Slavoj Žižek on His Stubborn Attachment to Communism

There is now transcript and audio from the Holberg debate in Bergen, Norway, courtesy of the CWTeam, here is their summary of the event:

This bonus episode features audio from the Holberg Debate in Bergen, Norway between Tyler and Slavoj Žižek held on December 7, 2019. They discuss the reasons Slavoj (still) considers himself a Communist, why he considers The Handmaid’s Tale “nostalgia for the present,” what he likes about Greta Thunberg, what Marx got right about the commodification of beliefs, his concerns about ecology and surveillance in communist states like China today, the reasons academia should maintain its ‘useless character,’ his beginnings as a Heideggerian, why he is distrustful of liberal optimism, the “Fukuyama dilemma” we face, the importance of “empty manners,” and more.

Excerpt:

COWEN: You know the old joke, what’s the difference between a Communist and a Nazi? Tenure.

[laughter]

ŽIŽEK: You mean university tenure?

COWEN: Yes. It’s a joke, but the point is you don’t need Communism. You are much smarter than Communism.

I would describe the proceedings as “rollicking,” including the segment about “smoking the prick.”

Comments

Shouldn't there be a registered trademark involving CWTeam to protect such distinctive branding?

Somebody in the country and western world could be inspired to take it for their own use.

On behalf of the CWTeam, let me declare we reserve no rights to this designation despite its ingenuity

If you are a communist what is not to like about Greta Thunberg?

The opposite of communism isn't capitalism or Nazism. The opposite of communism is math.

winner of the most inane comment in the thread (no need to even read the others)

Math is a bit vague, the specialized fields would be accounting and statistics =)

This constant support for mainstream communists is what allows the Left to label those who think like Eisenhower Republicans as "extreme." Give Nazis and crazy white supermacists equal time.

"This constant support for mainstream communists is what allows the Left to label those who think like Eisenhower Republicans as extreme"

Or George Wallace Democrats. Or Benedic Arnold loyalists.

"Yes. It’s a joke,"

...if you must explain your joke to your target listener -- it's a lame joke and/or you totally misread your audience. Communication Fail.

Considering the audience understood the joke and laughed, I'm inclined to say Zizek is simply dense.

Tyler: You are much smarter than Communism.
Narrator: He wasn't.

Man, I wish every video and podcast had an automatically created transcription! These transcriptions are so nice, I can learn the content when reading in a fraction the time as listening to it.

Yep, it's one of the reasons I rarely listen to podcasts. With text, I can usually decide in 5-10 seconds if I even want to read it. With podcasts, after 5-10 seconds they're still playing their inane theme music or announcing their sponsors or themselves.

If I'm lucky, maybe after 3 minutes I've got some idea of how the podcast is going to go and decide if I want to keep listening or not. Multiply that by say ten podcasts and I've spent half an hour just deciding what to listen to (and most of the ten will not be worth listening to).

In contrast, at 10 seconds each I can glance at ten articles on the web and in less than two minutes decide if I want to read them or not.

Usually it takes less than 10 seconds because the headline and short description tell me if I want to read it or not.

Similarly I only watch videos if I have time to kill and just want to look for something amusing. Or if I know in advance that I want to watch it, so I don't need to waste 3 minutes deciding if I want to watch it or not.

You unknowingly touched on the whole point of podcasts. It's content for when you cannot or choose not to read EX: commuting, cleaning, cooking, etc. Take the trope of keeping the TV on even though you're not watching TV, and put it in your smartphone.

Right but I don't do that either (listen to something while doing something else, leave the TV on, etc.) Because I've discovered that I don't even hear -- or really, even listen to -- that stuff in the background, so it might as well not be on at all. So increasingly I don't listen to the radio either.

If I do force myself to pay attention to the sounds coming out of my computer or radio, I'm typically dissatisfied with what I'm hearing and will want to switch to another podcast or channel. But that switching and listening to the next program takes time and attention away from whatever it is that I'm really doing.

