Žižek says what I’ve failed to…

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.

This entry was posted in Failure, Reflections and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Žižek says what I’ve failed to…

  1. SLP says:

    Great post, STA. Zizek (how were you able to find all the proper accent marks on the keyboard?) is amazingly articulate and entertaining at the same time. And I really like the animation/drawing that accompanies his words. I feel that I have much to say about the important critique that you raise about the limits of charity (and being motivated by a very narrow, self-serving vision of feeling good). Since I don’t have much time right now (RJP just woke up. Uh oh), I will have to post those thoughts later. Thanks for posting this–it helps me to clarify my own thinking on the nature of “unchained.”

  2. STA says:

    how were you able to find all the proper accent marks on the keyboard?

    I looked him up in Wikipedia and copy-pasted it!

  3. Anne says:

    Thanks for posting the video (loved the animation) – I had not heard of him and I definitely will look for him now. really enjoyed the part about the warm fuzzy component of charity that Zizek discusses. The type of charity that Starbucks undertakes (or even Target for that matter) is at best a minimally charitable act. It’s marketing. Companies have realized that people will spend more and/or respond favorably to them if they emphasize (very visibly) fair trade/being green/giving to starving children etc. Zizek takes that a step further when he started to reference Wilde. It’s an interesting idea to state the charitable giving perpetuates the problem it is trying to alleviate (the good masters being the worst slaveholders was particularly illustrative). I have to think about this some more. I do think that charitable gifts have the capability of making a difference (especially when they are made anonymously) even if it doesn’t solve the underlying problem.
    I agree that the warm fuzzy theory of manufactured and marketed charity lets people off the hook from doing the hard work. If you are simply buying organic food/food from non chain stores/food directly from farmers because you think that will protect the environment, or ride your bike instead of driving your car for the same reason or recycling because it makes you feel good about the lesser amount of trash that goes to a landfill, than you have a bigger problem than this. For myself, any changes I’ve made have not necessarily been conscious decision. I buy what food tastes best to me. And not just me, but my family. I anticipate strawberry season because the berries are memorably better. In warm months, this means buying a lot of produce from farmer’s markets. I do it not because I want to help out the farmers, but because I think it tastes better. It’s a selfish reason. Maybe I help the farmers and maybe I don’t. I really don’t give it a thought. If our car had not been stolen, we would NEVER EVER NEVER have embarked on this no car adventure. I can guarantee that. It turns out, however, that we really like it. And it costs less ( a nice side benefit). It is inconvenient at times, but I wouldn’t change it now. (Side note – you’d be amazed how shocked people are when we tell them we don’t have a car. They are even more shocked when we tell them we don’t plan on replacing it.) These are just two examples of changes in lifestyle that were not conscious efforts, but based on circumstance or desires. So maybe it’s time I to bump it up a notch. Not because I could change the world but because I might see the world a little differently.