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”).

(more…)

Crisis of Confidence

Listen to what this crazy nutjob has to say:

…In a nation [America] that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose…

We are at a turning point in our history. There are two paths to choose. One is a path… that leads to fragmentation and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others. That path would be one of constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos and immobility. It is a certain route to failure.

Suffice to say, we ignored this yokel and chose the path of self-indulgence. We bought into Faustian economics and the seductive myth of MORE. The above speaker, one Jimmy Carter, went on to ask us Americans to re-think the need for more, more, more. This speech is from July 15, 1979. Carter’s ass was soon soundly kicked by an ex-actor who told us that our unsustainable lifestyles were sustainable after all, that boundless prosperity was our God-given right, that this so-called city on a hill of ours had a moral obligation to spread the shining ideal of consumption. He who dies with the most toys wins.

I began re-thinking consumerism over three years ago. I’m still addicted. I’m still addicted to consumptive habits that console and comfort (currently, coffee). I think one of the things I loved most about hitchhiking was the freedom to stop being such a savage consumer. As Marcuse might say, perhaps “economic freedom” is freedom from the economy — from the grind of “turbo capitalism.” From the mistaken belief that owning things and consuming things will satisfy my longing for meaning.


On an almost entirely separate note: go read “Sorry, Dad, I’m Voting for Obama” by Christopher Buckley, son of the late William F. Buckley. It’s a very well-written piece with a compelling case.
TGIF.