Some people may be able to better multi-task with their ears that I can. If I'm not concentrating on listening something, my brain just shuts out the sounds and I don't hear what's going on, doesn't matter if it's a podcast, news, music, sporting event, whatever.

Taiwan and Mainland China can’t be compared like that. In 1950, life expectancy was already 15 years higher in Taiwan: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_past_life_expectancy. Taiwan was not damaged by World War II, did not suffer the hyperinflation that destroyed the tiny middle class on the mainland as it had a separate currency, had an easy time of land reform because all the land was owned by Japanese and could thus be confiscated and redistributed after World War II without further fighting, was populated by many of the elites from China, captured China’s entire treasury, and received massive amounts of US aid that had been earmarked for China and was now being concentrated among a fiftieth as many people.

The historical record of communism is actually not that bad when considering that communism tends to arise only in countries that were in desperate straits to begin with. In the case of both the USSR and China, communism was an improvement over the reactionary autocracy and/or semi-colonial rule that came before, and those countries experienced convergence with developed Western countries during the periods of communist rule. While these regimes experienced many failures and atrocities, it’s not clear that these were worse than would have occurred under the previous regimes (in China’s case, the population growth, death rate, and life expectancy data show clearly that fewer people died of famine and other preventable causes during the Mao era compared to 1850-1950 period, even with the Great Famine of 1960 taken into account). And many of the non-EU parts of the former USSR have slipped back into reactionary autocracies that worse off since the collapse of the USSR, with lower GDP per capita in Ukraine and many of the Central Asian ex-USSR countries, and many people in polls expressing nostalgia for Soviet times. Communism also increased state capacity, which is often counterproductive in secure rich countries but quite valuable in poor ones fending off foreign invasion (the Soviet army did much better in WWII than the Russian army did in WWI even though the Soviets bore the brunt of the German army in WWII but was only fighting the German B-team in WWI, and Mao was able to unify most of China and end the colonial concessions which the Qing and KMT were not able to do).

Liberal capitalist democracy is the best system for rich, secure countries with developed private markets like the US, but that doesn’t mean it would necessarily have worked in poor and undeveloped countries facing severe foreign threats like China and Russia at the time they adopted communism.

"The historical record of communism is actually not that bad when considering that communism tends to arise only in countries that were in desperate straits to begin with."
This is like saying that dying in the Great Leap Forward or the Holodomor is better because it would've happened to them anyway, but at least it happened under communism.

No, it’s saying that fewer people died of famine under the communist regimes in the USSR and China than in the previous regimes. This is clearly true from population counts. China’s population grew by only 20% from 1850 to 1950, due to tens of millions of documented deaths from famine and war, but then doubled by 1980.

"the population growth, death rate, and life expectancy data show clearly that fewer people died of famine and other preventable causes during the Mao era compared to 1850-1950 period"

Damning with faint praise?

Now, if Mao had ruled for 100 years, he, too, could 'a made it!

Zaua is basically arguing that health care in the latter half of the 20th century was better than that of the 19th, that deaths due to war and famine go down when there isn't an active communist insurrection being fought, and that it's hard to get capitalism up and running under regimes that tend to liquidate capitalists. None of these are especially convincing arguments for the actual establishment of communism.

If it was all about better healthcare, why didn’t life expectancy improve by as much in other third-world countries? Overall world life expectancy went from 47 in 1950 to 62 in 1980. In China, it went from 43 in 1950 to 68 in 1980, 10 years more improvement than in the world as a whole. India is a natural comparator to China being another large third-world country. Its life expectancy only increased from 37 to 55 from 1950-1980, 7 years less improvement than China.

And the capitalist class in China and the USSR was liquidated by war and hyperinflation long before the communists came to power—that’s why the communists were able to come to power in the first place, as there was not a significant capitalist class that could have resisted them. The only “capitalists” by the time the communists took power were a couple of old regime cronies who fled abroad and peasants who had a tiny bit more than their neighbors. China has much more of a capitalist class today than in 1950.

