Posts from — October 2010
In a traditional democracy, the liberal class functions as a safety
valve. It makes piecemeal and incremental reform possible. It offers hope for change and proposes gradual steps toward greater equality. It endows the state and the mechanisms of power with virtue. It also serves as an attack dog that discredits radical social movements, making the liberal class a useful component within the power elite.
But the assault by the corporate state on the democratic state has claimed the liberal class as one of its victims. Corporate power forgot that the liberal class, when it functions, gives legitimacy to the power elite. And reducing the liberal class to courtiers or mandarins, who have nothing to offer but empty rhetoric, shuts off this safety valve and forces discontent to find other outlets that often end in violence.
The inability of the liberal class to acknowledge that corporations have wrested power from the hands of citizens, that the Constitution and its guarantees of personal liberty have become irrelevant, and that the phrase consent of the governed is meaningless, has left it speaking and acting in ways that no longer correspond to reality. It has lent its voice to hollow acts of political theater, and the pretense that democratic debate and choice continue to exist.
The liberal class refuses to recognize the obvious because it does not want to lose its comfortable and often well-paid perch. Churches and universities—in elite schools such as Princeton, professors can earn $180,000 a year—enjoy tax-exempt status as long as they refrain from overt political critiques. Labor leaders make lavish salaries and are considered junior partners within corporate capitalism as long as they do not speak in the language of class struggle. Politicians, like generals, are loyal to the demands of the corporate state in power and retire to become millionaires as lobbyists or corporate managers. Artists who use their talents to foster the myths and illusions that
bombard our society live comfortably in the Hollywood Hills.
The media, the church, the university, the Democratic Party, the arts, and labor unions—the pillars of the liberal class—have been bought off with corporate money and promises of scraps tossed to them by the narrow circles of power. Journalists, who prize access to the powerful more than they prize truth, report lies and propaganda to propel us into a war in Iraq. Many of these same journalists assured us it was prudent to entrust our life savings to a financial system run by speculators and thieves. Those life savings were gutted. The media, catering to corporate advertisers and sponsors, at the same time renders invisible
whole sections of the population whose misery, poverty, and grievances should be the principal focus of journalism. …more
October 29, 2010 No Comments
There are many great authors of the past who have survived centuries of oblivion and neglect, but it is still an open question whether they will be able to survive an entertaining version of what they have to say. (Hannah Arendt – The Crisis in Culture)
As likely to talk about Homer’s Springfield as Ithaca, Žižek offers a fascinating new take on Arendt’s open question. Embodying “the Heineken effect”, he refreshes the parts other thinkers cannot reach at a time when increasingly anaemic universities have begun to act as uncritical subsidiaries of their governmental and corporate sponsors.
The motivation to write Žižek and the Media came from a desire to express exactly why he stands out so forcefully from the conventional commentariat as well as wanting to tackle head-on two frequently voiced objections to his work – the obscene humour and his refusal to provide ready-made solutions for the problems he so readily identifies.
Both po-faced distaste and an instrumentally-minded yearning for immediate answers miss two fundamental points – his jokes are philosophically important and, despite the über-pragmatic nature of our times (or perhaps more so now than ever before), the over-riding purpose of philosophy remains the asking of questions rather than the providing of answers – as Heidegger put it: “questioning is the piety of thought”.
In ancient Greece, the philosopher Diogenes (aka ‘the dog’) shocked the Athenian agora with public acts of defecation and masturbation. Although (so far) Žižek has limited himself to only talking about such acts, he can be viewed as a Diogenes for our online times. The following joke is not one that Žižek has used, but it nevertheless vividly encapsulates the paradoxically serious end of his frequently comic means.
In the middle of a vibrant middle-class dinner party, the host’s old flatulent dog staggers into the dining room, flops down, and promptly begins to enthusiastically and noisily lick its scrotum in full view of the now suddenly quiet guests. To ease the unbearable sense of embarrassment that descends upon the party, a male guest says, ‘I wish I could do that.’ This produces a round of cathartic tittering … that becomes heavy laughter when the hostess adds tartly, ‘If you give him a biscuit, you can.’ …more
October 26, 2010 No Comments
by Tom Hayden
Anyone interested in domestic spying on peace and justice activists should study carefully the September 2010 report of the Inspector General of the Department of Justice, blandly titled “A Review of the FBI’s Investigations of Certain Domestic Advocacy Groups.”
