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A conservative communist’s take on global capitalism and desire. (Zizek, Marx, Hegel)

Zizek says if the 20th century should’ve taught us anything… it’s that launching a revolution… and then designing a society on the other side of that…is not as simple as just seizing control of the government.


A conservative communist’s take on global capitalism and desire. (Zizek, Marx, Hegel)

So last time we talked about how there’s this COMMON way people will talk about politics: where they say you know, that person over there’s on the left, this person over here’s on the right…and we talked about how to a LOT of philosophers these days: how that’s ultimately TOO SIMPLE a way to think about it if you EVER wanted to understand the COMPLEXITY of the ways people look at things. People’s views don’t often FALL into a neat binary like that… it’s become MORE and more common for people to be conservative on some issues, progressive on others… and MORE than that these days it’s become COMMON to be talking about GLOBAL issues that have so many moving PARTS to them, that it can be pretty tough to really LABEL somebody STRICTLY left or right, if they’re not a COMPLETE cartoon of a person. I mean don’t get me wrong… on one hand there’s ALWAYS uncle MURRAY, red faced, strummin his guitar…going off on the leftists at thanksgiving dinner, classic uncle murray… and of COURSE there’s ALWAYS people out there that are putting the finishing touches on their most recent passive activism protest sign…putting EXTRA glitter on it THIS time so it REALLY changes some minds…no shortage of people that are fine with dismissing uncle Murray’s entire existence as well. There’s CERTAINLY people… that’re fully captured IDEOLOGUES on one side or the other. But outside of their VISIBILITY on whatever algorithm gives you your information about the world…is it even USEFUL to REDUCE EVERYONE’S worldviews DOWN into a neat little binary like left and right? Lot of smart people say NO these days. But if we RESIST that temptation…to just reduce the complexity of the situation down…as we ALSO talked about last episode: the TERMS left and right…can STILL be useful in SOME cases… as flexible indicators of evolving, political ideals, that lie underneath. What do you mean by that, Stephen West? Well look: Sometimes people hear the terms left and right… and the way they understand them is by knowing what specific positions…are to the left or to the right… at THIS precise moment in history. With the example of the United States we gave last time: they’ll think well the left those are people that are pro-abortion…to the right they’re anti-abortion. People on the left, they’re FOR protections to the environment…people on the right…not so much. This is how a lot of people make SENSE of left and right…they ask: what POSITIONS are CONSIDERED to be left and right, right NOW…and then once I KNOW that…I don’t gotta THINK about it anymore. But there’s ANOTHER way those terms are USED in conversation… often times among philosophers, political analysts, sociologists…they’ll use the terms left and right in more of a GENERAL way…to describe a more TIMELESS disagreement between different KINDS of people, when it comes to the question of how to maintain a society. Goes back to the French revolution, the terms left and right, not the disagreement that goes back forever: but at the time of the French Revolution these categories… were talking about people that sat to the left of the king… or to the right of the king. The right of the king were the supporters of the MONARCHY and the church that they had at the time…to the left were people who thought it was better to REFORM society under a DIFFERENT banner, something more democratic. But REGARDLESS of what the SPECIFIC positions were being defended at THAT time…the more TIMELESS way to VIEW this… is that left and right are two different ways of maintaining a good society, BOTH of which are necessary at different times: People on the left will often say look, society hasn’t always been as good as it is right now. And that’s because over the years, human beings have gotten better at organizing themselves, we come up with better ideas, and we’d be stupid if we didn’t apply those better ideas to society. That’s people on the left…people on the right though would at least START by saying something pretty similar they’d say look, society hasn’t always been as good as it is right now. Meaning things have been a lot WORSE than this at OTHER points in history, its not like we don't have a lot to lose here… and there’s no guarantee that you just implement a progressive new policy and things always get better. In other words: people on the right… are generally trying to preserve the existing institutions, or even go back to a time when they think things were better. And people on the left are generally trying to CHANGE the existing order of things and move on to something different, something THEY see as better. Which MEANS fundamentally…there’s no fixed, specific positions on an issue that determine what left or right is: and knowing this, it’s INTERESTING…some RIGHT wing, CONSERVATIVE positions today…were at ONE point in history left wing, RADICAL PROGRESSIVE positions. This is just the way political ideals EVOLVE over time. Now I KNOW this is pretty basic for a lot of you out there listening, but it’s very important… that everybody who’s listening to this episode today DOESN’T just try to understand Slavoj Zizek through those common filters of left and right you may hear on CNN or Fox News, the SPECIFIC positions…because if you DO…I’ll tell you what’s gonna happen: depending on how charitable of a mood you’re feeling in today: SOME of his views might start to sound to you like he’s a right wing conservative, railing against the leftists…then at OTHER times he may sound to you like he’s a first year college student that just read Karl Marx for the first time…in REALITY he is NEITHER of these things. Every position of his is a just a PIECE of a larger world picture that doesn’t FIT into the clear cut, CNN/Fox definitions of left and right. In fact in the sense that the left is ALWAYS in the business of subverting the existing ORDER of things and trying to bring about a different world…when it comes to Zizek…understand that there are different TIERS to being left leaning, different