In an essay published today at the LRB, Slavoj Žižek addresses the current, disparate waves of protest around the globe and explores the
difference between a reformist and a revolutionary period: in a reformist period, global revolution remains a dream which, if it does anything, merely lends weight to attempts to change things locally; in a revolutionary period, it becomes clear that nothing will improve without radical global change.
Where do we stand today with respect to this difference? Are the problems and protests of the last few years signs of an approaching global crisis, or are they just minor obstacles that can be dealt with by means of local interventions? The most remarkable thing about the eruptions is that they are taking place not only, or even primarily, at the weak points in the system, but in places which were until now perceived as success stories. We know why people are protesting in Greece or Spain; but why is there trouble in such prosperous or fast-developing countries as Turkey, Sweden or Brazil? With hindsight, we might see the Khomeini revolution of 1979 as the original ‘trouble in paradise’, given that it happened in a country that was on the fast-track of pro-Western modernisation, and the West’s staunchest ally in the region. Maybe there’s something wrong with our notion of paradise.
If the examples in the above paragraph seem too concrete for a Žižekian riff, don’t worry. Our philosopher addresses what he takes to be the ideological underpinnings of protest:
It is also important to recognise that the protesters aren’t pursuing any identifiable ‘real’ goal. The protests are not ‘really’ against global capitalism, ‘really’ against religious fundamentalism, ‘really’ for civil freedoms and democracy, or ‘really’ about any one thing in particular. What the majority of those who have participated in the protests are aware of is a fluid feeling of unease and discontent that sustains and unites various specific demands. The struggle to understand the protests is not just an epistemological one, with journalists and theorists trying to explain their true content; it is also an ontological struggle over the thing itself, which is taking place within the protests themselves. Is this just a struggle against corrupt city administration? Is it a struggle against authoritarian Islamist rule? Is it a struggle against the privatisation of public space? The question is open, and how it is answered will depend on the result of an ongoing political process.
And an answer, perhaps, to some of these questions:
Only a politics that fully takes into account the complexity of overdetermination deserves to be called a strategy. When we join a specific struggle, the key question is: how will our engagement in it or disengagement from it affect other struggles? The general rule is that when a revolt against an oppressive half-democratic regime begins, as with the Middle East in 2011, it is easy to mobilise large crowds with slogans – for democracy, against corruption etc. But we are soon faced with more difficult choices. When the revolt succeeds in its initial goal, we come to realise that what is really bothering us (our lack of freedom, our humiliation, corruption, poor prospects) persists in a new guise, so that we are forced to recognise that there was a flaw in the goal itself. This may mean coming to see that democracy can itself be a form of un-freedom, or that we must demand more than merely political democracy: social and economic life must be democratised too. In short, what we first took as a failure fully to apply a noble principle (democratic freedom) is in fact a failure inherent in the principle itself. This realisation – that failure may be inherent in the principle we’re fighting for – is a big step in a political education.
3 thoughts on ““Maybe there’s something wrong with our notion of paradise” — Slavoj Žižek”
[…] “Maybe there’s something wrong with our notion of paradise” — Slavoj Žižek. […]
There is trouble right here in River City. And it is not kids playing Pool. Not to worry though. ‘The War is Over’, to quote Jim Morrison. In the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, we can munch on sugar coated styrofoam and watch it all on big screen tv, to paraphrase another prophet, the Allman Brothers. Terrorists? Let’s just put cameras everywhere. And don’t worry about who will watch the watchers, they’re just good ole boys just like us. Not to worry though. It’s just the media seeking attention.
The pursuit of things and the symbols of success that acquisition denotes has sucked the marrow out of the spine and the gism out of the testicles, replaced with feely friendly silly putty, and a correctness regrooved mind. To mix metaphor paraphrase Cyrano.
Every time I leave the campus where I live I see passive homeless. ‘Help me, please.’ I can tell by the looks on their faces they have given up on being considered a valid part of the American race. Where is their protest? At the beer store and the corner dealer.
Democracy, like God, are genuflect words – who in his right mind would be against them. You might as well speak out against Mom and Apple Pie. Where is Mom, BTW? Having her face lifted and fat liposuctioned and taking drugs so that yet another 40 year old can deliver another baby to the piles of babies being born. After all, a baby is an object of acquisition. The Apple Pie from the freezer section has a list of chemical additives an arm long, many of which should be classified as drugs.
Meanwhile, there is a little less oxygen and a little more CO2 in the air you breathe every day.
1984, Brave New World, or Fahrenheit 451? Or all three? It’s time to watch ‘Sleeper’ again.
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