[Transcript below video.]
Schirmacher: If you don’t know him, you don’t live in this world. Obviously he is the one best-known philosopher in the world, the not the best but the best-known …. To say, the most dangerous one, you know. And he has already threatened us with his last 1000-page book, Hegel is coming towards us in my form you know, I will write all about the entire world, and that, he has already started. And he does it in such a fast way that he has to sleep long, long hours in order to wake up again to the level of his own thinking. I’m very happy to welcome one of the founding professors of our program, the Jacques Lacan professor of EGS, Slavoj Zizek.
Zizek: Thank you very much, and just to begin with, are you paid by Gaddafi money or what? Because I noticed how here all the free day is Friday. Isn’t it in Islam that Friday is their Sunday no? And then, if you connect this with the fact. Do you know, it’s not a joke, there the guy… told me. You know, the name ‘Allalin’ comes from Arab. When they were in medieval times, Arab invasions of Europe and so on, they come … just putting all this together.
Schirmacher: [inaudible] money, Gaddafi is dead.
Zizek: Okay, seriously now. I want to do something, it’s my moral duty here to annoy our good friend here Wolfgang. I know that he doesn’t like all this communist politics and so on, so this is exactly what I will do. No, seriously. I just want to give you a very elementary outline of what I think is going on, in economy: where do we stand, what we can do. Okay, we all talk about crisis, Greece and so on. But you may have noticed how suspicious this crisis is. You know, the West European racist judgement, those lazy Greeks, who just spend money, clientelism, corruption. True, I was in Greece, and they admitted it to me. I mean, I am not idealizing Greece, but there is one problem. We all know who did this clientelization. The two parties who are exchanging themselves in power for the last thirty or forty years, New Democracy and Pasok … Look, a miracle: the West who puts pressure on Greece to end clientelism, fully supports exactly these two parties which EMBODY clientelism. It’s quite breath-taking.
Another thing you may have noticed. If you want to understand the psychoanalytic notion of Über-Ich, super-ego it’s the pressure of European Union on Greece. Why? Because, you know, super-ego in the authentic Freudian sense is not an authentic, let’s call it naively, moral agency; it’s a sadistic perverted agency which bombards you with impossible demands, taking into account in advance that you will fail, and then, sadistically, makes fun of you, and so on. And that’s the mystery. Did you notice the mystery of all these rescue plans for Greece? Everyone knows that they are pure fiction. But it’s a nice example of the theory of ideology, how something that everybody knows is pure fiction absolutely destined to fail, is nonetheless repeatedly. Okay, there are different theories why … one thing is that you know what, the West is really doing, under the guise of helping Greece. It’s really helping to save their own banks. German, French, and so on. But what I want to say is that we, I claim, should not focus on Greece. You know, the moment you accept this perspective, lazy Greeks, and then, Spaniards, they screwed it up. It’s a wrong perspective. I claim that the ongoing crisis is not about spending, greed, ineffectual bank regulations, and so on. My theory is a more basic one. Some economists convinced me. Not even leftist economists. An economic cycle is coming to an end. A cycle which began in the early nineties. What happened at that point? If you are old enough, in the late sixties and early seventies something very important happened. It wasn’t only the time of all-crisis and so-called stagflation, stagnation and inflation. Nixon’s administration (Richard Nixon, the president of the United States) decided to abandon the gold standard for the U.S. dollar. But this was part of a much more important economic shift. By the end of the 1960s the U.S. economy was no longer able to continue the recycling of its surpluses to Europe and Asia. Until the late sixties, the United States were up to a point what today China and others are – the export-machine of the world. All of a sudden, from the mid-sixties, surplus is turned into deficits, and then, the Nixon administration. The brain behind it was that chairman, Paul Volcker. He had an idea which was in a way quite creative and ingenious. His strategy was: Why fight the deficits? Why not boost the deficits? Why not accommodate to the deficits so that we will profit from them. And, from that point on, what happens?