DEGREES to the left. And the reality is that when it comes to a political spectrum of left and right like the one that exists in the United States currently…Zizek is SO far to the left.. that he’s off the charts…that he’s going to seem antagonistic TOWARDS what the United States calls the left…because he has a LOT TO CRITICIZE about what he sees as PSEUDO left leaning people, that are captured by processes that they need to be more self aware of. What HE thinks of himself as, the term that HE uses: is that he’s a moderately conservative communist. Which SEEMS like a paradoxical term on the surface, and its intended by Zizek to be a LITTLE funny…but by the end of the episode… we’re gonna understand why that term… actually makes a lot of sense to describe him, if you have an understanding of communism that isn’t ROOTED in western, liberal, capitalist propaganda. Now to GET there…we’re going to need to understand more about the way Zizek sees the world…and to get THERE… we’re gonna need to know more about how he sees the subjectivity of modern people…we’ve talked about how important that is to him. And just being someone who's doing his work in the year 2024…psychoanalysis and psychology are going to be a big part of the way that he sees people’s subjectivity. See, that’s the thing about Zizek…because he’s so aware of ideology and how it limits what people end up SEEING about the world…he has no problem being very UP FRONT about his OWN ideological or theoretical bias, he’s basically advertising on a BILLBOARD at the START of any conversation you have with him: Hegel, Marx and Lacan in big red letters, he’s always starting from a place where he’s saying these are three people…whose work is INCREDIBLY useful…to be able INTERPRET the state of the world right now if you’re at ALL confused about it. And the psychoanalytical side of that is going to be the work of Jacques Lacan. See to Lacan and to Zizek…a huge PIECE of what makes you or ANYONE out there who they are…is going to be what and how… you DESIRE. You can tell a LOT about someone if you know what they desire. And as we’ll SEE you can CONTROL a lot about someone if you can control how they desire. It’s important we know what they’re talking about here: last episode we started talking about dialectics as a way of interpreting the world ala Marx. And when we DID that the example we used was to think of something like a school. How there’s ONE way to answer the question what is a school that’s very simple…a school is where you go to get an education. It’s where you learn right from wrong. No monkey business about it. But as we ALSO TALKED about there’s ANOTHER, more dialectical way of looking at what a school is where we acknowledge that OBVIOUSLY it is something that is always in a state of change…how its ALWAYS subject to internal and external tensions and negotiations that are going on all the time…and how when it comes to the IDENTITY, of a school in any given moment…how it’s NOT just about understanding the internal dialectical tensions that are going on, its NOT just about understanding it’s position within the larger system of society, it’s about understanding… that the specific FORM that this school takes, in THIS type of society QUANTITATIVELY…is CONNECTED to whatever the CONTENT of that school is qualitatively. Well apply this SAME kind of analysis to what it’s like to be a person… with an identity… that’s alive today. What is it like to be you? There’s another simple kind of answer to that question: something along the lines of I am who I am. I was born this way. Life is about living, learning, and getting more and more to the bottom of what it IS to be ME. In other words: there’s this ASSUMPTION… that there’s a static THING that it is to be ME down at the BOTTOM of all this that if I just keep getting to KNOW myself… I will EVENTUALLY understand who I am…and one day maybe I can live AUTHENTICALLY as a person. But Zizek would say: no. That’s NOT the full story about what it’s like to be you. And WORSE than that…when you TALK about it in those simple terms, huhuh! It’s just ME!…JUST like the false binary of left and right…JUST like thinking about a SCHOOL like ALL it is is an institution of learning…this SIMPLE way of viewing yourself OFTEN just serves to reinforce the dominant ideologies and power structures of the world you were born into. Those social structures by the way we ALL need to recognize…are a VERY important part of what it is to be you at all. I mean, you can forget how much your identity is ALWAYS something you fall into given what your options were when you were born. Your options to Lacan and Zizek being that symbolic order that we talked about on episode one of this series. The complex network of SYMBOLS and language that allows us to make SENSE of reality. Now where does DESIRE start to factor into all this? Well remember when we talked about dialectics and the example was that our understanding of something like the law is always related to our understanding of transgression. And how our understanding of transgression is related to how we think about the law…in other words: how the negations or dialectical oppositions act kind of like an ENGINE that MOVES our understandings of these things forward. Without ENGAGING with the oppositions of law, say because of political gridlock…our understanding of the law will not move forward. Well so too when it comes to your identity and what you desire. To Zizek: the person you ARE…is always DETERMINED… by the person that you are not. Your sense of who you are is SHAPED by what you perceive as lacking. Meaning that if you’re one way…and you desire to be a DIFFERENT way which we always do…the TENSION between the way you are right now and the way you want to be in the future is like an engine that drives your identity forward. When you’re hungry you want to not be hungry anymore… and it drives you to go get food. When you WANT to be someone who knows more about the world around you, you listen to a podcast episode about it. If you wanted to be a calmer person than you are, maybe you start to meditate to build some skills there, again: the way you are right now and the way you want to be in the future is like a perpetual engine that drives your identity forward. Or to put it in FLOWERY language as Zizek does: desire… is the force INSIDE someone…that COMPELS them to move