Apr 21st, 2019
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  1. Jordan Peterson and Slavoj Zizek Debate
  2. Transcribed by Xiao Ouyang and Shunji Ukai
  4. Announcement
  5. Good evening and welcome to the Sony center for performing arts. Please note during tonight’s presentation, video, audio, and flash photography is prohibited, and we have a strict zero tolerance policy for any heckling or disruptions. And now, please welcome your host and moderator -- the president of Ralston College -- Dr. Steven Blackwood.
  7. Steven Blackwood
  8. Thank you. A warm welcome to all of you here this evening both those who are here in Toronto, and those following online. It is not very often that you see a country’s largest theatre packed for an intellectual debate. But that’s what we’re all here for tonight. Please join me in welcoming to the stage Dr. Slavoj Zizek and Dr. Jordan Peterson.
  10. Just a few words of introduction. There can be few things, I think, now more urgent and necessary in an age of reactionary partisan allegiance and degraded civil discourse than real thinking about hard questions. The very premise of tonight’s event is that we all participate in the life of thought. Not merely opinion or prejudice, but the realm of truth, accessed through evidence and argument. But these two towering figures of different disciplines and domains share more than a commitment to thinking itself. They are both highly attuned to ideology and the mechanisms of power, and yet, they are not principally political thinkers. They are both concerned with more fundamental matters, meaning, truth, freedom. So it seems to me likely we will see tonight not only deep differences, but also surprising agreement on deep questions.
  12. Dr. Slavoj Zizek is a philosopher. He has not one but two doctoral degrees -- one in philosophy from the University of Ljubljana, and second in psychoanalysis from University of Paris 8. He is now a professor of the Institute of Sociology and Philosophy at the University of Ljubljana, and the director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities at the University of London. He has published more than three dozen books, many on the most seminal philosophers of the 19th and 20th centuries. He is a dazzling theorist with extraordinary range -- a global figure for decades. He turn again and again with dialectical power to radical questions of emancipation, subjectivity, and art.
  14. Dr. Jordan Peterson is an academic and political psychologist. His doctorate was awarded by McGill University, and he was subsequently professor at Harvard University, and then, the University of Toronto where he is today. The author of two books and well over a hundred academic articles, Dr. Peterson’s intellectual roots likewise lie in the 19th and early 20th centuries where his reading of Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky, and above all, Carl Jung inform his interpretation of ancient myths of twentieth century totalitarianism, and especially, his endeavor to counter the contemporary nihilism. His Twelve Rules for Life is a global best seller, and his lectures and podcasts are followed by millions around the world.
  16. Both Dr. Zizek and Peterson transcend their titles, their disciplines, and the academy, just as this debate, we hope, will transcend purely economic questions by situating those in the frame of happiness of human flourishing itself. We’re in for quite a night. A quick word about format. Each of our debaters will have 30 minutes to make a substantial opening statement to lay out an argument -- Dr. Peterson first, followed by Dr. Zizek. Each will then have, in the same order, 10 minutes to reply. I will then moderate 45 minutes or so of questions many of which will come from you the audience, both here in Toronto, and online. With that, let’s get underway. Please join me in welcoming Dr. Jordan Peterson for the first opening statement.
  18. Jordan Peterson
  19. Thank you for the insanely enthusiastic welcome for the entire event, and also for being here. I have to tell you first that this event -- and I suppose in my life in some sense -- hit a new milestone that I was just made aware of by the stagehand today backstage who informed me that, last week, the tickets for this event were being skelped online at a higher price than the tickets for the Leafs playoff games.
  21. Alright. How did I prepare for this? I familiarized myself to the degree that it is possible with Slavoj Zizek’s work, and that wasn’t that possible because he has a lot of work and he his a very original thinker, and this debate was put together in relatively short order. What I did instead was return to what I regarded as the original cause of all the trouble, let’s say, which was The Communist Manifesto. What I attempted to do... because that’s Marx, and we’re here to talk about Marxism, let’s say... what I tried to do is to read it, and to read something, you don’t just follow the words and follow the meaning. But you take apart the sentences, and you ask yourselves, at the level of phrase, and at the level of sentences, and at the level of paragraph -- it this true? Are there counter-arguments that can be put forward that are credible? Is this solid thinking? I have to tell you -- I am not trying to be flippant here -- that I have rarely read a tract that made as many conceptual errors per sentence as The Communist Manifesto. It was quite a miraculous reread. It was interesting to think about it psychologically as well because I’ve read student papers that were of the same ilk in some sense, although I am not suggesting that they were at the same level of glittering literary brilliance and polemic quality. I also understand that the Communist Manifesto was a call for revolution, and not a standard logical argument. But that notwithstanding, I have some things to say about the author psychologically.
