Ideas at the House: Slavoj Žižek – Demand the Impossible: Communism, Festival of Dangerous Ideas

(APPLAUSE, CHEERING) Thank you very much.
I am proud to be here. So let me begin with my
favourite Catholic theologist, Gilbert Keith Chesterton, who ironically proposed
to install a special corps of policemen, policemen who are also
philosophers. This is quote from Chesterton’s
‘The Man Who Was Thursday’, quote, “The work of
the philosophical policemen “is at once bolder
and more subtle “than that of
the ordinary detective. “The ordinary detective goes
to pot houses to arrest thieves. “We go to artistic tea parties
to detect pessimists. “The ordinary detective “discovers from a diary
that a crime has been committed. “We discover from
a book of sonnets “that a crime will be committed. “We have to trace the origin
of those dreadful thoughts “that drive men on at last “to intellectual fanaticism
and intellectual crime,” end of quote. Now, this idea
may appear ridiculous, but would thinkers as different
as Karl Popper, Theodor Adorno
or Emmanuel Levinas, would they also not subscribe to
a slightly changed version of this idea, where actual political crime
is called totalitarianism and the philosophical crime
is condensed in the notion of totality. According to this line
of thought, a straight road leads from the
philosophical notion of totality to political totalitarianism. And the task of
philosophical police is to discover from a book of
Plato’s dialogues or from a treatise on
social contract by Rousseau that a political crime –
Gulag, whatever – will be committed. The ordinary political policeman
goes to secret organisations to arrest potential terrorists. The philosophical policeman goes to philosophical symposia
on dangerous ideas and so on to detect proponents of
totality. The ordinary
anti-terrorist policeman tries to detect
those preparing to blow up buildings and bridges. The philosophical policeman tries to detect
those about to deconstruct the religious and moral
foundations of our society. These analogies nonetheless,
I think, demonstrates the limitations
of Chesterton. What we critical philosophers… ..try…try to do is not destruct…
sorry, destroy or whatever the ruling ideas but to demonstrate how these ideas, once they’re allowed
to realise themselves, negate themselves, or if you want,
destruct themselves. There is an elementary
philosophical gesture. It’s a gesture from noticing
the distortion of a notion – how I had a wonderful idea, but unfortunately, in reality, this idea was wrongly applied
and led to a catastrophe to a distortion constitutive
of this notion. The basic philosophical gesture is that you cannot simply
stick to idea and claim it just went wrong
in reality. There must have been a flaw,
something wrong, in the idea itself. This is, at its most elementary, what Hegel calls
the negation of negation. There is the external negation. For example, to take
a well-known communist example, precisely,
the external negation theft – a thief takes away
your property. And then there is
the imminent negation where, to quote the well-known
phrase by Proudhon, you discover how property itself already has a dimension of theft
in it. This passage from
the distortion of a notion to a distortion constitutive
of this notion is the basic feature of
the Hegelian notion of totality. This is why I think this notion
is extremely useful today. Totality is not an ideal,
organic whole, but a critical notion. To locate a phenomenon
in its totality does not mean to see
the hidden harmony of the whole but to include into a system all its distortions,
antagonisms, inconsistencies to see these distortions
as integral parts of the system. For example, what does it mean to see today’s capitalism
as a totality? If you want to talk about
global capitalism, you shouldn’t just say, “OK, we
have highly developed countries “like United States,
Scandinavia and so on. “And then countries
which didn’t yet catch up “with this liberal
democratic ideal.” On the contrary, you have to include into
capitalist totality, for example,
a country like Congo – a country in disarray, with thousands of drugged
children, child-warriors, but a country which
is precisely as such fully integrated
into a global system. So what is our totality today? In so far as totality
is a whole inclusive of its
imminent distortions, the first axiom of analogies which locates a phenomenon
into each totality should be
a differential approach. When you look at a phenomenon, you should include into it
not only what you see, what is present in it, but also its negative
determinations. What do I mean by this? Recall the famous line
of dialogue between Scotland Yard’s
Detective Gregory and Sherlock Holmes from ‘Silver Blaze’, the story, about the famous
“curious incident “of the dog in the night-time.” Gregory asks Sherlock Holmes, “Is there any other point “to which you would wish
to draw my attention?” Sherlock Holmes answers, “To the curious incident of
