Well, this is just a wonderful confluence. Slavoj Žižek spoke at Occupy Wall Street on Sunday, October 9th, 2011, at noon. Here is the YouTube video of it in two parts. The human amplification makes for slow going. Thanks to 600euros for transcribing, which I cleaned up below. Thanks also to visitordesign for posting the videos.
Part 1 of 2
Part 2 of 2
Answer to Question
We are called losers, but the true losers are down there on Wall Street. They were bailed out by billions of our money. We are called socialists, but here there already is socialism for the rich. They say we don’t respect private property. In the 2008 financial crashdown, more hard-earned private property was destroyed than if all of us here were to be destroying it night and day for weeks.
They tell you we are dreamers. The true dreamers are those who think things can go on indefinitely the way they are. We are not dreamers! We are awakening from a dream which is turning into a nightmare. We are not destroying anything. We are only witnessing how the system is destroying itself.
We all know the classic scene from cartoons. The cat reaches the precipice, but it goes on walking, ignoring the fact there is nothing beneath its ground. Only when it looks down and notices it, it falls down. This is what we are doing here. We are telling the guys there on Wall Street, “Hey, look down!”. [laughter, cheering]
In April 2011, the Chinese government prohibited, on TV, films, and in novels, all stories that contained alternate reality or time travel. This is a good sign for China: these people still dream about alternatives, so you have to prohibit this dream. Here we don’t need the prohibition, because the ruling history has even oppressed our capacity to dream.
Look at the movies that we see all the time. It’s easy to imagine the end of the world. An asteroid destroying all life, and so on, but you cannot imagine the end of capitalism.
So what are you doing here?
Let me tell you a wonderful old joke from Communist times. A guy was sent from East Germany to work in Siberia. He knew his mail would be read by censors. So he told his friends, “Let’s establish a code: if the letter you get from me is written in blue ink, it is true, what I say. If it is written in red ink, it is false.” After a month his friends get a first letter. Everything is in blue. It says, this letter: “Everything is wonderful here, stores are full of good food, movie theaters show good films from the West, apartments are large and luxurious, the only thing you cannot find is red ink.” [laughter]
This is how we, we have all the freedoms we want, but what we have missing is red ink – the language to articulate our non-freedom. The way we are taught to speak of freedom, “war on terror”, and so on, falsifies freedom. And this is what you are doing here. You are giving all of us red ink! [applause]
There is a danger. Don’t fall in love with yourselves. We have a nice time here, but remember, carnivals come cheap. What matters is the day after, when we will have to return to normal life. Will there be any changes then? I don’t want you to remember these days, you know like, “Oh, we were young, it was beautiful.”
Remember that our basic message is: we are allowed to think about alternatives. The taboo is broken: we do not live in the best possible world, but there is a long road ahead. There are truly difficult questions that confront us. We know what we do not want, but what do we want? What social organization can replace capitalism? What type of new leaders do we want?
Remember, the problem is not corruption or greed, the problem is the system, which forces you to be corrupt. Beware not only of the enemies, but also of false friends, who are already working to dilute this protest. In the same way you get coffee without caffeine, beer without alcohol, ice cream without fat, they will try to make this into a harmless moral protest, a decaffeinated protest.
But the reason we are here, is that we have enough of a world, where, to recycle coke cans, or to buy a Starbucks cappuccino, where one percent goes to the world’s starving children, is enough to make us feel good. After outsourcing work and torture, after marriage agencies are outsourcing our love life, dating, [mic check] we can see that for a long time, we allowed our political engagement also to be outsourced.
We want it back.
We are not Communists, if Communism means the system which collapsed in 1990. Remember that today those Communists are the most efficient, ruthless capitalists. In China today, we have capitalism which is even more dynamic than your American capitalism, but doesn’t need democracy, which means when you criticize capitalism, don’t allow yourself to be blackmailed that you are against democracy. The marriage between democracy and capitalism is over! [applause]
[puts away paper]
The change is possible. What do we consider today possible? Just follow the media. On the one hand, in technology and sexuality, everything seems to be possible. You can travel to the moon, you can become immortal by bio-genetics, you can have sex with animals or whatever.
But look at the fields of society and economy – there almost everything is considered impossible. You want to raise taxes a little bit for the rich. They tell you it’s impossible, we lose competitivity. You want more money for health care. They tell you, “impossible, this means totalitarian state”. Isn’t it something wrong in a world, where you are promised to be immortal, but you cannot spend a little bit more for health care?
Maybe that will set our priorities straight here. We don’t want higher standard of living; we want better standard of living. The only sense in which are communists is that we care for the commons: the commons of nature, the commons of what is privatized by intellectual property, the commons of bio-genetics, for this and only for this we should fight. Communism failed absolutely, but the problems of the commons are here.
They are telling you we are not American here, but the conservative fundamentalists who claim they are really American have to be reminded of something. What is Christianity? It’s the Holy Spirit. What is the Holy Spirit? It’s an egalitarian community of believers who are linked by love for each other, and who only have their own freedom and responsibility to do it. In this sense, the Holy Spirit is here now and down there on Wall Street there are pagans who are worshiping blasphemous idols. So all we need is patience.
