Title: Trouble in Paradise
Rating: 1 Star
So, if there’s ever a time for a trenchant analysis of our current state of global capitalism and how it turns entire swaths of communities into economic losers with no hope of upward mobility and then judges them morally unfit for their failures, this would be it.
Alas, this book is not it.
Not that it’s without some valid points in its argument. If you can navigate your way through the muck and swill, here are some of the points that you can pull out:
Over the past several decades the concept of the individual has risen to ever greater heights. Ostensibly, this seems like a good thing, right? The rise of the individual leads to greater freedoms, wider choice, and a sense of owning your own destiny. Such uninhibited freedom would seem to be possibly a threat to government.
However, with the rise of increased individualism, those in power use that as an excuse for the state to stop enabling basic rights. For instance, since we’re all self empowered individuals now, isn’t it great how liberating it is that we have to fund our own education, fund our own pension, seek out our own insurance, etc? Doesn’t that feel wonderful, people?
Those with money have no problem with any of these things regardless of whether the state funds it or not. Those on the fringes, or maybe even towards the middle, now have basic infrastructural elements that previously have been taken for granted for decades that are now being slowly eroded. All of this so that the wealthy can pay a little less in taxes. People are now being forced to make choices that they simply aren’t qualified to make. Note that this is not an elitist position. Complex choices take time and time is the one luxury that many people don’t have.
The use of the rise of debt as a weapon. Again, there has been a dramatic rise of debt over the last several decades. On the one hand, those in power tut-tut at the lack of control that people have in allowing their personal debt to rise to such unreasonable levels (all the while surrounding them in an orgy of advertising consumerism that paints you as an utter failure if you don’t have enough things in your life).
However, burying someone in debt is a very effective tool to breed obedience and regularity. You want to have a worker who always shows up on time, is afraid to quit, and will do whatever boss-man wants? Put him in debt and threaten him with shame if he fails to pay. Debt is now used as an instrument to control the debtor.
Especially over the last couple of decades, what the government marks as classified has dramatically grown. An even more insidious action that has grown as well is that the government now even classifies what is classified. Therefore, a citizen can publish something that is not known to be classified, is not marked as classified, but can still be punished for publishing classified materials. This is a regular instance in China, but even in the US, with such events as the Snowden papers, the government can and does retroactively mark documents as classified and then prosecute for publishing them. This is a pretty overt threat to the concept of the free press.
So, if I got all of this information out of the book, WTF with the 1 star?
First of all, let’s talk about his theories. If there is a theory that has been expounded in the twentieth century that is now held in serious disrepair that he does not enthusiastically reference here, it must have a inadvertent miss on his part. He waxes on about Freudianism, Lacanism, Marxism, Leninism, and Maoism (yes, he quotes regularly from fucking Chairman Mao). If you want to overthrow the order, I’m not sure if siding with the previous failed revolutionaries is the path to success.
I can live with that. It’s always interesting to me to read a contrary opinion that goes so dramatically against the grain of the current convention.
What makes it so much worse is that it is without a doubt the most obtusely written book that I’ve ever read. Keep in mind that at various points in my past life I’ve read Kant and Sarte. I get that it’s philosophy, so I didn’t expect a page turner, but lordy.
As far as I can, Zizek is simply incapable of expressing even the simplest of thoughts without spewing nonsense of jargon. There are entire paragraphs that I can quote that are little more than Chomsky bot gibberish. He regularly uses phrases like ‘gospel of hyper-dynamic deterritorialization’. This is pseudo-intellectualism at its most vacant. Sacrificing clarity for vocabulary is the first defense of the erudite poseur.
So, if the purpose was to analyze the current state of capitalism and to issue some kind of call to arms to rectify, then it’s a total failure. If the purpose of the work was to show off his ability to spout intellectual academic nonsense to be appreciated by about thirty of his fellow academic peers, then good job! Judith Butler can learn a thing or two from his ways of obfuscation.