September 29, 2010

The Legend Of Steven Colbert


if he's the last man on earth, to whom is he a legend?


The global capitalist system is approaching an apocalyptic zero point... comprised by an ecological crisis, the consequences of a biogenetic revolution, imbalances within the system itself, and the explosive growth of social divisions and exclusions.

So goes the premise of Slavoj Zizek's new book, Living In End Times.  It's analyses are seductive, and from what you'll hear other people tell you about the book that no one will read, you will conclude, "this is a guy who gets it!"  Well, he doesn't. 

This is a very good rule of thumb: anyone who tells you we are living in end times is wrong about pretty much everything.

I.  To Whom Am I A Legend?

I Am Legend is the third substantial retelling of the novel by the same name (1954), the other two movies being The Last Man On Earth (1964) and The Omega Man (1971).

All four stories follow similar plots.  A plague has killed off humanity, except for some who have been turned into zombies/vampires.  One human, Neville, survives.

A series of remakes can often be a window into the evolution of a culture, and so it's useful to look at what's the same and what's different over time.

In the book (1954), Neville fights against vampires, but also a group of infected but still human creatures.  They finally capture and execute him, not least because he is different, the last of a dead race. These infected humans have a functioning society of their own; as the majority  survivors, the world belongs to them.  Neville sees that they look at him with fear and disgust, the way he looks at them.  As he is executed he realizes that they will remember him as a legend(ary monster.) 

This is a truly multicultural theme, Neville's human tradition parallel but not superior to the infected's.   (History is written by the victors.)

The first movie slightly but importantly changes the ending.  Instead of being executed, he escapes to a church, but he is finally speared on the altar.  Defiant to the end, Neville says he is the last true human, and the rest merely freaks. 

By The Omega Man, the multicultural theme is avoided.  Here, the survivors are a mutant species of humans.  Crazy as they are, they voluntarily choose to live away from technology and modernism because that's what got them into this mess in the first place.  Neville, however, has found a cure, so even if Neville represents something terrible and fearful to the mutants, he is still the normal while the mutants are pathology.

In I Am Legend (2007),  the multicultural reversal is completely extinguished.  Will Smith (thinks he) is the last human, and at war with the vampires.  He later discovers a woman and a boy trying to meet up with other survivors living in Vermont in a walled compound.  In the final scenes Neville "adopts her fundamentalist perspective and adopts a Christological  identification":  he stays behind to fight the vampires (and dies) allowing the human survivors to escape with the cure.  So Neville becomes a "legend for the new humanity whose rebirth was made possible by his invention and sacrifice."

II.  Multiculturalism On The March/Decline

So goes the reading of the movies by Zizek.  It is the evolution of multiculturalism played out in cinema.  So far, so good.

But Zizek has a point to make, and that point is that Hollywood got it backwards. Why would Hollywood insist on making less multicultural movies, while real society becomes more so?   In 1954 multiculturalism was nonexistent; in 2007 it's practically an official ideology.  If there was a society that was "ready" for a movie that puts all traditions on an equal level it would be eyeballs-deep Multicultural America, where every reference to another society is qualified by, "but we have to respect their traditions/what makes our ways better than theirs?"

The answer is that we have regressed; what should be the correct, multicultural,  understanding of reality (all traditions are equal in value) was ducked, and a lie reinstated (we're better) in order to preserve the existing (though dying) social order.  More plainly: conservatives have taken over Hollywood.  These are all tricks to protect global capitalism.

III.  Write This, Not That

If you're having trouble with that line of thinking, you'll have trouble with his whole philosophy, aptly summarized on page 3 of the Introduction:

In today's post-political democracy, the traditional bipolarity between a Social-Democratic Center-Left and a Conservative Center-Right is gradually being replaced by a new bipolarity between politics and post-politics: the technocratic-liberal multiculturalist-tolerant party of post-political administration and its Rightist-populist counterpart of passionate political struggle-- no wonder the old Centrist opponents (Conservatives or Christian Democrats and Social Democrats or Liberals) are often compelled to join forces against the common enemy.

I'm not going to make the dozen easy jokes, I'll say simply this: when writing becomes so complicated that only the initiated can understand it, then it is meant only for them.  Who is he going to convince by hyphenating every third word set?  Nobody.  It's masturbation, though considerably more difficult.

IV.  Will Smith Is Black???

I Am Legend probably never had so much analysis, but let me throw in something Zizek missed:  Neville is black.  There's your multiculturalism, at least all human races are equal in their superiority to vampires.

They could have easily made the vampires a functioning society instead of animalistic marauders, thus allowing for a deeper multicultural comparison.  For example, why not a 9/11 allegory?   Black and white rural Americans united against New York Muslims?  A few days after 9/11, MTV interviewed the Wu-Tang Clan's Method Man about what should be done to prevent another attack.  His response was (paraphrasing), we're going to have to start searching Muslims, stop them in their cars and at airports, etc.  That the usual prime target of every possible kind of profiling was now suggesting that the solution was more racial profiling was an irony totally lost on him.  But nevertheless a film that shifted the players in the multicultural hierarchy but kept the theme intact should have been welcome in 2007.  It wasn't.

The question is why it wasn't.  There are huge ethnic divides in the world, not to mention poverty; "invisible people" marginalized, contained, unrecognized.  So why does Hollywood insist on making movies that inferiorize the other?

Zizek's answer is, "collective fetishistic disavowal," which is denial.  We know the global capitalist system is in crisis, but we're going to carry on like it's not.  Hollywood facilitates this.  Important point: Hollywood facilitates this, not reflects this, because Hollywood is an extension of global capitalism.

