The much needed defense of the world’s greatest living mind
September 3, 2012
[UPDATE 1 - 4/9/12: This comment is now back up at the LARB site - see comment thread below]
[UPDATE 2 - 5/9/12: For some reason I can't get comments to work on the LARB site today; this is probably just a glitch, but I've posted the additional comment I was planning to leave in comments here.]
[UPDATE 3 - 6/9/12: Comments are still not easily visible on the LARB site; they seem to all be in 'white-on-white' type.]
Another deleted comment on Zizek to file away here. This one I posted below an article by Kotsko on Zizek at the LA Review of Books – here’s the piece.
Alphonse van Worden has a screencap of the thread as it was before the LARB deleted a number of comments (including mine). [UPDATE: As of the evening of the 4th, my comments are back up on the site; Alphonse van Worden's are not.] I thought I’d post my long comment here, too.
(The admittedly somewhat bitter title of the post comes from one of the pro-Zizek comments that didn’t get deleted.)
Comment is below:
Another data point on the issue of why many people (including me) regard Zizek’s politics as reactionary, and as a negative influence of any attempt to think constructively about alternative political and economic institutions:
Here’s a Zizek piece published in the New Statesman:
The main question Zizek is trying to help us to answer, in this piece, is what institutional changes can help us to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in such a way that we can hopefully escape the more extreme predicted possible environmental consequences of our current economic practices. This is, of course, an incredibly pressing and important problem, many possible detailed solutions to which have been proposed by people and organisations right across the political spectrum.
Opinions differ on everything, here, of course – but it seems to me, and to many observers, that one of the principal things missing in ‘our’ ability to implement various of those proposals is political will. It’s not hard to see how regulation of carbon emissions, for example, would work (whether or not this is our favoured solution): but it’s hard to see how a sufficiently large-scale implementation of such regulation could be achieved in present political circumstances. Reasons for this lack of political will can themselves then be discussed (e.g. the difficulty of international co-ordination w/r/t free rider problems; the influence of existing industry interests on political decision-making bodies; etc.)
All these issues are, as I say, being discussed in great and concrete detail by people right across the political spectrum; there is a vast body of academic and non-academic work on almost every aspect of these issues.
Now what does Zizek add to this serious, extensive and ongoing debate, in his New Statesman piece? He proposes four things:
1) “worldwide norms of per capita energy consumption should be imposed”
2) “terror: the ruthless punishment of all those who violate the imposed protective measures, including severe limitations of liberal “freedoms” and the technological control of prospective lawbreakers.”
3) “voluntarism: the only way to confront the threat of ecological catastrophe is by means of collective decision-making”
4) “trust in the people: … We should not be afraid to encourage, as a combination of terror and trust in the people, the resurgence of an important figure in all egalitarian-revolutionary terror – the “informer” who denounces culprits to the authorities.”
Now, looking particularly at points two and four (that is: terror, and the resurgence of the ‘informer’) – what problems, exactly, are these proposals a solution to? It seems clear to me that the principal problems faced by the implementation of proposals to limit greenhouse gas emissions are not located at the level of individual citizens’ transgression of authorities’ demands. But Zizek’s ‘solutions’ are principally oriented to the establishment of a global terroristic police-state-style system.
Why would a globally coherent terroristic police system, with informants denouncing fellow citizens, be Zizek’s solution to the problem of anthropogenic global warming? There seems, at best, to be a leap in argument or logic here. [Note that this is not a right wing proposal advanced in order to be problematised or transformed (as Kotsko describes in the piece above). This is the culmination of the article, and the position Zizek himself advocates for, in his own voice.]
For many (like me) the lack of logic here suggests that Zizek (like, of course, many columnists) is using issues like climate change as a largely arbitrary ‘hook’ to lead into political proposals that he wishes to advance for other reasons. And, again, for many (like me) the political perspective that Zizek in fact advocates is repugnant.
In other words: Kotsko’s piece above does not adequately address the extent to which many objections to Zizek’s work are based, not in an objection to ‘thinking alternatives’, or in a blind adherence to the status quo, but rather in specific political and ethical objections to the specific ways in which Zizek proposes we think ‘alternatives’. Put bluntly, Zizek’s politics are often (to me, and to many others) abhorrent.