the dog in the night-time.” “But the dog did nothing
in the night-time.” Sherlock Holmes’s famous reply,
“That was the curious incident.” How does this work in practice? There is a wonderful joke in Ernst Lubitsch’s
classical comedy, ‘Ninotchka’. The hero visits a cafeteria
and orders coffee without cream. The waiter replies, “Sorry,
but we have run out of cream. “We only have milk. “So can I bring you coffee
without milk?” (LAUGHTER) We have to ask here
a simple question. Why do we add to coffee
milk or cream? Because there is obviously
something missing in coffee alone and we try to fill in this void. What this means,
among other things, is that there is no full
self-identical plain coffee. Every single last coffee
is already a coffee without. The structure is still the same
as that of Kinder Surprise. Empty eggshells
made of chocolate and wrapped up in
lively coloured paper. After you unwrap the egg and
crack the chocolate shell open, you’ll find in it
a small plastic toy. Is this toy not what Jacques
Lacan called l’objet petit a, the object small ‘a’? The small object filling in
the central void of our desire, the hidden treasure. No wonder Kinder Surprise was,
at least five years ago, prohibited to sell
in the United States. I think because, like,
it renders too palpable the structure of a commodity. Now I want to mention
another incident with coffee from popular cinema, this time from
the English working-class drama, or half-drama, half-comedy, ‘Brassed Off’,
with Ewan McGregor when he was still
a working-class hero before he became Jedi and so on. The hero accompanies home
a young, pretty woman who, at the entrance
to her flat, tells him, “Would you like to come in
for a coffee?” His answer, “I would love to,
but there is a problem. “I don’t drink coffee.” Her answer, “No problem.
I don’t have any.” The immense erotic power
of her reply resides in how,
through a double negation, she pronounces an embarrassingly
direct sexual invitation without ever mentioning sex. When she first invites the guy
in for a coffee and then admits
she has no coffee, she does not cancel
her invitation. She just makes it clear that
the first invitation for coffee was a pretext indifferent
in itself for the invitation to sex. Why lose time with
such dialectical jokes? Because, I claim, they allow us
to grasp at its purest how ideology functions in our allegedly
post-ideological times. To detect so-called
ideological distortions, one should note not only
what is said but the complex interplay between what is said
and what is not said. What is unsaid is implied
in what is said. Do we get coffee without cream,
or coffee without milk? There is a political equivalent
of these lines. In the well-known joke from
my youth, from socialist Poland, a customer enters a store
and asks, “You probably don’t have butter,
or do you?” The answer, “Sorry, but we are the store
which doesn’t have toilet paper. “The one across the street “is the one which doesn’t
have butter.” And what about a scene
in today’s Brazil where, in the Carnival, people from all classes
dance together on the street, momentarily obliterating their
race and class differences. It is obviously not the same
if a jobless worker… ..delivers himself
to free dance, forgetting his worries about
how to take care of his family. Or a rich farmer
lets himself go and feels good about being
one with the people, forgetting that perhaps
he refused a loan to the poor worker. They are both the same
on the street. But the worker is dancing
without milk while the banker is dancing
without cream. One can also imagine
a ‘Brassed Off’ dialogue between the United States
and Europe, for example, in late 2002, when the invasion of Iraq
was being prepared. The US – Rumsfeld –
was basically saying to Europe, “Would you care to join us
in the attack on Iraq “to find weapons of
mass destruction?” Europe replied, “But without…
if it’s worth doing it, “we have no facilities “to search for the weapons
of mass destruction.” And Rumsfeld’s sexual answer
was, “No problem. “There are no weapons of
mass destruction in Iraq. No.” Now, it’s not only jokes. Let me go a little bit more
in detail how ideology functions here. Through my last example
from cinema, one of the great classics
of Hollywood left, John Carpenter’s ‘They Live’,
from 1988. It’s the story of John Nada –
Spanish for ‘nothing’ – a homeless worker in L.A. who enters a neglected…
an abandoned church, finds there a box
with strange sunglasses and when he puts
these sunglasses on, he discovers something strange. These are literally
critique of ideology sunglasses. Like, you put them on
and you see the real message, as it were. For example, he walks along
a big publicity board claiming something like
“Go to Hawaii,” “Have a holiday
of your lifetime,” “Enjoy life” there. And then when he puts
the glasses on, he sees the true message – “Obey, marry and reproduce,”
“Don’t think,” and so on. Whatever. Now, this may appear naive, but I think that this gap between what is said
