Friday, August 19, 2011

ZIZEK (on liberalism and capitalism)

from LIVING IN THE END TIMES BY SLAVOJ ZIZEK (Verso, London & New York, 2010)

For liberalism, at least in its radical form, the wish to submit peoples to an ethical ideal held to be universal is "the crime which contains all crimes," the mother of all crimes -it amounts to the brutal imposition of one's own view onto others, the cause of civil disorder. Which is why, if one wants to establish civil peace and tolerance, the first condition is to get rid of "moral temptation": politics should be thoroughly purged of moral ideals and rendered "realistic," taking people as they are, counting on their true nature, not moral exhortations....An anti-ideological and anti-utopian stance is inscribed into the very core of the liberal vision: liberalism conceives itself as a "politics of the lesser evil," its ambition is to bring about the "least worst society possible," thus preventing a greater evil....Such a view is sustained by a profound pessimism about human nature: man is a selfish and envious animal, and if one attempts to build a political system appealing to his goodness and altruism, the result will be the worst kind of human terror.....However, the liberal critique of the "tyranny of the Good" comes at a price: the more its program permeates society, the more it turns into its opposite. The claim to want nothing but the lesser evil, once asserted as the principle of the new global order, replicates the features of the very enemy it claims to be fighting....Behind all this lurks the ultimate totalitarian nightmare, the vision of a New Man who has left behind all the old ideological language....The tension internal to this project is discernible in the two aspects of liberalism, market liberalism and politcal liberalism. Jean-Claude Michea perspicuously links these two meanings of the term "right": the political Right insists on the market economy, the politically correct culturalized Left insists on the defense of human rights - often its sole remaining raison d'etre. Although the tension between these two aspects of liberalism is irreducible, they are nonetheless inextricably linked, like the two sides of the same coin....Today the meaning of "liberalism" moves between two opposed poles: economic liberalism (free-market individualism, opposition to strong state regulation, etc.) and political liberalism (with an accent on equality, social solidarity, permissiveness, etc.)....It is thus for necessary structural reasons that the "fight against discrimination" is an endless process which interminably postpones its final point: namely a society freed of all moral prejudices which, as Michea puts it, "would be on this very account a society condemned to see crimes everywhere."....What liberalism proposes is a value-neutral mechanism of rights, and so on, "a mechanism whose free play can automatically generate a desired political order, without at any point interpellating individuals into subjects." The nameless jouissance cannot be a title of interpellation proper; it is more a kind of blind drive with no symbolic value-form attached to it - all such symbolic features are temporary and flexible, which is why the individual is constantly called upon to "re-create" himself or herself. There is a problem with this liberal vision which every good anthropologist, psychoanalyst, or even perspicuous social critic is aware: it cannot stand on its own, it is parasitic upon some preceding form of what is usually referred to as "socialization" which it simultaneously undermines, thereby sawing off the branch on which it is sitting....This atomized society, in which we have contact with others without entering into proper relations with them, is the presupposition of liberalism....That is to say, whence comes the Stalinist drive-to-expand, the incessant push to increase productivity, to further "develop" the scope and quality of production? Here we should correct Heidegger: it comes not from some general will-to-power or will-to-technological domination, but from the inherent structure of capitalist reproduction which can survive only through its incessant expansion and for which this ever-expanding reproduction, not some final state, is itself the only true goal of the entire movement....Only in capitalism is exploitation "naturalized," inscribed into the functioning of the economy, and not the result of extra-economic pressure and violence. This is why, with capitalism, we enjoy personal freedom and equality: there is no need for explicit social domination, since domination is already implicit in the structure of the production process.


(& a personal footnote on how to turn a trillion dollar deficit into a surplus, create jobs, reduce the power of the greed-laden, and even restore a modest sense of u.s. exceptionalism as "the last best hope on the planet")

Cease all current wars immediately, keeping military might in reserve, and if necessary, employ in other ways, like overseeing proper food distribution to the world's starving millions.

Make it illegal for large corporations to outsource work overseas. (It would be fair to raise tax on corporations and the mega-rich back to what they were under Eisenhower or even Reagan (who is no right-wing icon when it comes to taxation levels on the wealthiest); however, there seems little point since tax lawyers, corporate accountants, et. al., would find loopholes.) To outsource continues to exploit people overseas by paying low wages, thus increasing the profits of the corporation and making other nations and peoples dependent on the greed of capitalist enterprise. (I note that multi-millionaires are now being called "job creators" when they used to be called greedy bosses or corporate criminals, and of course they create only that which brings more wealth to them. They have never been asked to prove they create jobs in the amount of hundreds of billions of dollars, which is the figure being bandied about.)

End all foreign aid to dictatorships (like Saudi Arabia) and all countries where our tax dollars go into corrupt pockets and an increase of their military power.

Create a National Health Service making medical care a right not a privilege as every other civilized country on earth has done. (This would also reduce the power of large insurance companies - insurance being perhaps the biggest racket in America. A side effect also might be more who are dedicated healers entering the medical profession, not simply people in it for the money.)

And as an almost equally improbable happening, perhaps someday the Supreme Court will reverse Sierra Club v. Morton, making Justice Douglas' dissent, and Justice Blackmun's dissent as well, the majority opinion. ....I suppose it's not impossible. Plessy v. Ferguson was reversed after all.

(added on Oct. 11th/Oct.12th)

Of course, to change the nature of the callous corruption which rules the U.S., we might begin with educational priorities, not simply more teachers and smaller class sizes, but, at the top, abolish athletic scholarships, since most who attend college in this way cannot put two sentences together without spelling or grammatical mistakes. (I write from teaching experience in two large American universities.) In fact, in big-money sport no professional athlete should be making millions per annum. Why pay men (and women) high wages to play children's games. As Charles Olson had said: "It is an excuse for homosexual behavior in public." But then we wouldn't have lawyers and agents using others as they do, and overpaid sportscasters, and coaches, and an entire absurd system of billionaire owners. Glued to TV or mindless in stadiums, it is an opiate of the people, although as a few professional athletes have had the forthrightness to admit, it reduces violent crime rates, in much the same way that prostitution reduces rape rates. It is a sign of our immaturity as a nation. Our educational system is a laughing stock. Higher education should be free to those who qualify. However, we have always been an anti-intellectual nation, ever since the Republic became an Empire. In fact, I believe that those with more than a few million in assets should be put under house arrest (if we can find enough honest law enforcement) until it is ascertained that their money was earned honestly. Ah, but then doubtless we'd have more prison overcrowding and abuse. The infrastructure of the country could be rebuilt and millions of unemployed put to work, but then those who live off the backs of people in developing countries and here will cry "socialism" as if capitalism were mentioned or enshrined anywhere in the Constitution as America's path. We could outlaw manufacture and distribution of "weapons of mass destruction" but the truth is that people here don't think of a decent and fair society for the most part, only more loot and gadgets and toys and celebrity-worship to fill the void.