V.  Do You Swear To Tell The Truthiness?

Steven Colbert appeared before the House immigration subcommittee as an

"expert witness"

on migrant workers.   Pause for effect.

Steven Colbert is a person, but you have undoubtedly only seen the character Steven Colbert.  What's he like in real life?  Who cares.  That's not what you pay him for.

This wasn't the typical Hollywood Star Testifying Before Congress routine, and at least those actors have the decency to signify that they are experts by wearing glasses they don't need.   No, he stayed in character the whole time, so his appearance before the Committee was jarring, seemingly uncanny.  What next, Robocop?  Was it appropriate to play a fictional character before Congress?

And many congressmen/people said no, which on first consideration seems correct.  But.

But if you're focusing on a man playing a character for the benefit of TV cameras, you are looking in the wrong place.

colbert congress.jpg

Those hearings themselves are staged.  They are purely for display, as a means of getting things into the public record.  This isn't a metaphor, this is the literal truth; there is no institutional expectation that real work is conducted there or that they even reflect the actual beliefs of the individuals speaking.  They're reading their lines.   "What's my motivation?  Oh yeah, Monsanto."  Real business is conducted in the back.

Steven Colbert is a character that the public has voted on to several seasons of TV.  He's sticking with what works.  Congressmen are no more "real" than he; molded to represent the will of their perceived constituents.  Or did John McCain really think of himself as a maverick?  George Bush and Dick Cheney were anti-gay?  Those are characters.

No to mention that Colbert's character is decidedly more consistent.  How many people pictured above have to please their voters even as they must serve their donators?

Steve Colbert didn't crash the party, he was invited.  No one refused to appear with him.  No one criticized the fact of his appearance, only what he said or the way he said it.  "I think his testimony was not appropriate," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said.  "What he had to say was not the way it should have been said."

The most you can argue is that Colbert wasn't an expert in the testimony he was giving, but, as he pointed out,

"Does one day working in the field make you an expert witness, do you think?" Rep. Lamar Smith (R- Texas) asked scornfully.

"I believe one day of me studying anything makes me an expert on something," Colbert replied confidently.

"Is that to say it's more work than you've ever done before, right?" Smith followed.

"It's certainly harder work than this," the comedian deadpanned.

He's not an expert, but he had, at that moment, more experience with the question than most everyone else in the room.  (This is the person who engages in argument to undermine the system (treats the problem as symptom rather than fetish), but who also distances himself from his position through the process of critical analysis (i.e. he knows what he is doing)).  

And the very difficult thing to accept is that he also has more power.  I realize that TV guys don't vote on immigration policy, but I can absolutely swear to you unconditionally without any qualification, that immigration policy will go the way TV wants it to.  They control the horizontal.

VI.  The False Choice

Here's a typical Zizek line of thinking.  Say you want homosexuality to be accepted.  So The Powers That Be tell you, "on penalty of death, do not dare make insulting comments about gays."  Got it. 

Or, TPTB can go postmodern on you, and instead say, "look, you have freedom of speech to say anything you want, but it's ignorant to make insulting comments about gays."  That's the approach in place now, and it's much more powerful.  It offers you a false choice, but you understand that you have to keep your remarks to yourself, or else something will happen.

This description makes perfect sense.  Americans of every political persuasion feel this false choice. They're told they have these freedoms that, in fact, they really don't.   And the false choices are everywhere: watch whatever news you want, but everyone knows these are the only legitimate choices.  No one can dare tell you what kind of diet you have to have, but your choice is high fructose corn syrup or aspartame.  Eat it.

From this very clear description of the problem comes the most terrible solution imaginable: let's go back to the authoritarian approach.  It's more honest, and in this way we can effectively build a better society.  You proletariat are either going to be controlled directly, or indirectly, but controlled you will be.  At least if you can get the right people controlling you, they'd at least force you to eat something better than high fructose corn syrup.  That's what he thinks would happen.

Well, they already tried this in a movie, and it was called Soylent Green.

VII.  I Am Legend In The Only Place That Counts

You'll observe that the title of the movie is I Am Legend, not We Human Beings Are LegendsI.  The point that has escaped Zizek's notice is that the I in I Am Legend doesn't depend on the presence of other people.  Note that Neville makes jokes and stays "in character" even though he's talking to mannequins or a dog or no one.  He can't help it: he's a human, and he was born after 1960.   Zizek is worried about some fantastical move by the culturally powerful to elevate themselves and others to a superior state, but that would be a dramatic misunderstanding of the situation.  The correct interpretation-- i.e. the only one that is correct-- is that from 1954 to now we have moved from human cultures in conflict with weird, strange, other cultures (e.g. the Italians), to a near total awareness of all existing cultures that we find annoying.  The result?  We hate everyone equally.   We are perfectly aware that to the vampires and Muslims we are evil, scary creatures, but that doesn't make them less scary or dangerous.

Hollywood got the evolution of the culture right, not wrong.  The next remake will be titled,  I Am A Main Character In My Own Movie, everyone else be damned.

VIII.  Who Would Win In A Fight?

Back to Zizek and his key error. If you take him at his word, there are "inherent contradictions" in the very structure of capitalism that make it untenable; no one needs to destroy it, it will implode on itself.  Similarly, the media moguls don't have to be in cahoots with capitalists because the media itself (that structure) is part of capitalism (it creates wants, branding, etc.) 

