Slavoj Zizek: There is no conflict between the struggle against antisemitism and the struggle against Israeli occupation

Today, the charge of antisemitism is addressed at anyone who critiques Israeli policy

Jean-Paul Sartre wrote that, if you are attacked for the same text by both sides in a political conflict, this is one of the few reliable signs that you are on the right path. In the last decades, I have been attacked by a number of very different political actors (often on account of the same text!) for antisemitism, up to advocating a new Holocaust, and for perfidious Zionist propaganda (see the last issue of the antisemitic Occidental Observer). So I think I’ve earned the right to comment on the recent accusations against the Labour Party regarding its alleged tolerance of antisemitism.

I, of course, indisputably reject antisemitism in all its forms, including the idea that one can sometimes ”understand” it, as in: “considering what Israel is doing on the West Bank, one shouldn’t be surprised if this gives birth to antisemitic reactions”. More precisely, I reject the two symmetrical versions of this last argument: “we should understand occasional Palestinian antisemitism since they suffer a lot” as well as “we should understand aggressive Zionism in view of the Holocaust.” One should, of course, also reject the compromise version: “both sides have a point, so let’s find a middle way…”.

Along the same lines, we should supplement the standard Israeli point that the (permissible) critique of Israeli policy can serve as a cover for the (unacceptable) antisemitism with its no less pertinent reversal: the accusation of antisemitism is often invoked to discredit a totally justified critique of Israeli politics. Where, exactly, does legitimate critique of Israeli policy become antisemitism? More and more, mere sympathy for the Palestinian resistance is condemned as antisemitic. Take the two-state solution: while decades ago it was the standard international position, it is more and more proclaimed a threat to Israel's existence and thus antisemitic.

Things get really ominous when Zionism itself evokes the traditional antisemitic cliché of roots. Alain Finkielkraut wrote in 2015 in a letter to Le Monde: “The Jews, they have today chosen the path of rooting.” It is easy to discern in this claim an echo of Heidegger who said, in a Der Spiegel interview, that all essential and great things can only emerge from our having a homeland, from being rooted in a tradition. The irony is that we are dealing here with a weird attempt to mobilise antisemitic clichés in order to legitimize Zionism: antisemitism reproaches the Jews for being rootless; Zionism tries to correct this failure by belatedly providing Jews with roots. No wonder many conservative antisemites ferociously support the expansion of the State of Israel.

However, the trouble with the settlement project today is that it is now trying to get roots in a place which was for thousands of years inhabited by other people. That’s why I find obscene a recent claim by Ayelet Shaked, the former Israeli justice minister: “The Jewish People have the legal and moral right to live in their ancient homeland.” What about the rights of Palestinians?

For me, the only way out of this conundrum is the ethical one: there is ultimately no conflict between the struggle against antisemitism and the struggle against what the State of Israel is now doing on the West Bank. The two struggles are part of one and the same struggle for emancipation. Let’s mention a concrete case. Some weeks ago, Zarah Sultana, a Labour candidate, apologised for a Facebook post in which she backed the Palestinian right to “violent resistance”: “I do not support violence and I should not have articulated my anger in the manner I did, for which I apologize.” I fully support her apology, we should not play with violence, but I nonetheless feel obliged to add that what Israel is now doing on West Bank is also a form of violence. No doubts that Israel sincerely wants peace on the West Bank; occupiers by definition want peace in their occupied land, since it means no resistance. So if Jews are in any way threatened in the UK, I unconditionally and unequivocally condemn it and support all legal measures to combat it–but am I permitted to add that Palestinians in the West Bank are much more under threat than Jews in the UK?

Without mentioning Corbyn by name, the Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis recently wrote in an article for the Times that “a new poison–sanctioned from the top–has taken root in the Labour Party.” He conceded: “It is not my place to tell any person how they should vote,” though went on to add: “When December 12 arrives, I ask every person to vote with their conscience. Be in no doubt, the very soul of our nation is at stake.” I find this presentation of a political choice as a purely moral one ethically disgusting–it reminds me of how, decades ago, the Catholic Church in Italy did not explicitly order citizens to vote for Christian Democracy, but just said that they should vote for a party which is Christian and democratic.

Today, the charge of antisemitism is more and more addressed at anyone who deviates from the acceptable left-liberal establishment towards a more radical left–can one imagine a more repellent and cynical manipulation of the Holocaust? When protests against the Israel Defense Forces' activities in the West Bank are denounced as an expression of antisemitism, and (implicitly, at least) put in the same line as Holocaust deniers–that is to say, when the shadow of the Holocaust is permanently evoked in order to neutralise any criticism of Israeli military and political operations–it is not enough to insist on the difference between antisemitism and the critique of particular measures of the State of Israel. One should go a step further and claim that it is the State of Israel that, in this case, is desecrating the memory of Holocaust victims, ruthlessly using them as an instrument to legitimise present political measures.

As Mirvis wrote, the soul of our nation is indeed at stake here–but also, the soul of the Jewish nation. Will Jews follow Finkielkraut and “take roots”, using their sacred history as an ideological excuse, or will they remember that ultimately we are all strangers in a strange land? Will Jews allow Israel to turn into another fundamentalist nation-state, or remain faithful to the legacy that made them a key factor in the rise of modern civil society? (Remember that there is no Enlightenment without the Jews.) For me, to fully support Israeli politics in the West Bank is a betrayal not just of some abstract global ethics, but of the most precious part of Jewish ethical tradition itself.