BEYOND. Now a quick disclaimer here: I don't WANT to present this in a way that oversimplifies it, but I also kind of HAVE to if I EVER want to put it into a snippet of a podcast like this… in a world where there are people that dedicate their entire LIVES to understanding the work of Lacan on desire. I just can’t COVER all the DETAILS of it here. That said, one thing that doesn't feel wrong to say… is that this idea that we talked about before, that your subjectivity or your identity is this thing that you have direct access to, life is just me trying to discover WHO I truly am…that’s an even BIGGER oversimplification. Because when you pay close attention to it…to Zizek, subjectivity is something that’s actually pretty mysterious if we’re being honest… something that there is still TONS more work to be done if we’re GONNA understand it…and that JUST LIKE when it comes to trying to look at what a SCHOOL is in a dialectical way…when you’re trying to understand the TRUE complexity of what it is to be you…it’s going to be something that’s ENORMOUSLY complex, almost IMPOSSIBLE to get a FULL grasp of, it’s gonna be full of contradictions and paradoxes, and there’s gonna be temptations to try to SIMPLIFY this process down, and those simplifications will ALWAYS COME with REAL negative CONSEQUENCES. There’s a sense in which JUST LIKE with the dialectic…true SELF knowledge… is NOT about FINDING some ULTIMATE, STATIC DESCRIPTION of who you are in a given moment…but its about a commitment to the process… of EXAMINING your own subjectivity WITHIN those contradictions, tensions, and negotiations, ACCEPTING that as a PART of what subjectivity truly IS. So to return BACK to the one sentence version of this, if we can say ANYTHING general about human psychology: what you DESIRE…is to Zizek a FUNDAMENTAL component of what drives people forward…because what we WANT, in other words what we are not YET, a negation…creates a tension that moves us in a particular direction with our behaviors, that then continually reshapes our identity as we go on throughout our life. But…and here’s ANOTHER very important part of human psychology for Lacan and Zizek…you never actually GET… what you ultimately desire. Meaning as a person…you’re ALWAYS wanting things…but there is ALWAYS a GAP…between the SPECIFIC thing that you SAY you want….and an unconscious desire that lies BEYOND that thing…that is elusive and unattainable. This may SOUND weird…but it’s actually not that extreme of an idea: it’s something we see around us in OTHER people all the time, we just may not see it in ourselves. Let’s give a couple examples of the kind of thing they’re talking about here. Someone, hypothetical person could SAY that what they want… is to be in a stable, loving, romantic relationship. And they could tell you everything that they want in a partner, they could tell you the kind of life they want to have with them, and they can go out on all kinds of picnic lunches and dating reality shows and put in some SERIOUS EFFORT… to try to make what they SAY they want to happen. But for the sake of this example: imagine this is ALSO someone…who has gone through some serious trauma in their past…and that while they THINK they just want to be in a stable, loving relationship…at an UNCONSCIOUS level they actually have a drive to be in a relationship so bad so that they can relive and resolve some of those past traumas. This is an EXAMPLE of the kind of psychological predicament we are ALWAYS IN as people, and yours will VARY DEPENDING on who you are. For Zizek there is a GAP between what this person SWEARS they WANT and can consciously articulate…and the unattainable thing that lies underneath. Lets give another example in the form of a commodity cause it’s gonna be useful for understanding Zizek’s thoughts on the world we LIVE in. Someone could SAY that what they want…is a lamborghini. And they could TELL you that they love the way that it LOOKS…or how FAST it goes, or the social status they’re gonna get driving it around, “oh BOY people are gonna think I’m such a great guy!” But it could ALSO be the case that at an unconscious level…this could be something that they REALLY want because they’re on some quest to be perfect…or to overcome feelings of inadequacy they have, or even just to be desired by others. In other words: the REAL object of desire for Zizek or Lacan…is not the Lamborghini…but something to FILL a void or a lack in their life… that is NEVER ACTUALLY gonna be SOLVED by having a lamborghini. Now somebody can hear this…and think wow. WOW…if THIS is what it is fundamentally to be human, to DESIRE like this…then what a pessimistic outlook on life in general. It starts to almost sound like Schopenhauer our pessimistic friend from many episodes ago where life to him…is about restlessly striving for the things we think are going to make us happy…but then he says we’re perpetually disappointed when we GET the thing like the lamborghini…because we get it, we drive around in it and then only a few months later you’re driving around in it… and NOW it’s just become your car, nothing special about it. To Schopenhauer your LIFE is to just restlessly strive for one thing after another, and then in the EVENT that you GET the thing you want, at MOST what you’re getting for him is NOT HAPPINESS…but a temporary RELIEF of suffering. Now for Zizek…it’s IMPORTANT to understand the DIFFERENCES in his outlook: IF this type of unfulfillable DESIRE… is just a PART of the human condition…then it’s interesting: he’s NOT really concerned with talking about whether FUNDAMENTALLY…this is a GOOD thing…or a TORTUOUS thing. In fact if you were someone that wanted to talk about how this constant desire is like sisyphus pushing a rock up a hill…if that SEEMS like torture…he’d probably ask can you IMAGINE how bad it would be… to never DESIRE anything at all? He calls that the PEAK of melancholy. It’s almost like being DEAD to never desire ANYTHING. So to him it’s like no, don’t get sad about it yet. For HIM he’s not looking at all this about human psychology because he wants to make big declarations about how great it is to be alive. What HE’S interested in is more of an ANALYTICAL claim about the world. Remember HE’S interested in what’s going ON in the world.. and how it GOT this way…What HE’S asking: is IF THIS DESIRE… is a good description of a fundamental piece of human