I'm sure those Chinese data are *completely reliable*

"If it was all about better healthcare, why didn’t life expectancy improve by as much in other third-world countries?"
The pervasive failure of socialism across the entire world. Mostly in the full blown Marxist-Leninist states like Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Mongolia, N. Korea, Angola, Mozambique, Somalia, Ethiopia, Albania, Congo, Romania etc. But also the half-way socialist developmental disasters like India, Algeria, Iraq, Egypt, and Burma.
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e0/Socialist_states_by_duration.png

Indeed, compare NK and SK instead.

NK and SK achieved comparable growth through the 1970s, and NK fell off thereafter. It’s also hard to separate the effects of their domestic policies versus the fact that SK was supported by the US and NK was sanctioned by it.

US aid to South Korea stopped in 1960. That's when SK changed policies and took off. Not a coincidence. Same with Taiwan, by the way.

Yes but US sanctions on NK continue today. They clearly have a big impact, especially in recent years with the world putting more reliance on the dollar—Iran’s economy has shrunk by 15% in just the last two years and that’s clearly attributable to US sanctions. NK is a small country strongly influenced by foreign powers.

NK has also been more totalitarian and crazy than either post-Mao China or the post-Stalin USSR. The results of any authoritarian government are going to depend heavily on who is in charge.

My point is that we’ve had two large communist countries, the USSR and China, and both of those countries did better during their Communist period than they did during previous periods. That does not mean communism is a good system or right for every country, but means it was not a terrible choice for those two countries in the circumstances they faced at the time.

Communists don't trade. That's the whole idea. So how is it trade could cause Communism to lag?

"Communists don't trade."

Communists don't like markets. That doesn't mean they dislike trade. Cuba chafes under the decades-long US embargo because they know their economy would be better off if they could trade with the US.

But they would do government-managed trade, not free trade.

Even Communists recognize the value of trade; Stalin was eagerly trading crucial raw materials such as oil and grain to Hitler's Germany and getting armaments and other military goods in return. Classic comparative advantage.

"Yes but US sanctions on NK continue today."
Which doesn't matter. North Korea has officially declared itself a self sufficient socialist state, so obviously they don't need anybody. The guiding ideology of N. Korea is juche which roughy translates to "self-reliance". Of course this didn't stop them from trading wit the Soviets and Chinese for years(which was basically their only source of growth).
Ironically, the United States has been the biggest supplier of food aid to N. Korea since the 1990s. Only S. Korea might be a bigger source of aid, especially if you include the fertilizer they donate to the North.

Most countries got much wealthier over time during the 20th century, they didn’t just stay the same, so judged in comparison to comparably poor countries, communism was indeed “that bad.”

And Mao and Stalin were not improvements over Kai-Shek or Nicholas II, by any measure, other than increasing the rate of peacetime premature death if you’re a militant anti-natalist. Otherwise, that claim is utterly ridiculous. I’m interested to hear next though why Pol Pot, Tito, and Jim Jones also weren’t that bad.

Even Adolph's reign had its up side. Comparing 1850 to 1960 or 70 is a clear absurdity. I started watching the "Debate" but after the first couple of minutes of his droning on and on, I stopped (when I find myself in a hole, I stop digging (on good days). I wonder if TC will also debate other equally valid points of view like Anarchists, White Supremacists, and Flat-Earthers? I find it sad that such a thoroughly debunked social governance model is still being actively espoused, but no surprise.In my (unimportant) opinion, TC could have just as well been "debating" someone about divine right, white man's burden, or (I don't know the name for the trope) that women should be kept (uneducated, submissive, quiet, barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen (or laundry room)).

The numbers show that the death rate in China was lower, population growth was significantly higher, and life expectancy increased by much more during Mao’s tenure from 1950-1980 than during the previous hundred years. China’s peacetime death rate fell from 23 per 100,000 in 1950 to just 7 per 100,000 in 1980. https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/CHN/china/death-rate. Life expectancy meanwhile increased from 45 to 70 from 1950-1980 in China and population doubled. These are facts. They go against my priors, as I am a libertarian and support libertarian policies in the US, but they are pretty hard to deny.

