While I’m posting things, Marxist philosopher Slavoj Zizek recently published a good article about the permanent state of crisis in New Left Review recently. I don’t agree with everything, but there’s lots of good food for thought there. I particularly like this passage, which is worth quoting in its entirety:
In such a constellation, the very idea of a radical social transformation may appear as an impossible dream—yet the term ‘impossible’ should make us stop and think. Today, possible and impossible are distributed in a strange way, both simultaneously exploding into excess. On the one hand, in the domains of personal freedoms and scientific technology, we are told that ‘nothing is impossible’: we can enjoy sex in all its perverse versions, entire archives of music, films and tv series are available to download, space travel is available to everyone (at a price). There is the prospect of enhancing our physical and psychic abilities, of manipulating our basic properties through interventions into the genome; even the tech-gnostic dream of achieving immortality by transforming our identity into software that can be downloaded into one or another set of hardware.
On the other hand, in the domain of socio-economic relations, our era perceives itself as the age of maturity in which humanity has abandoned the old millenarian utopian dreams and accepted the constraints of reality—read: capitalist socio-economic reality—with all its impossibilities. The commandment you cannot is its mot d’ordre: you cannot engage in large collective acts, which necessarily end in totalitarian terror; you cannot cling to the old welfare state, it makes you non-competitive and leads to economic crisis; you cannot isolate yourself from the global market, without falling prey to the spectre of North Korean juche.
Zizek is using the word “perversion” in the Freudian sense I gather, though it is a bit dodgy still so mentally replace “plurality” if you want. He can be a bit of a prat, and there are numerous mindnumbing “controversial” “anti-PC” bits in his books (eg the transphobic comments at the start of Violence).
Still, I like the broader point of the passage- that we live in an age that encourages some forms of individualist self-expression generally (the ubiquitous “make-over,” and Zizek of course minimises the kinds of policing and violence on those), but at the same time, many collective solutions to human suffering are off the table. Which is worth thinking about given that collective solutions to problems like poverty and the environment seem increasingly important given the utter failure of the neoliberalist public-private-partnership ethos that mostly just allows companies to permeate the public sphere in every possible way. There’s a certain strain of thinking that offers the right kind of shopping and consumption as an individualist solution to these problems (that is, shopping at your local farmer’s market rather than at Walmart, becoming a vegan rather than eating meat, buying Fair Trade coffee etc), but Zizek is quite right in pointing out that we need much much more than that, we need collective solutions and collectivist strategies, and we need to remove the idea that “the market” is the ultimate arbiter of what is useful and politically viable, that the only things of value can be measured by profitability.
When we start down that road, we start measuring is it worth it to save this person’s life, or will it discourage investment if we dare put in minimal checks on bankers or environmental protections to prevent catastrophe. And as soon as we do that, we’re already fucked. No, the market will not fix anything itself unless compelled, and neither will governments making reforms by inches when the situation demands miles.