I will quote here a Greek economist, Yanis Varoufakis, who wrote a nice book called [amazon asin=178360610X&text=Global Minotaur], like the Greek monster-god. This deficit started to operate like, I quote, a giant vacuum cleaner, absorbing other peoples’ surplus goods and capital. While that arrangement was the embodiment of the grossest imbalance imaginable at the planetary scale, nonetheless it did give rise to something resembling global balance. An international system of rapidly accelerating asymmetrical financial and trade flows, capable of putting on a semblance of stability and steady growth. Powered by these deficits, the world’s leading surplus economies, like Germany, Japan, later China, kept churning out the goods, while America, United States, absorbed them. Almost 70 % of the profits made globally by these countries were transferred back to the United States in the form of capital flows to Wall Street. And what did Wall Street do with it? It turned these capital inflows into direct investments, shares, new financial instruments, new and old forms of loans, and so on. So, it was a very strange arrangement. From two and a half decades ago, as another, I forgot his name, Ronald Reagan financial wizard said: ‘Let’s accept it, for United States to function, they need a minimum of one billion dollars a day of influx.’ And again, because the way the United States, through the dollar as the universal commodity, and through other strategies. They knew how to, as it were, recycle this growing debt. So, again, these are signs that the United States are, as we say, it’s already a commonplace, an empire in decline. It’s growing negative trade balance demonstrates that United States is a non-productive predator. It has to suck up, up to a billion dollars daily influx from other nations, to buy for each consummation. It is, as such, the universal Keynesian consumer, that keeps the world-economy running. So it is quite funny when the United States claim, you know, republican administration, against Keynesianism. But the United States are Keynesian economy embodied. This influx, which is effectively like the [teeth] paid to Rome in antiquity, or, the gifts sacrificed to the Minotaur by ancient Greeks, relies on a complex economic mechanism. The United States are trusted as the safe and stable centre, so that all others, from the all-producing Arab countries, to Western Europe, Japan, and now even China, invest their surplus profits in the United States.
Since this trust is primarily ideological and military, not economic, the problem for the United States, was, in the last decade, how to justify its imperial role. You know, the United States needed a permanent state of war, so they had to invent the war of terror, offering themselves as the universal protector of all other normal, not rogue states. So I think the entire globe tends to function as a universal, not so much Rome, as Sparta. You know, you had in Sparta three classes: the homoi, the communist, the military, the traders, and the Helots, the slaves. We should have now: the U.S. is the military political ideological power, Europe, parts of Asia, Latin America, the industrial manufacturing region and the undeveloped rest – today’s Helots. In other words, global capitalism brought about a new general trend to oligarchy, masked as the celebration of the diversity of cultures. And equality and universalism are more and more disappearing as actual political principles. So, in very simple terms, this false balance based on radical imbalance of United States’ accumulated profits from around the world. This was our situation, and it is clear that it cannot go on indefinitely. For example, do you know that … two key foreign countries, Saudi-Arabia and China, the idea is that each of them owns around, I think, five to seven percent of the entire wealth of United States. And I tend to agree that it is this system, which is reaching its limit. This balance, which again, has a precise beginning and end, from those Nixon years. This, as it were, world balance based on United States deficit, which, in a way, it worked. It was a productive deficit. It was really like some kind of a divine sacrifice which turned the world around, which is why I agree with these ancient Greek metaphors and so on. And I like it very much how … although nobody believes in gods today … But did you notice how, more and more, even in our very rational, economic media, we use the language of prosopopoeia – ‘when things speak’? I mean, we may laugh at primitives, but turn to our media, which say ‘markets express their worry,’ ‘markets signal’ … my god, all the time referring to things speaking. How will markets react? Markets made clear their worry and dissatisfaction and so on. So, okay. Now let me go on.
