Saturday, August 18, 2018

Oh, Canada!

Slavoj Žižek, "Saudi-Canada spat reveals the real new world order"
For years, experts believed liberal democracy would gradually spread around the world but the system has eaten itself and the result is a new global populism.

The most obvious factor in the ongoing conflict between Canada and Saudi Arabia is the grotesque disproportion between cause and effect. In that a minor diplomatic protest has triggered a set of measures which almost announce a military conflict.

Here’s what happened. Saudi Arabia finally allowed women to drive, but at the same time arrested women who campaigned for the right to drive. Among the arrested peaceful activists was Samar Badawi, who has family in Canada, and Ottawa demanded her release.

In return, the Saudi government proclaimed this protest a reprehensible interference in its internal affairs and immediately launched into sanctions. They included expelling the Canadian ambassador, canceling the state airline’s flights to and from Canada, freezing new trade and investment, the sale of assets in Canada, the withdrawal of students and the repatriation of patients undergoing treatment in Canada.

And all this under the guidance of a crown prince who poses as a big reformer.

No Scruples

In reality, what we have is a clear sign that Saudi Arabia remains what it is, not a real state but a large mafia corporation run by a family. And a country which quite reprehensibly interferes in the internal affairs of Yemen, literally ruining the nation.

The message of simultaneously allowing women to drive and arresting those who demanded it is clear and unambiguous, there is no contradiction here: If small changes happen, they must come as an act from above and no protest from below is tolerated.

In the same way, there is absurd overreaction inherent in Saudi counter-measures to Canada’s protest note and the message is clear: Canada got it wrong, it acted as if we still in the period of universal human rights.

Indeed, the fact that Egypt and Russia supported Saudi Arabia in its measures, and that even the US and Great Britain, otherwise supposed great protectors of human rights, decided to stay out of the melee, makes it clear that a new world order is emerging in which the only alternative to the “clash of civilizations” remains the peaceful co-existence of civilizations (or of “ways of life,” a more popular term today).

Thus, forced marriages and homophobia (or the idea that a woman going alone to a public place is asking to be raped) are OK, so long as they are limited to another country which is otherwise fully included into the world market.

Two Faces

At the head of this new trend is a newly found respect for Islam from the same politicians who warn of the danger of the islamisation of the Christian West. For instance, they respectfully congratulated Erdogan on his last electoral victory – because the authoritarian reign of Islam is OK for Turkey but not for us. The same goes for Israel with its scandalous new apartheid laws privileging Jewish citizens. This is the truth of today’s multiculturalism: every imposition of universal standards is denounced as colonialist.

The new world order that is emerging is thus no longer the Fukuyamaist NWO of global liberal democracy but a NWO of the peaceful co-existence of different politico-theological ways of life – co-existence, of course, against the background of the smooth functioning of global capitalism.

There will be no contradiction in imposing in our countries the strictest politically correct feminist rules and simultaneously rejecting the dark side of Islam as neocolonialist arrogance.

The obscenity of this process is that it can present itself as a progress in anti-colonial struggle: the liberal West will no longer be allowed to impose its standards on others and all ways of life will be treated as equal.

With this in mind, it’s no wonder Robert Mugabe showed sympathy for Trump's slogan “America first!” – “America first!” for you, “Zimbabwe first!” for me, “India first!” or “North Korea first!” for them and so on.

Back to The Future

Of course, this is how the British Empire, the first global capitalist empire, functioned: each ethnic-religious community was allowed to pursue its own way of life, Hindus in India were safely burning widows, for instance, and these local “customs” were either criticized as barbaric or praised for their pre-modern wisdom, but tolerated since what mattered is that they were economically part of the Empire.

So welcome to the new world order in which Saudi Arabia leads the anti-colonialist struggle. But, naturally, there is something hypocritical about the liberals who criticize the slogan “America first” – as if this is not what more or less every country is doing, and as if America did not play a global role precisely because it fits its own interests.

The underlying message of “America first!” is nonetheless a sad one: The American century is over, America resigned itself to be just one among the (powerful) countries. And the supreme irony is that the Leftists who for a long time criticized the US pretension to be the global policeman may begin to long for the old times when, with all hypocrisy included, the US imposed democratic standards around the world.

The sad truth that sustains this new “tolerance” is that today's global capitalism can no longer afford a positive vision of emancipated humanity, even as an ideological dream. Fukuyamaist liberal-democratic universalism failed because of its own immanent limitations and inconsistencies, and populizm is the symptom of this failure, its Huntington's disease, as it were.

