Zahtevni časi terjajo zahtevne premisleke. Ekskluzivni pogovor z enim najpomembnejših filozofov na svetu. Nemogoče stvari so postale vsakdanja realnost. Zdi se kot da smo v vojni s to razliko da nismo in s tem, da je sovražnik neviden in malodane banalen. Dr. Slavoj Žižek o trenutnih razmerah v Sloveniji in svetu. Z njim se je pogovarjala Nataša Štefe.

Who else, with the exception of disgusting speculators, is now thinking about where to spend their summer?

Slavoj Žižek, hello.

Thank you for the invitation. I also wish you all the best. Interestingly enough, this time, I don’t mean that as an empty formality, like when you meet a nasty acquaintance in the street and curse and say why didn’t I see him a minute earlier so I could walk to the other side of the street, and then wish him all the best anyway. This time I really mean it.

Thank you. Things are serious. Schools are closed, the army is mobilized, borders are closed, public transport is suspended, so is public life. A kiss has become subversive again. Impossible things have become commonplace. It’s as if we’re at war, except that we’re not. The enemy is invisible, almost banal. We can wash it.

This standpoint is very interesting, I’ve written about it before. It’s interesting how literature already knew this. It all reminds me of the classic novel by Herbert George Wells, War of the Worlds. In the novel, aliens, superior intelligent beings, invade Earth and we keep losing. What destroys them? A simple bacteria. Currently, it looks as if we are the aliens and viruses, life in its most elemental form, are getting their revenge. At a Wikipedia level, I looked at what viruses actually are. Interestingly, biologists are not at all unanimous on whether they are living things or just some chemical processes. This is something just so stupidly elemental. They are photocopiers and they use us to make photocopies. Something so absolutely stupid. At the same time, it reminds me of philosophy. An almost prevalent trend in today’s so-called cognitive sciences, which seek to explain the human mind based on Darwin, is that the human mind is a kind of virus for us, as it is for animals. Like animals, we are stupid, subdued by instincts and merely exist. And what does spirit mean? Spirit means that certain ideas occupy you the way viruses do. Ideas can be noble, they can be evil and exploit us, but they can also destroy us. The situation is very strange. Viruses are the lowest form, but at the same time, our spirituality is a virus in a relatively balanced biology. Isn’t falling in love some kind of virus, too? It all crashes down on you, the balance of life. It can destroy you. I do not believe that anything can be learned from tragedy, but at least this wisdom will perhaps remain, how unbalanced our lives are, how fragile everything is. There is no great enemy, there are just coincidences. I’m deliberately exaggerating. A Chinese man decided to intentionally eat a bat, but I wouldn’t want to blame the Chinese, this is just an example. This whole thing is nothing new. A few weeks ago, my wife and I watched a series of interviews with scientists who kept saying that this would happen. The question was not whether it would happen, but when it would happen. I know that after a battle everyone is a general, but still one wonders how we didn’t know how to prepare for this.

Conspiracy theories predicted this would happen. But now, not even conspiracy theories are possible, even though Trump insists on saying it’s a “Chinese virus” …

It’s interesting how the extreme populist Trump right and the extreme radical left meet exactly in this social interpretation. Trump had to give up now, but only a week ago he was calling the virus a “Chinese-Democratic conspiracy”. Trump said Democrats would rather see millions of Americans die, just as long as he wouldn’t be re-elected. There are people on the left, like a good friend of mine, who I value as a philosopher, Giorgio Agamben, who said that the coronavirus was a slightly more severe flu and is a total exaggeration, that the authorities want to use emergencies to solidify themselves and cause panic among people…

…and Agamben still insists on this.

He has rhetorically improved a little. His point is how easily, in the name of simple survival, we are willing to give up values such as free movement and social life. I define myself as an atheist Christian, if anything. That is, an atheist who tries to read the message of Christianity, atheistically. We need to learn something here from the moment in the New Testament of the Holy Bible, when Mary Magdalene sees the risen Jesus Christ a few days after his death, tries to touch him, and then Jesus replies in Latin, noli me tangere, “do not touch me.” How to read this? And yet it’s exactly what we’re saying to each other now! The message of Christ is very beautiful here, ‘’Do not be obsessed with me, do not touch me like a miracle.’’ Christ says that wherever love is between his two disciples, he will stay there, it’s where he lives.