One of the consequences of this new situation, and here problems begin, is, I think, that unemployment is acquiring a new status. Today, more and more, the world market is a space in which, everyone has once been a productive labourer, and labour has everywhere begun to prize itself out of the system. That is to say, in the ongoing process of globalization, I claim, the category of the unemployed acquires a new quality beyond the classical Marxist notion of the reserve army of labour. I agree here with Fredric Jameson, who proposed that one should consider, in terms of the category of unemployment, also those massive populations around the world, which have, as it were, dropped out of history. They were deliberately excluded from the modernizing projects of the first world capitalism. Written off as hopeless or terminal cases. So-called failed or rogue states, Congo, Somalia, victims of famine and ecological disasters, caught in pseudo-archaic ethnic hatreds, object of philanthropy and NGO’s. Often, of the war on terror. I mean … Here I am a little bit of a leftist paranoiac. I think that these famous NGO’s, non-government agencies, are usually the other human side of terror. The category of the unemployed should thus be expanded to encompass the wide span of population from the temporary unemployed to no longer employable, or permanently unemployed, up to people living in slums and other types of ghettos, and finally, the whole areas, populations, or states excluded from the global capitalist process. Like the blank spaces in ancient maps. Something like the, and I don’t even like her very much, ex-East German writer Christa Wolf. In one of her memoirs, she has a wonderful detail. She visited, years ago, with her daughter, that Fernsehturm in East Berlin. From there you can see the West. No wonder it was so popular in East Berlin. And, you must remember, this is a wonderful detail, that, I saw it, the East-German map of Berlin, is like a normal city map, but the West is just white, a blank spot. And she tells a wonderful story, Christa Wolf, that her daughter, at that time a small girl, looked to the West, and said: ‘Look mummy! It’s not white, people are also living there!’ That’s where we are today.
To this list, we should add also the illegally employed, those who work in black markets and slums, even under condition of different forms of slavery. Are we aware to what extent the economic rise of some of Middle East and Asian countries is basically sustained by slavery. I mean, I saw it first-hand. I went to a rich hotel in Dubai. Yes, I was there, where you will never be. But I did my Marxist duty, I became friendly with an ordinary taxi driver and he explained to me the horrors. What you don’t see. Literally, well not technically slaves, but people from Nepal, Philippines, Indonesia. Their passports are taken, they work for 12 hours a day, and if they are happy, working like slaves, they are able to send home around 150, maximum 200 dollars per month. The crucial point is that even those excluded countries, rogue states and so on, are nonetheless included into the world market. Let me mention the case of today’s Congo. Beneath the facade of primitive ethnic tensions, which explode again and again in this heart of darkness, you can, if you look at it closely, again, see a totally different picture. Congo, for the last two decades no longer exists as a state. Especially its Eastern part is a multiplicity of territories, ruled by local warlords, controlling their patch of land by an army, which, as a rule, includes drugged children warriors, each of the warriors then, with business links to foreign companies or corporations, exploiting mostly minerals, mining wealth in the region. So this fits everyone. The corporations get mining rights, without taxes, the warlords get money. And are you aware how crucial this is for our industry? That the key minerals for our laptops, cell-phones and so on come all from Congo? So it’s again absolutely crucial to bear this in mind. Congo is not naturally a ‘heart of darkness’, it is precisely as such that it is fully included in global capitalism. Then, we no longer have the category of ‘formerly employed.’ You know, with constant modernization this happens as a rule. The standard story is for example in textile factories. You have workers, mostly women unfortunately, doing their job there for 30 years, and then all of a sudden, modernization, they lose their job. What can they do? There is always an idiot like Anthony Giddens who comes and tells them: ‘you should use this as an opportunity to reinvent yourselves.’ But that’s easy to say.
Then there is another thing. Not only people who all of a sudden become unemployable, but people who are educated, but while they are educated they are fully aware that there is even no chance that they will find employment in the domain for which they are educated. A whole generation of students has almost no chance of finding a corresponding employment, which of course leads to massive protest, and the reaction of the system to this are different reforms of education. Like this catastrophe that we call in Europe ‘Bologna Reform’, which means that education should be directly subordinated to businesses. If I were to be those in power, I would really worry about these unemployable students. Do you know why? Let me be frank, you never can have a revolution or radical unrest only with the poor people. You need the educated. And are those in power aware that by creating this whole new strata of middle-class highly education young people, who nonetheless cannot find a career, they are literally schooling them for the organic intellectuals. I mean, it’s absolutely clear that they play a key role in Egypt, in Greece today, and so on.
The next thing I want to add, is that this new structural unemployment should be conceived as a form of exploitation. I think we should also expand the standard Marxist notion of exploitation, which is, you know, linked to wage labour. You sell your labour force, surplus value is appropriated by the capitalist. I claim that we have to say that today, the exploited are not only workers producing surplus value appropriated by the capital. Exploited are also those who are structurally prevented from even getting caught in the capitalist vortex of the exploited wage labour. So, the paradox is that, as some economists put it nicely in very cynical terms, today, you have to be almost lucky to be able to be permanently exploited. To say, to have a permanent job. The true tragedy is when, and I am not saying this as an old-fashioned Marxist, you will see, I claim that, to use further in any meaningful sense Marxist terms, they have to be rethought radically. These are simply things that Marx couldn’t predict, they don’t enter his frame. But nonetheless, this would be my first proposal, we have to extend these two key notions – unemployment and exploitation – to understand what is going on. The third consequence of this is that in our politics, we were too obsessed by this liberal notion of Anerkennung, recognition. You know, left-liberal politics was basically predominantly a politics of recognition. You focus on marginal groups, you should recognize them, and so on. I think that exploitation is more crucial than recognition.