But the solution is not populist nationalism, whether it is be rightist or leftist. Instead, the only solution is a new universalism – to confront the problems humanity faces today, from ecological threats to refugee crises.

Too Radical?

Slavoj Zizek, "The US establishment thinks Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is too radical – with an impending climate disaster, the worry is she isn't radical enough"
We should of course fully support democratic socialists: we have to begin with where we are. But my fear is that beneath their concrete welfare state proposals there is nothing, no great project, just a vague idea of more social justice. In the long term, is this enough?

Now that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has joined Bernie Sanders as the public face of the left wing of the Democratic Party, with others waiting in the shadows to explode on the US national scene, there is no surprise in the wide scope of reactions to the fact the term “democratic socialism” has gained (limited) acceptability in one of the two US main parties. Republican media predictably spread fear: democratic socialists plan to abolish capitalism, introduce Venezuelan-style state terror and bring poverty, etc. In a more restrained way, centrist Democrats warn about the non-intended catastrophic economic consequences of democratic socialist proposals: how to raise money for universal healthcare, etc? (Incidentally, one should recall here how even the most daring proposals of today’s democratic socialists do not come even close to moderate European social democracy half a century ago – a sign of how the centre of gravity of the entire political field shifted to the right.)

Even on the liberal left side of the Democratic Party, there are bad surprises. In the long list of Obama’s endorsements of the Democratic candidates for the mid-term elections (over 80 names), one looks in vain for Ocasio-Cortez. Echoing Nancy Pelosi who stated “I have to say, we’re capitalists, that’s just the way it is”, even the “leftist” Elizabeth Warren declared herself “capitalist to my bones”…

The latest – and morally most problematic – fad in this series is the charge of antisemitism addressed at anyone who deviates to the left from the acceptable left-liberal establishment. Till recently, the label “antisemitism” was used against any critique of the State of Israel and the way it deals with Palestinians; now, it is more and more mobilised to disqualify the left perceived as “too radical”, from Corbyn in the UK to Ocasio-Cortez in the US. Antisemites in one’s own country (Poland, Hungary, Baltic states) are tolerated insofar as they turn into Zionist supporters of the Israeli politics in the West Bank, while leftists who sympathise with the West Bank Palestinians but also warn against the resurgent antisemitism in Europe are denounced at the same time. This rise of the weird figure of antisemitic Zionists is one of the most worrying signs of our decay.

However, while these external enemies and attacks can only bolster the democratic socialists’ readiness to fight, much more fatal limitations lurk in the very heart of their project. Today’s democratic socialism is infinitely superior to the academic radicals who flourished in the last decades, for the simple reason that it stands for an actual political movement which mobilises hundreds of thousands of ordinary people, registering and articulating their dissatisfaction.

Problems begin when we raise the simple question: what do democratic socialists effectively want? The rightist reproach against them is that, beneath their innocent-sounding concrete proposals to raise taxes, make healthcare better, etc, there is a dark project to destroy capitalism and its freedoms. My fear is exactly the opposite one: that beneath their concrete welfare state proposals there is nothing, no great project, just a vague idea of more social justice. The idea is simply that, through electoral pressure, the centre of gravity will move back to the left.

But is, in the (not so) long term, this enough? Do the challenges that we face, from global warming to refugees, from digital control to biogenetic manipulations, not require nothing less than a global reorganisation of our societies? Whichever way this will happen, two things are sure: it will not be enacted by some new version of a Leninist Communist party, but it will also not happen as part of our parliamentary democracy. It will not be just a political party winning more votes and enacting social democratic measures.

This brings us to the fatal limitation of democratic socialists. Back in 1985, Felix Guattari and Toni Negri published a short book in French Les nouveaux espaces de liberte whose title was changed for the English translation into Communists Like Us – the implicit message of this change was the same as that of democratic socialists: “Don’t be afraid, we are ordinary guys like you, we don’t pose any threat, life will just go on when we will win...” This, unfortunately, is not the option. Radical changes are needed for our survival, and life will NOT go on as usual; we will have to change even in our innermost life.