Source: There is no conflict between the struggle against antisemitism and the struggle against Israeli occupation

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Reading Žižek – Where to Start?

LIVESTREAM: Slavoj Žižek: "Why I Am Still A Communist" - December 7, 2019

The Holberg Debate: Slavoj Žižek: "Why I Am Still A Communist"

Saturday, December 7, 2019 at 3 PM – 5:15 PM

Slavoj Žižek has been called the «the most dangerous philosopher in the West» and a cultural theorist superstar, as he mixes Marxism with pop culture and psychoanalysis. Three decades after the fall of «Communism» in Eastern Europe, why does Žižek still call himself a communist?

Even though Europe’s authoritarian Socialist states have been gone for about 30 years, socialism and communism have not disappeared from the lexicon of political ideas in the West.

Here, the last decade has seen both a crisis of capitalism, high levels of polarisation and turmoil, a rediscovering of Marxism in certain circles, and a mainstream American Left that advocates «democratic socialism».

What exactly such terms mean to their advocates and critics, however, remains unclear, as the US enters one of the most contentious election years ever. And while the Nordic “social democracies” may be known for their expansive welfare states, arguing that they still represent “socialism” would likely require a stretch of both concepts and imagination.

In an age where the principles of the free marked have become the driving force of both the economy, public services, foreign policy, and education, “communism” remains a dirty word among the political establishment.

So why is Žižek still a communist?

"At the 2019 Holberg Debate, we are honoured to be joined by two big thinkers: Slavoj Žižek and Tyler Cowen. Prof. Žižek will deliver his keynote address, “Why I Am Still A Communist”, before being interviewed by Prof. Cowen. In the subsequent Q & A session, we encourage everyone to contribute with questions and comments, either from the floor, or via Twitter. Twitter users may use hashtag #qholberg for questions and submit their comments either in writing or as video snippets. Questions may be submitted at any time, before or during the event. In other words: You are welcome to submit your questions today."

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Reading Žižek – Where to Start?

Slavoj Zizek: Will the global Left allow right-wing nationalists to take control of society's discontent?

Three decades after the collapse of communism in eastern Europe, there's now unease about liberal capitalism. It's benefitting the global Right more than leftists.

Today, it’s commonplace to emphasize the “miraculous” nature of the fall of the Berlin Wall, 30 years ago, this month. Back then, it was like a dream come true, something unimaginable even a couple of months earlier. Soon after, the Communist regimes collapsed like a house of cards.

Who, before then, in Poland could have imagined free elections with Lech Walesa as president? However, one should add that an even greater “miracle” happened only a couple of years later: the return of the ex-Communists to power through free democratic elections. Walesa was soon totally marginalized and much less popular than General Wojciech Jaruzelski who, a decade and a half earlier, crushed Solidarity with the military coup d’etat.

At this point, one usually mentions “capitalist realism”: East Europeans simply didn’t possess a realistic image of capitalism. They were full of immature utopian expectations. The morning after the enthusiasm of the drunken days of victory, people had to sober up and undergo a painful process of learning the rules of the new reality, i.e., the price one has to pay for political and economic freedom. It was, effectively, as if the European Left had to die twice: first as the “totalitarian” Communist Left, then as the moderate democratic Left which, since the 1990's, has been gradually losing ground.

However, things are a little bit more complex. When people protested against the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe, what the large majority had in mind was not capitalism. They wanted social security, solidarity, and justice. They wanted the freedom to live their own lives outside state control and to come together and talk as they pleased. They wanted a life of simple honesty and sincerity, liberated from primitive ideological indoctrination and the prevailing cynical hypocrisy.

In short, the vague ideals that inspired the protesters were to a large extent taken from the socialist ideology itself. And, as we learned from Freud, what is repressed often returns in a distorted form – in our case, what was repressed from the dissident imaginary returned in the guise of rightist populism.

No wonder how, after a long time of preaching openness and globalization, developed countries are now into building new walls, because the new formula is free movement of commodities instead of free movement of people.

In his interpretation of the fall of East European Communism, Jurgen Habermas proved to be the ultimate Left Fukuyamaist, silently accepting that the existing liberal-democratic order is the best possible, and that, while we should strive to make it more just, etc., we should not challenge its basic premises.

This is why he welcomed precisely what many leftists saw as the big deficiency of the anti-Communist protests in Eastern Europe: the fact that these protests were not motivated by any new visions of the post-Communist future – as he put it, the central and eastern European revolutions were just what he called “rectifying” or “catch-up” revolutions: their aim was to enable central and eastern European societies to gain what the western Europeans already possessed. In other words, to return to European “normality.”

However, the likes of the Yellow Vests, and other similar protests, are definitely NOT catch-up movements. They embody the weird reversal that characterizes today’s global situation. The old antagonism between “ordinary people” and the financial-capitalist elites is back with a vengeance, with “ordinary people” exploding in protest against elites accused of being blind to their suffering and demands.