So okay, after this brief introduction, let me go on. So where do we stand now in 2012? 2011 was what I call, poetically, the year of dreaming dangerously. The revival of radical politics all around the world. Now, a year later, every day brings new proofs of how fragile and inconsistent this awakening was. The enthusiasm of the Arab spring is over, occupy Wall Street lost its momentum, and so on. But, I am even more a pessimist now, then I was. Because, even our good friend who will be here in August, Alain Badiou, wrote a book where he reads these awakenings, as it were. From Wall Street, to Tahrir square, as oohhh … Didn’t he publish a book precisely titled [amazon asin=2355260818&text=Le Reveil d’Histoire’], ‘the awakening of history’? Great emancipatory movements that we thought they are dead, are back here. Unfortunately, I don’t buy this. In what sense? I think that precisely this new awakening shows more than ever the limit of the left, at least of the traditional left. Just think what was the typical image of the left until the last decade. At least in the Western countries which were relatively prosperous. Their strategy was that okay, now we know that there is no revolutionary situation, but, you know, they like to play the Cassandra. But, wait a little bit, there will be crisis! blablabla. Ok so fuck you, now we have crisis, and we have unrests, but! the one who really doesn’t have any consistent project what to do is precisely the left. You know? Leftists should say: ‘Now! It’s our time.’ But, there is only one consistent economic – apart from some kind of confused Keynesianism – T.J. Clark, the British art historian, who published in the last issue of New Left Review, a wonderful brutal attack on today’s left, has a wonderful characterization of what the left, democratic Western left, dreams about. A partly detached, pseudo-nation state, with non-finance capital-driven capitalism. That’s the basic dream. Let’s not be controlled by international capital, let’s have a little bit more of a nation-state, but not the old nationalistic nation-state. Okay, we have to be in capitalism, let’s just limit financial capital, and so on. And, correct me if I am wrong, but if you cut all that crap about all that immediate democracy, blablabla, which means nothing, as far as I know, there is only one concrete idea, that the left has produced, which paradoxically is the idea of how to justify/legitimize capitalism. It’s, you know, the Belgian guy, [inaudible] did it. The so-called ‘basic income.’ I think, the more precise term is the way they call it in Brazil, renta basica. The basic rent. The idea that independently of your employment, all citizens should get a certain minimal income. At least to survive. But the paradox is that as van Parijs, I’ve read him, states it openly … this is how he tries to save capitalism. His premise is: ‘fuck it, capitalism is the only system that works. So, can we somehow keep it, but nonetheless make it more just,’ blablabla, and that’s his proposition. Now, T.J. Clark, when he … you see the catastrophe? It really is a catastrophe. Now that there should be the moment of the left. Yes, we do have all the unrest, demonstrations here and there, and so on. And then, and I was doing this throughout the last year. I was on occupy Wall Street, and I was asking them like crazy, a simple Freudian question, like, you know: ‘what does a woman want?’ But a real woman, not you Avital. No, sorry, you expected something like this. That was my way of saying I love you.
Avital Ronell: I feel it.
Zizek: What do you want? And it’s incredible how, apart from, either abstract moralism: ‘we want a just society, where money serves people, not people serve money.’ Well my god, my answer was: ‘Hitler would have fully agreed with it, no?/ I mean, you don’t get, correct me if I am wrong, I don’t think, apart from some old-fashioned Keynesian ideas of regulation and so on, did you ever encounter any concrete plan of what to do? And I know it first-hand, I met him, to boast, you can check it on TV. I was, this Sunday, four days ago, in Athens, I had a long conversation with Alexis Tsipras, and yes, absolutely no idea. Do you see my problem? Now that there should have been a, in classical Marxist terms, a revolutionary situation, no? you get more than ever. What you get is exactly nothing.