The 200-page report, while generally sedating in tone, includes important analyses of spying in 2002 on the Thomas Merton Center in Pittsburg, the 2003 Miami protests against the Free Trade Zone of the Americas [FTAA], Catholic Worker protests at recruitment offices and military bases, Greenpeace civil disobedience, and animal rights protest activities.
The report poses a dramatic question of “whether the FBI has expanded the definition of domestic terrorism to people who engage in mainstream political activity, including nonviolent protest and civil disobedience.”
The technical classification involves any investigation of a criminal act by an individual “who seeks to further political and/or social goals wholly or in part through activities that involve the use of force or violence and violate federal law.”
Any conspiracy to throw rocks, spray paint an armed forces recruitment center, or trespass on a US military base, could classify as a domestic terrorist offence.
Anyone classified as a “domestic terrorist” is placed on a Terrorist Watch List, for example, in the Violent Gang and Terrorist Offender File [VGTOF], a database used by local police in the course of traffic stops.
The report also notes critically the expanding definitions that automatically trigger pre-emptive action by the FBI against local protests. The FBI’s Manual of Investigative Operations & Guidelines [MIOG, part 1, 300-1 defines such a “special event” as one “which, by virtue of its profile and/or status, represents an attractive target for terrorist attack.” Under this rationale, the FBI can open files on individuals “associated with groups known to have previously protested at similar events.”
The FBI mentality seems to have changed little since the Manichean days of Cold War anti-communism. For example, one FBI email, entitled “To report results of Pittsburg anti-war activity,” which was illegal on the face of it, went on to describe the Thomas Merton Center as “a left-wing organization advocating, among many political causes, pacificism [sic].” For the FBI Pittsburg office, this was suspicious stuff. …more
October 21, 2010 No Comments
By SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK
During this year’s protests against the Eurozone’s austerity measures—in Greece and, on a smaller scale, Ireland, Italy and Spain—two stories have imposed themselves. The predominant, establishment story proposes a de-politicized naturalization of the crisis: the regulatory measures are presented not as decisions grounded in political choices, but as the imperatives of a neutral financial logic—if we want our economies to stabilize, we simply have to swallow the bitter pill. The other story, that of the protesting workers, students and pensioners, would see the austerity measures as yet another attempt by international financial capital to dismantle the last remainders of the welfare state. The imf thus appears from one perspective as a neutral agent of discipline and order, and from the other as the oppressive agent of global capital.
There is a moment of truth in both perspectives. One cannot miss the superego dimension in the way the imf treats its client states—while scolding and punishing them for unpaid debts, it simultaneously offers them new loans, which everyone knows they will not be able to return, thus drawing them deeper into the vicious cycle of debt generating more debt. On the other hand, the reason this superego strategy works is that the borrowing state, fully aware that it will never really have to repay the full amount of the debt, hopes to profit from it in the last instance.
Yet while each story contains a grain of truth, both are fundamentally false. The European establishment’s story obfuscates the fact that the huge deficits have been run up as a result of massive financial sector bail-outs, as well as by falling government revenues during the recession; the big loan to Athens will be used to repay Greek debt to the great French and German banks. The true aim of the eu guarantees is to help private banks since, if any of the Eurozone states goes bankrupt, they will be heavily hit. On the other hand, the protesters’ story bears witness yet again to the misery of today’s left: there is no positive programmatic content to its demands, just a generalized refusal to compromise the existing welfare state. The utopia here is not a radical change of the system, but the idea that one can maintain a welfare state within the system. Here, again, one should not miss the grain of truth in the countervailing argument: if we remain within the confines of the global capitalist system, then measures to wring further sums from workers, students and pensioners are, effectively, necessary.
One often hears that the true message of the Eurozone crisis is that not only the Euro, but the project of the united Europe itself is dead. But before endorsing this general statement, one should add a Leninist twist to it: Europe is dead—ok, but which Europe? The answer is: the post-political Europe of accommodation to the world market, the Europe which was repeatedly rejected at referendums, the Brussels technocratic-expert Europe. The Europe that presents itself as standing for cold European reason against Greek passion and corruption, for mathematics against pathetics. But, utopian as it may appear, the space is still open for another Europe: a re-politicized Europe, founded on a shared emancipatory project; the Europe that gave birth to ancient Greek democracy, to the French and October Revolutions. This is why one should avoid the temptation to react to the ongoing financial crisis with a retreat to fully sovereign nation-states, easy prey for free-floating international capital, which can play one state against the other. More than ever, the reply to every crisis should be more internationalist and universalist than the universality of global capital. …more
October 17, 2010 No Comments