and what is implied is crucial about
how ideology works. The first thing to note here is that the constellation
that we get in Carpenter’s film is the reversal of the classical
ideological constellation. I’m the classical
constellation… ..what you see directly
without glasses, as it were, is precisely the direct order. And what you see
between the lines, what you see if you put
ideological glasses on, is the implicit pleasure, the obscene bribe, as it were, that ideology offers you…
in order to take hold of you. For example, let’s imagine American South,
a classical example, in the 1920s – small city with Ku Klux Klan
and so on. The official message,
“We are a Christian nation,” “Go to church,” and so on, you put the glasses on
and you see. So, “If you are one of us, “then in the evening, we can go
and kill some blacks, “rape some black women,”
or whatever, promising you, as it were,
the implicit Carnival. Or even…
Sorry for the obscenity. I have great respect for
Christianity, but nonetheless… Imagine today a poster
or whatever for Catholic priests – “Serve God,”
“Dedicate your life to God.” You put the glasses on and maybe you would have seen
something like, “And you can have
all the small boys you want,” and so on –
with paedophilia and so on. Now, this is an absolutely… I cannot emphasise
how important this is – crucial mechanism – this dimension of the unsaid. Which is why, if I may briefly
refer to a classical example, which I developed much more
in detail in my books, which is why I think a movie
like ‘The Sound of Music’ was such a mega success. I think the key theme of
the film is, you remember, like, half into the film when
Julie Andrews, Sister Maria, goes to Mother Superior
and tells her about her problem, which is she escaped
the family Von Trapp because she was not able
to endure the situation of being
passionately in love with Baron Von Trapp. But now she still feels
desire for him, so she needs punishment,
whatever. And you have to remember what the answer of
Mother Superior is. I think it’s the most obscene
moment in Hollywood, for me. “You expect punishment.
How dare you think about sex? “Pray, humiliate, torture.” No, Mother Superior
starts to sing a song called ‘Climb Every Mountain’. And the basic message
of this song is literally something like, “Go back.
Screw the guy like crazy.” Something like that. And, you know, if you look at
intelligent Catholic propaganda, this is their message. It’s…the official message is
“Renounce! Renounce!” But then the message
between the lines is “Pretend to renounce
and you can get all the… “..all the dirty stuff you want,
and so on.” So, again, it’s crucial to
bear in mind these two levels. You find them everywhere. Now, it’s easy to make fun of
the more conservatives, but what about
our politically correct times? Another of mine – sorry if you
know it – classical examples, Starbucks. I noticed it.
You have them here. Starbucks, it’s, for me,
ideology at its purest. Why? You enter it and you know. Usually, they have posters
saying something like, “Yes, our coffee is cheaper than
the others, but…” And then comes, “Yeah, 1% goes to some stupid
Guatemala children,” “1% goes to rainforests,” and so on and so on,
“to save the…” I found this an ingenious
ideological operation. Why? Because, you know, in the good old dirty capitalist
consumerist times, which I absolutely prefer, you were a consumerist
and you felt bad for that. So then you had to do
something against it – charity, solidarity
with the poor, and so on. But Starbucks had
an ingenious idea to include this prize for
the scene of consumerism into the price of
the commodity itself. So it’s a little bit
more expensive, but you should not feel bad because, you know,
the price toward duty, towards the poor, ecology,
and so on and so on, is included into it. This, I claim, is how in our
charities, humanitarian times, ideology is more and more
working. Just think about buying
organic fruit. Uh, think about all those
half-rotten apples who cost twice
the normal, beautiful, genetically modified apples. Maybe they’re better. But I don’t think we… I mean, ‘better’ at the level of
pure material quality. But I’m not so sure
that we really believe in it or that we buy it
for that reason. Isn’t it more that you buy
organically grown apples because, to put it simply,
it makes you feel good? “My God! Look. I’m doing
something for Mother Earth. “I’m part of a great movement
to save Mother Earth,” and so on and so on –
all that stuff. This is what you would have seen if you were to put the
ideological critical glasses on. It’s the same with all these ads
that…you find them all around. For example, when you
have a picture of a child, distorted black child, and then a message like, “For a price of a couple
of cups of cappuccino, “you can make a change. “You can save this child’s
life,” or whatever. What would you have seen if you were to put these
ideological critical glasses on? Something like… “I know you feel bad.
