Friday, June 24, 2011

Why do Slavoj Žižek and Glenn Beck agree on global warming?

aTriFf

Living in the U.S. can give you a different perspective on things. Take the oft debated issue of global warming, which has become a punching bag for Republicans like Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Co. They -and a large segment of the American public- remain convinced that global warming is just an invention of green socialists, left-wing academics and crazy urban anarchists on a mission to destroy capitalism.


Increasingly, environmental scientists (physicists, chemists, biologists, environmental engineers, etc), feel that ecology has become so politicized that the term should be dropped altogether. Conservatives have succeeded in ridiculing and stigmatizing ecology as a pseudoscience, 70% leftist ideology, 30% green mumbojumbo. Dare to suggest on a radio program that global warming is a threat to the planet and you'll be seen as a fear-monger or a hysteric. But Beck and Hannity are not alone. They get a little help from guess who?


Slavoj Žižek: I was surprised to find the following excerpt in an article by the Slovenian philosopher entitled "Ecology as the New Opium for the Masses." It turns that what worries Žižek is not the urgency of global warming, but capitalism.*
In spite of the infinite adaptability of capitalism which, in the case of an acute ecological catastrophe or crisis, can easily turn ecology into a new field of capitalist investment and competition, the very nature of the risk involved fundamentally precludes a market solution - why? Capitalism only works in precise social conditions: it implies the trust into the objectivized/"reified" mechanism of the market's "invisible hand" which, as a kind of Cunning of Reason, guarantees that the competition of individual egotisms works for the common good.
Žižek's move is to show us he can really one-up capitalism's next move and denounce it. The risk of global warming is a straw-man. Ecology is an empty cipher. The physical evidence: melting ice, rising temperatures and sea levels, the expansion of subtropical deserts means nothing. It all boils down to a fear-of-catastrophe campaign mounted by Capitalism:
No wonder, then, that the by far predominant version of ecology is the ecology of fear, fear of a catastrophe -human-made or natural- that may deeply perturb, destroy even, the human civilization, fear that pushes us to plan measures that would protect our safety. This ecology of fear has all the chances of developing into the predominant form of ideology of global capitalism, a new opium for the masses replacing the declining religion: it takes over the old religion's fundamental function, that of putting on an unquestionable authority which can impose limits.
The Slovenian philosopher is so preoccupied to outsmart his ideological nemesis that he misses the real problem, that is to say, global warming as real ecological disaster. Žižek gets blinded by ideology and misses the facts (surely, he would retort that "facts" are ideological constructions). His reason is that Capitalism, this absolute cunning superstructure has the ability to constantly adapt, thereby assimilating every crisis and micromanaging the planet into subtler, more perfidious mechanisms of control.

What to do then? The only thing left for humanity is to do nothing.

The coup de theatre is that Glenn Beck, the right-wing religious and political activist cannot agree more with Žižek, the communist. The difference is that Beck's boogieman is not "global capitalism" but "global government," i.e., the hidden forces of the international socialist conspiracy and its main representative, the present government of the United States. We've seen it before, radical opposites end up in the same place. 

Žižek may retort with one of his favorite psychoanalytic twists: While Beck believes that ecology is an invention of left-wing scientists and a plot of Obama's socialist government to take capitalism hostage, he really doesn't understand that he is -unknowingly- posing as a puppet of the system, that is to say, trumpeting the very discourse he thinks he fights.

But then why should anyone take Žižek's eco-bashing as a more authentic form than Beck's own brand of eco-bashing?
___________
*This is how Žižek deals with the problem. At the end of his article he drops this paragraph: 
With regard to this inherent instability of nature, the most consequent was the proposal of a German ecological scientist back in 1970s: since nature is changing constantly and the conditions on Earth will render the survival of humanity impossible in a couple of centuries, the collective goal of humanity should be not to adapt itself to nature, but to intervene into the Earth ecology even more forcefully with the aim to freeze the Earth's change, so that its ecology will remain basically the same, thus enabling humanity's survival. This extreme proposal renders visible the truth of ecology.
First, Žižek implodes the idea of change. True, nature is changing constantly, only that global warming is an alarming accretion of a disproportionate misuse of natural resources because of specific historical conditions of modern development. Crisis is a change, the end of humanity is a change, change is a change, only that we should prevent it if we can. Second, contemporary ecology doesn't advocate to adapt to nature (whatever that means in Žižekian). Rather the idea is that disaster can be averted only by a deliberate change of the world's status quo. Third, that survival will be impossible in two hundred years is a witless, sophomoric point: Žižek doesn't have a magic ball. Finally, the German proposal of the 1970's that he refers to, started as Holism, a dominant tendency in biology in the Germany of the 1930's, around the Marxist zoologist Julius Schaxel and his group (which included Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Hans Driesch, Jakob von Uexküll and ecologists Karl Friederichs and August Thienemann). Once Schaxel was demoted by the Nazis for his political views, the group founded Bios a journal with Nazi overtones, as such: 1- Holism redefines ecosystem as a Gestalt. 2- Reductionism of the natural sciences is responsible for the present decline. 3- The enemies are liberal individualism and technology. Actually, the difference between this version of eco-fascism and the Socialist German ecology of the 1970's is that the new reincarnation was not technophobic, though it remained anti-liberal.

11 comments:

Sam said...

What an irony!

Joel Riley said...

I think you are greatly misinterpreting Zizek....

He calls himself green in many places.

He is not the guy saying the ecological crisis is a myth....

But rather the horror of capitalism is that it has made a profit out of catastrophe or potential catastrophe (who can doubt that those who offer "green" projects and green products are profiting big time off these things?)...