Yet, what is new is that the populist Right proved to be much more adept in channeling these explosions in its direction than the Left. Alain Badiou was thus fully justified to say apropos the Yellow Vests: “Tout ce qui bouge n'est pas rouge” – “all that moves (creates unrest) is not red.”

Today’s populist Right participates in the long tradition of popular protests which were predominantly leftist. Some revolts today (Catalonia, Hong Kong) can even be considered a case of what is sometimes called the revolts of the rich – remember that Catalonia is, together with Basque country, the richest part of Spain and that Hong Kong is per capita much wealthier than China. There is no solidarity with the exploited and poor of China in Hong Kong, no demand for freedoms for all in China, just the demand to retain one’s privileged position.

Here, then, is the paradox we have to confront: the populist disappointment at liberal democracy is the proof that 1989 and 1990 was not just a catch-up revolution. Instead, it was about something more than achieving liberal-capitalist 'normality'. Freud spoke about Das Unbehagen in der Kultur ( the discontent/unease in culture); today, 30 years after the fall of the Wall, the ongoing new wave of protests bears witness of a kind of Unbehagen in liberal capitalism, and the key question is: who will articulate this discontent? Will it be left to nationalist populists to exploit it? Therein resides the big conundrum facing the Left.

Source: Slavoj Zizek: Will the global Left allow right-wing nationalists to take control of society's discontent?

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Reading Žižek – Where to Start?

Slavoj Zizek: Free Julian Assange — his fate is inextricably tied to our own

We are dealing with the basic meaning of our freedom and human rights

I visited Julian Assange in Belmarsh prison on November 21. One small detail, insignificant in itself, did strike me as emblematic of how prisons function with regards to welfare and human rights.

All the guards were very kind and repeatedly emphasized that everything they do is for our own good. For example, Assange is in solitary confinement 23 hours per day. He has to eat all his meals alone in his cell, and when he is allowed out for an hour he can’t meet other prisoners. The communication with a guard who accompanies him is reduced to a minimum. Why such severe treatment since he is now just in protective custody? (He served his prison time and he is only there to prevent him escaping extradition.)

The explanation I was given was a predictable one: it is for his own good — since he is a traitor hated by many, he may be attacked if he mixes with other people. But the craziest case of this ‘care’ happened when Assange’s assistant, who accompanied me, brought me a cup of coffee which was put onto a table where Julian and I were sitting. I took off the plastic cover of the cup, took a sip and then put the cup back on the table without putting on the plastic cover back on; within seconds a guard approached and signaled to me with a hand gesture (very kindly, it is a humanist prison if there ever was one) that I should put the cover back on the cup of coffee. I did as I was told, but I was slightly surprised by this demand and asked a member of staff when leaving the prison why it was given. The explanation was again a warm human one — something like: ‘It is for your own good and protection, sir. You were sitting at a table with a dangerous prisoner, probably prone to violent acts, and seeing between the two of you an open cup of hot coffee into your face…’ I felt warmth in my heart at being so well protected, and I just imagined the threat I might have been exposed to if I were to be visiting Assange in a Russian or Chinese prison — the guards would undoubtedly ignore this noble safety measure and expose me to a terrible danger!

My visit took place a couple of days after Sweden dropped its own demand for extradition, clearly admitting, after additional interrogation of witnesses, that there are no grounds for prosecution. However, this decision is not without an ominous background. When there are two demands for extradition, a judge has to decide which comes first, and if Sweden is chosen then this may jeopardize the US extradition — it can be delayed and public opinion in Sweden itself may even turn against it. Now, with only the US asking for extradition, the situation is much clearer.

Where now are all those journalists who wrote that Assange should be extradited to Sweden instead of the US? Or, incidentally, those who babbled that he is a paranoiac, that there is no extradition awaiting him, that if he leaves the Ecuadorian embassy he will be free after a couple of weeks in prison, that all he has to fear is fear itself? This last claim is for me a kind of negative proof of God’s inexistence: if there were to be a just God, then a lightning bolt would strike the author of this obscene paraphrasing of Roosevelt’s famous quip.

Since I already mentioned China, I cannot restrain myself from reminding readers what triggered the large protests in Hong Kong that have been going on for months: China’s demand that Hong Kong accepts the law which will compel Hong Kong authorities to extradite its citizens to China when China demands it. It seems the UK is more subservient to the US than Hong Kong is to China: the UK government sees nothing problematic in extraditing a person accused of a political crime to the US. China’s demand is even more justified since Hong Kong is ultimately part of China — the formula is ‘one country, two systems’. Obviously, the relationship between UK and the US is ‘two countries, one system’ (the American one, of course).

Brexit is said to be a means to assert British sovereignty, and now, in the way Britain has treated Assange, we can already see what this sovereignty amounts to — subservience to US demands. Now is the time for all honest Brexiteers to staunchly oppose Assange’s extradition. We are no longer dealing with a minor legal or political matter, but with something which concerns the basic meaning of our freedom and human rights. When will the general public understand that the story of Assange is a story about themselves, that their fate will be deeply affected by the decision over his extradition? We should help Julian not out of some vague humanitarian concern and sympathy for a miserable victim, but out of a concern for our own future.

Source: Free Julian Assange — his fate is inextricably tied to our own

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Reading Žižek – Where to Start?

