If the principal task of the 19th century’s emancipatory politics was to break the monopoly of the bourgeois liberals by politicizing the working class, and if the task of the 20th century was to politically awaken the immense rural population of Asia and Africa, the principal task of the 21st century is to politicize — organize and discipline — the “destructured masses” of slum-dwellers. If we ignore this problem of the Excluded, all other antagonisms lose their subversive edge. Ecology turns into a problem of sustainable development. Intellectual property turns into a complex legal challenge. Biogenetics becomes an ethical issue. Corporations — like Whole Foods and Starbucks — enjoy favor among liberals even though they engage in anti-union activities; they just sell products with a progressive spin. You buy coffee made with beans bought at above fair-market value. You drive a hybrid vehicle. You buy from companies that provide good benefits for their customers (according to corporation’s standards). In short, without the antagonism between the Included and the Excluded, we may well find ourselves in a world in which Bill Gates is the greatest humanitarian fighting poverty and diseases, and NewCorp’s Rupert Murdoch the greatest environmentalist mobilizing hundreds of millions through his media empire. In contrast to the classic image of proletarians who have “nothing to lose but their chains,” we are thus ALL in danger of losing ALL. The risk is that we will be reduced to abstract empty Cartesian subjects deprived of substantial content, dispossessed of symbolic substance, our genetic base manipulated, vegetating in an unlivable environment. These triple threats to our being make all of us potential proletarians. And the only way to prevent actually becoming one is to act preventively. The true legacy of ‘68 is best encapsulated in the formula Soyons realistes, demandons l’impossible! (Let’s be realists, demand the impossible.) Today’s utopia is the belief that the existing global system can reproduce itself indefinitely. The only way to be realistic is to envision what, within the coordinates of this system, cannot but appear as impossible.

June 27, 2008

If the principal task of the 19th century’s emancipatory politics was to break the monopoly of the bourgeois liberals by politicizing the working class, and if the task of the 20th century was to politically awaken the immense rural population of Asia and Africa, the principal task of the 21st century is to politicize — organize and discipline — the “destructured masses” of slum-dwellers. If we ignore this problem of the Excluded, all other antagonisms lose their subversive edge. Ecology turns into a problem of sustainable development. Intellectual property turns into a complex legal challenge. Biogenetics becomes an ethical issue. Corporations — like Whole Foods and Starbucks — enjoy favor among liberals even though they engage in anti-union activities; they just sell products with a progressive spin. You buy coffee made with beans bought at above fair-market value. You drive a hybrid vehicle. You buy from companies that provide good benefits for their customers (according to corporation’s standards). In short, without the antagonism between the Included and the Excluded, we may well find ourselves in a world in which Bill Gates is the greatest humanitarian fighting poverty and diseases, and NewCorp’s Rupert Murdoch the greatest environmentalist mobilizing hundreds of millions through his media empire. In contrast to the classic image of proletarians who have “nothing to lose but their chains,” we are thus ALL in danger of losing ALL. The risk is that we will be reduced to abstract empty Cartesian subjects deprived of substantial content, dispossessed of symbolic substance, our genetic base manipulated, vegetating in an unlivable environment. These triple threats to our being make all of us potential proletarians. And the only way to prevent actually becoming one is to act preventively. The true legacy of ‘68 is best encapsulated in the formula Soyons realistes, demandons l’impossible! (Let’s be realists, demand the impossible.) Today’s utopia is the belief that the existing global system can reproduce itself indefinitely. The only way to be realistic is to envision what, within the coordinates of this system, cannot but appear as impossible.
The Big Outcome of the ’60s: The Triumph of Capitalism by Slavov Zizek

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