  23. The first thing is that it doesn’t seem to me that either Marx or Engels grappled with one fundamental truth, which is that, almost all ideas are wrong. It doesn’t matter if they’re your ideas or someone else’s ideas -- they’re probably wrong. Even if they strike you with the force of brilliance, your job is to assume, first of all, that they’re probably wrong, and then to assault them with everything you have in your arsenal and see if they can survive. What struck me about the Communist Manifesto was it was akin to something Jung said about typical thinking. This was the thinking of people who weren’t trained to think. He said that the typical thinker has a thought -- it appears to them like an an object might appear in the room, and they just accept it as true. They don’t go the second step, which is to think about the thinking, and that’s the real essence of critical thinking. That’s what you try to teach people in universities -- to read a text and think about it critically, not to destroy the utility of the text, but to separate the wheat from the chaff. And so what I tried to do when I was reading The Communist Manifesto was to separate the wheat from the chaff. I am afraid that I found some wheat, but mostly chaff. I am going to explain why, hopefully in relatively short order.
  25. I am going to outline ten of the fundamental axioms of the Communist Manifesto. These are truths that are held as self-evident by the authors. They are truths that are presented, in some sense, as unquestioned. I am going to question them, and tell you why, I think, they are unreliable. We should remember that this tract was written 170 years ago. That’s a long time ago. We have learned a fair bit since then about human nature, about society, and politics, about economics -- there is lots of mysteries left to be solved, but we are slightly wiser, I presume, than we were at one point, so you could forgive the authors to some degree about what they didn’t know. But that doesn’t matter given that the essence of this doctrine is still held as sacrosanct by a large proportion of academics who are probably among the most [who are] guilty of that particular sin.
  27. Here’s proposition number one. History is to be viewed primarily as an economic class struggle. Let’s think about that for a minute. The proposition there is that history is primarily to be viewed from an economic lens. I think that is a debatable proposition because because there are many other motivations that drive human beings than economics, and those have to be taken into account, especially the drive people other that economic competition, like economic cooperation, for example. So that’s a problem. The other problem is that it is actually not as merely as pessimistic enough description of the actual problem because... this is to give the devil his due, the idea that one of the driving forces between history is hierarchical struggle is absolutely true. But the idea that that’s actually history is not true because it’s deeper than history. It’s biology itself because organisms have organized themselves into hierarchies, and one of the problems with hierarchies is that they tend to arrange themselves into a winner take all situation. That is implicit in some sense in Marx’s thinking because, of course, Marx believed that in a capitalist society, capital will accumulate in the hands of fewer and fewer people, and that actually is in keeping with the nature of hierarchical organizations. There is accuracy in the accusation that that is an eternal form of motivation for struggle, but it is an underestimation of the seriousness of the problem because it attributes it to the structure of human societies rather than the deeper reality of the hierarchical structures per se, which, as they also characterize the animal kingdom to a large degree, are clearly not only human constructions. The idea that there is hierarchical construction among human beings -- there is evidence for that that goes back, at least to the paleolithic times.
  29. That’s the next problem. This ancient problem of hierarchical structure is clearly not attributable to capitalism because it existed long in human history before capitalism existed, and then it predated human history itself. So the question then arises: why would you necessarily, at least implicitly, link the class struggle with capitalism given that it is a far deeper problem? You got to understand that this is a far deeper problem for the people on the left, not just for the people on the right. It is the case that hierarchical structures dispossess those people at the bottom -- those creatures at the bottom, speaking, say, of animals. But those people who are at the bottom, and that that is a fundamental existential problem.
  31. But the other thing that Marx didn’t seem to take into account is that there are far more reasons that human beings struggle than their economic class struggle even if you build the hierarchical idea into that, which is a more comprehensive way of thinking about it. Human beings struggle with themselves, with the malevolence that is inside themselves -- with the evil that they are capable of doing, the spiritual and psychological warfare that goes on within them, and we’re also actually always at odds with nature. This never seems to show up in Marx. It doesn’t seem to come up in Marxism in general. It is as if nature doesn’t exist. The primary conflict, as far as I am concerned with, or, a primary conflict, is the struggle for life in a cruel and harsh natural world. It is as if this doesn’t exist in the Marxist domain; if human beings have a problem, it is because there’s a class struggle that is essentially economic. No. Human beings have problems because we come into life starving and lonesome. We have to solve that problem continually. We have to make our social arrangement, at least in part, to ameliorate that, as well as to, upon occasions, exacerbate it. There is also very little understanding in The Communist Manifesto that any of the hierarchical organization that human beings have put together might have a positive element. And that is an absolute catastrophe because hierarchical structures are actually necessary to solve complicated social problems -- we have to organize ourselves in some manner, and you have to give the devil’s due, so it is the case that hierarchical dispossess people, and that’s a big problem. That’s the fundamental problem of inequality. But it’s also the case that hierarchies happen to be a very efficient way of distributing resources, and it’s finally the case that human hierarchies are not fundamentally predicated on power. And I would say that biological and anthropological data on that are crystal clear. You don’t rise to a position of authority that is reliable in human society primarily by exploiting other people. It’s a very unstable means of obtaining power (laugh from audience). So that’s a problem. While the people who laugh might do it that way.