subjectivity…if we can USE Lacan’s work to interpret the world in this way. Then HOW does human subjectivity…LINK UP…with the EXISTING social structures that people are BORN into? Again, saying NOTHING about whether they’re good or bad yet…WHAT is this relationship between subjectivity and society? THIS is where Zizek’s operating at. And this is PROBABLY where he’d want to point out…how ABSOLUTELY GENIUS CAPITALISM is in PARTICULAR…as something that takes ADVANTAGE of these aspects of human psychology. See people can hear that Zizek is really CRITICAL of global capitalism and the effects it has on the world, and that’s certainly true. But as someone who has spent a lot of his 75 years on this planet trying to unpack the ideology that dictates people’s thinking, you have to just stop, and BEHOLD the system that capitalism has evolved into. Think about it: what was the strength we talked about last time in this modern system of organization in the western world of liberal, democratic, capitalism? Well let’s break down what it does piece by piece: we have classical liberalism…which says everybody be an individual… and as long as you follow the laws, be whatever KIND of individual you WANT to be. Then we have democracy…which says that all these individuals can VOTE to bring about whatever kind of SOCIETY they want to live in. And then we have capitalism…which is supposedly the ECONOMIC version of liberal democracy…where it has free markets that will adjust and evolve to the needs of the consumers. But, hypothetically… if you could control what people DESIRED…then to Zizek you could control what kind of INDIVIDUALS people would want to be and classical liberalism wouldn’t be as necessary anyone. And if you could control what sort of individuals people wanted to be… then you could control the way they VOTED, and then the TYPES of SOCIETIES they’d vote FOR in a democratic system. Well to just come out and SAY it: GLOBAL CAPITALISM to Zizek…is NOT JUST an economic system anymore… WHATEVER it is that we’re talking about these days when we say “Capitalism”’s NOTHING LIKE what Adam Smith wrote about in the wealth of nations in 1776. It’s not the same thing as what Marx was critiquing in the 1800’s. No, in that dialectical way that we talked about, the PROGRESSION of things, to Zizek, over the years to the people who have been paying attention: Capitalism has transformed into something completely different…something that MORE acts as a religious or ETHICAL dimension to people’s lives…rather than just SIMPLY as an economic system. See when you compare ALL the different ideological structures that exist out there for people to link their identity to…CERTAIN ideological structures…are just FAR BETTER at CAPTURING… people’s psychology than others. And global capitalism to Zizek…is THE most ADVANCED FORM of this…that we’ve ever SEEN on this planet. Again, it is nothing short…of absolutely genius. Think of how PERFECTLY capitalism LINES UP with those pieces of human psychology we were talking about before…that DESIRE we were talking about. In everyday LIFE in a capitalist society…you have a CONSTANT STREAM… of products that’re being BLASTED into your eyeballs at practically every second that you’re awake…and because of that… there is almost never a shortage of PRODUCTS, for you to be DESIRING and STRIVING towards. And with the way commodity fetishism works…where these products are IMBUED with magical qualities that they don’t really HAVE…you know, the thing that MAKES the pair of SHOES extra magical for you, these are SUPER limited RUN, these are made out of leather from the backs of trust fund cows…or WHATEVER it is the purse that’s really special or the phone…BECAUSE we TREAT these commodities like they POSSESS qualities that are BEYOND anything that they actually can provide for us…they become the things that PERFECTLY plug IN to Lacan and Zizek’s PICTURE of DESIRE. We WANT things. We have the PRODUCT we saw on the commercial that we can CONSCIOUSLY say, ooh I WANT THAT thing! And then there’s the ELUSIVE, MAGICAL thing BEYOND the product that it symbolizes, that it will NEVER actually GIVE to us, but we just CONSTANTLY move forward on this hamster wheel of finding ANOTHER product to desire, and then ANOTHER product to desire…point is: this is an absolutely GENIUS way of ATTACHING human psychology and people’s IDENTITIES… to the material, productive forces that are going ON in a society. And BECAUSE this podcast has a lot of episodes to go back and listen to, I’m gonna ASSUME you’re familiar with SOME of this and I’m going to make an executive decision that I don’t think I need to spend 20 minutes here explaining how someone could SEE this whole setup as something that’s on the level of a religion. We talked about it in episode #171 when we talked about Guy Debord and the Society of the Spectacle. We talked about it in our series on Walter Benjamin, the Frankfurt School…if you’re a newer listener and you want a more in depth explanation go check out THOSE episodes…for THIS one though…if we ACCEPT Zizek’s point here… that there is an ethical, RELIGIOUS dimension to what global capitalism has become and how it LEVERAGES these aspects of human DESIRE and IDENTITY…then you start to UNDERSTAND the irrational RELIGIOUS behavior of consumers…you know putting themselves in DEBT to buy something that has a luxury status to it, camping outside for three days on black friday to get 80% off on a blender…working 12 hours a day, MAXIMIZING productivity, never seeing their family, saying no to all their friends because THAT’S what it TAKES to be a successful business owner as they snort a line of fruit loops to stay awake. ALL this stuff makes SENSE…because… this is a religion. Zizek’s not the ONLY one saying this: again, to Byung Chul Han the Smartphone is the modern day rosary beads. Facebook is church. You can understand it. And you can understand WHY Zizek spends so much time DECONSTRUCTING ideology that gets delivered to people in movies and other media…this is a CALL from him to BECOME more aware of this messaging that a LOT of people are just MINDLESSLY internalizing. MEDIA to Zizek, the MESSAGING of GLOBAL CAPITALISM…doesn’t tell us WHAT to desire necessarily. It teaches us HOW to desire. It goes on at a DEEPER level from the time we’re VERY LITTLE. And this is HOW it still feels like FREEDOM to the people that