And if you want to compare to a non-communist country, perhaps China and India would be an appropriate comparison? China substantially outperformed India in life expectancy gains from 1950-80 and many other measures.

Now that's a low bar!

One would think, yet many countries have failed to clear it. Even India is a relative success compared to much of the Middle East and Africa. So if many third-world countries did even worse than Maoist China, then a reasonable conclusion is that Maoist China could have gone a lot worse compared to the realistic constraints faced by third-world countries in 1950, rather than imagining that China was just a temporarily impoverished version of the US.

Great Leap Forward. 1 in 13 Chinese starve to death in 3 years. That's a death rate of ~2500 per 100,000 person-years.

There's no comparable dying in any other developing country not consumed by war. Especially such a young demographic as it was at the time. India never suffered such.

Overall, post-great leap forward, say 1960 through 1980, China does "OK"; perhaps a bit better than many developing states. This achievement is almost entirely achieved by domestic political stability rather than economic flourishing. Once you take the endemic conflict basket cases out of the developing countries set then China's gains in life expectancy look entirely lacklustre. Of course, once they introduce measures of capitalism....

Basically, you're relying on peace and order to do all your heavy lifting in the cross sectional analysis; Commie-Economy does almost nothing for you in explanatory power.

Starting the clock at 1850 allows you to include the Taiping Rebellion in the 1850-1950 time period.

It's like saying modern civilization is awful because Europe between 1814-1914 had lower levels of violent death compared to 1914-2014.

Being a stridently pro-free market, private enterprise guy who *at the same time* can argue (seemingly) that neither openness to Western markets nor private enterprise even helped Taiwan either a little bit (or some but not very much?) and that it was all Western development money and preexisting good luck.... must be a real head trip.

did you notice he argued that both American money helped out Taiwan and that when the Soviets were no longer to economically support their puppets (Ukraine, etc.) that also supported his absurd claims. (Not that I disagree that for most people under Communist rule, comparing them to their local ancestors would show improvements (as long as you go back a century or two), but the argument that famine was "preventable" (previous to the 20th Century) is a silly counter-factual. Just as true as the European diseases that wiped out native American populations was preventable. LOL. I think a good argument can be made that certain cultures nurture/encourage authoritarian rule. I see Venezuela's 2019 inflation rate was 1,300,000%...as if that has any meaning. Economics in such a (broken) system has to be fascinating.

Famine was certainly preventable prior to the 20th century. Except for war-caused famines, there were no famines in Western Europe after the 1600s. Moreover, there were no famines in China in the 1700s—famines suddenly started increasing in the mid-1800s as a result of European imperialism and the civil wars they triggered. So those were preventable every bit as much as the Great Famine in 1960.

Hoid of Ireland?

Yes I forgot about that one, but that famine was arguably preventable due to British policies such as the Corn Laws. That famine was also significantly motivated by Irish people being able to leave Ireland, an option not really available to the Chinese in the late-1800s famines there.

Finnish famine of 1866–68

I didn’t say free enterprise and Western trade didn’t help Taiwan. I said it depends on context. The free market works best in countries that are already developed. Taiwan in 1950 was clearly more developed and better suited for capitalist-led growth than the Mainland in 1950, which had no capitalist class or capital that could have provided a foundation for private-led growth.

No, for lots of reasons. The relevant comparison is between the PRC and Hong Kong. The inhabitants of both are Chinese, by the way. :-) In 1950 both the mainland and Hong Kong had nothing. Hong Kong received nothing over the years All it did was allow the market and free trade from the outset [and some government built housing]. Look today how the potential migrant streams turn out: Can we expect a mass stampede from Hong Kong to the mainland? Could we expect the reverse? Choose.

Hong Kong did not have nothing. Hong Kong in 1950 had a life expectancy in the 60s, almost equal to Japan and far above Mainland China: http://pages.stern.nyu.edu/~dbackus/BCH/data/UNPop/demographyFiguresThxG.pdf. It was by this measure a developed country. It was a major trading port with high levels of human capital. China has always had big gaps between coastal trading centers and the rural interior where most of the population lived until recently.

another way of framing the comparison is: What would the mainland look like today if Deng's policies had come in 1950.

