by Flo Read
Thursday, 4
August 2022
Video
15:01

Slavoj Žižek: We are addicted to chaos

The philosopher explores our obsession with cancel culture and crisis
by Flo Read

In his new book ‘Surplus Enjoyment: A Guide for the Non-Perplexed’, psychoanalyst and Marxist philosopher Slavoj Zizek argues that Western decadence has reached a point of no return. When it comes to the simultaneous crises of climate change, the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, he asserts, only a cooperative global effort will steer us away from catastrophe. But have the culture wars weakened the West too much to regain order in disordered times?

Slavoj Zizek joined me, live from his home in Slovenia, to discuss the cure for chaos.

On climate change:

Remember, one of the most disgusting events that I witnessed in the last year – I wasn’t there, I saw it on the media – was that Glasgow [COP 22] meeting against global warming. All that they said in principle was true. “We need global cooperation blah, blah, blah”. But nothing happens. For me, communism doesn’t mean I have a secret plan to nationalise or install gulags. It simply means, in some sense, we know what has to be done. Global cooperation, regulating the consumption of certain things such as oil, coal, beyond market necessities and so on. This will have to be done in one way or another. I call communism simply the system which will be able to do this.

On the pandemic:

Our dealing with the pandemic – didn’t it confront us with the most basic philosophical questions? In the sense of those who resisted wearing masks, vaccination, social lockdowns had an implicit idea: state authority encroaches upon the limits, so in some basic sense, what does it mean to be a human being? […] Covid was, for me, something that – even when I put this openly many people laughed at me – really demanded a new form of communism, which means not so much to vaccinate people forcefully, but to establish some kind of global healthcare – exchange of data and so on. We need some type of global coordination, which will not be left to market alone.

On the war in Ukraine:

Why I fully support Ukraine – with all the critical points about it, we don’t have time – but where is any doubt about who is basically right? Putin, when he announced the war on 23rd February, did you notice that he mentioned just one name critically: Lenin. And he said explicitly, Ukraine was Lenin’s invention, and it was a very obscene statement, where he referred ironically to Ukrainians tearing down Lenin’s statue, and he said, “Ah, you want decommunisation? Wait for us, we will bring decommunisation to the end there.” If you read not only what the Russians are doing, but their ideology, it is explicitly something that one cannot but designate, not even in this purely abstract term, but a form of neo-fascism. Fascism means that you want modernisation but without the destructive, liberal effects. Isn’t this exactly what they are doing: introducing traditional ethical standards against LGBT, and so on and so on. And you don’t have to read between the lines here.

On cancel culture:

Let’s face it, around 90% of people are what is usually called today, straight, binary and so on. Don’t implicitly make them guilty, as if, if you are straight, you somehow participate in oppression. The whole strategy is wrong here. My problem with so-called political correctness it is not that it’s too radical. But it’s a fake radicalism. It’s a way to avoid true problems. I know so many examples, friends are sending them to me all the time from United States, where – this is no big corporate practice – you find somebody not quite on the top, but a little bit below the top of a corporation who did something inappropriate and with all the pomposity, you fire him, and then you did your great duty and nothing changes in real exploitation. […] It’s a new hypernormativity which I think blocks and spoils the true actual Leftist task.

On post-liberalism: 

Maybe I’m too naive here. But I think there are things which are not bad in the liberal tradition. Don’t just dismiss liberalism as neo-liberalism. Never forget that feminism, socialism – they emerged out of the liberal tradition. Yes, first you have human rights, which were, I agree, secretly spun. They really meant the rights of independent white men. But then Mary Wollstonecraft said, “Why not women?” Then Blacks in Haiti said, “Why not blacks?” Then workers said – that’s socialism. You can only enjoy human rights in certain material conditions: healthcare, education, and so on and so on. So I think that only a renovated Left can save what is worth saving in liberalism.

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Slopmop McTeash
Slopmop McTeash
11 days ago

None of the above makes any sense whatsoever.

Last edited 11 days ago by D Hockley
Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
11 days ago

I thought a reasonable amount of the written precis made sense. And, given the eternal difficulty of understanding this guy’s speech, it’s nice to have that precis.

Jack B. Nimble
Jack B. Nimble
11 days ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Ordinarily he’s almost unintelligible

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
7 days ago
Reply to  Jack B. Nimble

I understood every word perfectly (except one: he mispronounced mores (mor-es) as morse.. ) All in all I thought his taje was valid, valuable, realistic and insightful..

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
11 days ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Sadly, not so much of the actual interview made sense. He’s just another idiot with TDS.

