The Fragile Absolute

I’m currently working my way through Slavoj Zizek’s The Fragile Absolute: Or, why is the Christian legacy worth fighting for? Coincidentally, The New Republic just published a scathing critique of Zizek by Adam Kirsch entitled “The Deadly Jester: Why Slavoj Zizek is the Most Despicable Philosopher in the West.” Cute title, huh?

I am not all that far into this book yet, but Zizek has lived up to his reputation so far. I’ve been particularly intrigued by his claim that “the Communist project was… not radical enough.” By which he means that Marx tried to keep the teleology of capitalism — that is, “completely unbridled productivity” — while discarding the framework in which that “mad dance of [the] unconditional spiral of productivity” can only play out. This a priori commitment to the Unlimited finds parallel in what Wendell Berry calls “Faustian economics.” In pure capitalism, there can be no limits because its “eschatology of profit” (Ben Kleis’ words) forces a perpetual quest for More. The insatiable need for more profit fuels the never-ending drive for higher productivity, greater efficiency, and newer markets (“the more profit you make, the more you want”).

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America’s Political Cannibalism

Today’s Nader Newsletter gave prominence to a column by Chris Hedges entitled “America’s Political Cannibalism,” mostly because of this paragraph:

This is a defining moment in American history. The next few weeks and months will see us stabilize and weather this crisis or descend into a terrifying dystopia. I place no hope in Obama or the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party is a pathetic example of liberal, bourgeois impotence, hypocrisy and complacency. It has been bought off. I will vote, if only as a form of protest against our corporate state and an homage to [Karl] Polanyi’s brilliance, for Ralph Nader.

The whole thing is worth reading, including the comments. One “Eric J-D” seems to nail it:

My concern about Hedges is that his so-called “radicalization”–if that is what he is currently experiencing–looks a whole lot more like dystopian, nihilistic despair than a truly radical diagnosis of and engagement with the situation obtaining in the present. The former tends to greatly overestimate a number of things: 1) the present “weakness” of the capitalist system, even in moments of systemic crisis; 2) the extent to which the mass-imposition of a neo-fascist order is possible; and 3) the revolutionary possibilities of the present moment.

As someone occasionally guilty of doing all three, I concur. Also, several commenters rightly point out that the greater Karl (Marx) anticipated Polanyi’s comments by nearly a century (dehumanization, man-as-commodity, etc). 

Mostly though, I think Hedges is right. Voting for Nader is probably the right thing to do. But look at it this way: voting for Nader and deliberately not voting are both symbolic gestures, whereas voting for Obama is an effectual gesture. Both symbolic gestures are largely ignored (in the case of conscientious non-voting, ignored simply because it’s indistinguishable from apathetic non-voting). I’m voting for Obama based on this principle: an effectual gesture, even one less than ideal, ought to be preferred over a purely symbolic gesture.

“Democracy is always a hindrance to the market plan.”

That title is a quote from Naomi Klein, whose Shock Doctrine perfectly explains what is currently going on America right now viz. our incredible economic upheaval. According to Milton Friedman, “Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.” The ideas lying around are accurately described by Klein as “disaster capitalism,” which is the modus operandi of neo-conservatives who love to capitalize on crises – actual or perceived – to implement policies that benefit the few at the expense of the many. Even Newt Gingrich seems taken aback: “Watching Washington rush to throw taxpayer money at Wall Street has been sobering and a little frightening.”

They’re throwing taxpayer money at Wall Street via the “Paulson Plan,” a plan so enormous (851 words) that as of Tuesday Sen. John McCain still hadn’t even read it. When he gets around to it (a timeout might help), I suggest he pay particular attention to:
Sections 6 and 10: raise our debt limit by 3 trillion and hands Sec. Paulson $700 billion to play with. Where’d they get this number from? According to a Treasury spokeswoman, “”It’s not based on any particular data point. We just wanted to choose a really large number” (emphasis mine).
Section 8: lets Sec. Paulson do as he wishes without any real oversight – “Decisions by [Paulson] pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency” (emphasis mine). Comforting, eh?

In other words, we supposedly can’t afford $150 billion for universal healthcare but $700 billion for Wall Street fatcats is simply A-OK (not to mention the $400 million per day we’re spending on the unjust Iraq War). I swear off credit cards and my only debts are from school… I get no help whatsoever, but Washington’s corporate drinking buddies can have whatever they need when their own sorry asses get in trouble. It’s enough to convince me that when Vermont secedes I’m definitely going with ’em.

I opened with Naomi Klein and so I’ll leave you with the full text of her analysis of our market meltdown: (more…)

Durden Nails It

“We’re an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables – slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes; working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history – no purpose or place. We have no Great War, no Great Depression. Our Great War is a spiritual war. Our Great Depression is our lives.

– Tyler Durden