You’re ruining nature. “We are exploiting
the Third World. “But we allow you, “for the price of a couple
of cups of cappuccino, “not only the right
to forget about all this “but even to feel better, like
you are doing something for it,” and so on and so on. This, I think,
is our daily ideology. So I think ecology
is extremely serious thing. I’m just saying
we should be very careful about how ideology is part of our, like,
everyday life, even in ecology. Of how… For example,
this is why I don’t trust all this stuff about…
about recycling and so on and so on. I claim that nobody really
believes that recycling helps. My God, much more radical
changes will have to be done. But it makes us feel good,
you know? “Oh, no, I separate. “I didn’t put the bottle of Coke
in the same box “as that piece of newspaper. “It makes me feel good.” It’s pure, feel-good ideology. We are… Ideology is one of the most
important, in this sense, commodities today. So what’s the result of this successful
ideological operation? Well, we’ve seen the result
recently in United Kingdom with these riots. I think that the sociologist
Zygmunt Bauman was on the right track
when he characterised the riots as acts of “defective
and disqualified” consumerism. You know, it was fashionable
to say that in 1990,
in the Fukuyama style, the era of ideology was over. Now we live in
a post-ideological era. I say yes, so what we have seen in London and other British
cities, in their suburbs, was precisely a kind of
post-ideological protest – protest which is not articulated in the form of even religious
fundamentalist project, but is simple, pure protest which just imitates
the ruling ideology. Like, we are bombarded by
the social injunction of “Be a good consumerist. “We cannot do it.
We don’t give money. “So we will enact it directly.” This, I think, is where things
are getting complicated today. I’m sorry I don’t have time
to go more in detail, for example, into what is happening
with anti-Semitism today. Here, I am…my position
is here paradoxical. I’m pro Palestinian. I’m critical of the politics of
the state of Israel. But – I hope
I can say this openly – precisely out of my great love
for the Jewish people. What do I mean precisely
by this? Did you notice
something terrifying, which is, I think, one of the most depressing signs
of where we are, about that crazy guy
who, crazy as he was, nonetheless wrote texts
which are crucial to understand the predicament
of today’s right? Namely, Anders Breivik, the crazy guy who did
the shooting in Oslo. You know why
he’s so interesting? If you had the misfortune of
reading his crazy manifesto, you may have noticed
what he did. He is literally an anti-Semitic
pro-Zionist. At the same time,
he’s anti-Semitic openly. For example, he says,
“We in Norway are lucky. “We don’t have too many Jews. “France also.” “England, United States,
they have a problem. “They have too many Jews. “They will have to
do something,” and so on. At the same time,
he is absolutely pro-Zionist, supporting stronger state
of Israel as a defence against
the Muslims. Now, you will say,
“But this is a lunatic case.” No, it’s not. I claim that what he did
is thus the extreme form of something which should worry
every Jew today. It happened some 20 years ago,
I think – maybe I’m wrong – that the…a group of people
who – how to put it? – it’s in their nature
to be anti-Semitic. American Christian conservatives started to support
the state of Israel in its politics
on the West Bank. Now, take Fox News. On the one hand,
they’re absolutely pro-Zionist in this sense. On the other hand… I mean, what, you know
that their top commentator, Glenn Beck, they had to fire him because he was becoming more
and more anti-Semitic openly. So we have this paradox, about which I don’t have time
to enter into it, which is, I think, shocking. This weird pact
between Zionists… THOSE Zionists. I mean, I’m not
against Zionism, as such. ..those Zionists who now are
slowly appropriating West Bank and old-fashioned Euro-American
anti-Semites. The idea is if you allow us
to do what we want there, we’ll allow you your implicit
anti-Semitism, whatever, in your countries. I mean, what unites them
is precisely this perception that the danger is
the immigrant ardour and so on and so on. Here also, I think, the left
should change its position. You know, it’s very fashionable to be this self-torturing,
guilty guy like when you have
conservative defenders of Judaeo-Christian
European civilisation to say, “Oh, no, we are guilty. “Imperialism.