1953 GDP/capita for Taiwan and China is $1697 for Taiwan and $1098 for China. Taiwan converges much faster and does not grow at anything like the same rate, adjusted for starting conditions (which again would be actually still be more impressive than the same growth in PRC, given slightly lower catchup growth potential!). The fact remains that Taiwan grows quicker in ways that are very much attributable to not being Communist and not attributable to outside funding and so forth. China very likely got, and still gets, nothing from being Communist and flatly probably lost about 20 years until Deng's reforms, which still probably undershoot the people's potential and likely deeply distort market behaviour to the benefit of Party clients.

(I don't really quite get your point about the Great Famine - the excess mortality is more than twice as high as the highest of any previous famine in the last 100 years (and most are an order of magnitude less severe), and the population is not twice as large at this time. The severity is obviously much greater. Yes, I suppose they did not amass as many deaths as in all previous famines in a short span of years, but this is not exactly a selling point.)

+1. Zaua's statistics are tendentious. The whole thing falls apart when you try to impose basic controls for political stability and death per capita year.

Great interview with a semi charlatan. Tyler both protean but hard hitting. Definitely worth a read and a listen.

"The historical record of communism is actually not that bad when considering that communism tends to arise only in countries that were in desperate straits to begin with."

This is like saying that dying in the Great Leap Forward or the Holodomor is better because it would've happened to them anyway, but at least it happened under communism.

I usually think Tyler is the single most thoughtful interviewer I've ever come across, yet somehow in this "debate" he seems to be hocking a timeshare in Singapore more than probing the discussion. Part of it may be the cumulative effect of the long-winded non-answers Slavoj was slinging, maybe Tyler just gave up on a serious conversation.

The long winded non-answers caused me to give up on reading it, so maybe you're right.

What is striking is that you repeatedly ask him to explain what he supports - about China, about Yugoslav communism and so on - and he simply does not answer. He changes the subject, he makes a joke, etc. Which is understandable but as you say: why does he persist in claiming he is a communist if he cannot find a single advantage to the system, except some undefined sense that socialism is not enough?

I don't know why it would be striking. If I were to claim belief in flat Earth, God, or any other obvious falsehoods wouldn't you expect me to avoid dealing with the facts? The defining difference (imho) between an "academic" and a politician is the clarity with which they make their case. Zizek is clearly no academic (wrt Communism).

Chomsky is the same way.

The real question: Why bother with this man?

Tyler informs SZ that he's "smarter than Communism" in the context of a joke about the (marginalized) academic status of communism.

--but why isn't SZ "smarter than academicism"? What explains SZ's satisfaction with his status as "celebrity academic"? (Does it really pay that well?)

"how fascinated Stalinism was by America. For example, do you know, that’s why I like Soviet cinemas — the absolute model of Soviet cinema was Hollywood." Huh, uh what?? While not of that generation, I do not recall historical documentation or any shred of reverence towards Stalinism during the early twentieth century. "Soviet cinema and Hollywood"? Uh, what, huh? I'm lost.

...and the Bloomberg campaign marches on...

Dystopian was premature in his judgment.

Tyler: "Take Greta Thunberg. I don’t agree with everything she says, but her core message is correct."

What is correct about Thunberg's message?

"Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth"?

I think Tyler is common among those who are voracious readers. They read almost anything but science topics.

Without challenging Tyler's take or yours on what constitutes Greta T.'s core message, your proffered GT quote (its accuracy trusted) does raise at least one query, to wit:

what begins to explain why GT cares at all about a mass extinction on this planet, even if mass extinction has begun to occur?

If most human animals on the planet are in thrall with consumerism, why be keen at all to retrieve them from hurling themselves and the entire planet over a precipice?

