Friday, September 30, 2011

Once again, Žižek said it first

In his remarks during the FRONTLINE CLUB SPECIAL (July 2, 2011 4:00 PM), Žižek suggested that Bradley Manning should be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. The podcast is available at:

Also see the article by D.J. Pangburn at:

Here are some brief excerpts from the article:

The Nobel Peace Prize nominees for 2011 recognize a number of activists, among them Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, Wael Ghonim, Tunisian blogger Lina Ben Mhenni, and Egyptian Israa Abdel Fattah together with the April 6 Youth Movement.


Manning allegedly leaked diplomatic cables and video (of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack) to WikiLeaks. Manning had access to SIPRNet and the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System from his workstation in Iraq. His reason for leaking the documents? Manning wrote to former hacker Adrian Lamo, “I want people to see the truth… regardless of who they are … because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.”


If it had not been for WikiLeaks publishing the leaked diplomatic cables, the Arab Spring might not have been possible. The leaks were the catalyst, as Amnesty International stated, supplying the momentum in Tunisia and Egypt, for example. Even Retired U.S. Army Reserve Colonel Ann Wright, in a recent Stars & Stripes editorial, has called Wikileaks “a critically important tool for those who seek to uphold basic human-rights standards and the professional conduct of U.S. military forces.”


Thursday, September 29, 2011

COMMUNISM, A NEW BEGINNING? Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek with Verso Books at Cooper Union, New York, October 14th-16th 2011

A new conference with leading thinkers to discuss the continued relevance of the communist idea.

'The long night of the left is coming to a close' wrote Slavoj Žižek and Costas Douzinas in their introduction to The Idea of Communism. The continuing economic crisis, the shift away from a unipolar world defined by American hegemony, and the ecological crisis mean that growing numbers of people are keen to explore an alternative, and to re-discover the idea of communism. With the advent of the Arab Awakening millions have sought new ways to overcome corruption and dictatorship.

Responding to Alain Badiou's proposition of the 'communist hypothesis,' the leading thinkers of the Left convened in London in 2009 to discuss the perpetual, persistent notion that, in a truly emancipated society, all things should be owned in common.

Now Slavoj Žižek and Alain Badiou are returning to the discussion—this time in New York.

Organised with Verso Books, eight leading thinkers will be discussing 'Communism, A New Beginning? at Cooper Union on the weekend of October 14th-16th.


Monday, September 26, 2011


Moves so slowly
Grows so smoothly
Takes so neatly
It's as if they belong and they've been here all along
Grows so smoothly
Moves so slowly
Takes completely
It's as if they belong and they've been here all along
This one's ours let's take another
Check the math here check in ten years
Clusterfuck theory buy them up and shut them down
Then repeat in every town
Every town will be the same
This one's ours let's take another
Five corporations there is a pattern

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Politics joke

A little boy goes to his father and asks, "What is Politics?" Dad says, "Well, son let me try to explain it this way. I'm the bread winner of the family so let's call me Capitalism. Your mom, she's the administrator of the money so we'll call her the Government. We're here to take care of your needs so we'll call you the People. The nanny, we'll call her the Working Class and your baby brother, we'll call him the Future. Now think about that and see if it makes sense."

Later that night the little boy hears his baby brother crying, so he gets up to check on him. He finds that the baby has severely soiled his diaper. So the little boy goes to his parents room, but finds his mother sound asleep. Not wanting to wake his mother, he goes to the nanny's room. Finding the door locked, he peeks through the keyhole and sees his father in bed with the nanny. So the little boy gives up and goes back to bed.

The next morning the little boy says to his father, "Dad, I think I understand the concept of Politics now." The father says, "Good job son, tell me in your own words what you think Politics is all about." The little boy replies, "Well, while Capitalism is screwing the Working Class, the Government is sound asleep, the People are being ignored, and the Future is in deep shit."

