Thursday, August 5, 2010

In which I threaten my own case that I and people like me should not be evaluated in tandem with socialists...

Evan showed this to me. Zizek makes a lot of really good points here. I think it's worth noting this since in the past I've critiqued him on the blog.



There is a lot that's problematic in here, particularly some statements on "what capitalism has done", but there is a lot of good stuff too, including:

1. That we don't really purchase products alone - we purchase cultural experiences and understandings, and we should consider what it means that these things are commercialized, and how that changes standard market models that assume the sale of product, not a product plus attendant cultural experiences.

2. Some discussion of misanthropy as a basis of social theory - reminds me of H.P. Lovecraft, who Michel Houellebecq said was "against the world, against life".

3. "It is much easier to have sympathy with suffering than sympathy with thought"

4. The integration of product and culture in the process of consumption perpetuates existing institutions by eliminating the productive dynamic of the natural opposition between a product and a culture (unlike the previous three, this is much more my restatement of what he said, and should be taken only as that).

20 comments:

  1. Another interesting point is Zizek's mention here of a "soft apocalypticism", which seems to address your earlier critique of his more provocative statements about a "terminal crisis" of capitalism.

    ReplyDelete
  2. "...perpetuates existing institutions by eliminating the productive dynamic of the natural opposition between a product and a culture..."

    How is there is a natural opposition here? I'm skeptical of claims regarding "the natural."

    ReplyDelete
  3. That is not essential word choice - listen to the video if the point is unclear. The point certainly doesn't hinge on a "natural" opposition.

    ReplyDelete
  4. The only problem I had was his idea that "charity by private property" is not optimal because it is private property itself which causes these ills. The image of Soros laying mortar in one hand and smashing bricks in the other is what he meant. That is not right at all. It is in societies that have respected property rights where there is the least amount of poverty. It is in the societies that feel free to take from their neighbors to redistribute that have overwhelming poverty. Private property is the solution.

    He said he was for liberalism, he denied wanting to go back to the Leninist model of socialism. But I don't know exactly what he wants. He critiques current capitalism on some points but he offers no solution. What is his ideal?

    ReplyDelete
  5. What an absolutely ludicrous argument.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I agree Mattheus - that's what I was refering to when I said my problem was with what capitalism does.

    We might be able to substitute "poverty" for "inequality" and have something to talk about in this regard. Property rights, like any rights, are to a certain extent "nonsense on stilts" that we utilize because they are functional. Property rights reinforce luck (or unluck) of birth, they benefit incumbents, etc. So perhaps we could point to a few things in this regard. But I agree with you, poverty definitely isn't one of them.

    I don't know him well, but from what I do know of him I would guess it is extreme social democracy - of the sort embraced by modern European socialists. Again, its not something I agree with him on but I think that's where he is (and its further proof against Kling's claim that nobody takes the lesson of Soviets seriously. Zizek, for all his continued problematic analysis, obviously does).

    ReplyDelete
  7. *my problem was with what Zizek claimed capitalism does.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I feel like that was a very confusing comment on my part.

    To rephrase:

    - I agree that capitalism does not lead to poverty - quite the opposite, and

    - I think perhaps we might be able to say that capitalism leads to a distasteful, unfunctional degree of inequality (if we wanted to make any claims like Zizek's).

    ReplyDelete
  9. "...I think perhaps we might be able to say that capitalism leads to a distasteful, unfunctional degree of inequality..."

    Compare the inequality of capitalist and non-capitalist states and tell me that again.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I think perhaps we might be able to say that capitalism leads to a distasteful, unfunctional degree of inequality.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Now we might risk mushing together ideal forms, concepts, and practical realities - but the fact is you're living in a non-capitalist society that has recognized the tendancy of a system of property rights to develop problematic levels of inequality, and which has gradually evolved institutions to address the issue.

    Casually speaking I would say "we are a capitalists society". More precisely, we're obviously not - and we're not because we have used other institutions to address these issues. Like I said to Kling earlier - if you want to see what happens when states intervene to address market failures don't look at the Soviet Union, look at the U.S.!

    ReplyDelete
  12. "...but the fact is you're living in a non-capitalist society that has recognized the tendancy of a system of property rights to develop problematic levels of inequality, and which has gradually evolved institutions to address the issue."

    What has happened is this - certain non-capitalist elements of society have done their level best to enhance inequality by rent seeking. Your narrative is wrong, mine is right.

    ReplyDelete
  13. In other words, government is about the best way possible to create and enhance inequality.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Anyway, I'm curious what Zizek would say about the ability (and commonplace practice) under capitalism to create your own particularized group identity - a practice which is impossible under socialism. Hear I am thinking of something like the hippy capitalism of the Grateful Dead: http://reason.com/archives/2003/03/01/come-hear-uncle-sams-band

    ReplyDelete
  15. I'm curious because that sort of thing is something that he could be attacking here - because it mixes commerce and other areas of one's life. "Burning Man," the activities of various religious groups, those that are big into the UFO community, etc. work similarly.

    ReplyDelete
  16. "What has happened is this - certain non-capitalist elements of society have done their level best to enhance inequality by rent seeking. Your narrative is wrong, mine is right."

    In fact, our narratives are not mutually exclusive. I buy into your narrative, I simply don't think its the only thing going on.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Jonathan M. F. CatalánAugust 5, 2010 at 2:50 PM

    If it makes you feel better, Mises would not have considered you a socialist (if going by the definition of socialism he gives in his book, Socialism). :)

    ReplyDelete
  18. I can't believe I didn't buy Socialism when I was at the Institute. I bought some 40 other books and I skipped over this. Unbelievable..

    ReplyDelete
  19. Also, isn't this really just an updated notion of "false consciousness?"

    ReplyDelete

All anonymous comments will be deleted. Consistent pseudonyms are fine.