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Slavoj Žižek’s Speech at Liberty Square

On October 9, 2011, Slavoj Žižek delivered the following speech at Liberty Square (this is a rough transcription, done to the best of my ability).

Video: Part 1

Video: Part 2

Video: Part 3

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[...] “[They are saying] we are all 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 is already socialism — for the rich. They say we don’t respect private property. But in the 2008 financial crash-down 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 the awakening from the dream that is turning into a nightmare. We are not destroying anything; we are only witnessing how the system is destroying itself. We all know the classical scene from cartoons. The cat reaches a precipice, but it goes on walking, ignoring the fact that there is nothing beneath its ground. Only when it looks down and notices it he falls down. This is what we are doing here. We are telling the guys there on Wall Street, ‘Hey! Look down!’

[inaudible] “… In 2011, the Chinese government prohibited on TV, film, and in novels all stories that contain alternate realities or time travel. This is a good sign for China; it means people still dream about alternatives, so attacked and prohibited is dreaming. Here we don’t think of prohibition because [inaudible -- "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 of life, and so on — but we cannot imagine the end of capitalism. So what are we doing here? Let me tell you a wonderful old joke from Communist times. A guy was sent to work in East Germany from Siberia. He knew his mail would be read by censors, so he told his friends, ‘Let’s establish a code. If a 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. The stores are full of good food, movie theatres show good films from the West, apartments are large and luxurious. The only thing you cannot find is red ink.’ This is how we live. We have all the freedoms we want, but what we are missing is red ink: the language to articulate our non-freedom. The way we are taught to speak about 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.

“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.’ A 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 pushes you to be corrupt. Beware not only of the enemies, but also of false friends who are already working to dilute this process 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 had enough of the world where to recycle Coke cans to give a couple of dollars to charity, or to buy a Starbucks cappuccino where one percent goes to Third World starving children is enough to make us feel good. After outsourcing work and torture [inaudible -- calls for "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 a capitalism which is even more dynamic than your American capitalism but doesn’t need democracy, which means, when you criticize capitalism, don’t allow yourselves to be blackmailed that you are ‘against democracy.’ The marriage between democracy and capitalism is over. A change is possible.

“Now, what we consider today possible — just follow the media. On the one hand is technology and sexuality — everything seems to be possible. You can travel to the moon, you can become immortal by biogenetics, you can have sex with animals or whatever. But look at the field 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 healthcare, they tell you, ‘Impossible! This means a totalitarian state.’ Is there something wrong with the world where you are promised to be immortal but they cannot spend a little more for healthcare? Maybe we have to set our priorities straight. We don’t want higher standards of living; we want better standards of living. The only sense in which we 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 biogenetics. 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’ Americans 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 millions [?] who are worshiping blasphemous idols. So all we need is patience.

“The only thing I’m afraid of is that we will 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. You know that people often desire something but do not really want it. Don’t be afraid to really want what you desire.”

On the #OccupyWallStreet Arrests Tonight on the Brooklyn Bridge


I wanted to post an account of what happened today when my wife Rebecca and I decided to march in solidarity with the #OccupyWallStreet demonstrators. The plan was a relatively small, peaceful march from Liberty Plaza across the Brooklyn Bridge for a picnic at Brooklyn Bridge Park. We arrived and met up with three friends. The march up Broadway was completely peaceful and relaxed, both on the part of protestors as well as police.

When we got to the Brooklyn Bridge, we saw what appeared to be a line of police that divided the crowd. Some went to the upper level pedestrian path, and others on the other side of the police line were funneled onto the lower roadway, in the left hand lane. We were part of the latter group. There was no clear way of going back once we were on the roadway, and at no time did any police make an announcement that we should not continue – the police walked next to us, and things remained peaceful. I assumed they were going to let us continue, as we would have moved along and crossed the bridge within the next 15 to 20 minutes. Rebecca and I and one male friend found ourselves at the back of the march.

Suddenly, towards the middle of the bridge, a huge number of police appeared behind us with cars and vans. Again, no announcements were made. Apparently the same thing happened on the other side, at the front of the crowd. We were quickly penned in with orange netting on all sides. No one was ever given a chance to turn around or to get out of the situation. We stayed there for some time (over an hour) with limited information watching people get arrested on the upper roadway. The police brought in many paddy wagons and buses and told us to separate by gender (no one near us did). Everyone was calm and trying to communicate and negotiate with police to be allowed to leave peacefully. The police then started getting men only to line up, and they started arresting them. They were calling individual men forward. By this time, our other two friends, a man and a woman, had gotten into a different section of the crowd, and we were still with one other male friend. It was clear that they were going to arrest all of us. More paddy wagons and buses were coming in. As the crowd thinned around us, our friend walked up and got into the line to be taken into custody. We stood there for a while, and when it started to rain, we got under an umbrella with an older, white couple who looked to be in their mid-sixties or so. Then they walked up to a police officer, spoke to him, and he motioned for them to approach the ranking officer in front who was standing with a bullhorn. We then saw this couple walk out of the netted area and leave.