Killing the natives. “All horror stems for us.” No, I claim that, my God, yes, European civilisation
is in danger today. But its true enemies,
for example, in Europe are not poor Turkish
or Arab immigrants. It’s these defenders
of Europe themselves, anti-immigrant racists, who are the true danger
to European identity. I think the left should reinvent
progressive radical. I wouldn’t say Eurocentrism. But, my God, Eurocentrism means
democracy, egalitarian spirit, human rights, French Revolution
and so on and so on. The great distinct…
even around the globe happened as
an eco-French revolution. Remember Haiti revolution – the first black
successful revolution. It was a direct repetition of
French Revolution and so on. And here, Europe is in danger,
but from its defenders. For example, I’m desperate now. In Europe, in post-communist
countries of Eastern Europe, you know, things are tricky
with gay – homosexual – parades. Pride day and so on. If you organise one
in Eastern Europe, it will be probably be
prohibited or brutally attacked by Christian
counter-demonstrators. Like, in the Croat city
of Split, a weird thing happened
a couple of months ago. There was a gay parade,
but it looked like this – some 800 gays protected by
2,000 policemen from the rage of 8,000 people
around them, attacking them. I read today in the newspaper
that in… I think it was even
in Czech Republic or where that gay parade was prohibited, claiming that it would arouse
public opinion and so on and so on. While, whatever you say,
for example, about Turkey, at least there was
a couple of months ago there a big gay parade,
tens of thousands of people without any
counter-demonstrations and so on and so on. So again, the situation here is getting extremely complex but we don’t have time
to go into it. Just let me go to
the final part. What is effectively
happening here? Where do we stand
with global capitalism? I tend to agree with the idea proposed but my good friend…
by my good friend American Marxist
Fredric Jameson that one should re-read ‘The Capital’ by Marx, focusing on the notion of
unemployment. Unemployment
is structurally inseparable from the dynamic of accumulation
and expunction which constitutes the very core
of capitalism. And the idea is
the following one, that today, more and more, with this incessant technological renewal,
revolution, and so on, unemployment is becoming
a key feature. Today’s world marker is a space in which everyone has
once been a productive labourer and labour has everywhere begun to price itself out
of the system. We have even whole nations, massive populations
around the world, who are, as it were,
dropped out of history, who are excluded from
the modernising projects. We have so-called failed states,
rogue states – Congo, Somalia – victims of famine,
ecological disasters, states caught in pseudo
archaic ethnic hatred, objects of philanthropy
and NGOs or of the war on terror. The category of the unemployed
should thus be expanded to encompass a wide span
of population, from the temporary unemployed
through no-longer-employable and permanently unemployed up to people living in slums
and other types of ghettos. And finally, the whole areas… ..populations of states excluded from global
capitalist systems. So this is, I think, one fact
which is absolutely crucial to grasp today’s
global capitalism – that it is with its expansion producing more and more
inherent exclusions. The whole areas left out there,
as it were, out of history. And don’t be naive here. It’s not that some primitive
countries are left out. They are literally primitivised. Like, my great example,
let’s think about Afghanistan. If there is a country which appears crazy,
fundamentalist country, it’s Afghanistan. Wait a minute – unfortunately
I’m old enough to remember, when I was young,
before even the Soviet invasion and before the Communists
took power there, Afghanistan was maybe
the most tolerant, Near East,
predominantly Muslim country with a progressive technocratic,
pro-Western king, with a very strong
local Communist Party, absolutely not… ..and with a great tradition
of multi-religious tolerance. How did Afghanistan
become fundamentalist? Well, first the Communist Party
did a coup d’etat, then there was
the countermovement, and so on and so on, so it’s precisely through
globalisation that Afghanistan,
tolerant country, became – how to put it? –
fundamentalised. The second thing
we should bear in mind… (COUGHS) that this new structural
unemployment should be conceived, I think, as a forum of exploitation. Exploited are not only workers producing surplus value
appropriated by the capital. Exploited are also those who are
structurally prevented from getting employment, all those…all those excluded. Which is why…
I find this very interesting – did you notice how the only
original leftist idea… ..of the last decades economic idea is the idea of
basic citizen’s income, which is basically
a form of rent. The idea is to save capitalism by enabling precisely
those unemployed to get some basic rent and to survive but also
to still function as consumers. Why is this so interesting? Because, I claim, we should here think
further than Marx in the sense that today we are somehow returning
from profit to rent. Think about Bill Gates. How did he become – he no longer is, I know,
that Mexican guy is now – the richest man in the world? I don’t think he was ultra
exploiting his workers or what. I think it is rent. Something is going on today masked as technological
innovation, computer clouds and so on, which is that,
you know, Marx, at his best, but at the same time
at his worst, thought in a very naive way that the moment
the main source of wealth is no longer physical work, but knowledge –
shared knowledge, social knowledge,
productive knowledge, whatever, Marx called this, in English,
general intellect – that the moment this happens, capitalism can
no longer function. It will, as it were,
disintegrate. What Marx was not able to see is the idea of
this general intellect, the shared collective field
of knowledge itself being privatised. And those who succeed in
privatising it get rent, not profit. It’s a return to rent. That’s what Bill Gates did. Why is he so rich? Because in order for me
to communicate with you, to be in touch, I have the very field
shared by all of us is partially privatised by
Bill Gates. It’s not that
he’s earning a profit. We are all paying him a rent in order…precisely,
in order to communicate with each other. Now to conclude. So my idea is here
the following one. Why communism? I’m not crazy.