So, I agree with T.J. Clark, that one of the problems is the following one. The left, even if it is now a democratic left, or whatever, they still maintain, what T.J. Clark calls this eschatological attitude of: ‘ok, now, times are tough, no left movement, but we must be patient and work towards some big magic moment when, I don’t know, the true working class will arise, all people, all the marginal groups…’ It doesn’t matter. We are slowly, in the underground, working, digging for the big moment. And I tend to agree with it – we should drop this. There never will be this big moment. You know, all of them, are dreaming about this. Even, Hardt & Negri have this. Look at the last pages of [amazon asin=0674006712&text=Empire]. I am sorry that he is not here – Hardt. All of a sudden, he says: ‘now that we have this multitude resistance, but the moment will come, when all the multitudes will get together, take over, and so on.’ And then, the only reference he can give is St. Franciscus, no other. So, I think that this is the limit, and I am saying this as still some kind of a leftist, but not a naive leftist. Leftist in the sense that I am a catastrophist. We are approaching deep shit, a critical situation. No, I think that simply it cannot go on indefinitely the way it is now. Well, wait a little bit what will happen, maybe in a couple of months in Europe and so on. I am not saying it will be a big catastrophe. I am just saying, what is obvious now. You know, that the crisis we are entering now is not the old crisis of, you know, part of what in the Lion King they call ‘the circle of life,’ it goes down. Now this reminds me, when I was young I had a wonderful racist teacher, who made fun of Roma – gypsies – and he said, he said a wonderful thing. ‘When there is sun, the gypsies are sad. Because they know, that after the sun there will be rain. And when it is raining, the gypsies are glad, because they know that after the rain, there will be sun.’ This was the usual attitude. Crisis is just a moment of withdrawal to have a new explosion. I think, even if this is in some sense true, we are really entering a long-term crisis. Who knows what will happen. So, again, this is the problem. We have to drop, really drop, the Marxist eschatology of, again, this history moves towards a big awakening. Even if it’s not a Marxist … but this idea, and here I am even having five percent ironic stab at our good friend Alain Badiou, who also is, I think, basically, if I may put it like this, one of those who wait for the event, no? It will happen? It will not happen. This is unfortunately for me the lesson of today. With all the unrests we have. Well, up until now at least the only result of these unrests is what? that leftist governments are replaced by right-wing governments.
Now, am I saying that this is the end? That we should simply accept that the rule of the game is global world-wide capitalism. No! This would mean a too easy way out. I think that I am still a pessimist. I think that if we allow things to go on the way they go on, we are approaching some kind of new authoritarian society and so on. So what can we do? I would like to quote here Walter Benjamin, in [amazon asin=0674008022&text=Arcades Project], where he develops this. Walter Benjamin quotes there the French historian André [Monglond]. Everybody knows this famous metaphor, I quote:
The past has left images of itself in literary texts. Images comparable to those, which are imprinted by light on a photosensitive plate. The future alone possesses developers active enough to scan such surfaces perfectly [Walter Benjamin, [amazon asin=0674008022&text=Arcades Project], Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1999. p. 482].
You know, this idea that if we can have events today which are signs, but signs, not symptoms from the past, but signs from the future. They point towards … It is as if they are coming from the future. Only from the future will they be readable. I would like to have this metaphor. In all this radicality, we have to drop direct teleology, radically. You know, the Marxist way would have been: ‘yeah, of course, we have already the germs of communism today.’ Well, maybe it’s true, but we definitely don’t know what this communism will be. Like, my idea is the following one. That we should maybe return, to be very brief, from Marx back to Hegel. Into this tragic vision. Yes! we live today in signs from the future, and I’m ready, in a naive idealized way even, to say, like, what happened in Tahrir square, it was, admit it, in a way, a miracle. A sign of a better future. Listen! Nobody expected it to be possible. Most of us were usual racists, and we thought: ‘all stupid Arabs can do, is some … if you want to arouse the masses there’ … what? You need religious fundamentalism, anti-Semitism, nationalism, whatever. Sorry, we had a big rebellion, which PRECISELY did not use any of these resources. So, miracles happen. But what we should ABSOLUTELY reject is the teleology of ‘Ah! we see the tendency of history, there is the light at the end of the tunnel.’ I am here, I am coming from Eastern Europe, and you know what we say when somebody says that there is a light at the end of the tunnel? We say, ‘of course there is, it is another train coming.’ No?
