Monday, December 15, 2008

Monday, December 08, 2008

Sin and Suds

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Pirates, Terrorists and Zizek

The attacks in Mumbai have me thinking about Zizek again. I have Welcome to the Desert of the Real back out on my desk and I’ve been flipping through; returning to passages outlined; thinking about the nature of terror and stateless actors generally. I am wondering how truly novel these concepts are in the long view of history. We are seeing increased media accounts of these kinds of things; terrorists; pirates; they are not new. Why do the media present them as novelties, or at the very least, why do the media portrayals make them feel novel to me?

Zizek (2002) asks if international terrorists are “the obscene double of the big multinational corporations – the ultimate rhizomatic machine, omnipresent, albeit with no clear territorial base” (p.38). The same framework could be placed on recent pirate attacks. They attack, without sponsorship, whether of a state or a corporate body, not that those two entities are segregated anymore.

The coinciding spectacles of terror and piracy stand in stark contrast to the west’s increasingly blurred lines between state and corporation. Abstruse forces are bringing international capitalism to the brink; poor Allen Greenspan’s ideology failed him, not to mention the rest of us. The invisible hand of the market is slapping us around. We struggle to stabilize our markets, while still trampling retail employees to death. Meanwhile, “pirates are living between life and death…who can stop them? Americans and British all put together cannot do anything."

Contrasting forces are at work; simultaneously pulling the world toward opposite polarities. Terrorists and pirates are the “rhizomatic machines” Zizek describes, the multinational corporations their counterpoint. We have contrasting images of corporate titans begging before congress and terrorists rampaging through Mumbai. The state gradually takes over the economy; we are in the last throes of neoliberalism. Meanwhile, a small cadre of men in speedboats, who are also now shooting at cruise ships, bring international oil concerns to their knees.

The contrast between the two is stark. The free market dies as corporation and state become increasingly intertwined; state power and centralized control increase. Pirates and terror cells decentralize control and challenge the power of states and corporations. Zizek says, “the notion of the ‘clash of civilizations’, however, must be rejected out of hand: what we are witnessing today are, rather, clashes within each civilization” (p. 41). Perhaps we’re witnessing both.