  33. Another problem that comes up right away is that Marx also assumes that you can think about history as a binary class struggle with clear divisions between, say, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, and that is actually a problem because it’s not so easy to make a firm division between who’s exploiter and who’s exploitee, let’s say, because it’s not obvious, like in the case of small shareholders, let’s say, whether or not they happened to be part of the oppressed, or the part of the oppressor. This actually turned out to be a big problem in the Russian Revolution. By big problem, I mean tremendously big problem because it turned out that you can fragment people into multiple identities -- and that’s a fairly easy thing to do -- and you can usually find some access along which they were part of the oppressor class, -- it might have been a consequence of their education, or it might have been a consequence of the wealth that they strived to accumulate during their life, or it might have been a consequence of the fact that they had parents or grandparents who are a educated or rich, or that they were a member of the priesthood, or that they were socialists, or anyways, the listing of how it was possible for you to be bourgeois, instead of proletariat grew immensely, and that was one of the reasons that the red terror claimed all the victims that it claimed. So that was a huge problem. It was probably most exemplified by the demolition of the Kulax who were basically peasant farmers, although effective ones in the Soviet Union who would manage to raise themselves out of surfdome over a period of about the 40 years, and to gather some degree of material security about them. About one point million of them were exiled. About four hundred thousand were killed, and the net consequence of that removal of their private property because of their bourgeois status was arguably the death of six million Ukrainians in the famines of the 1930s, and so the binary class struggle idea was a bad idea. That was a very very bad idea. It’s also bad in this way. This is a real sleight of hand that Marx pulls off is that you have a binary class division -- proletariat and bourgeoisie, and you have an implicit idea that all of the good is on the side of the proletariat, and all of the evil is on the side of the bourgeoisie. That is classic group identity thinking. This is one of the reasons why I don’t like identity politics. Once you divide them into groups and pit them against one another, it’s very easy to assume that all of the evil in the would can be attributed to one group -- the hypothetical oppressors --, and all the good to the other. That’s naive beyond comprehension because it’s absolutely foolish to make the presumption that you can identify someone’s moral worth with their economic standing. That actually turned out to be a real problem as well.
  35. Marx also came up with an idea, which is a crazy idea as far as I can tell, of the dictatorship of the proletariat -- that’s the next idea that I stumbled across. What’s the problem? The problem is that capitalists own everything -- they own the means of production, and they are oppressing everyone -- that would be all the workers, and there’s going to be a race to the bottom of wages for the workers as the capitalists strive to extract more and more value from the labor of the proletariat by competing with the other capitalists should drive wages downward, which, by the way, didn’t happen, partly because wage-earners can become scarce, and that actually drives the market value upward. But the fact that you assume a priori, that all the evil can be attributed to the capitalists, and all the good can be attributed to the proletariat meant that you could hypothesize that a dictatorship of the proletariat could come about, and that was the first stage of the communist revolution. Remember, this is a call for revolution, and not just revolution, but bloody violent revolution, and the overthrowing of all existing social structures.
  37. The problem with that, you see, is that, because all the evil isn’t easily divided up into oppressor and oppressed, that when you do establish a dictator of the proletariat to the degree that you can do that, which you actually can’t because it’s technically impossible, and an absurd thing to consider to begin with, not least because of the problem of centralization, and you have to hypothesize that you could take away all the property of the capitalists -- you can replace the capitalist class with a minority of proletariats -- how they are going to be chosen isn’t exactly clear in The Communist Manifesto -- that none of the people who are from the proletariat class are going to be corrupted by that sudden access to power because they’re, by definition, good, so then you have the good people who are running the world, and you also have them centralized so that you could make decisions that are insanely complicated to make -- in fact, impossibly complicated to make --, so that’s a failure conceptually on both dimensions because, first of all, all the proletariat aren't going to be good, and when you put people in the same position as the evil capitalists, especially if you believe that social pressure is one of the determining factors of human character, which the marxists certainly believe, then why wouldn’t you believe that the proletariat would immediately become, as, or more corrupt, than the capitalists, which is, of course, exactly what happened every time this experiment was run.
  39. The next problem is: what makes you think that you can take some system as complicated as capitalists free-market society, and centralize that, and put decision-making power in the hands of a few people without specifying the mechanisms by which you’re going to choose them? What makes you think that they have the wisdom or the ability to do what the capitalists were doing, unless you assume, as Marx did, that all of the evil was with the capitalists, and all of the good was with the proletariats, and that nothing that capitalists did constituted valid labor, which is another thing that Marx assumed -- which is palpably absurd. Maybe if you’re a disilluded aristocrat from the 1830 or earlier and you run a feudalist state, and all you do is to spend your time gambling and chasing prostitutes, your labor value is zero. But if you’re running a business, and if that’s a successful business, first of all, you’re a bloody fool to exploit your workers because, even if you’re greedy as sin, because you’re not going to extract the maximum amount of labor out of them by doing that, and the notion that you’re adding no productive value as a manager rather than a capitalist is absolutely absurd. All it does is indicates that you either know nothing whatsoever about how an actual business works, or you refuse to know anything about how an actual business works. That’s also a big problem.
