Slavoj Žižek and why local democracy is not enough when there are big decisions to be made

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Posted Dec 29 2015 by Dave Darby of Lowimpact.org
zizek

Ah, Žižek – he’s so weird, often quite inaccessible and yet so right about almost everything. Below is a video in which he is very accessible, and as usual, right.

He’s right that a gentle, Keynesian capitalism (Stiglitz, Krugman) can’t work, because for corporations to be most efficient they have to be brutal. If one corporation decides that it’s not going to use sweatshops to make its products, it will fall behind the competion who have no qualms about using sweatshops. If one corporation decides that it doesn’t want to destroy the environment, it will fall behind the corporations that don’t care.

He’s right that it’s obvious that big-state, totalitarian communism doesn’t work for anybody. But neither does big-corporate, totalitarian capitalism, because it destroys the ecology that we need to survive, it corrupts every kind of political system we’ve tried with its money, its lobbying and its jobs for politicians, and it takes over everything that we need in life – energy, food, banking, housing, the media, employment, IT, and leaves no room for us to provide these things for ourselves.

And he’s also right that by the nineties we’d all sort of given up. We all knew it was terrible, but we behaved as if it were OK – the least bad option. Žižek covered this kind of behaviour in another hilarious video, below. Parents tell their children that they believe in Santa Claus to keep their children happy – but it’s not long before their children realise that he doesn’t exist, but they pretend they believe to keep their parents happy, and hey, they don’t want to risk not getting presents.

But when it comes to true democracy, most people don’t want to be involved in constant local negotiations when it comes to decision-making. Žižek, and probably most other people, want decisions to be made for them, so that in his case, he can read philosophy and watch movies, and other people can do whatever they want – watch sport, watch TV, go to the pub – whatever. Most people want leaders. They just want good leaders.

And corporate capitalism doesn’t produce good leaders, because it elevates to positions of power the kinds of people who are good at making money. And to be good at making money, in a competitive world, you have to be brutal. You have to pump poisons into the ground to get oil out; you have to keep animals in giant sheds so that they never see the earth or the sun; you have to keep people in the same conditions to produce the things you sell more cheaply than small businesses; you have to pay other people to terrorise them if they try to start a union; you have to sell weapons to vicious regimes, and so on.

But I think he’s right that it’s leadership that people want, not responsibility. Local democracy is all well and good when it comes to filling potholes, preventing dog waste, deciding where to have a park etc. But how can local democracy help us decide about whether we should be developing artificial intelligence or not, for example? It might destroy us if we don’t stop – or it might not. Do you understand that particular issue? I don’t, and neither does anyone in my community. We need the best people, presented with expert testimony, making those kinds of decisions, not local committees. The same goes for nuclear power, genetic modification, nanotechnology, international conflict, acidification of the oceans etc. etc. – there are many threats, and we need our best people on them. And by best, I mean people who score most highly in terms of intelligence, compassion and integrity.

And that’s the point – corporate capitalism doesn’t get our best people on anything – it just puts the best money-makers in charge. That takes a certain amount of targeted intelligence, granted, but not necessarily compassion or integrity. They may even be handicaps.

Qualities such as compassion and intergrity can only be judged via face-to-face contact, so I do believe that we have to choose our leaders from within our communities, initially. Anarchists might be persuaded that leaders are not moving upwards through layers of power, but moving horizontally through concentric circles into decision-making postions in a flat system. I’m persuaded by it anyway, and I would describe myself as an anarchist (as in, I believe that a co-operative, non-hierarchical system would serve us best).

Happy New Year, and perhaps leave a bit of room in your New Year’s resolutions for becoming more familiar with Slavoj Žižek in 2016.