Slavoj Zizek: Margaret Atwood’s work illustrates our need to enjoy other people’s pain

Heaven is not enough, and has to be supplemented by the permission to take a look at another’s suffering – only in this way, as Aquinas says, the blessed souls ‘may enjoy their beatitude more thoroughly’

A well-crafted worldwide publicity campaign is raising expectations for The Testaments, Margaret Atwood’s sequel to her Handmaid’s Tale. This, perhaps, is the right moment to take a deeper look into the reasons of our fascination with the dark world of the Republic of Gilead.

Since Gilead is run by Christian fundamentalists, the best way to begin is with theology.

In his Summa Theologica, philosopher Thomas Aquinas concludes that the blessed in the kingdom of heaven will see the punishments of the damned in order that their bliss be more delightful for them. Aquinas, of course, takes care to avoid the obscene implication that good souls in heaven can find pleasure in observing the terrible suffering of other souls, because good Christians should feel pity when they see suffering. So, will the blessed in heaven also feel pity for the torments of the damned? Aquinas’s answer is no: not because they directly enjoy seeing suffering, but because they enjoy the exercise of divine justice.

But what if enjoying divine justice is the rationalisation, the moral cover-up, for sadistically enjoying the neighbour’s eternal suffering? What makes Aquinas’s formulation suspicious is the surplus enjoyment watching the pain of others secretly introduces: as if the simple pleasure of living in the bliss of heaven is not enough, and has to be supplemented by the enjoyment of being allowed to take a look at another’s suffering – only in this way, the blessed souls “may enjoy their beatitude more thoroughly”.

We can easily imagine the appropriate scene in heaven: when some blessed souls complain that the nectar served was not as tasty as the last time, and that blissful life up there is rather boring after all, angels serving the blessed souls would snap back: “You don’t like it here? So take a look at how life is down there, at the other end, and maybe you will learn how lucky you are to be here!”

And the corresponding scene in hell should also be imagined in a totally different way: far away from the divine gaze and control, the damned souls enjoy an intense and pleasurable life in hell – only from time to time, when the Devil’s administrators of hell learn that the blessed souls from heaven will be allowed to observe briefly life in hell, they kindly implore the damned souls to stage a performance and pretend to suffer terribly in order to impress the idiots from heaven.

In short, the sight of the other’s suffering is the obscure cause of desire which sustains our own happiness (bliss in heaven) – if we take it away, our bliss appears in all its sterile stupidity. And, incidentally, does the same not hold for our daily portion of Third World horrors – wars, starvations, violence – on TV screens? We need it to sustain the happiness of our consumerist heaven.

And this brings us to Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale: a case of the direct “critical” depiction of the oppressive atmosphere of an imagined conservative-fundamentalist rule. The novel and the television series allow us to dwell in the weird pleasure in fantasising a world of brutal patriarchal domination. Of course, nobody would openly admit the desire to live in such nightmarish world, but this assurance that we really don’t want it makes fantasising about it, imagining all the details of this world, all the more pleasurable. Yes, we feel pain while experiencing this pleasure, but psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan’s name for this pleasure-in-pain is jouissance.

The obverse of this ambiguity is the fundamental blindness of Atwood’s tale for the limitations of our liberal-permissive universe: the entire story is an exercise in what American literary critic Fredric Jameson called “nostalgia for the present” – it is permeated by the sentimental admiration for our liberal-permissive present ruined by the new Christian-fundamentalist rule, and it never even approaches the question of what is wrong in this present so that it gave birth to the nightmarish Republic of Gilead. “Nostalgia for the present” falls into the trap of ideology because it is blind to the fact that this present permissive paradise is boring, and (exactly like the blessed souls in paradise) it needs a look into the hell of religious fundamentalism to sustain itself.

This is ideology at its purest, ideology in the simple and brutal sense of legitimising the existing order and obfuscating its antagonisms. In exactly the same way, liberal critics of Trump and alt-right never seriously ask how our liberal society could give birth to Trump.

In this sense, the image of Donald Trump is also a fetish: the last thing a liberal sees before confronting class struggle. That’s why liberals are so fascinated and horrified by Trump: to avoid the class topic. German philosopher Friedrich Hegel’s motto, “evil resides in the gaze which sees evil everywhere”, fully applies here: the very liberal gaze which demonises Trump is also evil because it ignores how its own failures opened up the space for Trump’s type of patriotic populism.

Source: Margaret Atwood’s work illustrates our need to enjoy other people’s pain

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Reading Žižek – Where to Start?

Slavoj Zizek: Trump’s conflict with China is a real war – both will shed blood for control of capitalism’s monstrous machine

The big problem for America is how to justify its imperial role. It needs a permanent threat of war, offering itself as the universal protector of all other states

The trade war between the US and China can only fill us with dread. How will it affect our daily lives? Will it result in a new global recession or even geopolitical chaos?

To orient ourselves in this mess, we should bear in mind some basic facts. The trade conflict with China is just the culmination of a war which began years ago when Donald Trump fired the opening shot aimed at the biggest trading partners of the US by deciding to levy tariffs on the imports of steel and aluminium from the EU, Canada and Mexico.

