Occupy Wall Street: what is to be done next?

Slavoj Žižek writes: What to do in the aftermath of the Occupy Wall Street movement, when the protests that started far away – in the Middle East, Greece, Spain, UK – reached the centre, and are now reinforced and rolling out all around the world?

In a San Francisco echo of the OWS movement on 16 October 2011, a guy addressed the crowd with an invitation to participate in it as if it were a happening in the hippy style of the 1960s:

“They are asking us what is our program. We have no program. We are here to have a good time.”

Such statements display one of the great dangers the protesters are facing: the danger that they will fall in love with themselves, with the nice time they are having in the “occupied” places. Carnivals come cheap – the true test of their worth is what remains the day after, how our normal daily life will be changed. The protesters should fall in love with hard and patient work – they are the beginning, not the end. Their basic message is: the taboo is broken, we do not live in the best possible world; we are allowed, obliged even, to think about alternatives.

In a kind of Hegelian triad, the western left has come full circle: after abandoning the so-called “class struggle essentialism” for the plurality of anti-racist, feminist etc struggles, “capitalism” is now clearly re-emerging as the name of the problem.

The first two things one should prohibit are therefore the critique of corruption and the critique of financial capitalism. First, let us not blame people and their attitudes: the problem is not corruption or greed, the problem is the system that pushes you to be corrupt. The solution is neither Main Street nor Wall Street, but to change the system where Main Street cannot function without Wall Street. Public figures from the pope downward bombard us with injunctions to fight the culture of excessive greed and consummation – this disgusting spectacle of cheap moralization is an ideological operation, if there ever was one: the compulsion (to expand) inscribed into the system itself is translated into personal sin, into a private psychological propensity, or, as one of the theologians close to the pope put it:

“The present crisis is not crisis of capitalism but the crisis of morality.”

Let us recall the famous joke from Ernst Lubitch’s Ninotchka: the hero visits a cafeteria and orders coffee without cream; the waiter replies:

“Sorry, but we have run out of cream, we only have milk. Can I bring you coffee without milk?”

Was not a similar trick at work in the dissolution of the eastern european Communist regimes in 1990? The people who protested wanted freedom and democracy without corruption and exploitation, and what they got was freedom and democracy without solidarity and justice. Likewise, the Catholic theologian close to pope is carefully emphasizing that the protesters should target moral injustice, greed, consumerism etc, without capitalism. The self-propelling circulation of Capital remains more than ever the ultimate Real of our lives, a beast that by definition cannot be controlled. [Continue reading…]

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2 thoughts on “Occupy Wall Street: what is to be done next?

  1. brodix


    “Money is a contract. It is drawing rights on the rest of the community. Its value stems from the willingness of the participants in that contract to honor it. Contracts are not owned by any one party. They are an agreement among different parties. To the extent the financial system is the circulatory system of society, money is the blood flowing through it. Its effectiveness is dependent on its fungibility. We no more own the money in our pocket, than we own the road we are driving on. Yes, we are in sole possession of any one spot on that road at any one time, but its value is due to the connectivity with all other roads. We own our cars, houses, businesses, etc, but not the roads connecting them and no one cries socialism over that. We have to think of money in the same way.

    If people understand that money is a form of public utility and not actually private property, then they will naturally be far more careful what value they take out of social relations and environmental resources to put in a bank account. This would serve to make people’s own self interest a mechanism to put value back into the community and the environment and allow more organic systems of economic connectivity and reciprocity to grow, as well as reduce the power of large financial and governmental systems over our lives.”

  2. examinator

    On the surface it seems like the age old which came first Chicken or the egg argument ( if one ignores evolution that is). Like the reality of the above the root factor is the individual ( people). Specifically the dis- equilibrium evolutionary development between our intellectual and our visceral instincts. One should be aware that evolutionary change ( including the speed thereof ) by definition is driven by need for or lack change.

    Buddha made the observation that if one aspires to enlightenment/contentment one should first be without (control) our desires (aka instincts), (rather than let them control us). No I’m not a Buddhist…I’m Unreligious(sic) as opposed to anti religious (neo- atheist).
    In marketing terms we should control our want as opposed to needs. i.e. We NEED transport but we WANT XYZ brand of vehicle etc. Clearly this is in absolute contradiction to the objectives current version ‘feral’ Capitalism (sic).

    Capitalism (sic) is not about the efficient use of capital as it’s billed, it’s about exploitation ( Malthusian). Even Adam Smith’s is severely flawed in that it ‘s hierarchical (class) exploitative along wealth, “ownership/control of the means production”. His biggest flaws are that he assumes ‘national interests’ would preclude the current internationalisation of production to those countries of maximum exploitation (tax, wages etc.). His second flaw and most terminal, which he shares with “it’s the system” crowd is that they ignore what is euphemistically called “ human nature” and it’s primacy in motivating (or demotivating) change.

    I would contend two propositions.
    We look at what the demotivaters are and counter ‘them’, by making change in everybody’s interests.
    We instigate what I call ‘enlightened evolutionary change’… i.e. create the environment that will force evolutionary change in our instincts… This can IMO only happen if we focus on the individual/people’s NEEDS (human) rather than the results of our wants by moving ‘deck chairs’ on the sinking system and earth.
    So long as we pander to the wants our efforts are as pointless issuing the passengers of Titanic with a tea strainers to bail out the sea water after it has hit the iceberg .

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