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?

Additional Rabbit Holes -

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

  • http://topsy.com/trackback?utm_source=pingback&utm_campaign=L1&url=http://sophrosyne.radical.r30.net/wordpress/%3Fp=5027 Tweets that mention Slavoj Žižek: ‘We face an apocalyptic crisis of the commons’ – | Sophrosyne Radical — Topsy.com

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Khephra Maley. Khephra Maley said: Sophrosyne Radical: Slavoj Žižek: 'We face an apocalyptic crisis of the commons' – http://is.gd/biuIF [...]

  • Alobar

    Excellent video.

    When you first started posting his videos, Slavoj Žižek was pretty much incomprehensible to me. But over time, I am getting better at understanding him thru his thick accent.

  • Alobar

    I thought this would be of interest. I posted a link to here on the C_3 list (a local New Orleans) left-political list, which has mainly people over 40. I just received the response below.

    ================================

    Excellent video and very thought provoking: very much worth 50 minutes of viewing. Here are a few key points that jumped out at me:

    The right wing explosions of discontent are co-opting leftist speech, in the expression of their “rights”, and, with the absence of a unified left; discontent in our world is being expressed through right wing speech and events. There is a discontent in liberalism, and right now the right, as in the Tea Partiers through speech and actions, is most visibly articulating this discontent.

    There is a new dualism: gone is social democracy/conservative christian dualism. It is now a technocratic liberal-democratic/conservative christian dualism, with the left side of that dualism more rightly centered.

    The left displays an “easy” moralism, in place of coherent analysis: such as the call to leave Afghanistan. It is morally “right”, but what will emerge in its place? The Taliban, and greater oppression for its people. Perhaps the left has done a poor job of articulating policy that would, and could replace the military occupation of AFghanistan.

    What struck me most strongly, was Zizek's characterization of Italy's Berlusconi: he called Berlusconi's rule in Italy, strikingly, the Groucho Marx of totalitarianism: the state functioning in cynicism, open and unbridled, of itself, laughing at itself, yet still completely dangerous, as in Italy's crack down on immigrants. He called Berlusconi in Italy the future of so-called capitalism/democracy. I would say, we're just about there in the U.S.– elizabeth

  • khephra

    Indeed! Thank you for sharing that comment! Berlusconi is such a comic figure it's hard not to see his domination of Italian politics as eschatological. ;)

  • khephra

    It took at least three years for me to work though my apathy for Zizek and his analyses. If it took you a while to find him palatable, you're obviously not alone. ;)

  • gogg

    yeah, wickedly high inflation in the depression… are you a fucking idiot?

    DEFLATION, say it with me now, DEFLATION

  • khephra

    Ah. Well, don't let ambiguous truths disuade you:

    Lombard Street Research in London has blamed the Fed's
    “panicky” interest-rate cuts a year ago for causing the energy and
    food price inflationary bubbles earlier this year and making the
    current financial crisis worse. – (<a HREF=”http://www.europeanvoice.com/article/imported/inflation,-deflation-and-quantitative-easing-/63383.aspx
    “>European Voice)

    Whether the culprit be inflation or deflation, neoliberal capitalism
    has no legitimate solution.

  • gogg

    yeah, wickedly high inflation in the depression… are you a fucking idiot?

    DEFLATION, say it with me now, DEFLATION

  • http://www.aboutgaming.info/how-the-atari-2600-changed-everything/ How the Atari 2600 changed everything | AboutGaming.info

    [...] Slavoj Žižek: 'We face an apocalyptic crisis of the commons … [...]

  • khephra

    Ah. Well, don't let ambiguous truths disuade you:

    Lombard Street Research in London has blamed the Fed's “panicky” interest-rate cuts a year ago for causing the energy and food price inflationary bubbles earlier this year and making the current financial crisis worse. – (European Voice)

    Whether the culprit be inflation or deflation, neoliberal capitalism
    has no legitimate solution.

  • http://www.thepaltrysapien.com/2011/03/10-4-x-10-interview-with-milwaukee-poet-mike-hauser/ 10.4 x 10: Interview with Milwaukee Poet Mike Hauser « The Paltry Sapien

    [...] say, violently breaking apart the edifices. I think they go together though, and staking a claim to “the commons”, as written about by Zizek, seems more and more important, and extends to allowing art and literature to borrow from itself [...]

  • http://www.thebedrockpress.com/blog/2013/cheshire-fascism/ Cheshire Fascism. – The Bedrock Press

    [...] “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.” -Khephra [...]

blog comments powered by Disqus