The Violent Silence of a New Beginning

The Violent Silence of a New Beginning

What to do after the Wall Street occupation, after the protests that started far away (Middle East, Greece, Spain, UK) reached the center, and now, reinforced, roll back around the world? One of the great dangers the protesters face is that they will fall in love with themselves, with the nice time they are having in the “occupied” places. In a San Francisco echo of the Wall Street occupation on October 16, a guy invited the crowd to participate as if it was a hippy-style happening in the 1960s: “They are asking us what is our program. We have no program. We are here to have a good time.”

Carnivals come cheap–the test of their worth is what remains the day after, and how they change our normal daily life. The protesters should fall in love with hard and patient work – they are the beginning, not the end. Their basic message should be: The taboo is broken. We do not live in the best possible world. We are obliged to think about alternatives.

The Western Left has come full circle: After abandoning the so-called “class struggle essentialism” for the plurality of anti-racist, feminist, gay rights etc., struggles, “capitalism” is now re-emerging as the name of THE problem. So the first lesson to be learned is: Do not blame people and their attitudes. The problem is not corruption or greed, the problem is the system that pushes you to be corrupt. The solution is not found in the slogan “Main Street, not Wall Street,” but to change the system in which Main Street cannot function without Wall Street.

There is a long road ahead, and soon we will have to address the truly difficult questions–questions not about what we do not want, but rather about what we DO want. What social organization can replace the existing capitalism? What type of new leaders do we need? What new institutions, including those of control, should we shape? The 20th century alternatives obviously did not work.

It is thrilling to enjoy the pleasures of the “horizontal organization” of protesting crowds with egalitarian solidarity and open-ended free debates, but as we do so we should bear in mind the words of Gilbert Keith Chesterton: “Merely having an open mind is nothing; the object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.”

This holds also for politics in times of uncertainty: The open-ended debates will have to coalesce not only in some new Master-Signifiers, but also in concrete answers to the old question: “What is to be done?”

[Extract. Appeared in In These Times, on October 26th, 2011. (full text). Also appeared in The Guardian.]


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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