The media creating wants and branding has nothing to do with capitalism, it has everything to do with human psychology.  Even in a perfect (communist) utopia you could not kill off capitalism because capitalism is the sublimation, the "correcting" of the natural human impulse of envy.  It either bubbles up and corrupts you, or you create a natural outlet for it.  There aren't alternatives.  If global capitalism implodes from the weight of its inherent contradictions, it will simply be replaced by... global capitalism.  Because it's run by humans.

But none of that matters, because even Zizek doesn't believe his own theory.  He can write 600 pages but in the end what he blames are individuals.  

Zizek, like all important bearded lefty communist who can outthink you Central Time NFL lunatics, derives his entire philosophical system from one single axiom: the powerful control the powerless.  It may be phrased in terms of competing narratives or systemic contradictions, but it's all George Bush's fault nonetheless, and it is also Kim Jong Il's and Putin's and Maos's in as much as they (as individuals) are part of the capitalist system.   His solution is "a return to a Marxian critique of political economy."  When you hear someone in the front seat say that, hold your breath, you're driving by a graveyard.

There is no concerted effort to promote global capitalism, not in theory and not in practice.  There's no concerted effort to do anything, which is itself a problem but at least puts the Marxist angle to rest. These things you see happening aren't capitalism's fault, they are people's fault. There are corporations and individuals with their own personal interests that sometimes align and sometimes don't.  I'm sure the CEO of Exxon and the CEO of Apple often apply their considerable power towards similar goals, but the moment Steve Jobs discovers cold fusion we'll all be lamenting how pancreatic cancer takes the best of us. 

"They pressure the government to keep their corporate taxes low at the expense of healthcare!"  Wrong.  Each corporation pressures the government to keep their own corporate taxes low, period.  That they're all temporarily united on this is convenience, if Apple's taxes have to go up in order for Exxon's to stay low, we're all going to have Droids.  "But they all serve on each others corporate boards!"  That's not collusion, that's keeping your enemies closer. 

I can say all this with confidence because, as far as I know, corporations and governments are made of human beings, and human beings are envious, petty, anxious, and above all mortal.  What sets us apart from each other is how we manage those inherent flaws.  All of their power is the power of individuals.  When you say "Exxon tricks us by offering us a false choice of oil vs. unicycle!" you really mean that this guy is tricking you:

exxon ceo.jpg

Really?  Look closely.  Really?

That's the problem with his "false choice" model above: there aren't any Powers That Be trying to trick you. Maybe in 1960 when we had superpower politics, and in 1939, but not now.  There's no concerted effort to control society, so there is nothing to rebel against.  The false choices work on you not because TPTB are devious but because you will murder your own family to avoid shame.  All the control is self-imposed.

And don't let Zizek hoodwink you; he'll say that the power isn't in individuals but in the structure of capitalism itself-- the rules and the initial allocation of rights that results in the outcome you see--no one has to act deliberately.   That makes for good theory, but Zizek doesn't believe it himself: it is still the execution by individual actors (who are part of the system, I'll admit) that must actively work to keep capitalism propped up.  Otherwise, according to him, it would be gone by now.

So to Colbert.  It would be awesome if all of this was planned, if there were some secret cabal who brought Colbert in specifically to mask the contrived meaninglessness of the Congressional Hearings, i.e. to make them seem more real than his simulated reality, and no doubt Zizek would see something along those lines.  And it would be comforting to know that the chaos around us was really under someone's watchful eye.  But the truth is there is no such cabal.  If you extraordinary renditioned Steven Colbert and waterboarded him to name names, he wouldn't know what the hell to say to you.  As far as he's concerned, he duped them.None of this was planned, indeed, none of it has any point whatsoever.  They invited Steven Colbert because... he's Steven Colbert.  There is no meaning behind it at all.

IX. Will Smith Is Black?

Zizek holds up I Am Legend as an example of preserving the current state of global capitalism, but in fact that movie is the perfect example of Hollywood's disinterest in preserving anything except it's own immediate survival.  They put Will Smith in the movie not because he is black and it offers a different version of multiculturalism, but for the simple reason that he is the most bankable actor in Hollywood.  In other words, not because they like him but because we like him.

Furthermore, the ending of I Am Legend that you see today-- the non-multicultural, kill all the mofos one-- is the revised ending.  The original ending was the multicultural one-- Neville realizes the vampires have their own society, returns the girl to them, and they part ways, parallel traditions, humans living one way and vampires living the other way.

This was the ending Hollywood wanted, but it was rejected by the (test) audiences.  So Hollywood changed it, not to serve capitalism but to make a profit for themselves.  It was that simple.

What you see isn't a systematic attempt to hide the truth from you, but the accidentally organized and random conflict of various individuals which has resulted in both iPads and temporary 10% unemployment. It is comforting to blame this on some flaw in the system, but there is no system, there is only people, and they have no time for theory.  In theory, there is no "they"-- just psychology the result of  language mediated by these capitalist interactions. Bu tin practice, there are lots of theys, and they act in completely unpredictable ways-- unpredictable if you're looking at them as cogs in a system.  Over beers and hash we can debate whether global capitalism requires emergency shifts into socialism, or not, but don't think for a moment it is organized or hierarchical.  And thank God.

Real control-- positive and negative-- comes from within.  Those guys don't have to lie to you. You are being lied to, by yourself.  If you want to change it, now you know where to start.