Trump was playing his own populist version of class warfare: his professed goal was to protect the American working class (are metal workers not one of the emblematic figures of the traditional working class?) from “unfair” European competition, thereby saving American jobs. And now he is doing the same with China.

Trump’s impulsive decisions are not just expressions of his personal quirks, they are reactions to the end of an era in a global economic system. An economic cycle is coming to an end – a cycle which began in the early 1970s, a time when, what Yanis Varoufakis calls the “Global Minotaur”, was born. The monstrous engine that was running the world economy from the early 1970s to 2008.

By the end of the 1960s, the US economy was no longer able to continue the recycling of its surpluses to Europe and Asia: its surpluses had turned into deficits. In 1971, the US government responded to this decline with an audacious strategic move: instead of tackling the nation’s burgeoning deficits, it decided to do the opposite, to boost deficits. Who would pay for them? The rest of the world. How? By means of a permanent transfer of capital that rushed across the two great oceans to finance America’s deficits.

This growing negative trade balance demonstrates that the US became a non-productive predator. In the last decades, it had to suck up a $1bn daily influx from other nations to buy for its consummation and is, as such, the universal Keynesian consumer that keeps the world economy running. (So much for the anti-Keynesian economic ideology that seems to predominate today.) This influx, which is effectively like the tithe paid to Rome in antiquity, or the gifts sacrificed to the Minotaur by the Ancient Greeks, relies on a complex economic mechanism: the US is trusted as the safe and stable centre, so that all others, from the oil-producing Arab countries to western Europe and Japan – and now even China – invest their surplus profits in the US.

Since this trust is primarily ideological and military, not economic, the problem for the US is how to justify its imperial role. It needs a permanent threat of war, offering itself as the universal protector of all other “normal” (that is, not “rogue”) states.

Since 2008, however, this world system has been breaking down. During the Obama years, Paul Bernanke, chair of the Federal Reserve, gave another breath of life to this system. Ruthlessly exploiting the fact that the US dollar is the global currency, he financed imports by printing money fast. Trump has decided to approach the problem in a different way: ignoring the delicate balance of the global system, he has focused on elements which may be presented as “injustice” for the US – gigantic imports reducing domestic jobs, for example.

But what Trump decries as “injustice” is simply part of a system which has profited the US; the US were effectively robbing the world by importing stuff and paying for it by debts and printing money.

Consequently, in his trade wars, Trump cheats: he wants the US to continue to be a global power but refuses to pay even the nominal price for it. He follows his “America first” principle, ruthlessly privileging US interests, while still acting as a global power.

Even if some of the US arguments against China and its trade may appear reasonable, they are undoubtedly one-sided: the US profited from the situation decried by Trump as unjust, and Trump wants to keep profiting also in the new situation. The only way out left for others is on some basic level unite to undermine the central role of the US as a global power secured by its military and financial might. One should be as ruthless as Trump in this struggle. Our predicament can only be stabilised by the collective imposition of a new world order no longer led by the US. The way to beat Trump is not to imitate him with “China first”, “France first,” and so on, but to oppose him globally and treat him as an embarrassing outcast.

This does not mean that the sins of those who oppose the US should be forgiven. It is typical that Trump proclaimed he is not interested in the democratic revolt in Hong Kong, dismissing it as China’s internal affair. While we should support the revolt, we should just be careful that it will not be used as an argument for the US trade war against China – we should always bear in mind that Trump is ultimately on the side of China.

So should we nonetheless be glad that the ongoing trade war is just an economic war? Should we find solace in the hope that it will end with some kind of truce negotiated by managers of our economies?

No. Geopolitical rearrangements which are already discernible here could easily explode into (at least local) real wars. Trade wars are the stuff real wars are made of. Our global situation more and more resembles that of Europe in the years before the First World War. It is just not yet clear where will be our Sarajevo – Ukraine, the South China Sea, or closer to home.

Source: Trump’s conflict with China is a real war – both will shed blood for control of capitalism’s monstrous machine

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Reading Žižek – Where to Start?

Slavoj Zizek: Yes, it is a climate crisis. And your tiny human efforts have never seemed so meagre

We are like soccer fans in front of a TV screen at home, shouting and jumping from our seats, in a superstitious belief that this will somehow influence the outcome

Talk of a climate crisis moves to the top of the agenda again, just as the burning of the Amazon forests drifts from our headlines. But are we really heading towards a collective suicide?

We instinctively feel that by destroying the Amazon rainforests, Brazilians are killing “the lungs of our Earth”. However, if we want to confront seriously threats to our environment, what we should avoid are precisely such quick extrapolations which fascinate our imagination.

Two or three decades ago, everyone in Europe was talking about Waldsterben, the dying of forests. The topic was on the covers of all popular weeklies, and there were calculations of how in half a century Europe will be without forests. Now there are more forests in Europe than at any point in the 20th century, and we are becoming aware of other dangers – of what happens in the depth of the oceans, for example.

While we should take ecological threats extremely seriously, we should also be fully aware of how uncertain analyses and projections are in this domain – we will know for sure what is going on only when it is too late. Fast extrapolations only hand arguments to climate change deniers. We should avoid at all costs the trap of an “ecology of fear”, a hasty, morbid fascination with looming catastrophe.