I’m well aware. I’ve written quite a lot
about it, about how the 20th-century
communist dream miserably failed, ending in an economic,
ethical, political, ecological, and so on,
catastrophe. So why still use
the name ‘communism’? My answer is the following one. It’s explained much more
in detail in my books. I claim that the only true question today
is – Fukuyama or not? It’s easy to make fun of
Francis Fukuyama, that crazy guy who thought
history is at its end. But aren’t we all,
or most of us, silently Fukuyamaists? Even so-called radicals, they think more gay rights,
better ecology, blah-blah, but nobody questions the basic liberal democratic
capitalist framework. So the only true question
for me is the problems
we are confronting today, can they be solved
within this frame or not? And I think, and this is even
a sad, pessimist thought, that in the long-term, no. I claim that, if you take
the crucial problems we are confronting today –
ecology… OK, you can do many things
with market, I agree, if you tax products which pollute the environment
and so on. But when you have
serious disturbances – like Fukushima and so on,
nuclear plants or whatever, the melting of the ice – you cannot leave these
to market. You need some kind of large, globally coordinated
social activity. Intellectual property – I think it’s clear that it’s
maybe one of the main sources of all the financial market
convulsions now and so on. I don’t think capitalism will be able to,
in the long-term, to control or to even cope with the problem of
intellectual property, which is why, I think, the greatest revenge of
ex-communists is that…well, what? I read recently a commentary
from a Singapore economist who said, 40 years ago, “Deng Xiaoping thought only
capitalism can save China.” Now the West thinks only China
can save capitalism. That is to say… Did you notice how the most efficient
capitalist countries today are the countries where
either Communist Party or another
authoritarian movement is at its power, and that’s what should worry us. Namely, that till now, we had the idea which was
more or less even true, the idea of a kind of
eternal marriage between capitalism
and democracy. You may have 10, 20 years
of dictatorship, but sooner or later, when capitalism
becomes more productive, you have a demand for democracy. But now, I think, unfortunately, maybe this time is over. Capitalism will,
following its inner necessity, will have to not maybe directly
get rid of democracy but change it into
an empty form. Then biogenetics… My God, Fukuyama himself once, when I met him,
admitted this to me recently that the fact of biogenetics, the fact of the possibility
to directly influence our psyche, and so on, features makes his idea of
the end of history obsolete. Not to mention the new forms
of apartheid and so on and so on. Let me be very clear here. I am not saying, “Oh, back to
Lenin’s communism,” and so on. That is over. The 20th century is over. I have no nostalgic dreams here. What I’m saying is maybe even
something much more pessimistic. What I’m saying is that,
unfortunately, the problems are here. The problems which we face today are precisely, at their most
fundamental level, the problems of the commons, the commons of nature, which cannot be, I claim, the way we deal with nature resolved through
market mechanisms. It needs a kind of
a globally coordinated activity beyond nation state,
beyond the market. Intellectual property the same. Biogenetics the same. And especially,
new forms of apartheid, new divisions, new walls. It’s the irony that
global capitalism where commodities
circulate freely is characterised by
new walls everywhere. I claim that, more and more, capitalism will not be able
to sustain what Marxists dismissively call
formal freedom. We are all, at least in our
ideological political life, acknowledged as free individuals with human rights
and so on and so on. More and more, it’s clear that
something has to be excluded. Now you will say, “OK, but where are here
concrete possibilities? “How to do it?” Well, my answer here is that
I’m not an old-style Marxist who claims, you know,
there is a historical necessity, the train of history
is on our side. No, it’s not. There is no guarantee
that something will happen. Nonetheless… If you’ll allow me
just briefly to conclude with… Nonetheless, when I hear
the word ‘impossible’, ‘it’s not possible’, I get sceptical. What do I mean by this? Did you notice how,
in what a strange way, this opposition between what is
possible and what is impossible functions in our societies? On the one hand, especially in the domain of
private pleasure, sexuality and technology, more and more things
are becoming possible. They’re telling us
maybe we will become immortal, we will be able biogenetically,
through cloning, to grow organs to replace them,
whatever, all these dreams. Or even in sexuality, the
tasteless example that I like, I recently meet in New York
a surgeon whose specialty is to cut
the penis into two. So you have two penises. You can
do it with two women, whatever. Everything is possible here.