are living IN it. It allows you the FREEDOM…of CHOOSING between a number of different options…but it SEVERELY limits… the framework that you can make those choices within. And if you haven’t seen Zizek break this down I highly recommend watching the Pervert’s Guide to Ideology…its a two and a half hour movie Zizek made…it’s on YouTube for free. It’s classic Zizek where he superimposes himself into famous scenes from movies, DESCRIBING the ideology of global capitalism that lies underneath, sometimes just USING movies as metaphors to DESCRIBE HOW it shapes our thinking. TONS of interesting points he makes…he talks about apocalyptic movies that are common in our world as being an enforcement… of nostalgia of the present…love that term. What he means is there’s some movie like the Hunger Games where society is in a far worse place than OURS is right now…and we’re all supposed to be like hey look at this movie where things are absolutely HORRIBLE! Jennifer Lawrence literally had to eat a squirrel! See, things aren’t so bad in global capitalist society! Just LOWERING your standards telling you to be grateful. ANYWAY an IMPORTANT POINT to all this is that to Zizek… one of the most crucial, ethical choices that a person could EVER make in their lives… is as HE says: to NEVER betray your desires. But the SUBTEXT of him SAYING that… is that obviously…when you’re embedded into a system that has TAUGHT you HOW to desire, and then creates very specific incentive structures for you to follow to be SUCCESSFUL in it…if you EVER wanted to GET to a place where you’re not betraying your desires…you would FIRST need to TAKE CONTROL of your desires. And to Zizek…the best way to DO that within global capitalism…is to just get REALLY GOOD AT SAYING: I would prefer not to. He actually wore a T-shirt around with that phrase on it for a while…FURTHER increasing the paradox of it all, on purpose of course, this IS Zizek. See to HIM: you SAY “I would prefer not to”...because it clears the table… for a NEW kind of subjectivity or desire to emerge.. when you DENY the subjectivity that’s GIVEN to you by ideological structures, notably…global capitalism. In other words: if global capitalism TEACHES us how to desire…then once we’ve INTERNALIZED those lessons…the THINGS that we DESIRE and DO in our lives, ANYTHING that we think of as a GOOD thing to DO AFTER that…ONLY ends up FURTHER PERPETUATING global capitalism in some way. We’ve talked about THIS on previous episodes…how EVEN DOWN to the the ways that we PROTEST AGAINST things…that these are ALSO, ultimately just forms of protest, that are approved WITHIN law abiding, stable capitalist society. And that at some level…OF COURSE the ways we protest would be tolerated by the system…they’re not very effective at radical, systemic change. And again…this ISN’T a CONSPIRACY theory…where there’s a handful of people with all the power that are PLANNING this stuff…but you don’t need a CONSPIRACY theory of a few EVIL capitalists…when you have billions of BENIGN capitalists all conspiring to keep their individual lives going as well as possible WITHIN that system. With absolutely ZERO MALICE involved…we’re all trying to KEEP this thing going. And this is to the point that MANY left leaning people out there, the people who are REALLY trying to SUBVERT the status quo like this…lot of them choose to NOT TALK about revolutionary options in TOO public a way…because of how EASILY their work can get turned into a T-shirt or a bumper sticker, and the ideas themselves lose steam…how do you ESCAPE a SYSTEM that’s SETUP like that? Well first to Zizek…by not participating in it. And NOT JUST by DENYING it…because when you DENY a system of authority to Zizek, you’re at SOME level LEGITIMIZING it… as a form of power, and we’ll talk MORE about that…but the key phrase to remember right NOW when it comes to the incentives of global capitalism is not “I DON’T want to” but instead one that specifically allows for a TOTALLY NEW kind of desire or subjectivity, “I would… prefer not to.” It’s a reference to a story by Herman Melville where one of the characters named Bartleby, whenever he’s at his job and he’s asked to DO something by anyone around him…he just replies back with “I would prefer not to.” The POINT is that this PHRASE… becomes a BIT like a WWJD wristband… for an ANTI-capitalist movement, if there WAS one. Meaning if GLOBAL CAPITALISM is one, GIANT, BEHEMOTH of a THING…what would it REQUIRE, for something to be the NEGATION of that? If the negation of LAW is transgression, or chaos, or tradition, or anarchy or WHATEVER it is…what would the negation be… of global CAPITALISM? What would that even LOOK like? Is it even POSSIBLE or PRODUCTIVE to think on this kind of scale? For Slavoj Zizek: I would prefer not to…becomes a GREAT starting point for finding a way out of ANY kind of ideological structure. Now let’s CONSIDER the other side of this. If you’re somebody Zizek would see… as someone who’s EMBEDDED in global capitalist ideology…then you may actually AGREE with some of the stuff he’s been saying here…but have a totally different READ on it. For example…someone could hear all this and say yeah, I agree! Capitalism IS an AMAZINGLY efficient system… and it is nothing short of INCREDIBLE at taking advantage of human psychology. But the way I see that…all you’re REALLY saying there…is that capitalism… works PERFECTLY alongside what I call… human nature. It considers the WAY that people NATURALLY desire things…and then it creates opportunities for people to GET the things they want out of life. What’s so wrong with THAT? To me, that’s actually a testament to how GREAT the system IS…not a PROBLEM. But if we ACCEPT that as a premise…that THIS is what capitalism is doing…it’s worth asking: is that ALL… that capitalism is doing? Is it worth considering the specifics of HOW…capitalism locks people in these perpetual desire loops? What KEEPS capitalism GOING? Well as it’s been said by MANY thinkers BEFORE…the PROBLEM is that global capitalism… is a system that is FUNDAMENTALLY BUILT… on ANTAGONISM… between people. Again, if you see ANY PROBLEM with the CURRENT way things are set up and the problems in the world that it’s producing…its worth CONSIDERING…that one of the MAIN, IDENTIFYING qualities of Capitalism as a system, a BIG PART of what makes it even WORK…is this ANTAGONISM that exists between the