And this profit of ecological crisis is on the false notion that the earth is balanced and sacred without human beings and human beings have the power to remove their "pollution" to reharmonize the earth.... There is no precedent for this... It's a false ideology at work....

The earth is and always has been a disaster field....

He is not denying global warming at all. He just argues that our delusional stance that "we can stop nature from getting revenge on us" is a false step.

This is why he says the proper solution regarding today's crisis is "With regard to this inherent instability of nature, the most consequent was the proposal of a German ecological scientist back in 1970s: since nature is changing constantly and the conditions on Earth will render the survival of humanity impossible in a couple of centuries, the collective goal of humanity should be not to adapt itself to nature, but to intervene into the Earth ecology even more forcefully with the aim to freeze the Earth's change, so that its ecology will remain basically the same, thus enabling humanity's survival."

miamibourbaki said...

Thanks, Joel, for your comment. I'm not saying they say the same thing. My point is that there is a surprising convergence in both discourses. In the case of Zizek, because he imagines that capitalism uses ecology as another form of bio-power (actually this goes back to Foucault). Beck, because he imagines a global conspiracy (his perpetrator is not capitalism but an obscure global government. This convergence is a symptom on an increasing frustration to tackle the daunting problems of ecology.
In fact, Beck is less guilty than Zizek, who as a philosopher should know more of the subject at hand. Ecology has a long history going back to the end of 19th century. There are different kinds of ecology, pre-war ecology, systems ecology, the evolutionary ecology of the 1960's and our present contemporary paradigm, which is much less anthropocentric-driven than its historic predecessors. The field is pretty varied and hardly monolithic. Frankly, even if McDonald's decides tomorrow that they won't sell any more burgers to save the environment and make money in the process, I would welcome the idea. What needs to be done is to get the big bucks to reverse the process with whatever means necessary. Will it happen? I'll leave you the answer.

fragui said...

Triff what global warming, where, is there a global warming?
Is there one
...Becuase the US government has officially admitted that human factors are certainly driving global warming even industry lawyers feel that the Inuits legal strategy could prove to be successful.

This story will disappear from the press and will perhaps pop up like a prarie dog every now and agina until suddenly, one day, the USA and its industry are being sued and drastic, long overdue, changes in how almost every aspect of this economy is operated are needed....
from (polemic.net)

Anonymous said...

My ten cents: what if global warming ends just the way it started?

Feminista said...

Interesting points. I take this from the comment by Joel: "The earth is and always has been a disaster field...."

Which reminds me some of my students when I bring up the issue of politics and change and how we shouldn't wait for the government to do what must be done now. I get two or three that bring up the same argument "things have always being like this." What is the point? If the earth is a disaster field there at least there is something to do in your spare time!

that is not the fault of art said...

Triff: I understand Zizek's pessimism. I'm going to go against the common view. What can humans do? What if the course to destruction is already irreversible? Let's enjoy it while we can.

miamibourbaki said...

Fragui: Forgive my inanity but I don't get your point. Repeat please.

Feminista. Agree. It's easier to blame others.

TNTFOA: So I gather that you're a pessimist. I'm not.

Anonymous said...

good post to compare when views becomes so heavy with ideology that they find allies in unlikely places.-

Amida Frey said...

Triff, Thank you so much for the forum to allow an idea such as this to take form. Melding philosophy, ecology, and politics as the catalyst is no easy endeavor.

I would like to throw in my own humble thoughts on the topic as well. Relating back to Joel's comment: "And this profit of ecological crisis is on the false notion that the earth is balanced and sacred without human beings and human beings have the power to remove their "pollution" to reharmonize the earth.... There is no precedent for this... It's a false ideology at work...."

These seem to be very bold statements given that they also appear to be founded upon the notion that human beings may have little or no impact upon the destruction that they have reaped upon the world merely because there has been no precedent for it.

This would seem also to me to beg the question; should we then abandon the various fields and areas of ecology simply because they share no common precedent? You acknowledge (I think) that global warming does exist but condemn capitalism for profiting off the attempts at slowing or reversing it. I am no fan of capitalism, and many of the things that Zizek espouses are wonderful ideals. Sadly however, it would seem that capitalism is a scourge that is in no hurry to disappear, and I for one would rather see it used to do good rather than harm to the planet. I’m not saying Capitalism is the right tool for the job, merely that it is one tool we cannot discard among many we could use.

As both an optimist and trained environmental scientist, I would point out that there is absolutely no precedent extant for the vast majority of the environmental calamities that plague the world, let alone some of the ingenious solutions that have been found to deal with them. Humankind has altered the face of the world faster and with greater force in the last two hundred years than has happened in the last 650,000 years ( http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/science/pastcc_fig1.html ). It is the rate of this change that is troubling, not the occurrence of it. Change is a natural part of the universe.

There is no doubt in my mind that the world will heal itself well enough to survive anything we can throw at it... eventually. It's my species that I am worried about.
The founding principles of ecology and natural sciences teach us of a delicate balance that exists in the world. It is folly to dismiss this balance as false ideology. This does not mean that the balance is always perfect or consistent, merely that the balance is designed to deal with change as a natural process of evolution. We have shifted the balance considerably. I believe it is not only possible, but our obligation to make every effort to shift it back to account for our own impacts.

I also have heard nothing of the ontological right of anything other than humans to exist or to make use of the planets resources as we have done. Time and time again great suffering has been brought upon our own species, not only the planet, by this way of thinking.
The Pollyannaism of the vast majority of people is driven by a political machine designed to manipulate misinformation to its own ends. And to this, I agree with Triff where he says that Beck is less culpable than Zizek. A philosopher should know better.

Alfredo Triff said...

Ami: thanks for your -on target-comment.