This ecology of fear has the hallmarks of a developing, predominant form of ideology in global capitalism, a new opium for the masses replacing the declining religion. It takes over the old religion’s fundamental function, that of installing an unquestionable authority which can impose limits.

The lesson hammered into us is that of our own finitude: we are just one species on our Earth embedded in a biosphere which reaches far beyond our horizon. In our exploitation of natural resources, we are borrowing from the future, so one should treat our Earth with respect, as something ultimately sacred, something that should not be unveiled totally, that should and will forever remain a mystery, a power we should trust, not dominate.

While we cannot gain full mastery over our biosphere, it is, unfortunately, in our power to derail it, to disturb its balance so that it will run amok, swiping us away in the process. This is why, although ecologists are all the time demanding that we make radical changes to our way of life, underlying this demand is its opposite: a deep distrust of change, of development, of progress. Every radical change can have the unintended consequence of catastrophe.

Things get even more difficult here. Even when we profess the readiness to assume responsibility for ecological catastrophes, this can be a tricky stratagem to avoid facing the true scale of the threat. There is something deceptively reassuring in this readiness to assume the guilt for threats to our environment: we like to be guilty since, if we are guilty, then it all depends on us, we pull the strings of the catastrophe, so we can also save ourselves simply by changing our lives.

What is really difficult for us (at least for us in the west) to accept is that we might be reduced to a purely passive role of impotent observers who can only sit and watch our fate. To avoid this, we are prone to engage in frantic activity, we recycle old paper, buy organic food, whatever, just so that we can be sure we are doing something, making our contribution.

We are like a soccer fan who supports his team in front of a TV screen at home, shouting and jumping from his seat, in a superstitious belief that this will somehow influence the outcome.

It is true that the typical form of fetishist disavowal around ecology is: “I know very well (that we are all threatened), but I don’t really believe it (so I am not ready to do anything really important like changing my way of life).”

But there is also the opposite form of disavowal: “I know very well that I cannot really influence the process which can lead to my ruin (like a volcanic outburst), but it is nonetheless too traumatic for me to accept this, so I cannot resist the urge to do something, even if I know it is ultimately meaningless.”

Is it not for that reason we buy organic food? Who really believes that the half-rotten and expensive “organic” apples are really healthier? The point is that, by way of buying them, we do not just buy and consume a product – we simultaneously do something meaningful, show our care and global awareness, we participate in a large collective project.

The predominant ecological ideology treats us as a priori guilty, indebted to Mother Nature, under the constant pressure of the ecological superego agency which addresses us in our individuality: “What did you do today to repay your debt to nature? Did you put all your newspapers into a proper recycling bin? And all the bottles of beer or cans of Coke? Did you use your bike or public transport instead of your car? Did you open the windows wide rather than firing up the air conditioning?”

The ideological stakes of such individualisation are easy to see: I get lost in my own self-examination instead of raising much more pertinent global questions about our entire industrial civilization.

Ecology thus lends itself easily to ideological mystification. It can be a pretext for New Age obscuration (the praising of the pre-modern etc), or for neocolonialism (developed world complaints of the threat of rapid growth in developing countries such as Brazil or China), or as a cause to honour “green capitalists” (buy green and recycle, as if taking into account ecology justifies capitalist exploitation). All of these tensions exploded in our reactions to the recent Amazon fires.

There are five main strategies to distract from the true dimensions of the ecological threat. First there is simple ignorance: it’s a marginal phenomenon, not worthy of our preoccupation, life goes on, nature will take care of itself.

Second, there is the belief that science and technology can save us. Third, that we should leave the solution to the market (with higher taxation of polluters, etc). Fourth, we resort to the superego pressure on personal responsibility instead of large systemic measures (each of us should do what we can – recycle, consume less, etc).

And fifth, perhaps the worst, is the advocating of a return to natural balance, to a more modest, traditional life by means of which we renounce human hubris and become again respectful children of our Mother Nature.

This whole paradigm of Mother Nature derailed by our hubris is wrong. The fact that our main sources of energy (oil, coal) are remnants of past catastrophes which occurred prior to the advent of humanity is a clear reminder that Mother Nature is cold and cruel.

This, of course, in no way means that we should relax and trust our future: the fact that it is not clear what is going on makes the situation even more dangerous. Plus, as it is fast becoming evident, migrations (and walls meant to prevent them) are getting more and more intertwined with ecological disturbances like global warming. The ecological apocalypse and the refugees apocalypse are more and more overlapping in what Philip Alston, a UN special rapporteur, described entirely accurately:

“We risk a ‘climate apartheid’ scenario,” he said, “where the wealthy pay to escape overheating, hunger and conflict while the rest of the world is left to suffer.”

Those least responsible for global emissions also have the least capacity to protect themselves.

So, the Leninist question: what is to be done? We are in a deep mess: there is no simple “democratic” solution here. The idea that people themselves (not just governments and corporations) should decide sounds deep, but it begs an important question: even if their comprehension is not distorted by corporate interests, what qualifies them to pass judgement in such a delicate matter?

What we can do is at least set the priorities straight and admit the absurdity of our geopolitical war games when the very planet for which wars are fought is under threat.