ruling class and the exploited class. Quick SUPER basic recap here for anybody that needs context, always trying to include new listeners: Capitalist society, AS we’ve set it up so FAR throughout human history…REQUIRES there to be two, distinct classes: there needs to be ONE type of person that OWNS the means of production…and then there need to be WORKERS, who, so that they can make a living, RENT their labor out to those people that own the means of production. Those workers…are paid LESS than the value that they produce…and the DIFFERENCE between what they’re PAID and the VALUE they produce is called SURPLUS VALUE. Or the PROFIT…that the people that OWN the means of production TAKE…as compensation for the RISK they have to assume for OWNING the means of production. Now capitalism… is ESSENTIALLY a giant MACHINE for PRODUCING this surplus value. And this relationship…where there’s ONE group that PROFITS off of the value that another EXPLOITED group of people are PRODUCING, same thing we see in feudalism, same thing we see in SLAVE economies…this relationship, leads to an ANTAGONISM between different classes of people…that produces a TON of different SOCIAL problems that you can SEE in the world all around you. Now…if you’re a FAN of capitalism and all the GOOD that it does for people…there’s a HOPE that’s pretty common, ESPECIALLY since the fall of the Soviet Union…people will say: Hey, it’s really unfortunate… that we HAVE this antagonism between different classes of people…but does it NEED to BE this way? Do we NEED to have capitalism setup in a way where there’s such a huge difference in the levels of what’s POSSIBLE for people? Maybe we can FIX this antagonism, and maybe we can DO it… from WITHIN the capitalist system itself! IN OTHER words…if Liberalism and Socialism have been at ODDS in recent history…then let’s TRY to find a happy MEDIUM between the two! And this is the EMERGENCE of the modern political position of democratic socialism: where we’re gonna KEEP the capitalist SYSTEM more or less exactly how it is…and it’s gonna CONTINUE to PRODUCE this inequality and social unrest that’s gonna make a CERTAIN number of people out there MISERABLE…but through socialism…we’re going to REMOVE some of the negative effects of that…we’ll do slight reforms, ONE little step at a time, and if we DO this then MAYBE we can make a system that’s a little bit more HUMANE. A little less racist. A little less sexist. We’re gonna give people homes if they’re homeless. We’re gonna pay for people to go to college and get an education. Pay for people’s healthcare. Capitalism MAY produce a LOT of negative effects…but look if people at least HAVE these basic services…then NOBODY’S gonna be rioting in the STREETS! In other words Marx’s PREDICTION that the WORKERS will overthrow the RULING class will NEVER actually happen…there will BE no exploited class of PEOPLE to RISE UP and OVERTHROW the existing order of things…because NOBODY is gonna feel exploited anymore! We gotta FIND A WAY to make CAPITALISM work for PEOPLE…not the PEOPLE working for CAPITALISM! But to Slavoj Zizek…democratic socialist slogans like that are meaningless platitudes when you consider the situation we’re actually in…it all SOUNDS great to him…but the IDEA that we’re going to somehow GET RID of the exploited class of people through piecemeal reforms… is ultimately a DELUSION…that REALLY only EXISTS within global capitalist thinking. Because to HIM…this ANTAGONISM that exists between classes…again this is PART of what MAKES capitalism work in the FIRST place. For capitalism to work: we NEED people fearing for their jobs feeling desperate. We NEED people to be incapable of DEMANDING better work conditions. And even if we SEE quality of LIFE improvements in developed WESTERN countries…we NEED people being immiserated in other places abroad to keep the system working. We NEED cheap labor from other countries. We NEED the neo-colonialism of harvesting resources from other countries. We NEED the imbalanced trade agreements that exploit these people. You know, contrary to what someone optimistic about global capitalism might DELUDE themselves into believing…to Zizek…these things that happen… are NOT a MALFUNCTION of the system. These things are ESSENTIAL FEATURES of what the system REQUIRES to keep on functioning. Fact is: global capitalism to Zizek… absolutely THRIVES… on the constant creation and recreation of “the other”. Which then ensures a CONSTANT FLOW of cheap labor and resources from people in a state of dependency, which THEN further maintains the concentration of wealth and power INdeveloped nations, and in the hands of an elite few WITHIN them. Again this stuff is not a malfunction…this is HOW the system keeps working at all. Capitalism is BUILT upon this antagonism. The metaphor that comes to mind is to think of global capitalism…as being similar to a combustion engine. A combustion engine is an incredibly powerful thing. You can use it to TAKE you in any NUMBER of different directions. But the engine ITSELF…BY DESIGN…is BASED on an antagonism with physical stuff…meaning you gotta burn stuff and DESTROY materials, most of the time GAS, to be able to GET the good stuff you want OUT of that engine. And THAT ANTAGONISM… at the ROOT of what a combustion engine is…may BOTHER you at a certain level. You may WISH we could make little changes to the engine where we didnt HAVE to BURN stuff anymore to make it work. And in a very democratic socialist sort of way…to Zizek you could have the BEST of intentions, coming up with little ways to make the engine more efficient, maybe we don't have to BURN as much now to be able to use it anymore, and ALL that’s FINE…but there’s another REALITY to the situation we need to acknowledge…you’re NEVER going to get RID of that antagonism altogether…because that ANTAGONISM of burning stuff…is LITERALLY the thing that MAKES a combustion engine…a combustion engine. There’s a sense in which if you could MAKE the engine work WITHOUT it having to COMBUST things…it would be something entirely different. Which by the way is WHAT Zizek thinks we should be doing with global capitalism, moving on to something different, more SPECIFICALLY he thinks it’s coming to an end. But in the MEAN time…he’s not gonna get deluded by this MIDDLE path of democratic socialism. To Zizek: if you truly REMOVED the EXPLOITED class of