Slavoj Zizek on why the traditional media and mechanisms of ‘democracy’ can’t figure out the #Occupy movement

Once you have reduced the Tahrir Square protests to a call for Western-style democracy, as Applebaum does, of course it becomes ridiculous to compare the Wall Street protests with the events in Egypt: how can protesters in the West demand what they already have? What she blocks from view is the possibility of a general discontent with the global capitalist system which takes on different forms here or there.

‘Yet in one sense,’ she conceded, ‘the international Occupy movement’s failure to produce sound legislative proposals is understandable: both the sources of the global economic crisis and the solutions to it lie, by definition, outside the competence of local and national politicians.’ She is forced to the conclusion that ‘globalisation has clearly begun to undermine the legitimacy of Western democracies.’ This is precisely what the protesters are drawing attention to: that global capitalism undermines democracy. The logical further conclusion is that we should start thinking about how to expand democracy beyond its current form, based on multi-party nation-states, which has proved incapable of managing the destructive consequences of economic life. Instead of making this step, however, Applebaum shifts the blame onto the protesters themselves for raising these issues:

‘Global’ activists, if they are not careful, will accelerate that decline. Protesters in London shout: ‘We need to have a process!’ Well, they already have a process: it’s called the British political system. And if they don’t figure out how to use it, they’ll simply weaken it further.

So, Applebaum’s argument appears to be that since the global economy is outside the scope of democratic politics, any attempt to expand democracy to manage it will accelerate the decline of democracy. What, then, are we supposed to do? Continue engaging, it seems, in a political system which, according to her own account, cannot do the job.

A compelling essay from the LRB sums up, beautifully, why traditional analysis and conventional communication channels can’t deal with the global Occupy movement.

I’m not going to single out Anne Applebaum; Zizek’s done that already, and dissected her argument far more elegantly than I can. But it’s worth pointing out that she really doesn’t have much to suggest other than traditional electoral politics. She’s not alone in that, of course, but if the Occupy movement symbolizes anything — and its significance is, as much as anything, in the fact that it can’t be compartmentalized or reduced to an easily digestible storyline — it’s the failure of such conventional forms of politics.

Not hard to see why, really. Sure, we can vote every now and then, but it’s not as if voting is doing much to rein in the bankster class or slow down the growth of the inequality gap. The formalities of responsible government and social cohesion may be observed, but it doesn’t take much to see the substantial failures.

What’s needed, if I’m reading Zizek right (no guarantee there), is a fundamental rethink of what’s included in the “political” sphere. Setting the terms for such a rethink is a daunting task, but we can be fairly certain that we won’t find much guidance in the corporate media or in contemporary mechanisms of democratic governance.

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