Love is that which is in the space in between …

Love is not love towards God. When love is authentic, there is a divine spark within us. But the paradox has become even sharper, because you now express your love towards fellow humans by not touching them. At least for most people. Avoiding others has become a sign of respect towards others. Agamben is short-sighted here, when he says that we’re ready to give up everything and that we see danger in our fellow humans. That’s not true, we go deeper than that. I see myself as a danger to others. At this moment, I myself am in self-isolation, because I’m an extremely vulnerable person. I therefore see my sons only from a distance, via phone. They don’t want to see me because they’re much younger and realize that they might already be carrying the virus, and perhaps are only experiencing it by feeling a bit weak or having a cold, just like the vast majority of people. Research tells us that a great number of people are not even aware that they’re carrying the virus. So, they’re afraid that they might pass it on to me. It’s a difficult trial and not as simple as Agamben says. But we’re still able to look. I still believe in the classic idea that the eyes are the windows to the human soul. You see someone you love, or maybe even a stranger, and you can’t touch him, but you exchange deep glances. Despite the distance, there’s a spiritual closeness in these looks, a closeness that could hardly be greater.

Indeed, our love towards fellow humans is being put to the test. But still, isn’t this period also an opportunity for taking pleasure in the acquisition of power, and, in a way, even for suspending democracy?

There is no doubt that horrible things are happening. From speculators, war profiteering, to attempts to hold on to power, like what Benjamin Netanyahu is attempting in Israel. But who isn’t playing political games? Trump did, Putin is, and we can see it in both local and international arenas. But at the same time, governments are also going though extraordinary trials. A government might keep babbling on about how it’s prepared, but now it actually has to show it, without any excuses. A government has to become worthy of our trust. Something is clear. People mocked me, saying that I’m an ideological war profiteer, that I use misfortune for my own promotion, because I wrote that it was not only about this virus, but about other viruses as well. I read a report from a biologist about how many viruses there are among animals which we know nothing about. Do you realize that forty percent of the yearly potato crop in the world is destroyed by viruses? Now, my idea was that we should reinvent a new kind of communism, of course not the Soviet type, that would be suicidal – and everyone ridiculed the idea. But look at what Trump is actually doing right now. The state has to take direct control over the economy. What pays off in the market is not important anymore. Companies, which have the capacity, will have to produce ventilators, masks, etc. The logic of economics will have to shift away from the category of profits for a certain period of time. Discussions about what to do if shares fall seem obscene to me. We will have to reorganize. Here I agree with Agamben and Naomi Klein and her thesis on so-called “disaster” capitalism. Capitalism will know how to take advantage of everything. It will help the big companies and nationalism will explode. It will be a horrible ordeal. As I wrote in one of my last articles, I’m not worried about direct public disorder, but my concern is that our everyday ethics will change and that we will agree to things that we ethically took for granted until now. For example, an old ethical rule in war is that after the battle, we must first take care of the seriously wounded, although this is not rational from the standpoint of optimal survival. From a biological perspective, the brutally rational thing to do would be to first take care of the lightly wounded, who you’re sure you can save, and not the seriously wounded, who will die in any case. But it’s a principle that even the army respects. And now, we‘re seeing signs that this is not being respected anymore. If you pass a certain threshold, like age or stage of illness, or if you’re in a higher-risk group, then the clear message is: we’re sorry, but stay at home and die in peace.

That’s in fact survival of the fittest.

That worries me. At some level, we might regress to the logic of primitive societies. At some level, we’re not experiencing anything new, but from the standpoint of biology, in the sense of natural survival logic, there is something positive happening. A percentage of those who are weak and a burden to our health and pension systems will die. If there is still anything spiritual left in us, such a scenario should be terrifying.

Slavoj Žižek:

"Who else, except disgusting speculators, is now thinking about where to spend the summer. Now you should help those you love."

— Val 202 (@Val202) April 2, 2020


It seems like nature sent us to our rooms because we were not behaving. The air is cleaner, the Chinese can see blue skies, dolphins have returned to Venice and Trieste. There will also be less silent deaths caused by our polluting the environment. When we talked about climate change, we said we couldn’t change anything, but now we see that life can change.

I absolutely agree. A German friend, a journalist, sent me a simple thought. He explained how his everyday life has changed, and it almost brought me to tears. You don’t think about holidays or profit anymore. You have your family, your home, you are still able to get basic food. You try to calm your family and show your love. You are isolated, you work from home all day because you know that somehow it makes sense, because it helps. This is actually some kind of new ethics, but we’ve paid a horrible price for it. There is almost something beautiful and heroic in these ethics. Who else, with the exception of disgusting speculators, is now thinking about where to spend their summer? In peace and quiet, without losing your nerves, you should now help those you love and work for the common good.

