Monday, December 01, 2008

the Real

"The financial meltdown has made it impossible to ignore the blatant irrationality of global capitalism. In the fight against Aids, hunger, lack of water or global warming, we may recognise the urgency of the problem, but there is always time to reflect, to postpone decisions. The main conclusion of the meeting of world leaders in Bali to talk about climate change, hailed as a success, was that they would meet again in two years to continue the talks. But with the financial meltdown, the urgency was unconditional; a sum beyond imagination was immediately found. Saving endangered species, saving the planet from global warming, finding a cure for Aids, saving the starving children . . . All that can wait a bit, but ‘Save the banks!’ is an unconditional imperative which demands and gets immediate action. The panic was absolute. A transnational and non-partisan unity was immediately established, all grudges among world leaders momentarily forgotten in order to avert the catastrophe. (Incidentally, what the much-praised ‘bi-partisanship’ effectively means is that democratic procedures were de facto suspended.) The sublimely enormous sum of money was spent not for some clear ‘real’ task, but in order to ‘restore confidence’ in the markets – i.e. for reasons of belief. Do we need any more proof that Capital is the Real of our lives, the Real whose demands are more absolute than even the most pressing demands of our social and natural reality?"

-Žižek, Use Your Illusions

6 comments:

Waldmensch said...

Now what is really sad is that this train wreck was seen coming for years, but as long as people were making money and had their sitcoms to watch, it was not of critical importance. Everyone is sorry about starving kids in Africa, but, you know, I need my $5.00 Starbucks in the morning. Note my sarcasm.

And your absolutely right, this "bailout" was only to restore confidence in the markets during this tough recession that we just now realize happened a year ago.

Good thing I went out like a good American and blew my economic stimulus.


And people wonder why I fantasize of living in Antarctica.

hyper-sensitiva said...

Here's some interesting criticism concerning Žižek and two of his recent works:
http://www.tnr.com/story_print.html?id=097a31f3-c440-4b10-8894-14197d7a6eef

I confess that only recently have I been coming across his name with any sort of repetition, so I'm too novice to add any of my own impressions.

Sean said...

"Do we need any more proof that Capital is the Real of our lives, the Real whose demands are more absolute than even the most pressing demands of our social and natural reality?"

Well, that's taking things a bit loosely. Our most pressing needs are for immediate food, water, and shelter. Once those things are genuinely endangered the "reality" of Capital should fall into place nicely. Of course, the things mentioned in the article do threaten the existence of those fundamentals, but not in an immediate way (yet).

This, however, might: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7759192.stm

What a world we've created where, if we stop destroying the rainforest in an effort to save the planet, we could create a food shortage for the Western world. (While this is a great thing environmentally, I don't believe for a second that it's being done for environmental reasons. I shouldn't be, but I am excited about BRIC.)

Hectocotylus said...

Yes, our pressing needs are for food, water, and shelter... and yet food, water, and shelter all cost money.

In the paragraph following my excerpt, Žižek mentions the fact that much of the world starves because food is treated as a commodity.

Hectocotylus said...

I just found this: "Tarkovsky's other science-fiction masterpiece, Stalker, provides the counterpoint to this all-too-present Thing: the void of a forbidden Zone." -Žižek: http://www.artmargins.com/content/feature/zizek1.html

(The only thing I got out of that article was having my curiosity in Zizek's thoughts on Tarkovsky satiated. I'm linking to it because I like to tie my posts together, and, who knows, someone out there might actually enjoy it.)

Sean said...

They all cost money, but history is littered with examples of times when people saw beyond that pseudo-reality and took the situation into their own hands. Almost invariably they were (and are) crushed by force.

This, of course, doesn't disprove your point: as with the shoring up of the banks, the force is there as a measure to maintain belief at all costs. But, for those people who starve for lack of money, I imagine the absurdity of that system must be quite apparent.

For instance, the people of Guatemala who saw their government essentially overthrown by the United Fruit Company in 1954, probably did not recognize the reality of Capital as their middle class disappeared into a backwater, feudal hell. They recognized the ammunition that made it possible. They recognized the primal fear for their lives. That Capital incurred this is beyond doubt: but to those people I think the "reality" was somewhat different.

Of course, had you given most of those people the choice between a gun and the money to buy a gun, they would have chosen the money, I'm sure. This can be looked at several ways, the most disturbing of which is that - possibly - their predilection would be for joining the elite rather than overthrowing it. That actually supports your point, of course.