Arkadian X
Arkadian X
11 days ago

Not seen the video, but I remember some of his produce on the Spectator, so I wanted to make sure it would be worth watching the interview. It looks like I will give it a wide berth, then.

Jam Las
Jam Las
11 days ago

Global cooperation and controls for the greater good sound enticing when looking from the bottom up ‘for someone’ to do this but from the top down, history shows over again this is open to abuse. Recent events are not reassuring. Evolution of democratic processes are needed with all interests genuinely engaged freely and leadership with vision.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
7 days ago
Reply to  Jam Las

I think you may be confusing cooperation with a dictatorial approach. Given the ambivalence of the UK (at best) on EU cooperation I guess the concept may be alien to you? Still UK scientists are lamenting the loss of cooperation with EU scientists of all disciplines.. without cooperation the climate crisis, international relations, pandemics etc cannot be controlled. Surely you must see that? Cooperation os crucial to oir very survival!

Jack B. Nimble
Jack B. Nimble
11 days ago

Would communist purists be satisfied with equating communism with cooperation? Seems a little sanguine to me.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
7 days ago
Reply to  Jack B. Nimble

Political and even religious systems are all too often infiltrated by non-believers who see all such systems as gravy trains for their greed and megalomania. Corrupted in this way people are turned off the basic and right-thinking essence of such systems. In linguistic terms of course comune-ism is cooperation within the comunity. Big problems require big (supranational) solutions. Of coourse all problems should be solved at the lowest practicable level but huge problems do need Earth-wide communism in that sense.

Greg Moreison
Greg Moreison
11 days ago

He appears to suggest ‘as a joke’ that the Left in the US should assassinate conservative supreme court judges, as some sort of a solution. And then he reckons everyone else is a fascist. For an intellectual that doesn’t seem a very intelligent position.

J Bryant
J Bryant
11 days ago

I had never heard of Zizek until this interview. A little Googling tells me he is one of the most famous living philosophers.
I can’t tell whether he is a profound thinker struggling to express his complex ideas, or yet another “public intellectual” more interested in being controversial and cultivating an audience. At times he seems profound, but if I replay that part of the interview his ideas, when stripped of jargon, seem commonplace. I’m not a philosopher so I really wouldn’t know.
Kudos to Flo Read for trying to herd this particular cat.

Last edited 11 days ago by J Bryant
Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
7 days ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Surely the essence of philosophy is about simple commonsense ideas (too often taken for granted) that need to be scrutinised in order to be validated. I wouldn’t make that criticism. The objective was to enquire into his take on various current existential threats: not to have him prove his ideas in philosophical terms?

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
12 days ago

“If you read not only what the Russians are doing, but their ideology, it is explicitly something that one cannot but designate, not even in this purely abstract term, but a form of neo-fascism.”
First time I’ve ever agreed with this poltroon.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
9 days ago
Reply to  Richard Craven

Yes, you can’t argue with that statement. But it doesn’t take any special insight to observe the fascistic nature of Putin’s regime, and indeed of many regimes around the world. Given their persecution of political opponents and the censorship of those that don’t support it, the Biden regime is going the same way.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
8 days ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

I couldn’t agree more.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
7 days ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

I disagree. Many ‘ordinary’ folk will assume this must be a communist approach whereas in reality it is, as we all agree, classic fascism: the opposite!

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
7 days ago
Reply to  Richard Craven

Agreed. It is beyond doubt ar this point I feel.

Keith J
Keith J
11 days ago

I read one of Zizek’s books (Like a Thief in Broad Daylight) a couple of years ago, because it was recommended in reviews. Despite a couple of paragraphs which I thought contained some brilliant insights, I came away thinking that most of the ideas in the book were insane. I was wondering whether I was missing something and ought to read some of his other works. Now I know. Thank you Unherd for saving me 20 quid at Waterstones.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
7 days ago
Reply to  Keith J

Bear in mind the fact that he speaks on an insane world! Perhaps a different kind of insanity is the antidote?? Personally I doubt it but I’m no expert..

Andrew Henrick
Andrew Henrick
10 days ago

Skip to 30:00ff before you commit anymore time

Last edited 10 days ago by Andrew Henrick
Richard Craven
Richard Craven
8 days ago
Reply to  Andrew Henrick

Very good idea. Why does anyone take this clown seriously?

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
7 days ago
Reply to  Richard Craven

Do you have any arguments to counter his assertions or is that the sum total your contribution??

Fran Martinez
Fran Martinez
10 days ago

Crazy

Jay Beaton
Jay Beaton
10 days ago
Reply to  Fran Martinez

Nice summary.