That said, we have repeatedly mentioned Fredric Jameson’s quote that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. It is stubborn, no? Even after the previous crisis, it was said – “this is an opportunity for a new social order,” but everything just went back to how it was.

The last crisis was much milder, although yes, I know, for a couple of days there was panic that everything would collapse. Here, I would like to summarize the thoughts of Alenka Zupančič, who phrased this better than me. I almost feel like her commentator. She said that all the time, even when we talked about economics, we talked about the coming catastrophe. Now we’re here. Not only are impossible things happening in the sense of how our daily lives are changing, but now it’s almost cynical to tell someone, cheer up, go to a pub, go out on a walk with friends. And not only that but we are already doing impossible things. When people tell me I go on and on about communism, I tell them, look, Trump — and I mean this with all the criticism of what he did wrong — Trump has said the government needs to take over the economy to provide emergency medical supplies. Right now, we know where the problems are: masks, respirators, other medical equipment and so on and so on. You can’t play marketing games here; you just have to mobilize forces.

Capitalism is already behaving as if it’s in socialism and is seeking the help of the state.

Yes, but the problem is, and I think that it was Mitt Romney, a failed Republican, who said that in a crisis, we are all socialists. But, at the same time the response of the left was, yes, during the 2008 financial crisis, the state behaved like a socialist one, but more socialist towards the rich, as in we now have to save the banks. I hope that we will not stay at this level – socialism for the rich, the great societies, and so on. This is the news that hurts me the most. For example, my friends in New York tell me, and this is horrifying, that until a week ago, and perhaps not anymore, private jet rental companies were doing business like never before. There are a bunch of extremely isolated small resorts in the Rocky Mountains, or on small islands in the Bahamas that are otherwise inaccessible, where the rich elites have enough supplies to last them half a year, sometimes even a year. These Cold War shelters, abandoned bunkers in the western U.S., have been reactivated, and the rich have safely retreated to them. I find this extremely disgusting.

Absolutely. So, during this war on the virus, a class war is also underway. What about Europe? Vučić said that there is no European fairytale, there is no European solidarity, if it ever existed at all. We’ve already seen this during the migrant crisis. What will happen to Europe now I don’t know. Even the protective masks – individual countries are saving themselves, are keeping equipment for themselves. What’s happening with Europe?

This is the biggest scandal. I still had some hope that, despite its flaws, Europe would show at least some minimal solidarity to itself, to its inner core. But now, even this is obviously breaking down and I think it’s a catastrophe. For example, the Germans and others should, in their own interest, unconditionally help Italy as much as they can. That’s not a matter of debate. This is key. We need to think realistically. If this grim scenario really does happen, that the majority of the population have to go through the infection and a certain percent of people will die, well then common sense tells you that you need to, as soon as possible, learn how to test this group that is, according to data, immune to the virus for at least a certain period of time. It’s not yet clear for how long they’re immune, but if you’ve overcome the infection, it seems that you are immune for at least a month or two, I don’t know exactly. These people will be extremely valuable as they could be mobilized without any risk to themselves to help those who need to be isolated. In this regard, I’m still an old leftist. Whenever I hear “live safely, stay home all day, do not have contact with strangers, if you get a delivery of food or a package, the deliveryman must leave it at the door and you can pick it up only then.” That’s all good, but for me to be able to more or less live like this, a bunch of things still have to work. Shops, the food industry, hospitals, certain goods. So this is not a solution. Sometimes we read it as, let’s all isolate ourselves. No, we cannot all isolate ourselves. Things must be functioning in order for us to be able to isolate ourselves. And now it’s clear that there were many lies in the past. I hope listeners remember that a month ago, the media began to spread the opinion that masks were not important and that they do more harm than good.

That’s what experts said at the time.

Yes, but my medical sources at home and abroad say it was a bluff to prevent panic because they didn’t have enough masks. Of course, masks do not offer complete protection. I have read very serious English opinions which say that even the most primitive masks offer at least 80% protection, so you are four-fifths less at risk. And I think to myself, what is this society we live in where we are so proud of our productivity and yet don’t know how to make simple masks. They should be everywhere. At least the masks. That’s a priority for me now: masks, then testing equipment, and of course not to mention the real horror, respirators and ventilators. This has been proven to work. I read about one of the 11 Italian cities, which were the first to be isolated. I forget its name, but back when they had enough equipment to do this they simply said in a communist, military way: test everyone and isolate the sick. And now they have no infections.

But in a way we will now see what it really means to have a public health system.

