Slavoj Zizek: On Ecological Catastrophe

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It is not only the continuity of History which is threatened today—what we are witnessing is something like the end of Nature itself.

– Slavoj Žižek,  Living in the End Times

The double trap to avoid is thus, on the one hand, to attempt to “de-ideologize” the issue, by reducing ecological catastrophe to a problem solvable by means of science and technology, and, on the other, to attempt to “spiritualize” it in the sense of New Age mythology. What both these approaches lack is a concrete social analysis of the economical, political and ideological roots of ecological problems. Science is necessary, but it cannot do all the work: it cannot show us how we should transform our lives, because such transformation has to rely on basic socio-political “normative” ideas of what kind of life we want to lead. We have thus to reject as insufficient a series of solutions which appear to oppose each other: it is not enough to treat ecological threats as mere technical problems to be resolved through new forms of production (nanotechnology) and new sources of energy, but neither will any form of New Age spiritualization do. It is not enough to demand an ecological reorganization of capitalism, but neither will a return to pre-modern organic society and its holistic wisdom work. What is needed first of all is a fresh look at the uniqueness of our situation. In spite of the infinite adaptability of capitalism—which, in the case of acute ecological crisis, can easily turn ecology into a new field of capitalist investment and competition—the very nature of the risk involved fundamentally precludes a market solution—why? Capitalism only works in precise social conditions: it implies trust in the market’s “invisible hand” which, as a kind of Cunning of Reason, guarantees that the competition of individual egotisms works out for the common good. However, we are now in the midst of a radical change: what looms on the horizon today is the unheard-of possibility that human intervention will catastrophically disturb the run of things by triggering an ecological disaster, a fateful biogenetic mutation, a nuclear or similar military-social calamity, and so on. No longer can we rely on the limited scope of our acts: it no longer holds that, whatever we do, history will go on regardless.1


1. Žižek, Slavoj (2011-04-18). Living in the End Times (p. 429). Norton. Kindle Edition.

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