Confident scientists (talented astrophysicists, cosmologist, and astronomers among them [even the UK's first cosmonaut, according to recent media accounts]) assure us that our galaxy is more dense with planets than with stars and that reliable statistical analyses demonstrate that life ("intelligent" or no) MUST exist elsewhere, if not in our populous galaxy, then surely on some other equally remote planet in some other galaxy equally remote and far distant from ours.

If we trust the natural processes of baryonic matter, the march of intelligence and consciousness will be taken up elsewhere.

What might explain GT's nostalgia or sentimentalism about this particular planet?

There is no mass extinction going on and a hundred quotes from The Guardian and Greenpeace don't change that.

We can hope, though, can't we? (Think of the entertainment value alone!)

The papers I've seen estimate the species extinction rate at between 10X and 100X of that of the evolutionary recent past. Mass Extinction seems like it *might* fit, but it may not, either. It's too soon to tell (let's talk again in 100 or 200 years). I wouldn't argue that we know it's true, but only the ignorant would argue that we know it's false.

Links, please.

Of course, SZ speaks in code, something Cowen can relate to. Both of them seemed to enjoy the conversation. It definitely was wide-ranging.

Still mystified that academics treat someone who calls himself a communist with any more respect than they would someone who called himself a fascist.

My guess is because “at least communists are on the right side.” The thinking may be that status quo is so horribly right wing that everyone left of center share a common cause, even with those who “go a little too far.”

Ironically, this is not a view most socialists seem to hold. They seem to hate “libs” about as much as they hate republicans. It’s seems odd to me that the fringe groups that depend most on the ‘popular front’ for relevance have the most contempt for it, but I guess edgelords have to edgelords.

Back in college in the 1970s, I recall a software program run on the DEC-10 mainframe called PARRY (or maybe PERRY). This was a simulation of a paranoid person. You could have a conversation with PARRY, whose understanding of English vocabulary and grammar was good enough to make it conversable, if disjointed. When the program received a sentence it didn’t understand, it would change the topic or make an obscure reference of a paranoid nature. As I recall, a version of the program passed the Turing test with a group of psychiatrists, who were split 50/50 on whether the program was a real paranoid person.

It would be fun for someone to write a program called SLAVOJ, and it wouldn’t be all that difficult.

That program didn't "understand" English. It responded to certain character strings (i.e. terms or phrases) by using a look-up table. I'm a bit dubious that even in the 1970s any reputable psychiatrist would give his/her professional opinion without directly interviewing the "patient". IIRC, they were asked to evaluate a transcript... or maybe were given limited accessibility (in time or in number of statements). That is, they engaged in a guessing game.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PARRY

I brought up PARRY only to make a point about Zizek.

We could all better our “understanding” by judiciously using the “look-up table” called Wikipedia!

Zizek is a boring gasbag that fails to answer questions. If you want to interview a smart socialist, try Noam Chomsky

there is nothing smart about a man who justifies the horrible things communist leaders such as pol pot and mao zedong have done. If you listen to Noam, there is literally nothing of substance out of his mouth

I don’t get Tyler’s infatuation with Thunberg, and his belief that climate change represents a huge failure of libertarianism for that matter.

Sure, in an ideal world, we’d have Pigovian taxes. But in practice? Probably the most successful single carbon reduction policy in the last 20 years was... environmental deregulation (deregulation of natural gas specifically) carried out by an anti-environmentalist president. If the policies of environmentalist politicians themselves struggle to beat out an anti-environmentalist admin’s policies’ accidental effects on emissions, then I’m not sure there’s much to be gained by getting more people into the enviro camp, or getting them motivated to ‘do something’ since what they do is as often as not counterproductive.

Maybe Tyler sees her as telling Straussian noble lies, but if anything I think her hysterics help discredit rational environmentists. Extremists like her may actually make it harder to pass a revenue neutral carbon tax by convincing many who otherwise might’ve supported it to instead reach for disastrous policies equal to the hysteria of their message, like the Green New Deal.