So, to go further with what I mean by this. Do you know that there is a … Ok, I will slowly come to an end, but nonetheless, I will develop this. I think we should use … Let’s do a little bit of theology, materialist theology, [amazon asin=0199540365&text=Blaise Pascal]. You know his idea of miracles and deus absonditus. You know, the hidden god. He has a wonderful notion of a miracle. He says that god had a choice of either openly revealing himself, through miracles, which are here to all, but he says, in this way, it wouldn’t be productive, good for ethical attitude, because then, any idiot, if you see the definitive proof of god, you will follow it. On the other hand, if god is too hidden, then it’s nothing. So, he proposes a wonderful idea of miracles, which are miracles visible as such as miracles, only to those who believe. It’s kind of a hermeneutic circle. Things happen, if you are what Pascal calls a libertine, and it’s very interesting, incidentally, a very short historical notice here. How we are here in 17th century, where libertinage meant something totally different than in 18th century, it’s a wonderful shift. 17th century libertinage meant an atheist simply, the one who doesn’t believe. But nothing to do with some sexual promiscuity or whatever. It’s only in the 18th century that it acquires this sexual decadence connotation. So again, Pascal’s idea is that this is how god is testing us. There is something which happens. If you are a libertine, of course you will say: ‘this is just a coincidence, the result of chance’, blablabla. Only if you believe in it do you see it as a miracle. And I think this exactly is the status, the way to read in a non-teleological way. We should pass, ironically, from reviled communism to maybe not god, but communism absconditus. There are signs, wonderful things are happening here and there, but we absolutely no ontological guarantee, no historical necessity will make – if we believe in it, it’s a miracle. Which means, if we will do something, out of it. It’s absolutely crucial, not to fall, and Marx did fall into it, into this ontological trap. We have fragile signs, here and there. If I can give you a wonderful example, I will try to be as short as possible. Not only in politics, this is how I propose to read, for example, Tahrir square, even Occupy Wall Street – it’s maybe a sign of something. Of what? What the fuck do I know. Will something come out of it? Maybe, maybe not. But we nonetheless should treat them as miracles. For example, a Pascalian libertine would say: ‘so what, people demonstrated on Tahrir square, it was just the result of a historical situation, contingent, even now they got what they deserved, a new Muslim brotherhood government.’ That’s the cynical reading. I think we should be a little bit more naive: ‘It’s a sign, but a sign of a possible future.’ But I read this sign, of course, as a miracle only in a totally non-teleological way. A sign that if you believe – I don’t even like the term belief here – if you are politically engaged in this way, it maybe shows some potential. Without any guarantee.
I would now like to give you, in order to conclude, for example, a domain where I found such a wonderful sign, which I think we should read with all naivety. A guy called Daniel Pink wrote a book [amazon asin=184767769X&text=Drive], it is a book about a very naive social experiment. They took a group of American students, listen carefully, and gave them different jobs, and compared how they do when differently paid. Low payment, mid payment, high payment. And they made a wonderful strange discovery. That if the job is stupid, non-satisfactory, you just do it for the money, then money matters. You pay people little, they do it so-so. You pay them more, they will do it better. But they made a wonderful discovery. If a job is intellectually challenging, satisfying, whatever you want, like a true enigma, which engages you, then – this is the beauty – then it is not only that money doesn’t matter, the beauty is that money is even counterproductive. If you pay them a little bit, they do it so-so. If you pay them a little bit more, they will do it a little bit better. BUT! if you pay them too much, they will do it worse. And then they thought: ‘it must be some American perversion.’ So, they did something wonderful. They repeated the same experiment in the poorest Indian villages, and the result was the same. Isn’t this almost like communism? You can prove not only that money does not matter, but if you have some … For example, I read a wonderful sociological text of… they analyse how, close to here, CERN, here they will ruin us all, reproduce the big bang. As we know it will be the end of the world. This is how they are there. You know, you are well enough paid to live moderately well, but the job is so engaging that, if you were to introduce that, if you are the first one to discover the Hicks particle, you get one million or whatever, it wouldn’t make it better, it would make it worse. Now, we should not overestimate this kind of stuff, but nonetheless admit it very modestly. It proves at least something – that capitalist egotism is not natural. That you can, when you are part of a creative process – and again, I am not saying that money doesn’t matter, I am here very cynical … In order to say ‘money doesn’t matter’, you have to have enough money. What I am nonetheless saying is that after a certain level, it does function, as a sense of motivation. Financial motivation can even be counterproductive. So again, these are I think the signs as it were. The signs we should be looking for.
