Explaining the Panama Papers; or, Why does a dog lick himself?

The only truly surprising thing about the Panama Papers leak is that there is no surprise in them: Didn’t we learn exactly what we expected to learn from them? Yet, it’s one thing to know about offshore bank accounts in general, and another to see concrete proof. It’s like knowing that one’s partner is fooling around on you—one can accept the abstract knowledge of it, but pain arises when one learns the steamy details. And when one gets pictures of what they were doing.… So now, with the Panama Papers, we are saddled with some of the dirty pictures of financial pornography of the world’s rich, and we can no longer pretend that we don’t know.

Back in 1843, the young Karl Marx claimed that the German ancien regime “only imagines that it believes in itself and demands that the world should imagine the same thing.” In such a situation, to put shame on those in power becomes a weapon itself. Or, as Marx goes on, “the actual pressure must be made more pressing by adding to it consciousness of pressure, the shame must be made more shameful by publicizing it.”

This is our situation today: We are facing the shameless cynicism of the existing global order, whose agents only imagine that they believe in their ideas of democracy, human rights, etc., and through moves like WikiLeaks and the Panama Papers disclosures, the shame—our shame for tolerating such power over us—is made more shameful by publicizing it.

A quick look at the Panama Papers reveals a standout positive feature and a standout negative feature. The positive one is the all-embracing solidarity of the participants: In the shadowy world of global capital, we are all brothers. The Western developed world is there, including the uncorrupted Scandinavians, and they shake hands with Vladimir Putin. And Chinese President Xi, Iran and North Korea are also there. Muslims and Jews exchange friendly winks—it is a true kingdom of multiculturalism where all are equal and all different. The negative feature: the hard-hitting absence of the United States, which lends some credence to the Russian and Chinese claim that particular political interests were involved in the inquiry.

[Extract. Appeared in Newsweek, on February 16th, 2016. (full text).]


Slavoj Žižek

Slavoj Žižek is a Slovenian philosopher and psychoanalyst, and a senior researcher at the Institute for Humanities, Birkbeck College, University of London. He has also been a visiting professor at more than 10 universities around the world. Žižek is the author of many books; his latest are Against the Double Blackmail and Disparities.

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