Addendum: too many emails about Bernie Madoff, so:

So, you know, there is a structural problem beneath all this psychological topic of the greedy bankers, which is, that's how capitalism works, my God, which is why even concerning our beloved model--Bernard Madoff, no?--I didn't like it how they focused on him.  He was just the radical version of where the system is pushing you. Now, I'm not saying--I'm not crazy--"which is why we need to nationalize all banks and introduce immediately socialist dictatorship" or what. What I'm just saying is, let's not get rid of the problem by too easily making it into a psychological problem. You know, you can be an evil guy, but there must be very precise institutional, economic, and so on, coordinates, background, which allows you to do what you do.

That it's not a psychological problem is an odd thing for a psychoanalyst to say.  But nevertheless, that Bernie Madoff knew how to work the system is different than saying the system allowed him to do it, or that the system creates Bernie Madoffs, or that he is simply an extreme case of what the system creates.  The system doesn't do anything, you do it all in reaction to the system.  Bernie Madoff did those things because of... Bernie Madoff.  To the extent that the institution itself is to blame, he should get less time, otherwise it is merely revenge; which it is, because there's no system: it is punishment handed out by individuals against another individual, or, more accurately, individuals manipulating the system to get the outcome they want.



Remarkable post! I always t... (Below threshold)

September 29, 2010 12:26 PM | Posted by Ben: | Reply

Remarkable post! I always thought Zizek was for those who found Hardt & Negri's prose too lucid. Now I'm tempted to read it, because it sounds like he's wrong in interesting ways, though the basis in Lacanian psychoanalysis is still good cause for prima facie doubt (rotten premise).

What a pity about the movie. It could have been so much better.

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"Over beers and has we can ... (Below threshold)

September 29, 2010 1:11 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

"Over beers and has we can debate" [?]

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Everyone clear on this? Th... (Below threshold)

September 29, 2010 1:14 PM | Posted by Paul: | Reply

Everyone clear on this? Those on the Right abandon your need for security through religion, and those on the Left abandon your need for security through government. Time to grow up.

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Minor spellcheck needed at ... (Below threshold)

September 29, 2010 1:19 PM | Posted by Tree Frog: | Reply

Minor spellcheck needed at this section: "Over beers and has we can debate [...]"

Hash browns? Whatever you want to put here isn't what's there.

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"I can say all this with co... (Below threshold)

September 29, 2010 1:23 PM | Posted by izrik: | Reply

"I can say all this with confidence because, as far as I know, corporations and governments are made of human beings, and human beings are envious, petty, anxious, and above all mortal. What sets us apart from each other is how we manage those inherent flaws. All of their power is the power of individuals. "


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but I can absolutely swe... (Below threshold)

September 29, 2010 1:28 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

but I can absolutely swear to you unconditionally without any qualification, that immigration policy will go the way TV wants it to.

But TV just shows what the people want to see, otherwise they would watch something else. That makes it just a plain old democracy in the end. Yawn. Boring.

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RE:"when writing becomes so... (Below threshold)

September 29, 2010 1:49 PM | Posted by Mark p.s.2: | Reply

RE:"when writing becomes so complicated that only the initiated can understand it, then it is meant only for them." TLP

You just described psychiatry.
Making people magically good , with magical chemicals that only produce and allow "good" thoughts.

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Nice try, Scientologist.</p... (Below threshold)

September 29, 2010 3:03 PM | Posted, in reply to Mark p.s.2's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Nice try, Scientologist.

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As flawed as psychiatry may... (Below threshold)

September 29, 2010 3:33 PM | Posted, in reply to Mark p.s.2's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

As flawed as psychiatry may be, that's a straight up straw man. Unless the psychiatrist you're thinking of is under the age of 6.

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Parts of what you wrote rem... (Below threshold)

September 29, 2010 4:54 PM | Posted by casualhero: | Reply

Parts of what you wrote reminded me of Erich Fromm's book The Sane Society. While there's no over authority, Fromm argues there's now "anonymous authority," or authority of the masses. I apologize for the formatting and length, but I found it illuminating:

Summing up then, we may say that the social character of
the nineteenth century was essentially competitive, hoarding,
exploitative, authoritarian, aggressive, individualistic. Anticipating our later discussion, we may already emphasize here the great difference between nineteenth- and twentieth-century
Capitalism. Instead of the exploitative and hoarding orientation
we find the receptive and marketing orientation. Instead of
competitiveness we find an increasing tendency toward "teamwork";
instead of a striving for ever-increasing profit, a wish for
a steady and secure income; instead of exploitation, a tendency
to share and spread wealth, and to manipulate others—and oneself;
instead of rational and irrational but overt authority, we find
anonymous authority—the authority of public opinion and the
market; instead of the individual conscience, the need to adjust
and be approved of; instead of the sense of pride and mastery,
an ever-increasing though mainly unconscious sense of


Looked upon from the standards of the nineteenth century,
we have achieved almost everything which seemed to be necessary
for a saner society, and indeed, many people who still think
in terms of the past century are convinced that we continue to
progress. Consequently they also believe that the only threat to
further progress lies in authoritarian societies, like the Soviet
Union which, with its ruthless economic exploitation of
workers for the sake of quicker accumulation of capital and
the ruthless political authority necessary for the continuation
of exploitation, resembles in many ways the earlier phase of
Capitalism. For those, however, who do not look at our present
society with the eyes of the nineteenth century, it is obvious that
the fulfillment of the nineteenth-century hopes has by no means
led to the expected results. In fact, it seems that in spite of
material prosperity, political and sexual freedom, the world in
the middle of the twentieth century is mentally sicker than it was
in the nineteenth century. Indeed, "we are not in danger of
becoming slaves any more, but of becoming robots," as Adlai
Stevenson said so succinctly. There is no overt authority which
intimidates us, but we are governed by the fear of the anonymous
authority of conformity. We do not submit to anyone
personally; we do not go through conflicts with authority, but
we have also no convictions of our own, almost no individuality,
almost no sense of self. Quite obviously, the diagnosis of our
pathology cannot follow the lines of the nineteenth century. We
have to recognize the specific pathological problems of our time
in order to arrive at a vision of that which is necessary to save the
Western world from an increasing insanity. This diagnosis will
be attempted in the following section, dealing with the social
character of Western man in the twentieth century.

