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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