In the Amazon, we see the ridiculous game of Europe blaming Brazil and Brazil blaming Europe. It has to stop. Ecological threats make it clear that the era of sovereign nation states is approaching its end – a strong global agency is needed with the power to coordinate the necessary measures. And does such the need for such an agency point in the direction of what we once called “communism”?

Source: Yes, it is a climate crisis. And your tiny human efforts have never seemed so meagre

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Reading Žižek – Where to Start?

Owen Jones meets Slavoj Žižek | 'Hillary Clinton is the problem, not Donald Trump'

"Slavoj Žižek's new book, Like a Thief in Broad Daylight, examines the rapid changes to the world triggered by big-tech and the dangers and radical possibilities those transformations offer up. I went to meet him to discuss some lighthearted topics like the changing face of capitalism, why the liberal consensus has collapsed, whether we are truly free, if Jeremy Corbyn's Labour project is an example of populism or whether Bernie Sanders could exist without Donald Trump."

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Reading Žižek – Where to Start?

Slavoj Zizek: European leftists are rejecting the Kurds over their reliance on the US. It is just another disgusting betrayal

Must they sacrifice themselves on the altar of anti-imperialist solidarity? While the sovereign states around them are gradually sinking into a new barbarism, Kurds are the only glimmer of hope

Well over a hundred years ago, Karl May wrote a bestseller, Through Wild Kurdistan, about the adventures of a German hero, Kara Ben Nemsi. This immensely popular book established the perception of Kurdistan in central Europe: a place of brutal tribal warfare, naïve honesty and sense of honour, but also superstition, betrayal, and permanent cruel warfare. It was almost a caricature of the barbaric Other in European civilization.

If we look at today’s Kurds, we cannot but be surprised by the contrast to this cliché – in Turkey, where I know the situation relatively well, I have noticed that the Kurdish minority is the most modern and secular part of society, at a distance from every religious fundamentalism, with developed feminism, etc. (Let me just mention a detail that I learned in Istanbul: restaurants owned by Kurds have no tolerance for any sign of superstition…)

The stable genius (Trump’s self-designation) justified his recent betrayal of Kurds (he effectively condoned the Turkish attack on the Kurdish enclave in northern Syria) by noting that “Kurds are no angels”. Of course, since, for him, the only angels in that region are Israel (especially on the West Bank) and Saudi Arabia (especially in Yemen). However, in some senses, the Kurds ARE the only angels in that part of the world.

The fate of the Kurds makes them the exemplary victim of the geopolitical colonial games: spread along the borderline of four neighboring states (Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran), their (more than deserved) full autonomy was in nobody’s interest, and they paid the full price for it.

Do we still remember Saddam’s mass bombing and gas-poisoning of Kurds in the north of Iraq in the late 1980s? More recently, for years, Turkey has played a well-planned military-political game, officially fighting Isis but effectively bombing Kurds who are really fighting Isis.

In the last decades, the ability of the Kurds to organize their communal life was tested in almost ideal experimental conditions: the moment they were given a space to breathe freely outside the conflicts of the states around them, they surprised the world.

After Saddam’s fall the Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq develop into the only safe part of Iraq with well-functioning institutions and even regular flights to Europe. In northern Syria, the Kurdish enclave centered in Rojava was a unique place in today’s geopolitical mess: when Kurds were given a respite from their big neighbors who otherwise threatened them all the time, they quickly built a society that one cannot but designate as an actually-existing and well-functioning utopia.

From my own professional interest, I noticed the thriving intellectual community in Rojava where they repeatedly invited me to give lectures – these plans were brutally interrupted by military tensions in the area.

But what especially saddened me was the reaction of some of my “Leftist” colleagues who were bothered by the fact that Kurds also had to rely on the US military protection.

What should they have done, caught in the tensions between Turkey, Syrian civil war, the Iraqi mess and Iran? Did they have any other choice? Should they sacrifice themselves on the altar of anti-imperialist solidarity?

This “Leftist” critical distance was no less disgusting than the same distance towards Macedonia. A couple of months ago, the discussion was around how to resolve the problem of the name “Macedonia”.

The solution proposed was to change the name to “North Macedonia,” but this was instantly attacked by radicals in both countries. Greek opponents insisted that “Macedonia” is an old Greek name, and Macedonian opponents felt humiliated by being reduced to a “Northern” province since they are the only people who call themselves “Macedonians.”

Imperfect as it was, this solution offered a glimpse of an end to a long and meaningless struggle with a reasonable compromise. But it was caught in another “contradiction”: the struggle between big powers (the US and EU on the one side, Russia on the other).

The West put pressure on both sides to accept the compromise so that Macedonia could quickly join the EU and NATO, while, for exactly the same reason (seeing in it the danger of its loss of influence in the Balkans), Russia opposed it, supporting rabid conservative nationalist forces in both countries.

So which side should we take here? I think we should decidedly take the side of the compromise, for the simple reason that it is the only realist solution to the problem – Russia opposed it simply because of its geopolitical interests, without offering another solution, so supporting Russia here would have meant sacrificing the reasonable solution of the singular problem of Macedonian and Greek relations to international geopolitical interests. (Now that France has vetoed the fast-track inclusion of North Macedonia into the EU, will they be responsible for an unpredictable catastrophe in that part of Balkans?) Will the Kurds be dealt the same blow from our anti-imperialist “Leftists”?