And lastly:

We have discussed the difference between rational and
irrational, furthering and inhibiting authority, and stated that
Western society in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was
characterized by the mixture of both kinds of authority. What is
common to both rational and irrational authority is that it is overt
authority. You know who orders and forbids: the father, the
teacher, the boss, the king, the officer, the priest, God, the law,
the moral conscience. The demands or prohibitions may be
reasonable or not, strict or lenient, I may obey or rebel; I always
know that there is an authority, who it is, what it wants, and
what results from my compliance or my rebellion.
Authority in the middle of the twentieth century has changed
its character; it is not overt authority, but anonymous, invisible, alienated
authority. Nobody makes a demand, neither a person, nor an
idea, nor a moral law. Yet we all conform as much or more than
people in an intensely authoritarian society would. Indeed,
nobody is an authority except "It." What is It? Profit, economic
necessities, the market, common sense, public opinion, what
"one" does, thinks, feels. The laws of anonymous authority
are as invisible as the laws of the market—and just as unassailable.
Who can attack the invisible? Who can rebel against

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That's just too fucking lon... (Below threshold)

September 29, 2010 5:09 PM | Posted, in reply to casualhero's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

That's just too fucking long.

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Thanks for posting that, in... (Below threshold)

September 29, 2010 5:59 PM | Posted, in reply to casualhero's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Thanks for posting that, interesting stuff and on-topic imo

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Oh for chrissakes, what is ... (Below threshold)

September 29, 2010 8:03 PM | Posted by Anon: | Reply

Oh for chrissakes, what is it you find so complicated about the quote from Zizek? Is your attention span really so short that you can't follow a paragraph that has a couple of subordinate clauses in it? I remember you - you were you the guy in class always trying to dominate the discussion but never bothering to do the reading.

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Besides a critique of the h... (Below threshold)

September 29, 2010 8:24 PM | Posted by John: | Reply

Besides a critique of the hyperbole, you do not offer a clear refutation of Zizek's initial premise - that capitalism is struggling to deal with ecology, biogenetics, etc. If he is wrong about everything, surely he is also wrong about this?

Also, it seems to me that you and Slavoj are essentially saying the same thing about the current ideological climate, i.e. we/corporations all act according to our own interest, there is no global cover up of the truth, we are all cynics who see thru the acting of congress/colbert, etc. Despite all this, the old ideology still functions -no one *really believes*, but we continue to act as if we do. I'm not sure if this is brought out in his most recent book, but this has been the Zizek party line since at least the 90s.

I definitely agree with the point that he continues to drive marxism and authoritarianism into the ground.

Your most interesting claim in this post is the 1954 transition from weird culture shock to hate, but the idea is poorly developed. Why '54 and what exactly is the transition from cultural conflict to annoyance and hate? What was cultural conflict like before that time (not annoying, hateful?).

Your alternate reading of the omega/legend films is excellent.

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you gotta fix this comment ... (Below threshold)

September 29, 2010 9:36 PM | Posted by randy: | Reply

you gotta fix this comment form...if you tab out of the url field it sends you to the top of the page. guess i shouldn't be posting that link anyway BUT...

for one of the first times i'm not sure that i agree with you. not that i saw the movie or anything...but i think that the reason this latest one was not portrayed as a diversity lovefest is because a) nobody feels that way and b) you put Will Smith in your movie as the token black and you don't have to say much at all about diversity.

nobody is digging this diversity bullshit. except the people who make millions off of the whole scam.

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eh i dunno maybe you're rig... (Below threshold)

September 29, 2010 9:45 PM | Posted by randy: | Reply

eh i dunno maybe you're right.

my favorite part about this whole Colbert appearance, was after people criticized him for "wasting time" or "being silly", I saw a clip of Elmo appearing before Congress. probably Jon Stewart put it on his show, or Colbert himself. what a joke.

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"There is no concerted effo... (Below threshold)

September 29, 2010 11:35 PM | Posted by Reid: | Reply

"There is no concerted effort to promote global capitalism. There's no concerted effort to do anything, which is itself a problem but at least puts the Marxist angle to rest."

I can't blame you for reproducing the accepted wisdom about what Marxism entails, but given your knack for cutting through the bullshit, I'm surprised you failed to do so in this case. The 'Marxist angle', if you actually read Marx, not only doesn't require a 'concerted effort' for capitalism to exist, but explains capital precisely as an unintentional aggregate effect of lower-level social practices. Marx essentially takes the same tack as Smith, only trying to show that if you really follow the premises of political economy through to the end, the invisible hand is not benevolent but careless and generally corrosive.

