Video Reflections 2: Slavoj Zizek investigates the ethical implications of charity

Yes I am back, at least partially. I am still very busy but I will try to post one video reflection and one longer post each months until I find more time (probably in December). In any event, today’s video, still from RSA animate (I really love those video, I think the little cartoons really help comprehension, at least for me), is on capitalism, charity and the coming end of that system. It’s from Slavoj Zizek, my favourite Marxist and an overall excellent philosopher (even if you don’t agree with him).

Firstly, I must admit that I have myself often bought, and still do buy, product according to its eco-social labels (organic, fair trade, environmental friendly, etc). I think it exemplifies the power of our conscience and of morality. Although I am well aware that the fact that I buy fair trade coffee will not end the exploitation of millions of humans, I cannot bring myself to buy the regular coffee. Regardless of the fact that massive structural changes are needed in order to stop exploitation and ecological suicide, my own morality, embedded deep in my thoughts, will not knowingly let me buy something that appears to be more exploitative than another. I think it is very telling of the impact personal ethics can have on someone and thus on a society (nothing new there). It is something that people who aspire for drastic change should take into account as it’s a force that can help or undermine there efforts.

Secondly, I always find terrifying the ability of capitalism to justify exploitation even at the subliminal level: keep consuming friend, your consumption helps the environment! Maybe the real problem is mass consumption to begin with, but the system precisely doesn’t want you to think about that. God forbid we tried to consume less. As George W. Bush said in respond to 9/11, “go shopping”.   Zizek does not tell this in this video, but in the longer non animated version he gives the example of the chocolate (which constipate) laxative; the bad and the good mixed in one thus neutralizing each other. Don’t worry about your consumption because all the good things our generous corporation do with the generated profit neutralize its socio-ecological damages. I find very gripping Zizek’s sentence that “it is immoral to use private property in order to alleviate the horrible evil that result from the institution of private property.” We are so entrenched in the system (either because of our comfort or because of our survival instinct) that many seem oblivious to the otherwise apparent fact that fire cannot extinguish fire. Capitalism is fueled by exploitation thus it cannot be used to end the exploitation it created, however social it may pretend to be. It is telling that when it is in danger, the first reaction of its elite is to return to previous level of exploitation of labour force (ex: by imposition lower labour standard, by cutting benefits and pensions, by subcontracting to cheaper and more exploitative form of labour, by mass layoff, etc).

Lastly, a short word on point zero (soft apocalyptic vision) – a point that is even more apparent today with the never ending economic crises – I may be an eternal optimism but it is hard to ignore this fact. However, it is probably this turning point that, as mentioned by Alain Badiou and Zizek, will be the vehicle of change (whether it is good or bad change is especially uncertain as crises have led to fascism and despotism). This gives me a strange feeling of hope, more than any possible reform. When I look at the task ahead for reformists, I gasp for air at the view of its size and complexity. Sometimes renovations are just not enough, the whole house needs to be taken down and rebuilt. Nonetheless, until that time I will try my best to better what we already have otherwise my conscience would never forgive me.

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