Absolutely. Absolutely. There may still be private entities, but they must be subject to visible public control. Because what’s happening now in England, since they can’t test enough people, and we’re talking about England here, is that there is a whole black market in place where you can get immediately tested for around £100 or £200. This is something that is not at all affordable for ordinary people. In this regard, Slovenians are not among the worst. And yet, speaking not as a philosopher but in part as an anthropologist, do we realize that this most mundane way of living will change us? The outside, the fresh air, society and so on. A lot of people’s most basic response to this is “this cannot be true.” My son alerted me to CNN’s footage of spring break in Florida. Up until two days ago, when these things were already banned, the beaches were full. I watched clips from San Francisco, the Golden Gate bridge and its surroundings, there were lots of people waking in the parks, groups of people drinking, someone playing the guitar, people singing. We’re simply not ready yet to seriously think about how our world will change. How careful we have to be regarding health. Economically speaking, it will be a different world and let’s not forget mentally. Can you imagine a family in a small apartment, one grandparent, two parents and two children? What will they do all day?

Slavoj, even better. What about two people who wanted to get a divorce and are now together.

Well here there is some hope that this will sober them up. Not in the sense that they discover that they love each other, but in the sense that their lives are on the line here, let’s find a modus vivendi. However, it is also possible that there will be an explosion. I also worry about this aspect. It’s easy being in isolation for a week or two. But, as it seems, all these fairy tales, and this made me laugh, I hope listeners remember that two, three weeks ago we were told that schools will be closed until the end of March … these are imaginary dates. This situation will probably last. And even if it gets a little better, there is always a chance of another wave.

Most people think that we will go back to normal. That this will last a while, but that then everything will be as it was.

With great difficulty, we will need to build a different kind of normal. We can only hope that it will not be a mix of enhanced capitalism and brutal vitalism. Mankind has already gone through this. Everyone knows how Boccaccio came to be, what it was like during the Middle Ages during the Plague. The rich withdrew themselves to their isolated estates. That is exactly what they are doing today. A friend of mine from Montenegro explained to me years ago, that in the 17th century, when old men or old women became weak or feeble, a loaf of bread was placed on their heads so that it would hurt less when they got hit with an axe. Because they were an obstacle. It worries me that this combination of capitalism and extreme barbarism might return.

There is a lot of concern and anxiety.

Looking at it rationally, this is still an epidemic. According to the most pessimistic predictions, three to four percent of people will die, but this is still a huge number. And this assumes the virus will not mutate for the worse. What matters is what the world will be like after that. Either we seize the opportunity, or it will be like Hegel used to say: the only thing we learn from history is that we can’t learn anything from history. In difficult trials people do not become wise, as the saying goes. Difficult trials bring out the best in many people and the worst in many people. This is what my wife recently experienced. She went to the supermarket Mercator, where she found a bunch of plastic gloves. A woman pushed her away and quickly grabbed the gloves. A friend told me about incidents where someone coming to the store would cough in your face with great pleasure. This is the logic of “it doesn’t matter, so why not?”

And the fights over toilet paper, which is totally incomprehensible.

I have no good explanation for that.

The Americans accumulate weapons and the French condoms. What is it with the toilet paper?

I wonder how the Americans will cope with this isolation. They have a libertarian tradition, where any state interference, e.g. vaccinations, which has also started in our country, is seen as something the state uses as a pretext to take control over their lives. They do not have as much community spirit in America as we do. A community can cause a state of emergency simply by deciding they’ve had enough and want their freedom and independence. Therefore, even more than in Europe, they will need an army, not only to maintain order in distribution chains, but also to be ready at hospitals. And just to maintain order.

What matters is what tomorrow’s world will be like and what we will be like.

Alenka Zupančič said that two formulations are dangerous. One is that “we all have to be together, that there is no politics, there will be politics later, now we all have to be together.” It’s not that simple. With these solidarity measures it will be decided which basic policies will prevail later, i.e. solidarity or heartless survival. Another thing that I want to warn people about is not to accept the logic of our guilt while the media emphasizes that each of us is responsible. This is true, but at the same time the state, the authorities, international solidarity, are all being tested. Don’t blame us poor individuals.

Also the media will have to watch the state.

Especially this, because the state now has an incredible amount of new powers. On one hand this is necessary in the given situation. As I wrote about China, I don’t know how much you can manipulate statistics, but China has succeeded. Nevertheless, I would love for a Chinese Julian Assange to emerge, who would tell us from the inside what happened. At this moment, Assanges are more important than ever.

Nataša Štefe