A Zinger from Zizek

zizek I’m not a huge fan of Slavoj Zizek.  His stuff usually strikes me as being both scattershot and overly, self-consciously “theoretical.”  But he does have his powers.

TCT heartily endorses his recent take, as reported in Harper’s, on an issue at the heart of the Occupy Wall Street movement:

Harper’s: You were critical of some of the slogans used by protesters in 2008 — “Save Main Street, Not Wall Street” for example. During Occupy Wall Street, people say, “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out.” Is there a better slogan to be had?

Zizek: The problem is that if you mobilize against the bad financial system you fall into a certain ideological trap, the fascist trap. This is the basic fascist idea: we have the truly productive strata — workers, industrial capitalists — and then we have the bad Jewish bankers who exploit them. The problem is not to fight Wall Street. The problem is, why does the system need Wall Street to function?…If Wall Street collapses, then Main Street collapses. That’s how the system works.

TCT would add that it’s also not very advisable to forget that, along with the financial sector, the supply-side bailouts included corporate capitalism’s beating heart — the automobile industry.

4 Replies to “A Zinger from Zizek”

  1. My concern about the financial system is that if money is loaned into existence and due back with interest there is no way to pay it back without constant growth.

    At work today I heard someone making a comment that the OWS people should occupy a job. This must be some talking point he picked up on because I’ve seen it elsewhere as well, perhaps while listing to talk radio on his M&M Speakers.

    I suggested that if the office workers we have who are in their 60’s and 70’s who are working primarily due to the golden handcuffs of health care benefits would retire then there would be more jobs available for the OWS crowd.

    My coworker informed me that there where plenty of jobs available for all and that it’s not American to retire and go on the socialist security, that proud hard working ‘mericans want to keep working unlike our lazy European counter parts who have shorter work weeks and undeserved vacation time.

    I suggested that the increases in productivity could allow for more leisure time and that instead of some people working around the clock until death while others are unemployed we could divide work up in a more equitable fashion.

    At this point I was informed that I was some sort of commie and we parted ways.

  2. I’m not sure that’s actually true, Dave. In an economy that was stationary or even shrinking overall, some enterprises could grow while others shrank or disappeared. Hence money lent at interest could still happen even without growth. I won’t even get into the question of whether there’d be price inflation and how that would relate to interest charges.

    Meanwhile, I’m not suggesting that the existing financial sector isn’t a big problem. Certainly, it is.

    But isn’t our problem really capitalism? As Zizek says, the financial sector is utterly entwined with the system as a whole. To miss that point is to flirt with scapegoating and unintended excuse-making.

    Just today, in fact, CounterPunch ran a piece by a fellow who describes OWS as offering “a relentless critique of the human costs of the financialization of capital.”

    In this formulation, the rule of capital is apparently just fine, and all we need to do is reverse its “financialization.”

    Among the many problems with this perspective is the overwhelming fact that “the financialization of capital” was and is an entirely normal and logical outcome of the operation of corporate capitalism itself.

    The OWSers are operating on the assumption that winging it will somehow reveal the secret to sparking a genuine mass movement. From my knowledge of history, I am extremely skeptical of this supposedly new and better approach to movement building. The Civil Rights Movement didn’t just luck onto the Montgomery bus boycotts, and Gandhi had spent decades thinking and fighting before he suggested the Salt Marches. Movements need careful thinking and well-chosen targets and messages.

  3. What are some alternatives to capitalism, is there one you prefer?

    To me our economic system is primitive, it would work better for a farming community. It has no concern for whether a business contributes to society, and there are few provisions to help children select a career or find a job. This is a crude, brutal economic system, and it should be updated. The goal of a business could be to improve society, not sell products. We shouldn’t allow a business to exist simply because it can make money.

    Businesses consume resources and create trash, and we could change our economy so that we can pass judgment on whether a business is providing advantages that outweigh their disadvantages. The free market allegedly does this but there are a lot of products which serve no purpose or of such poor quality they go strait into the trash. I believe a lot of people are engaged in these wasteful activities not because they want to make trash but it’s the only way they’ve figured out how to make money needed to survive and there is no alternative for them.

    I think it would be interesting if a set of city states could be setup in different configurations, different economic, transportation, tax, education, health care, etc.. systems to see how they do. People could move between the different cities(possibly only with permission from receiving city), maybe certain types of people are attracted to different arrangements. Some cities will be full of loud vehicles and litter while another might not have any cars.

    Thanks for posting to your interesting site here and to DBC as well.

  4. My idea of an alternative to capitalism would be something like the New Deal, but more aggressive and environmentally focused. It would be aimed at reconstructing the society toward sustainability. Doing that for real (rather than just as a gesture) would require full employment of all available workers. It would also include removal of all restrictions on government “businesses.” Toothpaste, telecom, transportation, media content, etc. — the public would form big enterprises designed to out-compete private corporations in key areas. For profit business would be allowed. It would simply face full-on challenges from non-profit endeavors. The end point would have to rely much more on human muscle power and organic agriculture than what we have now. Political democracy would be aggressively extended over economic priorities, via heightened participation, encouragement of unions, and national and regional referenda on spending priorities.

    The system would undoubtedly have problems of its own, but I am optimistic that it would be a big improvement over present directions.

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