people…then in a sense…it wouldn’t be CAPITALISM anymore. This is why, to Zizek: democratic socialism, from ONE perspective…he says is the MOST CONSERVATIVE OPTION…that people have to vote for. Because remember as we talked about at the beginning: conservatives want to PRESERVE the existing institutions. Well In THIS way…democratic socialists are giving people healthcare, housing and education trying to prevent SOCIAL unrest that would lead to chaos…but in DOING so to Zizek…they end up PRESERVING the fundamentally BROKEN system underneath that REQUIRES certain people to be exploited. I t’s an ironic position: because Zizek actually IS FOR these services being PROVIDED to people, he doesn’t oppose the SERVICES…but he OPPOSES democratic socialism as a political strategy, it’s TOO surface level. It’s not FIXING the problem…it’s just allowing people to CONTINUE being exploited…and as long as it’s NOT HAPPENING on your doorstep…and as long as the people pretty CLOSE to your doorstep get government cheese and housing…then I guess the problems really aren’t that BAD. But notice how those people that SUPPORT that policy will change their tune… the second the exploited people are actually ON their doorstep. What all this LEADS to Zizek thinks… is a ENTIRELY NEW, kind of subjectivity in people LIVING today… that shows up ALL OVER the world…and you’ll see VERSIONS of this new way of thinking on both the LEFT AND the RIGHT. And we’ll talk a BUNCH more about this next episode…this NEW kind of person and how much this all aligns with the work of Byung Chul Han…but the SHORT version of this is that: the subjectivity that DOMINATES people’s THINKING in today’s world… is NOT the traditional, hierarchical, patriarchal type of thinking. That sort of thinking is CERTAINLY still here…but the more COMMON one that is still so new to people that they don’t even NOTICE that it’s going on… is what he calls the more nihilistic, “post-partriarchal” way of thinking that PRESENTS itself to people as MORE freedom, and as though their world view is revolutionary, when in reality…this way of thinking actually ends up ENSLAVING people at an even deeper level. Again, we will talk a LOT about the ways this manifests in people’s lives next episode, gonna be a fun one. But for right now: there’s STILL one BURNING question that needs to be answered to understand how Zizek is thinking about the state of the world. WHY does he DESCRIBE himself, although it’s MEANT to be kinda funny…as a moderately conservative communist? I mean for somebody that grew up and went to school in a global capitalist society…you can WONDER how Zizek could ever say something so stupid. They may ask: you know, if you consider what went ON during the 20th century…how communism was tried… and how then over and over again it led to the deaths of hundreds of millions of people…how could ANYBODY say that they’re a communist, in public, without being laughed out of the room? clearly this system that Marx came up with for how society should be structured DIDN’T WORK. I mean I get it: capitalism isn’t PERFECT… but how can somebody that claims to be an intellectual still be taking this stuff seriously? Well I think what Zizek would say there is that what you just GAVE…is a fake understanding of Karl Marx. That it’s NOT a coincidence that someone who TALKS about stuff this way was raised and educated in a global capitalist society. And it’s not a coincidence that this person whose SAYING this stuff…has never actually READ the philosophy of Karl Marx. You know there’s a REASON calling someone in capitalist society a MARXIST has turned into an OH MY GOD, they’re a WHAT? Oh God. There’s a reason the person that’s demonized before you’ve even read a single world they wrote wasn’t Hobbes, Locke or Rousseau. It’s not a coincidence that Marx would be the one that GETS this kind of special treatment…because SOME people would say… that there’s a SPECIAL level of CORRECT he was about the PROBLEMS this society was going to be producing for us. LOT of people listening probably know how it is. I mean you grow up and the stuff you hear about Marx and Communism can make you think he’s like this evil dude with antennas and horns or something. No, he was a philosopher. And he wasn’t some guy sitting around screaming death to capitalism, I WANT to be in charge…he wasn’t someone that created an EXACT WAY that society should be structured, called it COMMUNISM, where FIRST you start with a LEADER…THEN you make some GULAGS and FORGET about individualism because EVERYBODY should be working towards a common goal DETERMINED by the government. We’re gonna all dig a giant HOLE together! No, his philosophy just wasn’t anything even REMOTELY LIKE that. In fact in reality Marx was a dialectical thinker. He didn’t think it was POSSIB LE to come up with some ULTIMATE DESIGN for a society that all future societies should follow as a model…which is why he never DID it. Which is ALSO part of the reason it was so possible for dictators and revolutionaries to come along in the 20th century and impose their horrible ideas for how a society SHOULD be structured. But for Marx: he thought it was a MISTAKE…to think that we can just design a MODEL for a perfect society…for him: the design of ANY society would have to START by considering the SPECIFIC material conditions, the needs the resources of the PARTICULAR INDIVIDUALS that you’re building that society for. And he just didn’t THINK that sort of thing could be planned AHEAD of time. Now what DID Marx say? Well he DID say that he saw that antagonism between classes in capitalism that we talked about before. He DID say that he thought inevitably, the working class would overthrow the ruling class. And what he recommended was that during that historical moment, as horrible as it was going to be, that the working class, after launching a revolution, while they’re REDESIGNING what that society should look like on the other side, should DO certain things DURING the transition period to SAFEGUARD against OTHER forms of power taking control when there’s a vacuum of power like that. Things like the abolition of private ownership of land, the means of production, nationalizing major industries, the establishment of NEW democratic institutions…again THINGS that Marx thought would make it HARDER for class based authority to retake CONTROL over society in that interim. The