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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Monday, April 03, 2006
    Nobody has to be vile
    Slavoj Zizek's piece in the latest LRB, Nobody has to be vile, is a masterful study of today's billionaire philanthropists, who ironically refer to themselves as ‘liberal communists’, and like to be seen as arbiters of what Bill Gates (a prime example) has called ‘frictionless capitalism'. It's also a fantastic piece of mimetic writing because Zizek skillfully explains how these are far from friendly, neutral movers in the world: people like Gates and George Soros may spend half their time in humanitarian activities, but their manipulations of the market are what cause others to fall in the first place.

    Etienne Balibar, in La Crainte des masses (1997), distinguishes the two opposite but complementary modes of excessive violence in today’s capitalism: the objective (structural) violence that is inherent in the social conditions of global capitalism (the automatic creation of excluded and dispensable individuals, from the homeless to the unemployed), and the subjective violence of newly emerging ethnic and/or religious (in short: racist) fundamentalisms. They may fight subjective violence, but liberal communists are the agents of the structural violence that creates the conditions for explosions of subjective violence. The same Soros who gives millions to fund education has ruined the lives of thousands thanks to his financial speculations and in doing so created the conditions for the rise of the intolerance he denounces.

    The liberal communists' 'court-philosopher' Thomas Friedman says that 'nobody has to be vile' in order to do business these days. But in reality the business practices of the liberal communists rely (as business practices always have) upon vilifying some others in order to succeed themselves. Zizek explains:

    You export the (necessary) dark side of production – disciplined, hierarchical labour, ecological pollution – to ‘non-smart’ Third World locations (or invisible ones in the First World). The ultimate liberal communist dream is to export the entire working class to invisible Third World sweat shops.

    On closer inspection Friedman's claim turns out to be just another lie from the Father of Lies. About which I've been preaching all month ([1], [2], [3], [4]). I've learned a lot about mimetic theory this Lent, in sharing it with others - it's a stimulating, satisfying, promising way of looking at the world. I found it a tricky concept to get me head around, for a while. But it really does reward perseverence.