The only thing I’m afraid of, is that we will at someday just go home and then we will meet once a year, drinking beer, and nostalgically remembering what a nice time we had here. Promise ourselves that this will not be the case. [applause] We will go on. We will know that people often desire something, but do not really want it. Don’t be afraid to really want what you desire. Thank you very much!
Question and Answer
[A woman asks] Do you have any suggestions for how this movement can go forward after this?
It’s such a difficult question that I almost want to take the 5th Amendment. I refuse to answer it, because the answer might incriminate me. All I’m saying is, and I’m sorry if this will hurt some of you, that this dream of local, participatory democracy is not the universal answer. Look at ecological problems. It is clear that unimaginable large-scale decisions will have to be made. Probably millions of people will have to be moved. New deserts in Africa are emerging now, Somalia, Ethiopia, and so on. How will we do this? Look, I think that the big problem is how do we make large-scale decisions without falling into the trap of strong state power. It can be done.
But we, the Left, should also drop certain taboos: discipline, hard work, following orders on things on which we agree can be positive and important. It’s not only a carnival. The difficult part is to do the work afterwards.
Do not allow the enemy to set your agenda. So if they say “sacrifice, work” that we should just say, “no, freedom, enjoyment”. We should take from the enemy their own tools. Think about family values. many left-liberals react to those who defend family values by criticizing family as a conservative institution and so on. But should we not say that neoliberal economics did much more to destroy family values than all the alternative culture people together.
So again, it’s the same with private property. We should make clear to the people that we don’t have a well-functioning system which for some irrational reasons we are trying to destroy. The system is destroying itself. So we are not against democracy. We are observing how democracy in its present political form is gradually undermining itself.
And it’s a very difficult task, but there is hope. You here are the hope, because you know Herbert Marcuse, the old leftist, who said something very nice. “Freedom is a condition of liberation.” That is to say, to be engaged in fighting for freedom, you have first to free yourself from the chains of ruling ideology. Did you see a good Hollywood Marxist movie, John Carpenter’s “They Live”. You know where a guy finds some strange sunglasses, puts them on, and he sees the true message. For example, you have an advertisement for a Hawaii vacation, you put on the glasses, and what you see is “Be Stupid, Enjoy, Don’t Think”. So whenever you read the official media, imagine yourself putting these glasses on.
I remember recently seeing an ad to help starving children in Africa. It said, for the price of a couple of cappuccinos, you can save this child’s life. Let’s put the glasses on. What you see is: “For the price of a couple of cappuccinos, we allow you not only no longer to feel guilty, but even to feel as if you are really doing something about poverty without really doing anything.”
We have to get rid of pseudo-activity. For example, organic food. It’s good to buy it. I buy it. But remember the danger. Is not true that many of us buy it because it makes you feel good? “Look, I’m doing something to help the Mother Earth. I’m part of a wonderful project of humanity.” You know it’s an easy way out. Charity for me is not the answer.
You know once I called Soros – George Soros, who I appreciate. As a person, he is not bad. I called him chocolate laxative. You know you can buy here a laxative that has the form of a chocolate. But chocolate is usually associated with constipation. So first they take billions from you, then they give you half back, and they are the greatest humanitarians. Of course we should take this kind of money, but what we should fight for is a society where this kind of charity will not be needed. So I know I didn’t answer your question, maybe next time better luck. [applause]
Added the third video and transcript.
Update #2 2011/10/10
Added more transcription based on miscellaneous other YouTube videos. Unfortunately, there is no one video or even series of videos that shows the complete speech and question and answer with no overlap.
Update #3 2011/10/11
A commenter points to a full transcript of the questions and answers and Zizek’s written speech, from which he clearly deviated. I’ve corrected certain parts of the transcript based on these.
7 thoughts on “Žižek at Occupy Wall Street”
People might want to come here from http://bit.ly/otPYjx, bit.ly/otPYjx, or bit.ly /otPYjx. (Doing this so the pseudo-link on YouTube is searchable.)
Never mind my PM on youtube. the URL had a space before the slash.
Thanks so much for transcribing this! Zizek isn't the easiest speaker to put down on paper. Awesome job.
Thanks. I want to be clear that 600euros did the bulk of the transcribing work for the first two videos.
Thank you so much, this is great.
Herculean effort, indeed, Martin.
Here is my little contribution:
Verso is Zizek’s current publisher. I imagine that text is what was actually written down for the occasion by Zizek. Fortunately–or not, depending how you look at it–Zizek is far too fond of adlibbing and spontaneity to read his own text verbatim. It’s too bad I haven’t found any more Q&A, though.
And, because it seems so blatant to me, I have to get this off my chest: I think it’s a dreadful shame the way they seem to be trying to stifle peaceful decent by not permitting the use of any kind of amplification system!
BTW, I did find your blog from a post on youtube.
Thank you much for this.