So we should of course fully support democratic socialists; if we just wait for the right moment to enact a radical change, this moment will never arrive, we have to begin with where we are. But we should do this without illusions, fully aware that our future will demand much more than electoral games and social democratic measures. We are at the beginning of a dangerous voyage on which our survival depends.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The American Socialist Phenomena

-Slavoj Zizek, "The US establishment thinks Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is too radical – with an impending climate disaster, the worry is she isn't radical enough"
We should of course fully support democratic socialists: we have to begin with where we are. But my fear is that beneath their concrete welfare state proposals there is nothing, no great project, just a vague idea of more social justice. In the long term, is this enough?

Now that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has joined Bernie Sanders as the public face of the left wing of the Democratic Party, with others waiting in the shadows to explode on the US national scene, there is no surprise in the wide scope of reactions to the fact the term “democratic socialism” has gained (limited) acceptability in one of the two US main parties. Republican media predictably spread fear: democratic socialists plan to abolish capitalism, introduce Venezuelan-style state terror and bring poverty, etc. In a more restrained way, centrist Democrats warn about the non-intended catastrophic economic consequences of democratic socialist proposals: how to raise money for universal healthcare, etc? (Incidentally, one should recall here how even the most daring proposals of today’s democratic socialists do not come even close to moderate European social democracy half a century ago – a sign of how the centre of gravity of the entire political field shifted to the right.)

Even on the liberal left side of the Democratic Party, there are bad surprises. In the long list of Obama’s endorsements of the Democratic candidates for the mid-term elections (over 80 names), one looks in vain for Ocasio-Cortez. Echoing Nancy Pelosi who stated “I have to say, we’re capitalists, that’s just the way it is”, even the “leftist” Elizabeth Warren declared herself “capitalist to my bones”…

The latest – and morally most problematic – fad in this series is the charge of antisemitism addressed at anyone who deviates to the left from the acceptable left-liberal establishment. Till recently, the label “antisemitism” was used against any critique of the State of Israel and the way it deals with Palestinians; now, it is more and more mobilised to disqualify the left perceived as “too radical”, from Corbyn in the UK to Ocasio-Cortez in the US. Antisemites in one’s own country (Poland, Hungary, Baltic states) are tolerated insofar as they turn into Zionist supporters of the Israeli politics in the West Bank, while leftists who sympathise with the West Bank Palestinians but also warn against the resurgent antisemitism in Europe are denounced at the same time. This rise of the weird figure of antisemitic Zionists is one of the most worrying signs of our decay.

However, while these external enemies and attacks can only bolster the democratic socialists’ readiness to fight, much more fatal limitations lurk in the very heart of their project. Today’s democratic socialism is infinitely superior to the academic radicals who flourished in the last decades, for the simple reason that it stands for an actual political movement which mobilises hundreds of thousands of ordinary people, registering and articulating their dissatisfaction.

Problems begin when we raise the simple question: what do democratic socialists effectively want? The rightist reproach against them is that, beneath their innocent-sounding concrete proposals to raise taxes, make healthcare better, etc, there is a dark project to destroy capitalism and its freedoms. My fear is exactly the opposite one: that beneath their concrete welfare state proposals there is nothing, no great project, just a vague idea of more social justice. The idea is simply that, through electoral pressure, the centre of gravity will move back to the left.

But is, in the (not so) long term, this enough? Do the challenges that we face, from global warming to refugees, from digital control to biogenetic manipulations, not require nothing less than a global reorganisation of our societies? Whichever way this will happen, two things are sure: it will not be enacted by some new version of a Leninist Communist party, but it will also not happen as part of our parliamentary democracy. It will not be just a political party winning more votes and enacting social democratic measures.
This brings us to the fatal limitation of democratic socialists. Back in 1985, Felix Guattari and Toni Negri published a short book in French Les nouveaux espaces de liberte whose title was changed for the English translation into Communists Like Us – the implicit message of this change was the same as that of democratic socialists: “Don’t be afraid, we are ordinary guys like you, we don’t pose any threat, life will just go on when we will win...” This, unfortunately, is not the option. Radical changes are needed for our survival, and life will NOT go on as usual; we will have to change even in our innermost life.

So we should of course fully support democratic socialists; if we just wait for the right moment to enact a radical change, this moment will never arrive, we have to begin with where we are. But we should do this without illusions, fully aware that our future will demand much more than electoral games and social democratic measures. We are at the beginning of a dangerous voyage on which our survival depends.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Intertubes Have Saved Us from Alex Jones!!!!

We can all sleep more easily now that he's been banned!