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Zizek is very interesting, ... (Below threshold)

September 29, 2010 11:51 PM | Posted by America: | Reply

Zizek is very interesting, but he spits too much and is a bit unkempt. He tries too hard to be a character. Lose the beard, keep a regular appointment at the barbershop, and iron your clothes. It doesn't take too much effort to look nice. His brilliance is blunted by his appearance. A rough diamond. Surely he knows that he is a diamond- if he truly wanted to shine, he would dispense with the sloppiness.

Also, where is (are) America's public intellectual(s)? We are a nation of 300 million people and we must go to Slovenia to find an interesting viewpoint? Love me some Slovenia, foreign accents, and Eastern European grittiness, but wtf. Is this nation that boring? Shit. That is sad. Very sad, I must go cry now. And pour a drink for my ancestors who worked very hard to establish themselves in this country so that I could be free to read books and use my brain. to learn Slovenian and translate Zizek for the nation's soft-minded intellectual class so that they would have the chance to read something revelatory about the machinations of their own culture.

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Excellent comment - hit neg... (Below threshold)

September 30, 2010 2:33 AM | Posted by Sorry America: | Reply

Excellent comment - hit neg by mistake.

Thanks for the donate-worthy post doc. :)

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Lord of the Flies came out ... (Below threshold)

September 30, 2010 3:12 AM | Posted by Hmmmm: | Reply

Lord of the Flies came out the same year. A coincidence?

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Wow, this is amazing. Thank... (Below threshold)

September 30, 2010 3:34 AM | Posted by Pete: | Reply

Wow, this is amazing. Thank you, Alone. Really awesome.

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Paul knows that I can't ref... (Below threshold)

September 30, 2010 8:06 AM | Posted, in reply to Paul's comment, by Jack Coupal: | Reply

Paul knows that I can't refuse to pay my government for providing my security, while I can refuse to pay my religion for providing my security.

Those security providers operate under very different rules and with very different degrees of success.

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Except that US government l... (Below threshold)

September 30, 2010 8:35 AM | Posted, in reply to Jack Coupal's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Except that US government launches military "crusades" so there's not a very clear distinction between religious and secular "security" made by the US government.

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Really nice defense of the ... (Below threshold)

September 30, 2010 12:37 PM | Posted by David: | Reply

Really nice defense of the status quo which continues, factually, to result in the growing inequality between the top 1% in the country and the rest of us. Don't like the stats? Tough. Deal with reality.

Do you really think this trend is an accident? Your explanation is to say it's not a system-it's the result of individual actions. Fine. What a surprise the trend didn't go the other way, huh? I mean, really ... 1% randomly exerting economic policies which favor their infinitesimaly small numbers.

What a surprise other government infrastructures ameliorate this trend. What a surprise in the past you've pointed to other governments as missing the economic point with various policies they've adopted. Surprising, of course, since you've just "proven" that structure can't possibly exist. Or, if it does, it's just in America there are markedly different characters? Is it fluoride in the water?

Explaining why corporations working together to create across-the-board economic policies isn't a "system" you write: "That's not collusion, that's keeping your enemies closer." A rose by any other name" or maybe "if it walks like a duck, sounds like a duck ...." Nice spin. Sort of lobbyist-speak for the trend lines of the status quo there.

While we're on the subject, let's dismiss the canard lower income taxes on the top 10% of Americans result in more jobs-they don't. And the other myth is that most of the concentrated wealth is simply the result of the "daring entrepreneurial and hard-working" spirit. It isn't. It's important to understand the top 1% overwhelmingly gain their economic resources through inheritance. I'm not saying this is wrong ... I'm happy to be able to pass resources I've been able to amass by living in a time and under certain social/tax policies which actively supported this accumulation. I'm saying it is most definitely a structure or system. Anyone who argues against this, pointing to "individual choices" is either intentionally naive or has another agenda to pursue.

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I wish people would comm... (Below threshold)

September 30, 2010 1:46 PM | Posted, in reply to Reid's comment, by Alone: | Reply

I wish people would comment here and not email me (about this post)-- I'm getting too many good comments there! But to your point: let me try to rephrase: the notion of the invisible hand (Smith or Marx) itself is what is wrong. You cannot interpret the goings on of a society without a specific consideration of human impulses. These impulses always (in the long run) overwhelm anything else. Zizek thinks the problem is capitalism. Even though I disagree, _what he is describing_ isn't capitalism anyway, it's human beings acting like human beings. If you want to call _that_ capitalism, fine, but it's not driving is, we're driving it.

If I lust after everyone I see (drive) I can either suppress it and hope for the best, or create a society that allows me some expression of this lust balancing my satisfaction with general public safety. But no matter what we decide to do, that lust is coming out, the question is how we plan on accommodating it.

Zizek would emphatically say my lust isn't mine, but created by the media. I'd say it's diverted, pointed, by the media, but it's there nonetheless. Pretending that it's all society/media won't stop me from whatever, and certainly doesn't excuse it when it happens.

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Yea because mental illness ... (Below threshold)

September 30, 2010 4:58 PM | Posted, in reply to Mark p.s.2's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Yea because mental illness isn't real.
Yea because there aren't poor people who try to kill themselves because the voices are too loud and torture them.
Yea because people DON"T go manic and overtly insane, and come back down to reality with a little LiCO3 love.

You fucking idiot.

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"If I lust after everyone I... (Below threshold)

September 30, 2010 5:16 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

"If I lust after everyone I see (drive) I can either suppress it and hope for the best, or create a society that allows me some expression of this lust balancing my satisfaction with general public safety."

"Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living."

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I think you missed the poin... (Below threshold)

September 30, 2010 10:15 PM | Posted by rally4fear: | Reply

I think you missed the point.