  41. The next problem is the criticism of profit. What’s wrong with profit exactly? What’s the problem with profit? The idea from the marxist perspective was that profit was theft. Profit can be theft because crooked people can run companies, and so sometimes profit is theft. But that certainly doesn’t mean that it’s always theft. What it means, in part, at least, if the capitalist is adding value to the corporation, then there’s some utility or fairness in him or her extracting the value of their abstract labor -- their thought, their abstract abilities, their ability to manage the company and to engage in proper competition and product development and efficiency, and the proper treatment of the workers and all of that -- and if they can create a profit, they have a little bit of security for times that aren’t so good. That seems absolutely bloody necessary as far as I am concerned. The next thing is: how can you grow if you don’t have a profit? If you have an enterprise that is valuable and worthwhile, and some enterprises are valuable and worthwhile, then, it seems to me that a little bit of profit to help you grow seems to me the right approach.
  43. The other issue with profit -- you’ll know this if you’ve ever run a business -- is that, it is a very useful constraint. It’s not enough to have a good idea and a sales and marketing plan, and then to implement that. All of that is bloody difficult. It’s not easy to have a good idea, and it’s not easy to come up with a good sales and marketing plan. It’s not easy to find customers and satisfy them. If you allow profit to constitute the limitation on what it is that you might reasonable attempt, it provides a good constraint on wasted labor. Most of the things that I’ve done in my life even psychologically… that were designed to help people psychological health -- I tried to run on a for-profit basis -- and the reason for that was, apart from the fact that I am not averse to making a profit, partly so that my enterprises can grow, but also so that there were forms of stupidity that I couldn’t engage in because I would be punished by the market enough to eradicate the enterprise.
  45. The next issue. This is a weird one. Marx and Engels also assume that this dictatorship of the proletariat which involves absurd centralization, the overwhelming probability of corruption, and impossible computation as the proletariat now try to rationally compute the manner in which the entire market economy could run, which cannot be done, because it is far too complicated for anybody to think through. The next theory is that somehow the proletarian dictatorship would be magically hyper-productive, and there is no theory at all about how that’s going to happen. In the further theory, and the theory seems to be that once you eradicate the bourgeoisie because they’re evil, and you get rid of their private property, and you eradicate the profit motive, then all of a sudden, magically, the small percentage of the proletariat who now run the society, determine how they can make their productive enterprises productive enough so that they become hyper-productive. And they need to be hyper-productive. For their last error, to be logically coherent in relationship to the marxist theory, which is that, at some point, the dictatorship of the proletariat will become hyper-productive that there’ll be enough material goods for everyone across all dimensions. And when that happens, what people would do is spontaneously engage in meaningful creative labor, which is what they had been alienated from in the capitalist horror show, and the utopia will be magically ushered in. But there is no indication about how that hyper productivity is going to come about, and there is also no understanding that that isn’t the utopia that is going to suit everyone because there are great differences between people. Some people are going to find what they want in love, some are going to find it in social being, and some are going to find it in conflict and competition, and some are going to find it in creativity, as Marx pointed out. But the notion that that will necessarily be the end-goal for the utopian state is preposterous. Then there is the Dostoyevskian observation too which is not to be taken lightly, which is: what sort of shallow conception of people do you have that makes you think that if you gave people enough bread and cake, and, the Dostoyevskian terms, nothing to do except to busy themselves with the continuity of the species that they will all of a sudden, become peaceful and heavenly. Dostoevsky's idea was that we were built for trouble, and if we were handed everything we needed on a silver platter, the first thing we would do is to engage in some form of creative destruction just so something unexpected could happen, just so we can have the adventure of our lives. I think there’s something to be said for that.
  47. The last error, let’s say, although by no means the last, was… this is one of the strangest parts of The Communist Manifesto, is Marx and Engels admits repeatedly that there has never been a system of production in the history of the world that was as effective at producing material commodities in excess than capitalism. That’s extensively documented in The Communist Manifesto. If your proposition is: look, you’ve got to get as much material security for everyone as possible as fast as we can, and capitalism already seems to be doing that in a rate that’s unparalleled in human history, wouldn't the logical thing be just to let the damn system play itself out? Unless you’re just assuming that the evil capitalists are just going to take all of the flat-screen televisions, and put them in one big room, and not let anyone else have one, the logical assumption is that you’re already on the road that is supposed to produce the proper material productivity, and so… Well that’s ten reasons as far as I can tell, but… and so what I saw in… that The Communist Manifesto is seriously flawed in virtually every way it could possibly be flawed. And also all of the evidence that Marx was a kind of a narcissistic thinker who could think…. He was a very intelligent person, and so was Engels, but what he thought, what he thought when he thought was that what he thought was correct, and he never went to the next stage, which is: wait a second, how could all of this go terribly wrong? If you’re a thinker -- especially a sociological thinker, especially a thinker on the broad scale -- a social scientist, for example, one of your moral obligations is to think: you know, you might be wrong with one of your fundamental axioms or two, or three, or ten, and, as a consequence, you have the moral obligation to walk through the damn system, and think: what if I am completely wrong here and things invert and go exactly the wrong way? I just can’t understand how anybody could come up with an idea like the dictatorship of the proletariat, especially after advocating its implementation with violent means which is part of The Communist Manifesto, and actually think, if they were thinking, if they knew anything about human beings, and the proclivity for malevolence that’s part and parcel of the individual human being that that could do anything but lead to a special form of hell, which is precisely what did happen. And so I am going to close, because I have three minutes, with a bit of evidence as well that...
