And not just because of his cool accent.
This short video brings together several strands of thought I’ve been struggling to synthesize in my head, along with bringing worlds together: I know of Slavoj Žižek’s work through SLP, but I found this link on a software developer’s blog that I read regularly.
As for the video itself… well, you just have to see it:
I can’t say that I had fully formulated Žižek’s exact thesis in my head, nor that even if I had I would have been able to express it so effectively, but there are a couple of key points that did nail what I’ve been thinking: first, that there’s a fundamental flaw in the idea of wrapping charity up directly in the act of consumption itself (isn’t there a law of diminishing returns here?), and second, that charity by its very nature perpetuates the situation it is trying to remedy.
How does this fit with “Unchained”? Well, for one thing it lays bare the illusion that we are in some way benefitting the planet through consumption. I think about this problem a lot, especially when I’m in situations like Minnesota Twins games at Target Field. The team is (rightfully, I suppose) proud of the stadium’s LEED certification as the “greenest” stadium in Major League Baseball; they trumpet the multimodal transportation options and the fact that it’s the most bike-friendly stadium in the country. All of which are good things. But they also brag about how many (and the number is truly staggering, even though I can’t remember it off the top of my head) tons of trash from the stadium are recycled every week. Like Žižek’s take on charity, I agree it’s better than nothing — assuming “recycling” doesn’t just mean shipping the waste off to Asia — but wouldn’t it be far better if we weren’t producing so much trash in the first place?
On a more personal level, watching this video also helped to clarify why I’ve been less involved with this blog lately: as ill-defined as my intentions with the blog were at the outset, and have been as it’s evolved, I just find it hard to commit too much to what I see as small, if not completely futile, actions aimed at incremental improvement of a situation, especially when I’m aware of the massive opposing forces counteracting whatever feeble steps I’m taking. It doesn’t mean I won’t keep recycling or turn the water off or buy grass-fed beef. It’s better than nothing. But it’s delusional to think that those things I’m doing, at the scale I’m doing them on, are enough to really make a significant difference in the world. That’s not to say that they don’t make some difference, especially in my own life, but it’s way too easy to get wrapped up in the “warm fuzzy” you get from these small, easy actions, and stop looking for ways to make a real difference.