At this point, Rebecca and I walked up to the same ranking officer and politely requested to leave. We were told no and to get back in the crowd. We overheard two officers holding the netting asking each other what they were going to do with all these people. They obviously had no idea what the leadership’s strategy was, if any. We then went under the umbrella of a group of young women who were in their teens and twenties and were talking to a detective (or someone with the NYPD who was wearing an overcoat). He asked us some very leading questions: “Are you all together?”, “So no one told you to disperse?”, “Did you know you would end up here?” We said we had no idea what was happening. Then he told us to talk to the same ranking officer with the bullhorn. This time when we approached, the cops gave him a signal and he motioned for us to all pass through.  Just like that.

As we were leaving, I asked one of the women what she had said to the officers before we came over and why they had let us go. She said she had struck up a conversation with an officer and told him he was “beautiful” and a “beautiful person” and that the “love and good vibes” she had sent his way seemed to have an impact on him. Oh, I’m sure.

Meanwhile, our two other friends were still trapped on the bridge. Apparently they were not lucky enough to be allowed to leave. The last I heard, they texted that they were being told they were being taken to the 75th precinct, Broadway Junction. We don’t know the location of our friend who was taken into custody immediately before we, as women, were allowed to leave on the whim of an officer who thought someone standing near us was pretty.

I just wanted to get this all down so one more account would be available. It was a needless, stupid (and apparently sexist) reaction by the police. I urge everyone to look into the reasons there are protests downtown and elsewhere in the country. The issues people are trying to draw attention to are real and important.

I took two short videos on the bridge:   http://youtu.be/zsnFY6s8VaE ;   http://youtu.be/XmjFpDghT7Y

Some Thoughts About the Prop 8 Trial Tapes

Remember David Blankenhorn? People following news related to LGBT equality will likely recall he was the primary “expert” witnesses for the proponents of Prop 8 in Perry v. Schwarzenegger and that his testimony was an epic fail for the pro-Prop 8, anti-LGBT side.  Unfortunately, the vast majority of Americans probably have no idea who he is or what he said on the witness stand – and that’s exactly how the haters currently trying to block the release of the trial tapes want to keep it. Publicly releasing the tapes could help make David Blankenhorn a household name. And that would be a very good thing for everyone who seeks the advancement of equality.

Blankenhorn’s testimony needs to be widely viewed and analyzed not only because it so clearly and directly undermined the pro-Prop 8 argument but because it perfectly encapsulates the very anti-reasoning relied on by those who espouse – yet refuse responsibility for — bigotry. As the trial was unfolding, Berkeley law student Amanda Beck wrote that “watching Blankenhorn was fascinating, if only because he seemed to embody the personal struggle that many Americans are navigating with regard to same-sex marriage.” Indeed, Blankenhorn’s emphasis on his own personal feelings, especially his claim to believe in “the equal dignity of gay and lesbian love,” is precisely why his testimony was of such potential value  to Prop 8 proponents. He was never really there to offer a logically sound argument against marriage equality based on up-to-date, reliable evidence; there isn’t one. Instead, he was there to serve as what infamous anti-gay crusader Maggie Gallagher herself described as “the embodiment of how a person with not only no animus, but no disagreement with homosexuality, could nonetheless support Prop 8.”

Of course, this is impossible.

But what matters is that Blankenhorn was essentially selected as a living symbol of one of the last obstacles to LGBT equality: the Intelligent, Fair-Minded, Reasonable Liberal who nonetheless just “can’t” support full marriage equality. The existence of this figure is essential to upholding the underlying premise of so many anti-equality arguments: the idea that policies that discriminate against people based on sexual orientation (or race, or ethnicity…) are somehow not rooted in bigotry as long as the supports of these policies insist they are not bigots. What David Boies so expertly unraveled and exposed in his cross-examination of Blankenhorn was the comforting lie that only “bad” people are responsible for discrimination in our society.

Fortunately, even in the short time since the trial, the legitimacy of this position is being increasingly eroded in the public sphere. If released, the Prop 8 trial tapes have the potential to decisively reveal to the public at large the logical and ethical impossibility of coming to a “reasonable compromise” on LGBT rights. Seeing Blankenhorn on the witness stand, many citizens will be confronted with uncomfortable contradictions between their own proclaimed, abstract values of “tolerance” and the undeniably harmful realities of discriminatory policies. It is a teachable moment that none of us can afford to lose.

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