  49. Marx also thought that what would happen inevitably as a consequence of capitalism is that the rich would get richer, and the poor would get poorer, so there would be inequality. The first things I’d like to say is: we do not know how to set up a human system of economics without inequality. No one has ever managed it, including the communists. The form of inequality change, and it’s not obvious by any stretch of imagination that the free-market economy of the west have more inequality than the less free economy in the rest of the world. The one thing you can say about capitalism is that, although it produces inequality, which it absolutely does, it also produces wealth, and all of the other systems don’t. They just produce inequality.
  51. Here’s a few free-market stats. From 1800 to 2017, income growth adjusted for inflation, grew by 40 times per production workers in 16 times for unskilled labor, while GDP rose by a factor of about 0.5 from 1AD to 1800. From 1AD to 1800, it was like nothing -- flat. And all of a sudden, in the last 217 years, there has been an unbelievable upward movement of wealth. It doesn’t only characterize the tiny percentage of people at the top who, admittedly, do have most of the wealth. The question is, not only though, what’s the inequality… the question is, what’s happening to the absolutely poor at the bottom. And the answer to that is, they’re getting richer faster now than they ever have in the history of the world. And we’re eradicating poverty in countries that have adopted moderate free-market policies at a rate that is unparalleled. Here is an example. One of the UN millennial goals was to reduce the rate of absolute poverty in the world by 50% between 2000 and 2015, and they define that as a $1.90 a day -- pretty low, but you have to start somewhere. We hit that at 2012 -- three years ahead of schedule. You might be cynical about that and say it’s kind of an arbitrary number, but the curves are exactly the same at $3.80 a day, and $7.60 a day. Not as many people have hit that. But the rate of increase toward that is the same. The bloody UN thinks that we’ll be out of poverty, defined by $1.90 a day by the year 2030. It’s unparalleled. The rich may be getting richer, but the poor are getting richer too.
  53. I’ll leave it at that because I am out of time. I’ll leave it with this. The poor are not getting poor under capitalism. The poor are getting richer under capitalism by a large margin. I’ll leave you with one statistic: the child mortality rate in Africa now is the same as the child mortality rate was in Europe in 1952. That’s happened in the span of one lifetime. So, if you’re for the poor -- if you’re actually concerned that the poorest people in the world rise above their starvation levels -- then all the evidence suggest that the best way to do that is to implement something approximating a free-market economy. Thank you very much.
  55. Zlavoj Zizek:
  56. Okay, first, a brief introductory remark: I cannot but notice the irony of how, Peterson and I, the participants in this “duel of the century,” are both marginalized by the official academic community, and suppose to defend here the left liberal line against neo-conservatives---really? Most of the attacks on me are now precisely from left-liberals. Just remember the outcry against my critique of LGBT plus ideology and I’m sure that if the leading figures in this field were to be asked if I’m fit to stand for them, they would turn in their graves even if they are still alive.
  58. So let me begin by bringing together the three notions from the title “happiness, communism, capitalism” in one exemplary case: China today. China in the last decades is arguably the greatest economic success story in human history. Hundreds of millions rose from poverty into middle class existence. How did China achieve it? The twentieth century left was defined by its opposition to the two fundamental tendencies of modernity: the reign of capital with its aggressive market competition and the authoritarian bureaucratic state power. Today’s China combines these two features in its extreme form: strong authoritarian state and state-wide capitalist dynamics. And-- it is important to note --- they do it on behalf of the happiness of the majority of people. They don’t mention communism to legitimize their rule; they prefer the old Confucian notion of a “harmonious society.” But are the Chinese any happier for all that? Although even the DLLM justifies T-Buddhism in Western terms of the pursuit of happiness and the avoidance of pain, happiness as a goal of our lives is a very problematic notion. If we learned anything from psycho analysis, it is that we humans are very creative in sabotaging our pursuit of happiness. Happiness is a confused notion; basically, it relies on the subject’s inability or unreadiness to fully confront the consequences of his or her desire. In our daily lives, we pretend to desire things which we do not really desire, so that ultimately the worst thing that can happen is for us to get what we officially desire. So I agree that human life or freedom or dignity does not consist just in searching for happiness, no matter how much we spiritualize it, or in the effort to actualize our inner potentials. We have to find some meaningful cause beyond the mere struggle for pleasurable survival. However, I would like add here a couple of qualifications.
