Living In The End Times Summary (7/10) — Unearned Wisdom
In Living in the End Times, Zizek writes about the four horsemen of the imminent apocalypse. These are the ecological crisis, social divisions, the biogenetic revolution. and economic inequality. The book is structures according to the Kubler-Ross model (the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance). The death of capitalism is being grieved according to Zizek, and this signals the end of the world. There are many voices who are making an effort to deny that there is anything wrong.
Zizek thinks that there is a general unease in society. People are not content with the current system. Capitalism has failed to usher in the utopia. Religious fundamentalism and popular protests are signs. The randomness and meaningless of the world have caused depression in many. The real voice of the populace fails to be heard under capitalism.
In the past, there was a Protestant work ethic that powered the Capitalistic engine. Work was seen as an end — it was virtuous to be hard working. But today, the principal ethic underlying the economic system is envy and consumerism. All problems in the world are reduced to money problems. How to save children in Africa? Donate some money or free clothes. These actions absolve the individual from guilt and masks the root cause of these problems.
Capitalism, according to Zizek, is a deep ideology, not unlike religion. If you challenge it, you are a heretic of the highest order.
Wikileaks is successful because it challenges the system of power rather than individual actors — the media and the nongovernmental organizations are fake challengers to those in power.
What matters is appearance, not reality.
The greatest skill in today’s culture is to go on and act like nothing happened. That is the sign of an ideology.
Congo has descended into anarchy. It is a poor country run by warlords. But these men are financed by foreign companies who use the minerals extracted to build laptops and cellphones. We are told that the dire situation of the Congo is in the state it is in because its rulers are corrupt, but it is the foreign companies that sponsors it all.
America is not Zizek’s target. It is Europe that he views as highly hypocritical. They pretend to stick to their high moral principles while silently counting on the US to do the dirty work to maintain stability. Europe sees itself as the pinnacle of progress, free of war, but this is only possible thanks to America. Europe sees America as a rogue and ideological state. America sees Europe as too concerned with bureaucracy and oblivious to real threats.
Zizek sounds like a leftist, but unlike the left, he is totally intolerant of tolerance. He sees tolerance as a mask for real problems that can only be solved through emancipation and political struggle.
“When we are shown scenes of starving children in Africa, with a call for us to do something to help them, the underlying ideological message is something like: ‘Don’t think, don’t politicize, forget about the true causes of their poverty, just act, contribute money, so that you will not have to think!’” (p. 3)
“Every civilization which disavows its barbarian potential has already capitulated to barbarism.” (p. 6)
“In today’s epoch, a state power can proudly admit to its dark side, advertising the fact that it is discreetly doing dirty things it is better for us not to know about.” (p. 10)
“In order to truly awaken from the capitalist ‘dogmatic dream’ and recognize this other true heart of darkness, we should re-apply to our situation Brecht’s old quip from his Beggars’ Opera: ‘What is the robbing of a bank compared to the founding of a bank?’” (p. 164)
“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.” (p. 207)
“…a capitalist who dedicates himself unconditionally to the capitalist drive is effectively ready to put everything, including the survival of humanity, at stake, not for any ‘pathological’ gain or goal, but simply for the sake of the reproduction of the system as an end-in-itself…” (p. 335)
“We should add here that, in our everyday lives, ideology is at work especially in the apparently innocent reference to pure utility — one should never forget that, in the symbolic universe, ‘utility’ functions as a reflexive notion, that is, it always involves the assertion of utility as meaning.”
“Freudian ‘sexuality’ designates not merely a constrained content (sexual practices), but the very formal structure of the relationship between Outside and Inside, between the external incident/accident and its Aufhebung/integration into the internal libidinal process it triggers.”
“Civility stands for custom (or rather, what remains of custom) after the fall of the big Other: it assumes key role when subjects encounter a lack of substantial ethics, in other words when they find themselves in predicaments which cannot be resolved by way of relying on the existing ethical substance. […] The more the ‘deep’ substantial ethical background is missing, the more a ‘superficial’ civility is needed.”
[T]he way to rid ourselves of our masters is not for humankind itself to become a collective master over nature, but to recognize the imposture in the very notion of the Master.
Originally published at https://unearnedwisdom.com.