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Slavoj Zizek: The Problem Is Capitalism

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Posted on Apr 25, 2012
Andy Miah (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Slavoj Zizek.

The problem facing humanity today—especially those taking to the streets in protest—is an economic system that encourages and rewards greed, says the Slovenian philosopher and cultural critic. And leaders who tell us to look elsewhere are merely creating distractions.

In keeping with his trademark style, Zizek uses an obscure, Soviet-era joke to make his point below: Capitalism amplifies and drives greed to the point of consuming everything it touches, including itself. Capitalism is the true enemy of Occupy Wall Street, he says, though most Occupiers already seem to know that. —ARK

Slavoj Zizek in The Guardian:

The first two things one should prohibit are therefore the critique of corruption and the critique of financial capitalism. First, let us not blame people and their attitudes: the problem is not corruption or greed, the problem is the system that pushes you to be corrupt. The solution is neither Main Street nor Wall Street, but to change the system where Main Street cannot function without Wall Street. Public figures from the pope downward bombard us with injunctions to fight the culture of excessive greed and consummation – this disgusting spectacle of cheap moralization is an ideological operation, if there ever was one: the compulsion (to expand) inscribed into the system itself is translated into personal sin, into a private psychological propensity, or, as one of the theologians close to the pope put it:

“The present crisis is not crisis [sic] of capitalism but the crisis of morality.”

Let us recall the famous joke from Ernst Lubitch’s Ninotchka: the hero visits a cafeteria and orders coffee without cream; the waiter replies:

“Sorry, but we have run out of cream, we only have milk. Can I bring you coffee without milk?”

Was not a similar trick at work in the dissolution of the eastern european Communist regimes in 1990? The people who protested wanted freedom and democracy without corruption and exploitation, and what they got was freedom and democracy without solidarity and justice. Likewise, the Catholic theologian close to pope is carefully emphasizing that the protesters should target moral injustice, greed, consumerism etc, without capitalism. The self-propelling circulation of Capital remains more than ever the ultimate Real of our lives, a beast that by definition cannot be controlled.

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By MeHere, April 25, 2012 at 1:09 pm Link to this comment

It’s true that human nature creates imperfect social and economic systems. We haven’t been able to change that so far, but the point is that systems exist and can be developed that are good enough. Any decent system requires constant vigilance and adjustments in order to survive.  We don’t have a good enough system in this country and it’s getting worse.

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By felicity, April 25, 2012 at 12:28 pm Link to this comment

True, capitalism is designed to ‘capitalize’ on
greed, an unfortunate but ever-present, very human
characteristic that’s not about to go away no matter
how much we deplore it.

At the least the Soviet version of communism failed
miserably because it did not take into account human
behavior/characteristics. 

Until the human animal changes its spots, no economic
system yet invented will work to the benefit of all
of us.

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EmileZ's avatar

By EmileZ, April 25, 2012 at 12:09 pm Link to this comment

This is the first I have read anything by Zizek that I can recall.

I have been coming across interviews/discusions with him quite often recently, and have always come away with a big “ehh??” or a “what the fuck???” relating to a certain number of remarks at least.

This piece was entirely coherent. In written form Zizek comes across much better if I do say so myself.

At last!!!

Let me say this right now. I don’t care how comprehensible I may ultimately find you and your work (which I am finally interested in), I am not about to watch “24”. That is my line in the sand. I hope it will not be a problem comrade.

A fine article.

Hit the nail right on the head.

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By gerard, April 25, 2012 at 11:51 am Link to this comment

Thanks for referring to the Guardian article. I can now understand more of Zizek’s thought.  His appearance on film (maybe his flambouyance in general) actually obscures his reasoning and his insights. One impression he gives is that his brain is so aggressively creative that the succeeding thought is angrily trying to push the previous thought out of the way.

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