  60. First, since we live in a modern era, we cannot simply refer to an unquestionable authority to confer a mission or task on us. Modernity means that yes, we should carry the burden, but the main burden is freedom itself. We are responsible for our burdens. Not only are we not allowed cheap excuses for not doing our duty, duty itself should not serve as an excuse. We are never just instruments of some higher cause. Once the traditional authority loses its substantial power, it is not possible to return to it. All such returns are today postmodern fakes. Does Donald Trump stand for traditional values? No, his conservatism is a postmodern performance, a gigantic ego trip. In this sense of playing with traditional values, of mixing references to them with open obscenities, Trump is the ultimate postmodern president. If we compare Trump with Bernie Sanders, Trump is a postmodern politician at its purest, while Sanders is rather an old-fashioned moralist. Conservative thinkers claim that the origin of our crisis is the loss of our reliance on some transcendent divinity or higher value. If we are left to ourselves, if everything is historically conditioned and relative, then there is nothing preventing us from indulging in our lowest tendencies. But is this really the lesson to be learned from mob killing, looting, and burning on behalf of religion? It is often claimed that, true or not, religion makes some otherwise bad people do good things. From today’s experience, I think we should rather speak to Steve Weinberg’s claim that why, without religion, good people would have been doing good things and bad people bad things. Only something like religion can make good people do bad things. More than a century ago, in his Brother Karamazov, Dostoyevsky warned against the dangers of godless moral nihilism—if God does not exist then everything is permitted. The French philosopher Andre Glucksmann applies Dostoevsky's critique of godless nihilism to 9/11, and the title of his book, Dostoevsky in Manhattan, suggests that he couldn’t have been more wrong. The lesson of today’s terrorism is that if there is a god, then everything, even low-income, hundreds of innocent bystanders, is permitted to those who claim to act directly on behalf of God. The same goes also for godless Stalinist communists. They are the ultimate proof of it. Everything was permitted to them, since they perceived themselves as direct instrument of their divinity, of the historical necessity of progress towards communism. That’s the big problem of ideologies, how to make good decent people do horrible things.
  62. Second, yes, we should carry our burden, accept the suffering that goes with it. But a danger lurks here, that of a subtle reversal: don’t fall in love with your suffering. Never presume your suffering is, in itself, a proof of your authenticity. A renunciation of pleasure can easily turn into pleasure of renunciation itself. For example, an example not from neo-conservatives, white, left liberals love to denigrate their own culture and blame Eurocentrism for our evils. But it is instantly clear how this self-denigration, brings a profit of its own: through this renouncing of their particular roots, multicultural liberals reserve for themselves the universal position egregiously soliciting others to assert their particular identity, why multiculturalist liberals embody the lie of identity politics.
  64. Next point. Jacques Lacan wrote something paradoxical but deeply true: even if what a jealous husband claims about his wife, that she sleeps with other men, is all true, his jealousy is nontheless pathological. The pathological element is the husband’s need for jealousy; it’s the only way for him to sustain his identity. Along the same lines, one could say that even if most of the Nazi claims about Jews – they exploit Germans, they seduce German girls -- were true, which they were not of course, the anti-Semitism would still be a pathological phenomenon. Because it ignored the true reason why the Nazis needed anti-Semitism. In the Nazi vision, their society is an organic whole of harmonious collaboration, so an external intruder is needed to account for divisions and antagonisms. The same holds for how today, in Europe, at least, anti-immigrant populists deal with refugees. The cause of problems which are, I claim, immanent to today’s global capitalism is projected onto an external intruder. Again, even if, the reported incident with the refugees -- there are great problems, I admit it---even all these reports are true, the populist story about them is a lie.
  66. With anti-Semitism, we are approaching the topics of telling stories. Hitler was one of the greatest storytellers of the twentieth century. In the 1920s, many Germans experienced their situation as a confused mess. They didn’t understand what was happening to them, with military defeat, economic crisis, what they perceived as moral decay and so on. Hitler provided a story, a plot, which was precisely that of the jewish plot. We are in this mess because of the Jews, that’s what I would like to insist on: we are telling stories about ourselves in order to acquire a meaningful experience of our lives. However, this is not enough. One of the most stupid wisdoms – and they are mostly stupid---is, an enemy is someone whose story you have not heard --- really? Are you also ready to affirm that Hitler was our enemy because his story was not heard? The experience that we have of our lives from within, the story we tell ourselves about ourselves in order to account for what we are doing is, and this is what I call ideology, fundamentally a lie: the truth lies outside in that we do. In a similar way, the alt-right obsession with cultural Marxism expresses the rejection to confront the fact that the phenomenon they criticize is the effect of the cultural Marxist plot: moral degradation, sexual promiscuity, consumerist hedonism, and so on, are the outcome of the immanent dynamic of capitalist societies.
  68. I would like to refer to a classic: Daniel Bell’s Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism written back in 1976 where the author argues that the unbounded drive of modern capitalism undermines the moral foundations of the original Protestant ethics. In the new afterword, Bell offers the bracing perspective on contemporary western societies, revealing the crucial cultural fault lines we face as the 21st century is here. The turn towards culture, as a key component of capitalist reproduction and concomitant to it, the commodification of cultural life itself, are, I think, crucial moments of capitalist expanded reproduction. So the term cultural Marxism, I think, plays the same role as that of the Jewish plot in anti-Semitism; it projects or transposes some immanent antagonism, ambiguity, tension of our social economic life unto an external cause. In exactly the same way, liberal critics of Trump and alt-right, never seriously asked how our liberal society could give birth to Trump. In this sense, the image of Donald Trump is also a fetish. The last thing the liberal sees, before confronting actual social tensions. Hegel’s motto, “evil resides in the gaze we sees evil everywhere,” fully applies here, the very liberal gaze, which demonizes Trump, is also evil because it ignores how its own failures open up the space for Trump-style patriarchic/patriotic populism.