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11 and Hollywood Ideology

Please see the full essay at:


And this brings us to the two Hollywood productions released to mark the 5th anniversary of the 9/11: Paul Greengrass's United 93 and Oliver Stone's World Trade Center. The first thing that strikes the eye is that both try to be as anti-Hollywood as possible: both focus on the courage of ordinary people, with no glamorous stars, no special effects, no grandiloquent heroic gestures, just a terse realistic depiction of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. There is undoubtedly a touch of authenticity in the films - recall how the large majority of critics unanimously praised the film's avoiding of sensationalism, its sober and restrained style. It is, however, this very touch of authenticity which raises some disturbing questions.

The first thing one cannot but note is how both films tell the story of an exception: United 93 is about the only one of the four kidnapped planes in which the terrorists failed, which did not hit its destination; WTC tells the story of the two of those twenty who were saved from the ruins. The disaster is thus turned into a kind of triumph, most notably in United 93, where the dilemma the passengers confront is: what can they do in a situation in which they know for sure they will die? Their heroic decision is: if we cannot save ourselves, let us at least try to save others' lives - so they storm the pilot's cabin to bring the plane down before it will hit the target intended by the kidnappers (the passengers already knew about the two planes hitting the Twin Towers). How does this telling the story of an exception function? A comparison with Spielberg's Schindler's List is instructive here: although the film is undoubtedly an artistic and political failure, the idea to choose Schindler as a hero was a correct one - it is precisely by presenting a German who DID something to help Jews that one demonstrates how it was possible to do something, and thus to effectively condemn those who did nothing claiming that it was not possible to do anything. InUnited 93, on the contrary, the focus on the rebellion serves the purpose of preventing us to ask the truly pertinent questions. That is to say, let us indulge in a simple mental experiment and imagine both films with the same change:American 11 (or another flight which did hit its target) instead of United 93, the story of its passengers; WTC remade as the story of two of the firefighters or policemen who did die in the rubbles of the Twin Towers after a prolonged suffering... Without in any way justifying or showing an "understanding" for the terrible crime, such a version would confront us with the true horror of the situation and thus compel us to think, to start asking serious questions about how such a thing could have happened and what does it mean.

The second feature: both films restrain not only from taking a political stance about the events, but even from depicting their larger political context. Neither the passenger on United 93 flight nor the policemen in WTC have a grasp on the full picture - all of a sudden, they find themselves thrown into a terrifying situation and have to make the best out of it. This lack of "cognitive mapping" is crucial: both films depict ordinary people affected by the sudden brutal intrusion of History as the absent Cause, the invisible Real that hurts. All we see are the disastrous effects, with their cause so abstract that, in the case of WTC, one can easily imagine exactly the same film in which the
Twin Towers would have collapsed due to a strong earthquake. Or, even more problematically, we can imagine the same film taking place in a big German city in 1944, after the devastating Allied bombing...

Or what about the same film taking place in a bombed high-rise building in southern
Beirut? That's the point: it CANNOT take place there. Such a film would have been dismissed as a "subtle pro-Hezbollah terrorist propaganda" (and the same would have been the case with the imagined German film). What this means is that the two films' ideological-political message resides in their very abstention from delivering a political message: this abstention is sustained by an implicit TRUST into one's government - "when the enemy attacks, one just has to do one's duty..." In it because of this implicit trust that United 93 and WTC differ radically from the pacifist films like Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory, which also depict ordinary people (soldiers) exposed to suffering and death - here, their suffering is clearly presented as a meaningless sacrifice for an obscure and manipulated Cause.

This brings us back to our starting point, to the "concrete" character of the two films, depicting ordinary people in a terse realistic mode. Any philosopher knows Hegel's counter-intuitive use of the opposition between "abstract" and "concrete": in ordinary language, "abstract" are general notions, as opposed to "concrete" really existing singular objects and events; for Hegel, on the contrary, it is such immediate reality which is "abstract," and to render it "concrete" means to deploy the complex universal context that gives meaning to it. Therein resides the problem of the two films: both are ABSTRACT in their very "concreteness." The function of their down-to-earth depiction of concrete individuals struggling for life is not just to avoid cheap commercial spectacle, but to obliterate the historical context.