Just the thought of all those gay frogs gives me the creeps.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Chasing Collateral Beauty

Why being a philosopher in the heatwave is so particularly unbearable

Slavoj Zizek, "Why being a philosopher in the heatwave is so particularly unbearable"
When you lose yourself in theoretical speculations to try and distract yourself from how warm it is, you realise you’ve become a classic Freudian case
I hate heat. The place where I dream to be nowadays is on the Svalbard islands north of Norway, halfway to the North Pole. But since I am stuck at my home, all I can do is turn on the air conditioner and read… about the ongoing heatwaves and global warming, of course.

And it’s quite something to read about. Temperatures rising over 50C is no longer big news, it happens regularly in the crescent from Emirates to southern Iran, in parts of India, in the Death Valley, and now we learn that the prospects are much darker, threatening not only desert areas. In Vietnam, many farmers decide to sleep during the day and work at night because of the unbearable heat.

The most populous region in the world – China’s northern plain from Beijing to Shanghai, densely populated and food-producing – will become uninhabitable if global warming goes on. The cause will be the deadly combination of heat and humidity measured as the “wet bulb” temperature (WBT). Once the WBT reaches 35C, the human body cannot cool itself by sweating and even fit people sitting in the shade die within six hours.

So what is going on? We are becoming more and more aware of the ultimate uncertainty of our survival: a devastating earthquake, a big asteroid hitting earth, a deadly heatwave, and it’s all over. Gilbert Keith Chesterton wrote: “Take away the supernatural and what you are left with is the unnatural.” We should endorse this statement, but in the opposite sense, not in the sense intended by Chesterton: we should accept that nature is “unnatural”, a freaky show of contingent disturbances with no inner rhyme. But there is more, much more, going on.

Global warming makes us aware that, with all our spiritual and practical activity, we are, at the most basic level, just another living species on planet Earth. Our survival depends on certain natural parameters which we automatically take for granted.

The lesson of global warming is that the freedom of humankind was possible only against the background of the stable natural parameters of the life on earth (temperature, the composition of the air, sufficient water and energy supply, and so on): humans can “do what they want” only insofar as they remain marginal enough, so that they don’t seriously perturb those parameters of life. As our freedom to grow as a species starts impacting the world, nature’s response then curtails our freedom. “Nature” becomes a sort of social category in itself.

Science and technology today no longer aim only at understanding and reproducing natural processes, but at generating new forms of life that will surprise us; the goal is no longer just to dominate nature (the way it is), but to generate something new, greater, stronger than ordinary nature, including ourselves. Exemplary here is the obsession with artificial intelligence, which aims at producing a brain stronger than a human brain. The dream that sustains the technological endeavour is to trigger a process with no return, a process that would exponentially reproduce itself and go on on its own.

The notion of “second nature” is therefore today more pertinent than ever, in both its main meanings. First, literally, as the artificially generated new nature: monsters of nature, deformed cows and trees, or – a more positive dream – genetically manipulated organisms, “enhanced” in the direction that fits us.

Then, the “second nature” in the more standard sense of the autonomisation of the results of our own activity: the way our acts elude us in their consequences, the way they generate a monster with a life on its own. It is this horror at the unforeseen results of our own acts that causes shock and awe, not the power of nature over which we have no control.

The process which threatens to run out of control is no longer just the social process of economic and political development, but new forms of natural processes themselves, from a nuclear catastrophe to global warming and the unforeseen consequences of biogenetic manipulations. Can one even imagine what can be the unforeseen result of nanotechnological experiments: new lifeforms reproducing themselves out of control in a cancer-like way?

We are thus entering a new phase in which it is simply nature itself which “melts into air” (in the words of Marx’s Communist Manifesto): the main consequence of these scientific breakthroughs in biogenetics is the end of nature. This compels us to give a new twist to Freud’s title Unbehagen in der Kultur – discontent, uneasiness, in culture. With the latest developments, the discontent shifts from culture to nature itself: nature is no longer “natural”, the reliable “dense” background of our lives. It now appears as a fragile mechanism which, at any point, can explode in a catastrophic direction.

Thinking about heatwaves and getting lost in theoretical speculations, I thus ended up forgetting about the miserable reality of unbearable heat. In short, I got caught into the trap of what Freud called fetishist disavowal: I know very well (how serious the danger is), but I nonetheless cannot take it quite seriously, I don’t really believe it can happen.

Maybe, unfortunately, only the shock of an actual catastrophe can awaken us. And then we will become aware of the ridicule of the fights between our nation states, of America First and Brexit games, when our entire world is slowly disintegrating and only a large collective effort can give us hope.