Good Capitalist Karma: Zizek Animated

Slavoj Zizek, one of today’s most influential philosophers/theorists, spoke earlier this year at the Royal Society of the Arts (RSA). And now RSA has posted the video online with their patented animated treatment. Like other recent RSA speakers, Zizek makes modern capitalism his focus. This time, we see how contemporary capitalism has essentially reworked Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic, or that strange relationship between money making and personal redemption. Zizek’s critique isn’t utterly damning. (No one will run to the barricades.) Nor do I think he intends it to be. But the observations hold a certain amount of interest, especially when placed alongside Barbara Ehrenreich and David Harvey’s related RSA talks.

You can find the full 30 minute lecture (sans cartoons) here, or download the video as an mp4 here.

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Comments (7)
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  • Hanoch says:

    Seems like an interesting subject, but I can’t fathom what his ultimate point is. Does he have one?

  • Manuel says:

    I’m sure he has an ultimate point, but I doubt that just ten minutes are enough to really bring it across.

  • Peter Hanley says:

    @ Hannoch

    His larger theme (I think asking Zizek to have a point is futile – he always has multiple points) is that Charity as practiced generally in the West is counter-productive because it primarily serves to preserve the conditions that created the problems that require charity in the first place.

  • Evan Plaice says:

    His point is simple and can be illustrated by a quote from the Tao Te Ching, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Instead of creating bigger fisheries and systems to dispense them to the poor thereby prolonging the problem with charity (and being required to pay the middle man to perpetuate the system), why not actually give a substantial effort to enable the poor to empower themselves so they can finally become self-sustainable.

    I think the false belief that self-sacrifice and charity is one of the earliest and oldest lessons taught to children of western cultures. Not only by religion but also by pop culture. Ever heard of “The Little Dutch Boy?” If you grew up in the US I bet you have. It was one of the children’s stories read to us in our early elementary education years.

    The idea that charity is the solution to all our problems is passed on to us in some of our earliest lessons. The organizations who exist between those who give and those who receive stand to make a lot of money with no work/effort put in. How else do you think the christian church became so wealthy/powerful. It wasn’t through hard work and sound investments (unless income from charity could be considered a sound investment).

  • traccan says:


    And not only that, but also that the way charitable collections are generated (usually) in contemporary capitalist society is essentially through bribery: he gives the famous Starbucks example that if you buy X..say a bottle of water, so many cents toward your purchase will go to help starving orphans in ___istan. There are many problems with this, including the commodification of a natural resource, the mark-up embedded in the price of the water so that WE are giving our money (not Starbucks) to the starving orphans, but most of all his point is that we are GETTING something in return for helping the orphans, we expect something in return. We don’t give for free. Think also of walking through shopping centers at this time of year and all the hockey and soccer teams having their fundraisers, but they don’t just ask you to donate your money, there’s a 750 dollar gift basket that is drawn and awarded to the lucky donator. This is immoral in Zizek’s eyes: if there’s no sacrifice, there’s no charity. He’s an authoritarian Christian, after all.

  • Fred Pigro says:

    and that part of what we are paying for in our consumerist act is the narcissistically soothing feeling that we’ve not been merely capitalist consumers. They are not just selling us coffee but also a compliment, and this is how people who want to think of themselves as leftists can be brought into the fold of consumerism; how people who like to fancy themselves as promoting greater social good can be co-opted. In other words, in addition to the coffee, you get a peek into a mirror that makes you appear admirable.

  • Collin says:

    He neglects to mention here about the role of the state. All of this perception and judgement and historical sweep but nowhere does he refer to how monopoly government warp the fabric of social life. Their is charity that comes voluntarily and then there is coerced charity through government. The “one thing” that needs to change”, that he is searching for in his model is the abolishment of the coercive monopoly state.

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