Here, then, is where we are five years later: still unable to locate 9/11 into a large narrative, to provide its "cognitive mapping." Of course, there is the official story according to which, the permanent virtual threat of the invisible Enemy legitimizes preemptive strikes: precisely because the threat is virtual, it is too late to wait for its actualization, one has to strike in advance, before it will be too late. In other words, the omni-present invisible threat of Terror legitimizes the all too visible protective measures of defense. The difference of the War on Terror with previous XXth century world-wide struggles like the Cold War is that while, in the preceding cases, the enemy was clearly identified as the positively-existing Communist empire, the terrorist threat is inherently spectral, without a visible center. It is a little bit like the characterization of the figure of Linda Fiorentino in The Last Seduction: "Most people have a dark side... she had nothing else." Most regimes have a dark oppressive spectral side ... the terrorist threat has nothing else.

The power which presents itself as being all the time under threat and thus merely defending itself against an invisible enemy, exposes itself to the danger of manipulation: can we really trust them, or are they just evoking the threat to discipline and control us? The paradoxical result of this spectralization of the Enemy can thus be a reversal of role: in this world without a clearly identified Enemy, it is the US themselves, the protector against the threat, which is emerging as the main enemy... as in Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient-Express in which, since the entire group of the suspects is the murderer, the victim itself (an evil millionaire) should turn out to be the criminal.

The lesson is thus that, in combating terror, it is more crucial than ever for the state politics to be democratically transparent. Unfortunately, we are now paying the price for the cobweb of lies and manipulations by the
US and UK governments in the last decade, reaching their climax in the tragicomedy with the Iraqi weapons of mass destructions. Recall the August 2006 alert apropos the thwarted terrorist attempt to blow a dozen planes on their flight from London to the US: no doubt the alert was not a fake, to claim this would be too paranoiac - but, nonetheless, a suspicion remains that all of it was a self-serving spectacle to accustom us to a permanent state of emergency, to the state of exception as a way of life. What space for manipulation open up such events where all that is publicly visible are the anti-terrorist measures themselves? Is it not that they simply demand from us, ordinary citizens, too much - a degree of trust that those in power had long ago forsaken? THIS is the sin for which Bush, Blair, and their consorts should never be forgiven.

Third feature: in both films, there is a key moment which violates this terse realistic style. United 93 starts with kidnappers in a motel room, praying, getting ready; they look austere, like some kind of angels of death - and the first shot after the title-credits confirms this impression: it is a panoramic shot from high above of Manhattan in the night, accompanied by the sound of the kidnappers' prayers, as if the kidnappers stroll above the city, getting ready to descend on earth to ripe their harvest... Similarly, there are no direct shots of the planes hitting the towers inWTC; all that we see, seconds before the catastrophe, when one of the policemen is on a busy street in a crowd of people, is an ominous shadow quickly passing over them - the shadow of the first plane. These shots confer on both films a strange theological reverberation - as if the attacks were a kind of divine intervention.

Recall the first reaction of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson to the 9/11 bombings, perceiving them as a sign that God lifted up its protection of the US because of the sinful lives of the Americans, putting the blame on hedonist materialism, liberalism, and rampant sexuality, and claiming that America got what it deserved... In a hidden way,United 93 and WTC tend to do the opposite: to read the 9/11 catastrophe as a blessing in disguise, as a divine intervention from above to awaken us from moral slumber and to bring out the best in us. WTC ends with the off-screen words which spell out this message: terrible events like the
Twin Towers destruction bring out in people the worst AND the best - courage, solidarity, sacrifice for community. People are shown to be able to do things they would never imagine of being able. It is as if our societies need a major catastrophe in order to resuscitate the spirit of communal solidarity. This is why, again, United 93 and WTC are not really about the War on Terror, but about the lack of solidarity and courage in our permissive late-capitalist societies...