  70. Next point. One should stop blaming hedonist egotism for our woes, the true opposite of egotist self love is not altruism, a concern for the common good, but envy, resentment, which makes me act against my own interests. This is why, as many perspicuous philosophers clearly saw, evil is profoundly spiritual, in some sense more spiritual than goodness. This is why egalitarianism itself should never be accepted at its face value. It can well secretly invert the standard renunciation accomplished to benefit others. Egalitarianism often de facto means I am ready to renounce something so that others will also not have it. This is, I think, the problem with political correctness: what appears as its excesses, its regulatory zeal, is, I think, an impotent reaction that masks the reality of a defeat. My hero here is a black lady, Tarana Burke, who created the #Metoo campaign more than a decade ago. She observes in a recent critical note that in the years since the movement began, it deployed an unwavering obsession with the perpetrators; #Metoo is all too often a genuine protest filtered through resentment.
  72. Should we then drop egalitarianism? No, equality can also mean, and it is the equality I advocate, creating the space for as many as possible individuals to develop their different potentials. It is, that is my paradoxical claim, today’s capitalism that equalizes us too much and causes the loss of many talents. So what about the balance between equality and hierarchy? Did we really move too much in the direction of equality? Is there in today’s U.S. really too much equality? I think a simple overview of the situation points in the opposite direction. Far from pushing us too far, the left is gradually losing its ground already for decades. Its trademarks, universal health care, free education and so on, are continuously diminished. Look at Bernie Sanders’s program, and I don’t idealize him, it is just a version of what half a century ago in Europe was simply the predominant social democracy and it is today decried as a threat to our freedom and so on. I see no threat to free creativity in this program. On the contrary, I see healthcare, education, and so on, as enabling me to focus my life on more important creative issues. I see equality, this basic equality of chances, as a space for creating differences and yes, why not, even different, more appropriate hierarchies.
  74. Furthermore, I find it very hard to ground today’s inequalities, as they are documented by Piketty in his book, in different competencies. Competencies for what? In totalitarian states, competencies are determined politically. But market success is also not innocent and neutral, as a regulator of the social recognition of competencies. Let me now briefly deal in a frankly way with what become known, sorry for the irony, as the lobster topic. I am far from a simple social constructionist here. I deeply appreciate evolutionary thought. Of course, we are of course natural beings; our DNA, as we all know, overlaps, around 98 percent, with that of some monkeys; this means something. But nature, I think, is not a stable hierarchical system but full of improvisations. It develops like “French-cuisine.” A French guy gives me this idea that the origin of many famous French dishes or drinks is that, when they want to produce a standard piece of food or drink, something went wrong, but then they realized this failure can be resold as a success. They were making cheese in the usual way, but the cheese got rotten and, infected, smelling bad, they said: “OMG, we have our own original French cheese.” Or, they were making wine the usual way, then something went wrong with fermentation, so they began to produce champaign and so on. I’m not just making a joke here, because I think this is exactly how our sexuality works according to psychoanalysis.
  76. Sexual instincts are, of course, biologically determined. But look what we humans made out of them. They are not limited to the mating season; they can develop into a permanent obsession, sustained by obstacles that demand to be overcome, in short, into a properly metaphysical passion that perturbs the biological written, with twists like endlessly prolonging satisfaction in courtly love, engaging in different perversions and so on. So yes, it is still biologically conditioned sexuality, but it is, if I may use this term, “transfunctionalized,” it becomes a moment of a different cultural logic. I claim the same goes for tradition. T. S. Eliot, the great conservative, wrote: “what happens when a new work of art is created, is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it; The past should be ordered by the present, as much as the present is directed by the past.” What does this mean?
  78. Let me mention the change enacted by Christianity. It’s not just that, in spite of all our natural and cultural differences, the same divine spark dwells in everyone, but this divine spark enables us to create what Christians call the holy ghost. The community in which hierarchic family values are at some level, at least, abolished, remember Paul’s words from Galatians, there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer male or female in Christ. Democracy extends this logic to the political space, in spite all the differences in competence, the ultimate decision should stay with all of us. The wager of democracy is that we should not give all power to competent experts, it was precisely communists in power who legitimized their rule by posing as fake experts and incidentally I’m far from believing in ordinary people’s wisdom. We often need a master figure to push us out of an inertia, and -- I'm not afraid to say -- that forces us to be free. Freedom and responsibility hurt, they require an effort and the highest function of an authentic master is to awaken us to our freedom. We are not spontaneously really free.
  80. Furthermore, I think that social power and authority cannot be directly grounded in competence. In our human universe, power, in the sense of exerting authority, is something much more mysterious, even irrational. Kierkegaard, mine and everyone favorite theologist, wrote: “if a child says he will obey his father, because his father is a competent and good guy, this is an affront to father’s authority.” He applies the logic to Christ himself. Christ was justified by the fact of being God’s son, not by his competences or capacities. As Kierkegaard puts it: “every good student of theology can put things better than Christ.” There is no such authority in nature, lobsters may have hierarchies, undoubtedly, but the main guy among them I don’t think he has authority in this sense. Again, the wager of democracy is that, and that’s the subtle thing, not against competence and so on, but that the political power and competence or expertise should be kept apart. In Stalinism precisely they were not kept apart. Already in ancient Greece, they knew they had to be kept apart, which is why, their popular way was even combined with lottery, often.
