Saturday, February 28, 2009

Zizek and What Obama Means to the World


I've been collecting articles and topics I want to write about for about a month now, but I have not found the time necessary to develop them into the thoughtful essays/blog posts they deserve. Instead of letting the number of these articles build up too much higher, I thought I would develop them in briefer pieces and revise them into more comprehensive versions in my own blog later.

An article that caught my attention a few months ago titled "Use Your Illusions" by Slavoj Zizek (yes, a cheap knock off of the G'nR album) in the Nov./Dec., 2008 edition of London Review of Books interestingly shows how the international left views the political landscape in the United States. It makes our left look moderate by comparison.

Zizek believes the left in America blinds themselves to the reality that the liberals and conservatives are but a few degrees apart in a vast spectrum of political possibilities (think Ralph Nader on steroids). He views the actions of the U.S. through its international influence, and he does not see our tendencies or domination and influence changing under the leadership of Obama:
The real consequences of Obama’s victory: from a pragmatic perspective, it is quite possible that Obama will make only some minor improvements, turning out to be ‘Bush with a human face’. He will pursue the same basic policies in a more attractive way and thus effectively strengthen the US hegemony, damaged by the catastrophe of the Bush years.
After a few paragraphs, Zizek seems to lose his focus, shifting between the philosopher Kant, the fall of communism and the Berlin Wall, genocide in Congo, the economic crisis, and then back to Obama. Throughout what might be deemed unconnected rambling is an undercurrent of how Western powers seem to act within a narrative that suits U.S. and its interests.
The death of a Palestinian child, not to mention an Israeli or an American, is worth thousands more column inches than the death of a nameless Congolese. Why? . . . the permanent civil war and disintegration of Congo ‘has created a “win-win” situation for all belligerents. The only loser in this huge business venture is the Congolese people.’ Beneath the fa├žade of ethnic warfare, we thus discern the contours of global capitalism.
Despite these criticisms, Zizek does see some positive in the election of Obama. He acknowledges the historical importance of electing the nation's first black president. He also says that there is a symbolic gesture inherent in Obama's victory.

Like many, I cried when Obama was elected and when he finaly gave the oath of the presidency. Although Zizek does not mire himself in the same level of pathos as many of us who did get more caught up in the historical significance of the moment, he accepts that this event does hold political and, more importantly, historical importance.
Obama’s victory is not just another shift in the eternal parliamentary struggle for a majority, with all the pragmatic calculations and manipulations that involves. It is a sign of something more. This is why an American friend of mine, a hardened leftist with no illusions, cried when the news came of Obama’s victory. Whatever our doubts, for that moment each of us was free and participating in the universal freedom of humanity.
His final remarks on the matter suggest that he understands his cynicism is a bit extensive for these times. Perhaps this moment requires a person to serve as a symbol for what the world, not just the U.S., lacks right now.
No matter what happens, it will remain a sign of hope in our otherwise dark times, a sign that the last word does not belong to realistic cynics, from the left or the right.

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