Slavoj Žižek: The Future Will be Utopian or There Will be None
The Slovenian philosopher proposes the dangerous idea that human survival depends on the no-place.
Twenty years ago, the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard asserted that the challenges humanity would face at the beginning of the twenty-first century would be of capital importance: it would imply nothing less than the responsibility of insuring the living conditions for future generations. We face, every day, news about the latest ecological disaster, about the quotidian political catastrophe, economic crises or the scarcity of natural resources, the detriment of work as we know it, and other bad news which we consciously manage. There are two main and complementary attitudes which we can turn to as self-defence mechanisms facing the hostility of our times: cynicism as a fashionable philosophy, and the implicit command to enjoy ––both attitudes that are incompatible with capitalism: if the world is condemned by an imminent catastrophe (we do not know yet what or how it will present itself), the best course of action is to enjoy life while we can. Making payments with credit. Promoting comfort with credit. However, it does not have to be like this.
Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek is the protagonist of Reality of the Virtual, a documentary where he develops the idea that, facing the imperative enjoyment that our current social ecosystem constitutes, we must learn how to dream of utopias and to actively live in them.
The analysis begins by remembering the historical purpose of psychoanalysis: helping people control their own sexuality during a period when it was taboo and there was a lot of misinformation surrounding it. But the contributions made in the field by Freud are over a century old, the world has changed a lot since they were considered relevant. For Žižek, modern psychoanalysis is “the space where you are allowed to not enjoy yourself”, that is, where the responsibility to enjoy, have a good time, in sum, consume, is cancelled, at least during the sessions. But, what are we to do once we leave the couch?”
We walk down the street and see all sorts of ads encouraging us to buy products and services that will improve our life in one way or another; communications media and the Internet suggest similar plastic utopias: perfect worlds are only as far as our pockets —or perhaps a little further, but which we allow ourselves to fantasise about. To Žižek, the capitalist ideology imbues the importance of enjoyment and offers solutions to its own oppression through consumerism: ‘“Enjoy”, but in order to enjoy yourself properly you are ordered to not to eat too much, to engage in jogging, to take care of your fitness, not to smoke and so on, and so on… The regulation is total.’
In other words, the capitalist society does not merely order us to enjoy, but it dictates the routes which are appropriate to do so: regulated routes that are part of the golden cage of our present. The task of current thought is to oppose this imperative: assume that the current state of things cannot follow this path indefinitely:
The main task today is to reinvent Utopia. Is not of course the big old fashioned Utopia of imagining unreal worlds which we know in advance that will never be realized (the models here, of course, are Plato’s Republic, Thomas More, Utopia, and, we should not forget here, Marquis de Sade, Philosophy in the boudoir), that’s the classical Utopia.
To oppose this, Žižek proposes a utopia that is not, to put it in words somehow, theoretically finished before it is created: a utopia of quotidian practice:
We should dare to enact the impossible, we should rediscover how to, not imagine, but to enacting utopias. The point is not of planning utopias; the point is about practicing them. And I think this is not a question of “should we do it or should we persist in the existing order? It’s a much more radical question, a matter of survival: the future will be utopian or there will be none.
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