Slavoj Žižek: Under cap­i­tal­ism, the prob­lem is not there are evil peo­ple here and there. The prob­lem is the basic log­ic of the sys­tem as it was devel­oped by Zygmunt Bauman and many oth­ers. Some peo­ple even claim that if you look in a non­hu­man­i­tar­i­an way just at the pure log­ic of today’s glob­al cap­i­tal­ism, you arrive at a ratio even some peo­ple claim of 2080%. That is to say again, if you dis­re­gard all human­i­tar­i­an prob­lems and just look at what would have been ide­al for the func­tion­ing of the sys­tem, basi­cal­ly the idea is that soon­er or lat­er 80% of the peo­ple are dis­pos­able, of no use. Because first, with new tech­nolo­gies we get unem­ploy­ment explod­ing. Each new tech­no­log­i­cal progress means that tens of thou­sands, even mil­lions of work­ers, not only [do] they get tem­porar­i­ly unem­ployed, but they get per­ma­nent­ly unem­ploy­able.

The prob­lem in Europe espe­cial­ly, and that’s now one of the rea­sons of demon­stra­tions, protests, all around Europe is that there is an entire younger gen­er­a­tion of stu­dents sac­ri­ficed. They are study­ing at uni­ver­si­ties and they are aware in advance that they are dis­pos­able, of no use. That there will be no jobs for them and so on and so on. So you know, you are already [con­tributed? ] in advance unem­ployed. You know there will not be a place for you.

Then an even more trag­ic phe­nom­e­non. You get what is called so-called failed coun­tries. You get whole coun­tries which are basi­cal­ly dis­pos­able. Or at least parts of the coun­tries. Recently I read a ter­ri­fy­ing report on Congo—not Kinshasa. The oth­er, to the west, Congo-Brazzaville, the French Congo. And it’s hor­ri­ble. It’s a coun­try in which inter­na­tion­al cap­i­tal is only inter­est­ed with regard to its oil reserves, which are all close to the Atlantic Ocean, the south­ern part. So we get there a tiny track, band, of land which is devel­oped but also extreme­ly pol­lut­ed, you know. All the oil is spilled, fish­es dead and so on. But rel­a­tive­ly rich. Things func­tion and so on. This is the low­er, close to the coast, 20%.

And then inside you get 80% of the land, about which sim­ply nobody cares. Things are now, there, much more in decay, less devel­oped, than they were when Congo-Brazzaville was still a French colony. People have sim­ply for­got­ten. In the second-biggest city inside, elec­tric­i­ty doesn’t work [most] of the time, hos­pi­tals dis­ap­pear, etc. They are sim­ply out­side. And this may be the con­cept that we should elab­o­rate with regard to dis­pos­able life. This new form of apartheid. Namely, it’s no longer this clear racial dis­tinc­tion, but it’s an invis­i­ble dis­tinc­tion between inside and out­side.

Peter Sloterdijk, who is con­sid­ered a right winger— He is, but he’s intel­li­gent. One should read him. He devel­oped this idea that cap­i­tal­ism is like a gigan­tic sphere, a glob­al cupo­la, cov­er­ing us all. And he says the prob­lem is that once you are inside, it appears endless—you don’t even see the out­side. So, what I like about this idea is that usu­al­ly the empha­sis with glob­al capitalism—oh, it’s glob­al, every­thing is caught [up in it]. Yes, but at the same time it’s those who are in—part of the inter­na­tion­al mar­ket com­merce, and those who are sim­ply left out.

The para­dox we should bear in mind is that con­tem­po­rary cap­i­tal­ism, it is glob­al, but, the price is much greater invis­i­bil­i­ty of a part of it. Global means there is a globe. Which is not all-encompassing. It’s a globe where from with­in you think it’s end­less, you see it all, but no. It excludes parts of it. So that’s for me the great irony, okay. The Berlin Wall fell down, but I think the para­dox of glob­al cap­i­tal­ism is that it’s not that the Berlin Wall fell down and now we live all in one hap­py mar­ket uni­verse. No. New walls are emerg­ing. In a way they are much more strict because you are sim­ply not aware of the out­side. If you are aware, you are aware in the most dis­gust­ing human­i­tar­i­an way.