So this is possible. You can be immortal, we will be
able to travel to Mars soon, and so on. But to raise taxes for 1%
to get better health care, ah, that’s impossible. This is our reality. There you have an absolute…
an absolute impossibility. And things are here
very strange. This is the triumph
of ideology today. Recently, in mid-April 2011,
media reported – and I checked it up
with my Chinese friends, they told me it’s true – the Chinese Government
has prohibited showing on TV, in theatres,
but also in novels and comics stories which deal with time
travel and alternate history. The official argument is that
such stories introduce frivolity into serious historical matters. Of course,
we know what it is about. Even a fictional escape
into alternate reality is considered too dangerous. But I think this is a good sign
for the Chinese people. Like, those in power, at least
still see this as a danger. We in the West, we don’t need
such a prohibition. We automatically assume
that it’s not possible. So communism today, for me,
is not the name of a solution. It’s the name of a problem. The problem of commons
in all its dimensions, the commons of nature
is the substance of our life, the problems of
our biogenetic commons, the problems of
cultural commons, intellectual property, and the problem of commons as the universal space
of humanity from which whole groups
of people are more and more excluded. Whatever the solution – and it will certainly not be
the 20th-century communism – it will have to solve
this problem, because, to conclude by
quoting myself from the way you quoted me, I think that when people say,
“You are a utopian,” well, I’m saying,
“No, the only utopia today “is the idea that, with
small changes here and there, “things can go on
the way they do.” I think that we witness today an incredible amount of… ..refusal – how to put it? – refusal to believe. For example, take just ecology. On the one hand, we refuse to take the
ideological crisis seriously. Sorry, the ecological crisis
seriously. “No, they’re exaggerating,”
and so on and so on. But what is so interesting
is that, at the same time, there is a lot of
magical thinking going on in the way we deal with ecology. What do I mean by
‘magical thinking’? You know that wonderful,
everyday example of magical thinking, when you sit at home
in front of the TV and you watch
a sport competition, you support your team? And even if you’re alone at home
or with a couple of friends, you shout support as if in some magical way you can nonetheless influence
the outcome. Well, I claim that a lot of this everyday, low-level,
personal ecology – this buying organic fruit,
recycling – is pretty close to this sitting
at home and shouting and so on. I mean, uh,
here comes the duty of us so-called
public intellectuals today. I don’t think… And those who
think they can do are bluffing. I don’t think
we can offer solutions. I mean, when people ask me
what to do with ecology, my God, what do I know? I don’t have answers. What we can do is to see how, when we are confronting
a problem, the very way
we formulate a problem is part of the problem. It’s a great art. As important as the art of
finding answers to problems is the art of
formulating problems in the right way. Here is ideology at its purest. Just to conclude
my standard example – of course, I am, as all of you, against sexism,
racism and so on. But I’m deeply suspicious of – and this is what we are
usually doing today – of automatically translating
these problems into problems of tolerance. Make a simple test. Google ‘Martin Luther King’,
his texts, and look for ‘tolerance’. It would have been ridiculous
for Martin Luther King to say, “I want from white
people more tolerance,” and so on. Or for a feminist to say, “We want to be more tolerated –
women – by men.” It’s humiliating, ridiculous. So why do we today
automatically accept or automatically translate problems of racism,
sexism and so on into problems of tolerance? I claim it’s one way of
depoliticising the situation. The problem which is basically economic, legal, and so on,
problem all of a sudden becomes
a cultural problem. “Are we ready
to tolerate others?” And then you can even squeeze into it all the
pseudo-psychoanalytic stuff. Like, “Why do I hate the other? “Is it that by hating the other,
I hate something deep in me? “So I should…the solution is
then to deeply analyse myself,” and so on, whatever. So or another,
even more direct, ideology, when in developed countries,
we talk about tolerance, do we not often mean the exact
opposite – intolerance? What do I mean by this? When we mean ‘tolerance’, we mean…there should
not be harassment. ‘Harassment’ is, for me,
a very ambiguous term. Of course I’m opposed to it when we are dealing with rape
or whatever, sexual harassment. But be careful when you hear
the word ‘harassment’. Often, it means
something very precise which is much more problematic. The aversion towards
the proximity of the other as an actual desiring being. ‘Harassment’ means
‘don’t come too close to me’, the other. Harassment means… The fight against harassment often means ‘stay at
the proper distance’. “Your over-proximity
bothers me.” And it is here
that racism functions today. A common liberal