goal ultimately for Marx was to establish a classless society…or a society that ISN’T based on a fundamental ANTAGONISM between people like capitalism, or feudalism or monarchy or any OTHER example from history. So Communism…was not some PLAN that Marx laid out for how society should look…in fact here’s how Marx and Engels THEMSELVES defined communism they said: "communism for us is not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality will have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present STATE of things." It is in THIS more ACCURATE understanding of the word communist…that Zizek thinks of himself, as a moderately conservative communist. He is BEYOND ANY HOPE of democratic socialism being the thing we NEED to change global capitalism. And while again he’s FOR MANY of the quality of life improvements that it wants to bring about…when we’re talking about the CONTEXT of the PROBLEMS that FACE western society…and in the spirit of a TRULY LEFT LEANING THINKER when we’re talking about HOW MUCH things NEED to change RADICALLY from where they are now…he is a Communist…in the sense that he is for the REAL MOVEMENT which abolishes the present STATE of things. But why would he be moderately conservative then? Well IN a world where the present state of things has been abolished…in post-capitalism…then the political goalposts of left and right would have been moved then as well. The RIGHT leaning people in that world would be PRO-COMMUNIST trying to PRESERVE the existing order. And LEFT leaning people would be people that wanted to CHANGE the order of things in some way and bring about a different world. And in THAT world…Zizek would be a moderate conservative he says…because there ARE no LEFT LEANING POSITIONS that have been OFFERED UP so far…that he thinks are good. Zizek is actually EXTREMELY cautious about just FORCING ideas through just because they’re new and happen to NOT be capitalism…which is why ANOTHER important thing to say about the guy is that there’s PLENTY of people that are even FURTHER to the left than Slavoj Zizek…that hate his guts for that. In OTHER words: if you’re far enough to the left…then you may think ZIZEK is a FAKE leftist as well! But Zizek calls himself a “monday morning leftist” or a “law and order leftist”...but what does he MEAN by that? When it comes to thinking about things like revolution or radical social change….Slavoj Zizek thinks that what we NEED to do…is to LEARN from the revolutionary MISTAKES we made…all throughout the 20th century. There’s that famous quote from Marx where he says PHILOSOPHERS in the PAST…have just tried to INTERPRET the world…but Marx says the GOAL should be…for us to CHANGE the world. And this quote was a call to ACTION by Marx for people to GET out there and CHANGE the societies that are ENSLAVING people, that ALL you have to LOSE is your CHAINS he says. But Zizek disagrees. He says if the 20th century should’ve taught us ANYTHING…it’s that LAUNCHING a revolution… and then DESIGNING a society on the other SIDE of that…is NOT as simple as just SEIZING control of the GOVERNMENT. HUNDREDS of millions of people DIED because of a LACK of a real, well thought out STRATEGY for exactly HOW we’re going to ABOLISH a market based system…and NOT just instantly devolve into ANOTHER traditional Master/Slave dynamic that former societies have had before. The 20th century can TEACH us…that we acted too HASTILY. EVERY TIME we HAVE one of these LEFT leaning revolutions where there’s all this ENERGY, YEAH YEAH! Let’s REVOLUTIONIZE! It’s our BIRTHRIGHT! EAT the capitalist OVERLORDS…EVERY TIME we DO that…we got PLENTY of ENERGY…but it ends up ALIENATING and not CONSIDERING the lives of SO MANY ORDINARY members of society, people that AREN’T going to your revolutionary meetings every friday…these people that don’t understand or don’t relate to the revolutionary movement, and then the strategy overall ends up FAILING. But he asks: COULD there BE a BETTER WAY to launch a revolution? One that CONSIDERS the lives of everyday people in a deeper way? A revolution that DOESN’T just exist in the form of IDEALS…but one that could be shown in the every day lives of the average person? There’s no easy ANSWERS to these questions Zizek thinks. But they’re THINGS we should BE considering. Because to him: this idea from Marx that we should stop INTERPRETING the world and GO OUT AND CHANGE IT INSTEAD…when you just SAY that and don’t think about it…it just either gets people TRAPPED in the sort of western progressive pseudo-activism that doesn’t really change ANYTHING…or it makes people SO EXCITED to change that they don’t fully CONSIDER…how QUICKLY in a DIALECTICAL way…political movements will often DEVOLVE…into their opposites. Hegel, he thinks, REALIZED VERY CLEARLY…how quickly a movement can devolve into its opposite. Zizek gives some examples: he says look at the french revolution liberty, equality, fraternity…that spirit turns into terror and Napoleon. Then after Napoleon you have a period of PROGRESS for a few decades, women's rights, voting and then world war one happens. Then you have the Soviet Union he says, october revolution, attempt at the emancipation of people and then you get Stalinism out of that. Then Fukuyama, the Happy 90’s he says, the end of history…and here we are at the PLACE we’re at right now. He says when you HAVE a REAL understanding of WHAT Hegel was saying about the RISKS involved as events unfold in the world…what you LAND on, a good way to DESCRIBE it… is to call it moderate conservatism. So if there’s ANYTHING Zizek is saying when he says I’m a moderately conservative communist…it’s that on the OTHER SIDE of this abolition of the present STATE of things…WHATEVER that strategy LOOKS like…we gotta be REAL careful…about how we proceed. We gotta be SELF AWARE of how these ideas will shift. We have to be AWARE of the ideology that gives us the OPTIONS we have to select from. We HAVE to do that work AHEAD of time…or else we will NEVER be able to stay true to our OWN desires, we’ll ALWAYS just be CAPTURED by the ones GIVEN to us. To Slavoj Zizek, and again MANY leftists HATE him for SAYING this, but for him: maybe it’s NOT the time to CHANGE the world right now. Maybe it’s time to learn to THINK about the world more clearly. Thank you for listening. Talk to you next time.

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