  82. Where does communism enter here? Why do I still cling to this cursed name? When I know and fully admit that 20th century communist project in all its failure, giving birth to all forms of murderous terror. Capitalism won, but does today—that’s my claim, we can debate about it--- global capitalism contain strong enough antagonisms which prevent its indefinite reproduction? I think there are such antagonisms. The threat of ecological catastrophe, the consequence of new techno-scientific developments, especially biogenetics, and new forms of apartheid, all these antagonisms concern what Marx calls “commons.” The shared substance of our social being.
  84. First, of course, the commons of external nature, threatened by pollution, global warming and so on. Let me be precise here, I’m well aware of how uncertain analysis and projections are in this domain. It will be certain only when it will be too late. And I’m well aware of the temptation to engage in precipitous extrapolations. When I was younger, to give you a critical example, there was an obsession in Germany with Waldsterben, the dying of forests, with predictions that in a couple of decades, Europeans will be without forests. But according to recent estimates, there are now more forest areas in Europe than 100 or 50 years ago. But there is nonetheless the prospect of a catastrophe here: scientific data, seem to me at least, are abundant enough. We should act in a large scale collective way and I also think, there is a problem with capitalism here for the simple reason that its managers, not because of their evil nature, but that’s the logic of capitalism, care to expand self-reproduction and environmental consequences are simply not part of the game. This is again not a moral reproach. Incidentally, so you will not think I don’t how what I’m talking about, in communist countries, those in power were obsessed with expanded reproduction, and were not under public control, so the situation was even worse. So how to act? First by admitting we are in a deep mess. There is no simple democratic solution here. The idea that people themselves should decide what to do about ecology sounds deep, but it begs an important question: even if their comprehension is not distorted by corporate interests, what qualifies them to pass a judgment on such a delicate matter? Plus, the radical measure advocated by some ecologists can themselves trigger new catastrophes. Let me mention just the idea which is floating around of solar radiation management, the continuous massive disposal of aerosols into our atmosphere to reflect and absorb sunlight and thus cool the planet. Can we even imagine how the fragile balance above earth functions and in what unpredictable ways geo-enginings can disturb it. In such time of urgency, when we know we have to act but don’t know how to act, thinking is needed, maybe we should turn around a little bit, Marx’s famous thesis 11: In our new century, we should say that maybe, in the last century, we tried all too fast to change the world, the time has come to step back and interpret it.
  86. The second threat, the commons of internal nature. With new biogenetic technologies, the creation of a new man, in the literal sense of changing human nature, becomes a realist prospect. I mean primarily so-called the “neural link,” the direct link between our brain and digital machines, and then brains among themselves. This, I think, is a true game changer. Digitalization of our brains opens up unheard of new possibilities of control. Directly sharing your experience with your beloved might appear attractive, but what about sharing them with an agency without you even knowing it?
  88. Finally, the common space of humanity itself. We live in one and the same world, which is more and more interconnected, but nonetheless deeply divided. So how to react to this? The first and sadly predominant reaction is one of protective self-enclosure: the world out there is in a mess, let’s protect ourselves by all kinds of walls. It seems that our countries are run relatively well, but is the rest, the so called, rogue countries, find themselves in not connected to how we interact with them. Take what is perhaps the ultimate rogue state: Congo. Warlords who rule provinces there are always dealing with western companies, selling them minerals. Where would our computers be without coltans from Congo? And what about foreign interventions in Iraq and Syria, or Saudi Arabia, by our proxies, in Yemen, here refugees are created. A world order is emerging, a world of peaceful coexistence of civilizations, but in what way does it function? Forced marriages and homophobia are okay, just as they are limited to another country, which is otherwise fully included into the world market. This is how refugees are created.
  90. The second reaction is global capitalism with a human face; think about socially responsible corporate figures like Bill Gates and George Soros. They passionately support LGBD, they advocate charities and so on. But even in its extreme form, opening up our borders to the refugees, treating them like one of us, they only provide what in medicine is called symptomatic treatment, the solution is not for the rich western countries to receive all immigrants, but somehow to try to change the situation which creates massive waves of immigration. We are completely in this. Is such a change a utopia? No, the true utopia is that we can survive without such a change. So here, I think, I know it is provocative to call this a plea for communism, I do it a little bit to provoke things, but what is needed, is, nonetheless, in all these spheres - ecology, digital control, unity of the world -- capitalist market which does great things, I admit it, has to be somehow limited, regulated, and so on. Before you say it is a utopia, I will tell you, just think about in what way global market already functions today, I always thought that neo-liberalism is a fake term. If you look closely, you will see that state plays today a more important role than ever precisely in the richest capitalist economies. So you know, the market is already limited but not in the right way, to put it natively. So, a pessimist conclusion. What will happen? In spite of protests here and there, we will probably continue to slide towards some sort of apocalypse, awaiting large catastrophes to awaken us. So I don’t accept any cheap optimism. When someone tries to convince me that in spite of all the problems, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, my instant reply is yes, and it is probably another train coming towards us. Thank you very much.
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