will always say, “I like blacks, Chinese,
but I don’t like…” And then comes that element of
over-prox… “But I don’t like
the way they smell. “I don’t like their music. “I don’t like, again, the taste
of their food,” whatever. The problem is this…
The problem is over-proxim… So basically, quite often, ‘tolerance’ means ‘I don’t
tolerate your over-proximity’. ‘Tolerance’ means
‘Don’t come too close to me.’ And this is how,
in our narcissistic times, ideology functions at the level
of everyday life. And just to conclude with
a totally crazy story, I claim that this is good news if you are an old romantic
like me, who still believes in love
and passionate sex, not this kind of a healthy sex,
you know. I’m even suspicious of condoms. Like, I deeply sympathise with
the black guy from South Africa who I asked once,
“But why don’t you use condoms?” He says… I know it’s wrong
from political correctness, but I love the black guy’s
answer. He said, “Well, making love
with a condom “is the same as taking shower
with a raincoat on, you know? -“There is…”
-(LAUGHTER) No, but seriously, like… Seriously, you will not think
that I’m dreaming. Did you notice something strange in the latest
Hollywood products? The last James Bond,
‘Quantum of Solace’, did you notice that… Although politically,
it’s very progressive – basically James Bond saves
the Morales regime in Bolivia against some bad
international company. But did you notice it is
the first James Bond film where, at the end,
there is no sex between Bond
and Bond girl? Let’s go further
and the lowest possible level. Dan Brown – did you notice,
‘Da Vinci Code’, no sex? And this is why, I think,
it’s the same logic as…as…as that, uh, uh, as… How is it called? The TV series with
the two agents fighting the…? -(WOMAN CALLS OUT INDISTINCTLY)
-Yes, ‘X-Files’, yes. (LAUGHTER) I mean, my friend Darian Leader drew attention to
a simple thing. Why do all those things happen
“out there”? Aliens intruding all the time? To mask up the fact
that nothing happens here between the two of them. And it’s exactly the same
in Dan Brown’s ‘Da Vinci Code’. Poor Jesus Christ
has to make love to cover up the fact
that here there is no love between Robert Langdon and the grand-grand-
granddaughter of Jesus Christ. Then in the last novel, one of the worst novels
of all time, ‘Lost Symbol’, there is absolutely
no sex, no tension, even a step further. Did you notice how in…
how in… ..with ‘Angels & Demons’,
it’s even more mysterious. There is sex in the novel
at the end between Robert Langdon
and that Italian scientist. There is no sex in the film. Where are we coming? In the good old days, we said Hollywood added sex
to make it more commercial. Now Hollywood is deleting sex. What is going on here? I think something very sad
is going here. My friend Alain Badiou
noticed a strange thing. He read a French ad
for marital agencies where they said… It’s the same…it works
in French as in English – tomber l’amour,
‘to fall in love’. It said, “We will enable you
to be in love without the fall. “Without falling.” The idea is a very sad one. The idea, as you know, ‘falling
in love’ means precisely ‘fall’. You expose yourself
to an open danger. And now, I think,
it’s a very sad sign of our narcissistic,
predominant form of subjectivity that we want to have the result,
be in love, but without risking the fall. Which is why something
is really going on and agencies themselves
are mentioning it, how we are, in a way,
potentially, returning to so-called
old, primitive strategies of…of arranged marriages. Only today, it’s not relatives.
It’s agencies who are doing… Like, the idea is,
who has time for slow flirting? Who can risk opening yourself
to the other? You tell all your desires,
blah-blah-blah, needs, to an agency. They will do it for you and you will be just informed
with whom to fall in love and so on and so on. This is our reality today, and it’s a very sad
reality today. Which is why, again, absolutely
to conclude with my… -Now, really, with my old joke.
-(LAUGHTER) You know how, more and more,
we live in a society where you get a thing
without its substance? Coffee, yes, without caffeine. Sausage, yes, without fat. Chocolate without calories. Beer without alcohol. This is my problem with
multiculturalism. I’m afraid that the other that multiculturalists
are offering us, you know, this wonderful other who is holistic with organic,
harmony with nature, is the same decaffeinated other. Multiculturalism can be
a form of racism. Maybe I should stop now.
Thank you very much. (LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE)

  1. Mr Zizek exposes demagogy at many levels and forms, it needs to be understood as such to grasp what he's saying.

  2. I like Zizek. But I'm not sure he's right about the European defenders' anger against the large influx of immigrants – certainly not in the past couple of years. I realise this talk was 2009 before the present Syrian conflict, and the many emigrants from there now to Europe. But things have changed radically in the past couple of years in Europe since this speech which may give credence to the concerns of Europeans in that respect.

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