Now if you’ll just allow me to include, to make a total jump to a different domain. So, as you see, my vision is a very modest one. We are approaching a deadlock. I am not a catastrophist, I am not saying the deadlock is that at the end of this year, following some stupid Mayan calendar, whatever. No! I am only saying that we are approaching critical points. We can postpone them, but we are getting close. And that, we don’t have any, in the good old Marxist sense, ontological guaranty that there is a way out. It’s just, no. We should be like Pascalian theologists. There are signs, if we do something, we can make something out of it, or not. Now, just if you allow me two short points. The first one: What subjective attitude would fit today’s world? The first thing, to become engaged, the most important thing to do is to break out of the, what I naively call predominant form of subjectivity today, which is subjectivity focused on the notion of harassment. This narcissistic subjectivity where the other threatens you and so on. What do I mean by this? What is the inner logic of what is perceived or experienced as sexual harassment? It is the very asymmetry of seduction. The imbalance between desire and its object. At every way of an erotic relation … this is what I am afraid of in the politically correct fight against harassment. Of course I am against harassment. I am well aware of the brutality of harassment. I am just saying that this notion in its actual use covers something up, and with that I don’t agree.
The basic idea of this type of left-bourgeois, whatever, radicalized political correctness, is that this imbalance in the process of seduction, should be abolished, so that only contractual reciprocity, with mutual agreement is allowed. And there are even attempts to codify this. I learned that in some of those mysterious politically correct campuses in North-West of the United States, ideologically the most interesting part of the United States, there you have that either madness of political correctness, or madness of fundamentalism, that they even wrote the exact rules of it. Like, for example, it’s quite comical, that at every stage, you should ask for permission. Sorry, for this bad taste example. Let’s say I am trying to seduce a girl. Could I please put my hand on your breast? Could I please now unbutton ONE of your buttons? Could I slowly go down, and so on? But the result is interesting. I was in the campus where they did it, and they told me it works. But you know why? Because it’s applied with wonderful self-irony, you know? This is the only reason that it works. But let me go on. Are you aware that the secret model of political correctness, the anti-harassment attitude is that sexual intercourse gets basically desexualized, becomes a deal precisely in the sense of the equivalent market exchange between equal free partners, where the stuff exchanged is pleasure. I think that this is still the reason that I am more for Lacan or Freud, than for Michel Foucault. We are shifting from sexuality to pleasures, and I claim that part of this process is precisely the extreme of the real. The explosive expansion of pornography in digital media is, I think, exemplary of this process of sexualisation of sex. You are promised always more sex, you will see everything and so on. But the more you get it, the more it gets desexualized. What is effectively happening, I claim, in this politically correct mutual contract sexuality, and it is acquiring … Ok, I know, these are only signs from the future, dark signs, quite crazy forms. For example, I spoke just recently – he knows, where his next trip will be – to, Julian Assange, and he told me about the madness. He told me a wonderful thing. He showed me the model that Sweden is now moving in this extreme political correctness. The situation there, now, according to Assange, and I checked with my friends, they’re leftists and they confirmed it to me, is that, sorry for being personally vulgar. Let’s say that I am flirting with a woman. We both want to do it. But let us say that at a certain point, I discover that she hates Catholics. So I lie to her that I am not a Catholic, but a Protestant. And then, seduction goes on, no problem, she wants it, I want it – we do it passionately. Three weeks later, she learns that I am a Catholic. Not only can she prosecute me, but technically, our sex becomes rape. I become a rapist.
