Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, aka ‘The Elvis of cultural theory’, is given the floor to show of his polemic style and whirlwind-like performance. ‘The Giant of Ljubljana’ is bombarded with clips of popular media images and quotes by modern-day thinkers revolving around four major issues: the economical crisis, environment, Afghanistan and the end of democracy. Žižek grabs the opportunity to ruthlessly criticize modern capitalism and to give his view on our common future.
“We communists are back!” is the closing remark of Slavoj Žižek’s provocative performance. Our current capitalist system, that everyone believed would be smoothly spread around the globe, is untenable. We find ourselves on the brink of big problems that call for big solutions. Whatever is left of the left has been hedged in by western liberal democracy and seems to lack the energy to come up with radical solutions. Not Zižek.
Although the cinematography grated on my patience, I liked the producers’ attempts to challenge Žižek with divergent perspectives. Further, I found watching his mannerisms and responses to the clips entertaining, and would have preferred the camera stayed focused on him rather than zooming in and around the square. Stylistic concerns aside, however, Žižek made two arguments that especially resonated with me: The most dangerous style of political organization on the horizon could be described as ‘Groucho Marx Authoritarianism’, and we face a crisis of the commons of apocalyptic proportions.
Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s longest-serving Prime Minister, is a wonderful example of ‘Groucho Marx Authoritarianism’. He’s the third richest man in Italy, with personal assets topping $9.4 billion US. Anyone who spends more than 15 minutes reading will stumble upon scandal after scandal after scandal after scandal implicating Berlusconi’s corruption, yet he still manages to stay in power. In addition, he’s legitimated modern variants of the brownshirts to help with Italy’s ‘immigrant problem’, resurrected the ideology of Mussolini, appointed Mussolini’s political heir as foreign minister, and has deployed thousands of soldiers to patrol Italy’s streets. Is that the face of democracy?
Nevertheless, Berlusconi’s Italy is not an isolated exception. In neoliberal capitalist countries across the globe there are oodles of people just like him waiting on their chance to get their fingers in the pot. For example, in the US Obama matches Berlusconi’s pro-corporatism, the UK’s Gordon Brown is no slouch on electronic surveillance, and Canada’s Stephen Harper moans and groans about cuts to social services while simultaneously propping up American imperialism in Afghanistan. Every neoliberal capitalist nation seems to fall into this ideologic trap, but now the ‘communist’ Chinese are upping the ante – they do capitalism better than the West. In the years ahead, I think Chinese capitalism will come to be more and more idolized by the West. For those who remember WWII, things will almost seem redundant. During the Great Depression, for instance, fascist countries were all the rage. Since fascists were unapologetically corporatists their economies achieved remarkable efficiency – nearly everyone who could work had enough work. The West, meanwhile, groaned under staggeringly high unemployment and wickedly high inflation. Consequently, many politicians began openly espousing fascist ideals – and this didn’t cease until war began. I think we’re seeing very similar happen today. The more fascist your country is, the more it will seem productive, orderly, and liberal. But this is only an illusion, and the illusion of freedom is – in my opinion – obscene.
If we are truly intent on protecting the freedoms we have, increasing the freedoms we have access to, and legitimizing the freedoms of others, we are going to need to collectively consider our situation. As Žižek argues, we are facing an apocalyptic crisis of the commons and neoliberal capitalism is completely incapable of doing anything but making things worse for a greater majority of the species – and the planet. How is it that we’re going to preserve the integrity of our DNA if we can’t even agree to give everyone access to clean drinking water? How is it that we’re going to overcome ecological catastrophes like the Pacific gyre garbage patch, heavy metals in the food chain, Internet neutrality, digital privacy, and the petroleum economy? Does neoliberal capitalism – an inherently selfish organizational pattern – have any possibility of resolving these crises? I think not.
Above and beyond all else, the modern crisis of the commons will be the battle ground upon which the future is decided. If Berlusconi and his ilk have their way, ‘Groucho Marx Authoritarianism’ may lead us to a tomorrow where we have the ‘freedom’ to choose between a hundred different types of toothpaste but no freedom to dethrone those who oppress us. If the neoliberal capitalists retain power, we may be led into a future where a ‘beneficent’ elite supports half the world’s poor with philanthropy and charity. If the crisis of the commons isn’t responsibly addressed, we may be led into a future where privacy is some obscure idea in history books and mega-media conglomerates are free to undercut our agency by targeting us with neuralmarketing. If our commons aren’t protected we won’t have the freedom to be free. Is that a future worth fighting for?
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Tags: agitprop, classism, controversy, corruption, dissent, eschatology, europe, fascism, freedom, hegemony, history, internet neutrality, obama, oppression, politics, propaganda, Provocations, Slavoj Žižek, Strategies for Revolutionaries, youtubeblog comments powered by Disqus