...and about the redemptive power of family love - United 93 cannot restrain from repeatedly showing a passenger who, close to death, calls a spouse or a closest relative with the message "I love you." Does, however, this really mean that "love turns out to be the only part of us that is solid, as the world turns upside down and the screen goes black," as Martin Amis put it in his celebration of the film? A suspicion remains here: is this desperate confession of love also not a fake, the same kind of fake as the sudden turn to God of someone who faces the proximity of death - a hypocritical opportunistic move made out of fear, not out of true conviction? Amis himself, the author of a scathing book about Stalin, should know how many of the condemned at Stalinist show trials faced the firing squad professing their innocence and their love for Stalin, a pathetic gesture which aimed at redeeming their image in the eyes of the big Other. Why should there be more truth in what we do in such desperate moments? Is it not rather that, in such moments, the survival-instinct makes us betray our desire?

This brings us to what would have been a true ethical act: imagine a wife phoning her husband in the last seconds of her life, telling him: "Just to let you know that our marriage was a fake, that I cannot stand the sight of you..."

Monday, September 5, 2011

Intelligence Squared, London. 1 July 2011

The Last Labor Day?

please see the full article at:
Posted on Sep 4, 2011

By E.J. Dionne, Jr.

Let’s get it over with and rename the holiday “Capital Day.” We may still celebrate Labor Day, but our culture has given up on honoring workers as the real creators of wealth and their honest toil—the phrase itself seems antique—as worthy of genuine respect.

Imagine a Republican saying this: “Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”

These heretical thoughts would inspire horror among our friends at Fox News or in the tea party. They’d likely label them as Marxist, socialist or Big Labor propaganda. Too bad for Abraham Lincoln, our first Republican president, who offered those words in his annual message to Congress in 1861. Will President Obama dare say anything like this in his jobs speech this week?

As for the unions, they are often treated in the media as advocates of arcane work rules, protectors of inefficient public employees and obstacles to the economic growth our bold entrepreneurs would let loose if only they were free from labor regulations.

So it would take a brave man to point out that unions “grew up from the struggle of the workers—workers in general but especially the industrial workers—to protect their just rights vis-a-vis the entrepreneurs and the owners of the means of production,” or to insist that “the experience of history teaches that organizations of this type are an indispensable element of social life.”

That’s what Pope John Paul II said (the italics are his) in the 1981 encyclical Laborem exercens. Like Lincoln, John Paul repeatedly asserted “the priority of labor over capital.”

That the language of Lincoln and John Paul is so distant from our experience is a sign of an enormous cultural shift. In scores of different ways, we paint investors as the heroes and workers as the sideshow. We tax the fruits of labor more vigorously than we tax the gains from capital—resistance to continuing the payroll tax cut is a case in point—and we hide workers away while lavishing attention on those who make their livings by moving money around.

Consider that what the media call economics reporting is largely finance reporting. Once upon a time, a lively band of labor reporters covered the world of work and the unions. If you stipulate that the decline of unions makes the old labor beat a bit less compelling, there are still tens of millions of workers who do their jobs every day. But when the labor beat withered, it was rarely replaced by a work beat. Workers have vanished.

But we are now inundated with news (and “news”) about the world of capital. CNBC and the other financial media are for investors what ESPN is for sports junkies. We cheer the markets, learn the obscure language of hedge fund managers, and get to know some of the big investors in off-field interviews. Workers are regarded as factors of production. At best, they’re consumers; at worst, they’re “labor costs” cutting into profits and the sacred stock price.

They have faded away in both high and popular culture, too. Can you point to someone “who makes art out of working-class lives by refusing to prettify them”?

The phrase comes from a 2006 essay by the critic William Deresiewicz, who observed that we no longer have novelists such as John Steinbeck or John Dos Passos who take the lives of working people seriously. Nor do we have television shows along the lines of “The Honeymooners” or even “All in the Family,” which were parodies of an affectionate sort. “First we stopped noticing members of the working class,” Deresiewicz wrote, “and now we’re convinced they don’t exist.”