That’s why it is our duty to fully support the resistance of the Kurds to the Turkish invasion, and to rigorously denounce the dirty games Western powers play with them.

While the sovereign states around them are gradually sinking into a new barbarism, Kurds are the only glimmer of hope. And it’s not only about Kurds that this struggle is fought, it’s about ourselves, it’s about what kind of global new order is emerging.

If Kurds will be abandoned, it will be a new order in which there will be no place for the most precious part of the European legacy of emancipation. If Europe turns its eyes away from the Kurds, it will betray itself. The Europe which betrays Kurds will be the true Europastan!

Source: European leftists are rejecting the Kurds over their reliance on the US. It is just another disgusting betrayal

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Reading Žižek – Where to Start?

Slavoj Zizek: Morales proved in Bolivia that democratic socialism can work – but the people cannot be ignored

The country's citizens rose up having been forced into becoming the silent majority, officials in Bolivia are in danger of letting history repeat itself

Although I am for over a decade a staunch supporter of Evo Morales, I must admit that, after reading about the confusion after Morales’ disputed electoral victory, I was beset by doubts: did he also succumb to the authoritarian temptation, as it happened to so many radical Leftists in power? However, after a day or two, things became clear.

Brandishing a giant leather-bound bible and declaring herself Bolivia’s interim president, Jeanine Añez, the second-vice president of the country’s Senate, declared: “The Bible has returned to the government palace.” She added: “We want to be a democratic tool of inclusion and unity” – and the transitional cabinet sworn into office did not include a single indigenous person.

This tells it all: although the majority of the population of Bolivia are indigenous or mixed, they were till the rise of Morales de facto excluded from political life, reduced to the silent majority. What happened with Morales was the political awakening of this silent majority which did not fit in the network of capitalist relations.

They were not yet proletarian in the modern sense, they remained locked into their premodern tribal social identities – here is how Alvaro Garcia Linera, Morales’ vice-president, described their lot: “In Bolivia, food was produced by Indigenous farmers, buildings and houses were built by Indigenous workers, streets were cleaned by Indigenous people, and the elite and the middle classes entrusted the care of their children to them. Yet the traditional left seemed oblivious to this and occupied itself only with workers in large-scale industry, paying no attention to their ethnic identity.”

To understand them, we should bring into picture the entire historical weight of their predicament: they are the survivors of perhaps the greatest holocaust in the history of humanity, the obliteration of the indigenous communities by the Spanish and English colonisation of the Americas.

The religious expression of their premodern status is the unique combination of Catholicism and belief in the Pachamama or Mother Earth figure. This is why, although Morales stated that he is a Catholic, in the current Bolivian Constitution (enacted in 2009) the Roman Catholic church lost its official status – its article 4 states: “The State respects and guarantees the freedom of religion and spiritual beliefs, in accordance to every individual’s world view. The State is independent from religion.”

And it is against this affirmation of indigenous culture that Anez’s display of the bible is directed – the message is clear: an open assertion of white religious supremacism, and a no less open attempt to put the silent majority back to their proper subordinate place. From his Mexican exile, Morales already appealed to Pope to intervene, and the Pope’s reaction will tell us a lot. Will Francis react as a true Christian and unambiguously reject the enforced re-Catholisation of Bolivia as what it is, as a political power-play which betrays the emancipatory core of Christianity?

If we leave aside any possible role of lithium in the coup (Bolivia has big reserves of lithium which is needed for batteries in electric cars and it has featured in a number of theories about what brought down Morales), the big question is: why is for overt a decade Bolivia such a thorn in the flesh of Western liberal establishment? The reason is a very peculiar one: the surprising fact that the political awakening of premodern tribalism in Bolivia did not result in a new version of the Sendero Luminoso or Khmer Rouge horror show. The reign of Morales was not the usual story of the radical Left in power which screws things up, economically and politically, generating poverty and trying to maintain its power through authoritarian measures. A proof of the non-authoritarian character of the Morales reign is that he didn’t purge army and police of his opponents (which is why they turned against him).

Morales and his followers were, of course, not perfect, they made mistakes, there were conflicts of interests in his movement. However, the overall balance is an outstanding one. Morales not Chavez, he did not have not oil money to quell problems, so his government has to engage in a hard and patient work of solving problems in the poorest country in Latin America. The result was nothing short of a miracle: economy thrived, poverty rate fell, healthcare improved, while all the democratic institutions so dear to liberals continued to function. The Morales government maintained a delicate balance between indigenous forms of communal activity and modern politics, fighting simultaneously for tradition and women rights,

To tell the entire story of the coup – and I am in no doubt it is a coup – in Bolivia, we need a new Assange who will bring out the relevant secret documents. What we can see now is that Morales, Linera and their followers were such a thorn in the flesh of the liberal establishment precisely because they succeeded: for over a decade radical Left was in power and Bolivia did not turn into Cuba or Venezuela. Democratic socialism is possible.

Source: Morales proved in Bolivia that democratic socialism can work – but the people cannot be ignored

The Zizek Calendar

Reading Žižek – Where to Start?

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