So, now comes a madness, contractual, which I like. Assange showed it to me. It is not yet legal, but they are already circulating among the legislating bodies, a kind of a contractual paper, like, the idea is this one. Let’s say again, the same situation: I am flirting with a woman, we both want to do it. But just so we can be sure, we say: ‘okay! we want to do it, so let’s first do this.’ So we both fill the contract, name, we sign, I have these illnesses, this is my religion, this is that… We both date it, sign it, and then we can happily jump into bed, like, you know, we are covered. Nobody did it. What I claim, is that what is really happening here, de facto, is that the partner is no longer a partner. In this, you know, we are coming back to Immanuel Kant. Kant as philosopher, not the dirty word. Namely, you know how Kant defines marriage? In a very contractual way, the famous passage from, not [amazon asin=1107401062&text=Grundlegung], but just [amazon asin=0521566738&text=Metaphysik der Sitten], two volumes, is that marriage is a contract among two adults, for the mutual use of sexual organs for pleasure. And Kant means it quite seriously. You might think he is kidding, but then look at the next page, where he debates what happens when, let’s say, a woman is married to a man, and the man runs away, does the woman have to right to bring him back by police? Kant says yes. Why? Because he ran away, with a part of his body, the penis, which contractually was also co-owned by her. But I think that what Kant was just dreaming about, in a comical way, is more or less, in this sense becoming true. I claim that, the ultimate point of this mutually contractual non-harassing sexuality are two things. (A) that the partner is ultimately reduced to an appendix to his, the partner becomes a composite of sex toys, if you like. We marry, we make a contract, but it really just means that I will make use of part of your body, and so on.
How does this work? I used this story years ago, and now I will again. Twenty years ago – I am so sad I didn’t put it on USB, I can show it to you – there was a wonderful British publicity for a beer, sorry Australian. You know that fairy tale where a woman sees a frog, kisses the frog, and the frog changes into a prince. Okay, this is how the publicity begins. The woman sees the frog, kisses him, and the frog is a nice young guy. But you know what happens then? The guy kisses the woman, and she changes into a bottle of beer. We are moving from you kiss a frog, you get a … But here I am a good pessimist, I agree that if you tell me that for most women, the practical experience is the opposite one, that you kiss a man, and then, when it is too late, you discover that he is a frog, but okay. What I wanted to say is that more and more, from this more masculine perspective, you reduce your partner to precisely a bottle of beer, a partial object. Okay, let me know really stop, just two or three minutes. First, which is why I think that what they are doing in some radical gay movements in the United States, where this contractual relationship even includes masochist practices of, you know, mutual torture, slavery, and so on, it’s part of the concept, that’s where we are. But, how to break out of this?
Ok, I have to finish, I will just tell you, something, I hope to conclude with a comical detail, but I take it very seriously. A good friend of mine, Adam Kotsko, wrote a book on ‘why do we like sociopaths?’[[amazon asin=178099091X&text=Why We Love Sociopaths: A Guide To Late Capitalist Television]] I think I already used it in my class here, but it’s a wonderful story, I want to repeat it. And he noticed how, today, we have more and more sociopaths as heroes of our TV series. Different types of sociopaths: either simple, pathological fathers, who are brutal, just enjoy annoying others, like Homer Simpsons; or sociopaths, like brutal achievers, who are ready to kill, steal to succeed, or these avengers; sociopaths, like Jack Bauer, who, for some higher cause, are ready to kill and so on. And I think … and then Kotsko does a wonderful thing. He says, nonetheless, in each of these three types, there is some good, redemptive quality that we should stick to. With these cheapest, lowest sociopaths, like Homer Simpson, it’s this, you know, innocent joy, like when Homer Simpson with evil laser trap for his friend, he is so glad that he got the sucker, whatever. The simple joy of annoying the other. Then with these climbers, achievers, it’s this ruthless ingenuity, like, how they also find a way to make do. And with people like Jack Bauer, and that’s what I like in this book, the worst sociopath is for him dr. House – there you have the idea that you risk your private life and happiness for some cause. So I think that we should correct Stalin. You know, Stalin said in his famous answer to a question of a journalist in ’29: ‘what’s the image of a good communist?’ Stalin said that a good Bolshevik should combine Russian passion, dedication, with American pragmatic, practical spirit. I think we should say that today, what we need, is a person who unites the brutal dedication of Jack Bauer, the brutal spirit, opportunism, finding your way of someone Stringer Bell from [amazon asin=B005NFJAWG&text=The Wire], and this evil humour of Homer Simpson. Our only hope are people who unite these three features. Well, thank you very much.
[Lecture delivered at EGS on June 7th 2012.]