First, I hate being that guy, but it's Stephen, not Stephen. Second, yes, there was a point in his being before congress. How many people care about migrant workers? How many people even know about the Take Our Jobs program? But how many people do now because of Colbert's appearance before congress? Even if just a few and their biases aren't tickled one bit or care to inform themselves, the congresswoman was smart in inviting Stephen as she knew people would tune in to watch him troll Congress

Lastly, you've repeatedly said how you find Comedy Central's "fake news" lineup silly. No wonder you keep calling him Steven (only his last name's pronunciation is fake, which is the butt of the joke when he's trying to "snap out of something" or keep himself in control). In any case, Stephen Colbert the character (and yes, we do know and care who the person is; do you? On Charlie Rose) is an exaggeration of modern-day punditry, and his biggest troll he managed just a few feet from Bush, in front of the press, exposing their ineptitude, making them feel really uncomfortable: here).

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Just wanted to add that, ju... (Below threshold)

September 30, 2010 10:23 PM | Posted by rally4fear: | Reply

Just wanted to add that, judging by the Internet's reaction and that of Fox News, I'd wager that a lot of people saw it. And it was in C-Span 3 of all places. Could the same be said about the hearing sans Colbert? I place my bets on no.

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"the notion of the invisibl... (Below threshold)

September 30, 2010 10:40 PM | Posted, in reply to Alone's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

"the notion of the invisible hand (Smith or Marx) itself is what is wrong."

But the notion, at least in the sense I'm employing it, is simply that there is that there can be cumulative effect of individual actions that was not itself the direct and/or intended purpose of those individual actions. What is wrong about this?

"You cannot interpret the goings on of a society without a specific consideration of human impulses."

Well of course you can. It may not be a complete picture, and its incompleteness may lead to the interpretation turning out to be untenable, but one would have to show why this is the case. Marx argues that while an account of the equivalent of 'human impulses' would enrich and complicate his theory, he does not expect such an account to contradict it in a significant way. I'm unfamiliar with any convincing argument about why omitting such an account does lead Marx into posing an untenable theory (although somewhat ironically, a major aspect of Zizek's work involves such an argument). Do you know of such an argument, or are you more generally skeptical of sociological/anthropological theories that bracket psychology?

To be honest though, while I'm not prepared by any means to debate the nitty-gritty of the psychological and sociological contours of the nature/culture question, I'm very skeptical of any appeals to 'human impulses' in the abstract, as if there is some effectively invariant biological basis of psychological dispositions. It sounds like your advocating something like this when you say: "These impulses always (in the long run) overwhelm anything else."; and when you talk about this very abstract sense of 'lust'. But please, correct me if I'm misunderstanding you. Of course, I'd readily agree that there is likely a non-negligible contribution of genetics to psychology and sociology, but I'm skeptical of anything more than that. Besides some minimal contribution, whatever 'human impulses' may be is at least as dependent upon the contingent shape of social and developmental contexts as the structure of society is upon the psychology of its members.

I don't really have a horse in the race when it comes to Zizek. While I appreciate some of his earlier work, he's become a dead-end as far as I'm concerned, and I agree with your comments on him here for the most part. All I really take issue with is your characterization of Marxism in general as represented by Zizek's errors.

Nonetheless, I don't think its at all correct to say "Zizek would emphatically say my lust isn't mine, but created by the media. I'd say it's diverted, pointed, by the media, but it's there nonetheless." I'm not sure how much of Zizek you've read, but it certainly wasn't a very representative sample. He is usually very comfortable talking about desire, drives, etc, in a way that makes no claims about their origins in media or society at all.

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There's a large gap between... (Below threshold)

September 30, 2010 10:43 PM | Posted, in reply to David's comment, by Eddy: | Reply

There's a large gap between the rich and the poor in America?! OMFG when has this happened anywhere else, ever? Oh wait.. that's been true in every large society ever to grace the planet. It's nothing unexpected.

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Right.Also, that l... (Below threshold)

September 30, 2010 10:44 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Reid: | Reply


Also, that last comment was me.

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Now do your homework Eddy. ... (Below threshold)

September 30, 2010 11:47 PM | Posted, in reply to Eddy's comment, by David: | Reply

Now do your homework Eddy. Look at the trend lines. Do a comparative analysis of relative levels of economic growth/distribution across all the industrialized nations. See how they significantly differ from the U.S. Ignore the data and THEN respond in the jejune manner you've mastered so well at your tender age.

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"The media creating wants a... (Below threshold)

October 5, 2010 9:30 PM | Posted by TheFirstPsych: | Reply

"The media creating wants and branding has nothing to do with capitalism, it has everything to do with human psychology."

Ah, but capitalism has everything to do with psychology. Surely, you know who Edward Bernays is?

"So Hollywood changed it, not to serve capitalism but to make a profit for themselves. It was that simple."

Making a profit over the simple ideal of putting in the ending you wanted to IS capitalism. Imagine if Mark Twain edited his books so that they'd sell more. Seriously, did you write this just to take on people who use difficult words? Sounds like you just want more blog hits.

Surely, you can't possibly believe psychology in America has nothing to do with marketing? Two words: Focus group.

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"I can say all this with co... (Below threshold)

October 5, 2010 10:46 PM | Posted by Peter: | Reply

"I can say all this with confidence because, as far as I know, corporations and governments are made of human beings, and human beings are envious, petty, anxious, and above all mortal."

