From OWS to the Euro Zone: What’s Occupying the Mind of Slavoj Zizek?

Last month famed Slovenian philosopher and critical theorist Slavoj Žižek addressed the demonstrators at Occupy Wall Street. Commending the crowd for championing their own right to demand alternatives to the status quo, he worked in one of his characteristic references to movies and pop culture:

In mid-April 2011, the Chinese government prohibited on TV, films, and novels all stories that contain alternate reality or time travel. This is a good sign for China. These people still dream about alternatives, so you have to prohibit this dreaming. Here, we don’t need a prohibition because the ruling system has even oppressed our capacity to dream. Look at the movies that we see all the time. It’s easy to imagine the end of the world. An asteroid destroying all life and so on. But you cannot imagine the end of capitalism.

Here’s a video excerpt from YouTube.

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Recently, Žižek gave a lengthy interview to Al Jazeera, where topics spanned across a wide swath of the major developments of 2011: the democracy uprisings across the Middle East, violent protests in London, OWS, Israel-Palestine conflicts, the Eurozone crisis and the rise of China and India. Here he seems a little less enthusiastic about the OWS protests, likening them to the London riots that exploded earlier in the year, where, in his words, “the only cause or agenda is to imitate consumerism.” However, he doesn’t blame the OWS protesters for lacking a clear agenda. Instead he suggests that the tentativeness of OWS is a sign that those seeking alternatives to capitalism are still reckoning with the failure of Communism in the 20th century:

“I am not a naive Communist. I am the first to say, and this really made me many enemies, when I said, let’s face it, 20th Century Communism, precisely because it started with hopes and ended in a nightmare. It was maybe the greatest ethical catastrophe, I am tempted to say, in the history of humanity, more than fascism.”

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Other highlights:

On his controversial endorsement of violence:

Of course I am opposed to violence when by it we mean killing and torturing people and so on. But for me true violence which I support is not physical violence but… the violence of Egyptian demonstrators in Tahrir square. They weren’t violent in the formal sense that they didn’t just shoot and so on. They wanted the whole system to stop functioning. This is why my famous statement which brought me so many enemies is, the first part is “The problem with Hitler was that he wasn’t violent enough,” but then the second part in the sense in which Gandhi was more violent than Hitler. Hitler’s violence was to make the system work. Gandhi wanted to stop it. The demonization of violence – of course it should be demonized. But before we do that, we should see all the forms of violence.

On consumerism as an invisible but dominant ideology:

We live in a very strange era where at least in the West people say they live outside ideology. Take average people today. What is the implicit injunction that you get in society, in education, whatever.  It’s not sacrifice yourself for a big cause. It’s something like be true to yourself, have a full life, realize your potential. It’s kind of what I call a “spiritualized capitalism.” People don’t experience it as ideology but we are in an ideology.

On the Euro Zone Crisis:

One the one hand we have this pure technocratic Brussels vision which is just organize ourselves with regard to global markets to be competitive, and then we have these nationalist anti-immigrant movements. It’s very sad if these are the only alternatives. I think today that the world is asking for a real alternative. Look, would you like – I wouldn’t – to live in a world where the only alternative is Anglo-Saxon neo-liberalism, or Chinese-Singaporean, as they poetically put it, “capitalism with Asian values,” which means authoritarian capitalism?

HT to Dangerous Minds.


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