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).
[…] “[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.”