate and for new date, open to change his mind on things. I found this very refreshing, i hope he continues on his current trajectory.
25/03/2017 – 02.35 a.m