To return to your big first ques­tion, dis­pos­able life. You know, the prob­lem is not just how to make every­thing use­ful. I think we should change the entire util­i­tar­i­an per­spec­tive. So I think— You know…here is a point I want to make. My favorite one, almost. I was at an archi­tec­tur­al con­fer­ence three years ago I think, in Australia, where a guy, think­ing he’s say­ing some­thing deep, opposed these kind of min­i­mal­ist bath­room objects—pipes and so on—done in this aes­thet­ic way and so on, to the cheap, kitsch ver­sion of some Arab shapes—you know, all in gold, with pearls and so on, think­ing that the first one is the true, use­ful one and so on, against deca­dence.

And then I explod­ed and I was so glad that the major­i­ty of the peo­ple there sup­port­ed me. I told the guy, But did you real­ly vis­it slums? There, when­ev­er they can they can, they have pre­cise­ly this cheap imi­ta­tion of wealth, kitsch, and so on. To have this min­i­mal­ist, beau­ti­ful, appar­ent­ly util­i­tar­i­an ver­sion of plumb­ing and so on, only the very rich can afford it.” And I claim this is not some­thing to be mocked at. Poor peo­ple like kitsch, with all plas­tic col­ors and so on and so on. And they are right.


At a cer­tain point, I think the mar­ket sys­tem will break down. Look already today. I read some­where that a big Hollywood block­buster, even if it earns half a bil­lion around the world, much more peo­ple see it by down­load­ing and so on, not to men­tion music and so on. You see, com­mu­nism is arriv­ing here. Objects so far are already… So the only way I see it is— Okay, the prob­lem is then how to pay the artists, who will decide how. But it will have to be col­lec­tivized. Market will not work here.

And again, the cru­cial thing is that this mod­ern cap­i­tal­ist or com­mu­nist regime, all the time want­ed some­how to eval­u­ate what art is use­ful and so on. But they don’t think you can break this cir­cle, you know. Because what this use­ful? For exam­ple, in com­mu­nist regimes they were usu­al­ly try­ing to con­trol the polit­i­cal jokes. But the more we know about com­mu­nist regimes, the more it becomes clear that they were not so stu­pid. That they knew very well that polit­i­cal jokes mak­ing fun of their lead­ers play a cru­cial role in keep­ing peo­ple sat­is­fied, you know. You can ven­ti­late your anger, blah blah. So there are even crazy rumors which are prob­a­bly not true but I love them, that in com­mu­nist coun­tries there is always a secret depart­ment of the secret police whose func­tion was to pro­duce good polit­i­cal jokes. To keep peo­ple sat­is­fied.

So you see, some­thing may appear just a pure dis­trac­tion. No. It played a cru­cial role in sta­bi­liza­tion. And it’s the same in sci­ence. If you look at all great sci­en­tif­ic inven­tions, they didn’t emerge in a planned way. It was some­thing total­ly use­less and so on, and all of a sud­den it becomes use­ful. What’s my con­clu­sion from this? We should aban­don this old [? ] left­ist atti­tude which is today adopt­ed by all, like chil­dren are starv­ing in Africa” or what­ev­er, who has time for art” and so on and so on. Or what­ev­er. Non-productive expen­di­ture. No. It’s glob­al cap­i­tal­ism which is talk­ing like this today. It is Bill Gates who said once we shouldn’t live in our ivory tow­er while peo­ple are starv­ing. No. I think the only thing that can save us is small things like chin­dogu, more uni­ver­si­ties where you do things which may appear use­less, and so on and so on. Without this we are caught in this log­ic of dis­pos­able live. We have to break out. We have to accept life in its mean­ing­less in plea­sures which serve noth­ing and so on and so on. Because the para­dox is that if you take away from human life things which serve noth­ing, then the remain­der, what remains, may be pure­ly func­tion­al but it real­ly serves noth­ing and every­thing col­laps­es.


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