I doubt she has a solid understanding of the relevant science. Her appeal was emotional, and apparently TC feels it useful to discuss our irrational side. OTOH, I've been "for" a carbon tax for 3 or 4 decades, at least I don't here much anymore (in the USA) about trading emission credits...But we're still not up to the task of using the word "climate" correctly. It is the gestalt of the local weather condition averages taken over *at least* 20 years. So while we can compare an annual average (sea surface temperature, rainfall, hurricane/typhoon energy) is to the current 20 yr average (or any previous 20yr (or 50, 100 yr) average), it is only suggestive of a changing climate. Arguably, our current climate is the averages for the years 2001-2020. We're pretty certain we're coming out of an Ice Age, so temperatures should be increasing, but it's likely that climate is changing more that what we'd expect from just Earth's orbital mechanics (and volcanism).

"I doubt she has a solid understanding of the relevant science."

Do you think she has any understanding of the relevant science? Do you think Tyler does?

This discussion was as close to a seance as one can get. My mind is still reeling and those interested should listen to the podcast rather than reading the transcript. Part of Zizek's comments seem to be channeling an unpublished William Gaddis novel!

I found this conversation to be *by far* the most frustrating CWT. I couldn't get through listening to it and I couldn't get through reading it. Zizek just cannot stay on topic, veers off in completely random directions, misses the point of the questions. He's just the most undisciplined famous thinker I have encountered. There might be one or two interesting ideas in there somewhere, but as far as I can see, there just isn't enough to justify sorting through the muck.

I'm sincerely very impressed, though, by Tyler's steadfast efforts to extract something cogent from Zizek. Tyler really lives up to his ideal of trying to learn a lot from those he disagrees with. I just wish I had his stamina on this matter.

This conversation makes no sense to me whatsoever. I don’t understand the point of half the things Tyler says and I don’t understand anything that Zizek says. This is highly unusual: there are lots of things I know little about, but I can usually nevertheless follow conversations about those topics and at the very least learn what to search for to learn more. Did anyone actually learn anything from this interview?

Not from the 15 minutes I listened to, and I'm a big fan of CWT.

My favorite description of Communism...

"Few scholars are capable of saying what they think in language accessible to a general audience. Fewer still know how to do it concisely, much less memorably. Richard Pipes can do all these things. He has distilled the hard mental work of a lifetime into the space of a volume shorter than the average mystery novel. On page after page, he goes straight to the point in language so pithy that it will lodge forever in your memory. No possible paraphrase, for instance, could do justice to the three devastating sentences in which he sums up the human costs of communism:

"Stephane Courtois, the editor of 'The Black Book of Communism,' estimates the global number of Communism's victims at between 85 and 100 million, which is 50 percent greater than the deaths caused by the two world wars. Various justifications have been offered for these losses, such as that one cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs. Apart from the fact that human beings are not eggs, the trouble is that no omelette has emerged from the slaughter."

Zizek wrote three remarkable books in in the late 90s: The Plague of Fantasies, The Ticklish Subject, and The Fragile Absolute. Since then he both ran out of ideas and became trapped in the layers of incoherent affectations he cultivated (I assume at least partly as protection from accusations of wrongthink). It would be one thing if he was mindlessly repeating his better ideas or even better jokes, but in his role of court jester to the increasingly decrepit and febrile academic left he seems to have deteriorated with them.

Tyler, you mention that the famous Gneezy and Rustichini study on Israeli day care does not replicate. I googled but couldn't find anything about replications -- can you point me in the right direction?

I wonder, was Tyler proposing a "Straussian reading" of Žižek in the man's face, as it were?

The weirdest part of the interview was the Q/A session with questions from young (?) academics who expressed a piety and discipline of thought, like monks of a Marxist Order, who are in full disputation training, and Zizek, answered them like a sputtering drunkard, with even more jokes and anecdotes and a few of his dialectical inversions.

I think the answer to your last question is aesthetics or taste. His closest answer to "why" the nostalgia is that it's of his youth. It's his style. Taste is one of those things that isn't really justified in any logical way. It's just a matter of taste.

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