Corporations are immortal. I haven't heard of a single corporation being given the death penalty for killing hundreds or thousands of other humans, during peacetime. Heck, even freezing their books would suffice as an analog of jail time, and that never happens.

You're right, though. Corporations are just made of people, therefore their dynamics, behavior, and ethics are simple, linear extrapolations or superpositions of human behavioral psychology. But why stop there? Humans are just amalgams of cellular matter that follow simple biochemical and physical principles. Don't blame Bernie Madoff, blame Faraday, Newton, Watson & Crick!

Even the most trivial physical system of a group of homogeneous, simple particles will exhibit emergent dynamics. You're right that there is no more straw man Powers That Be behind the curtain, but why is it so hard to accept that modern multi-national corporate capitalism is a system of entities who operate at a level that is entirely indifferent to individual human lives? It has a logic of its own, and it is fueled in large part by human largesses and human suffering.

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TLP IS TRYING TO MAKE YOU B... (Below threshold)

April 18, 2011 3:00 PM | Posted by Fran: | Reply

TLP IS TRYING TO MAKE YOU BLIND TO THE CONSPIRACY!!! Haha jk... Good points here, Alone... I guess the "system" isn't a conspiracy, after all. (who gives a shit bout what I think, anyway)

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I know this is an old post,... (Below threshold)

January 31, 2014 4:33 PM | Posted by Roquentin: | Reply

I know this is an old post, but I wanted to go back through your old entries and stumbled across it. If I can give you any advice, and it's doubtful you'll take it anyways, don't make the typically American mistake of writing off someone like Zizek because the prose isn't written in a way you immediately find comfortable. As someone who writes at such great length about narcissism, I'd hope "if I can't understand it in 10 seconds it must be bullshit" wouldn't pass muster as a position. Can you imagine this applied to physics or chemistry? Exactly. You're quite right about people in the continental tradition writing for an audience that knows the material, but does everything have to be gutted until a pure layman knows exactly what is at stake?

It's always way too easy to cover up laziness by being dismissive. It certainly isn't limited to one political camp or another. This kind of argument has rolled out of the mouth of no less than Noam Chomsky who got into a bitter public feud with Zizek last year. He sounded way more dishonest though, because he'd keel over dead before he admitted he was an old fashioned American nationalist. He most certainly is though, for more reasons than I have time to type here. What is key, however, is that he assumes the way he was taught to think at MIT (and anywhere else), what he was taught to value and understand as important, is the only way there ever can or should be.

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Global capitalism is human ... (Below threshold)

May 18, 2014 1:05 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Global capitalism is human nature and there will always be global capitalism. Check.

Any other embarrassingly stupid things you want to put on record while you're at it? Maybe the McDonalds dollar menu is a fundamental law of nature due to dialectical materialism, something along those lines?

You really can be a buffoon sometimes. No sense of history at all. Capitalism is a phase, you dolt. Can you really not even imagine a world without it?

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If only Marxists could read... (Below threshold)

May 18, 2014 2:10 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Hottentot: | Reply

If only Marxists could read.

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I love TLP and I love Zizek... (Below threshold)

September 7, 2014 7:12 PM | Posted by James Abrhams: | Reply

I love TLP and I love Zizek, seeing them come together is amazing! I think Alone's analysis, even of zizek's mistakes and is great but I do think I agree with some of the other commenters that I don't know if Zizek himself would actually disagree with much of what is said here.

Certainly its hard to say because Zizek is so dense and contradictory that whether or not zizek agrees or disagrees is largely irrelevant and so the analysis that critics at least one way which zizek definitely says stuff sometimes is quite useful!

Man, these posts should be studied at university. I'd love to unpack what this post means for zizek's book with a bunch of other people. Is zizek really saying what Alone is suggesting. Is Alone just presenting the "post-ideology" point of view that zizek says everyone else is suggesting and he disagrees with. Both Zizek and Alone would agree that there is no real individual causing all of this stuff to happen apart from every individual and both Zizek and Alone would also agree that there is a "system" that every individual is trying to protect (the status quo, defense against change etc). So where do they actually diverge?

For Alone everything is really about narcissism, would Zizek disagree with that?, where do we see zizek discuss narcissism in a similar way? I know zizek has a similar scorn for masturbation as Alone has when he refers to zizek's introduction (By similar I don't mean, they both have a scorn for masturbation, but the way they talk about it, the specific way they have a scorn for it, is similar... not that Alone is against people actually masturbating or anything)

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Amusing that Reid would mak... (Below threshold)

September 8, 2014 8:04 PM | Posted by tied up knot: | Reply

Amusing that Reid would make the discussion about whether TLP got Marx right. This makes Reid the arbiter/wise one, which is what Marxism always insists is needed as a facilitator to the full dictatorship of the proletariat. Marxists love to ignore this need for Interpreters of Marx as the priestly caste of the allegedly post-class society of prole-dictated uberfair Marxist thought.

How that isn't a religion I still can't fathom. I guess if you're a Marxist and you say you're also an atheist and you vocally disdain theocrats, churchgoers, believers and the like, you couldn't possibly be practicing a religious faith of your own with dogmatic principles and rules for behavior. That demand for "the dialectics" in "the praxis" isn't an equalizer, it's an insistence on a caste of rulemakers for how and what is the Marxist dialectic. Please ignore the why.

What matters is whether the insights shared by TLP in the essay above are valid observations of society circa the date he posted this essay. It doesn't matter one whit what Marx wanted or said, nor what his cultists demand be the Marxcentric process of analysis or discussion.

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