If you had the misfortune of suffering through the “debate” between Jordan Peterson and Slavoj Zizek, I offer you my solidarity. Peterson and Zizek put on one of the most pathetic displays in the history of intellectuals arguing with each other in public. This was not Foucault versus Chomsky or even Hitchens versus Hitchens. It almost makes the Bill Nye versus Ken Ham debate look good, and that’s really saying something. Peterson and Zizek began with long, 30-minute speeches, ostensibly on the subject of which system is more conducive to human happiness—capitalism or socialism. The two speeches had virtually nothing to do with each other and very little to do with the topic.
You can read the rest of my piece on the Peterson/Zizek debate over at Current Affairs:
In reading the recent piece by Daniel Zamora at Jacobin and some of the reactions to it, I’ve been struck by how limited the conversation about universal basic income (UBI) is. For the uninitiated, UBI is fairly straightforward–instead of having social programs like welfare or food stamps which people qualify for on the the grounds that they fall below some income threshold, UBI gives everyone a set minimum income. UBI has fans and detractors across the political spectrum because depending on how it’s constructed it could be made to do very different things. Some on the right want to use it to reform welfare and some of the left want to use it to make work optional. Some in both camps want to use it to help workers displaced by automation or outsourcing. The key problem with the conversation is that it tends to be based around whether we could or should implement UBI now, or very soon. This misunderstands what makes UBI interesting. Properly understood, UBI is not about today. It’s about capitalism’s endgame–what the world looks like when capitalism truly exhausts itself.
I subscribe to a weekly news magazine called The Week. It’s an excellent magazine highlighting the various things commentators have been saying in the popular press over the past week. In the most recent issue, however, I saw something strange. In the banner, there was a picture of Karl Marx, and the question “Is Marxism Back in Fashion?” This struck me as quite bizarre–I hadn’t seen any mention of Marx or Marxism in the last week. I turned to the relevant article and discovered that the controversy being highlighted was over Thomas Piketty’s new book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Many commentators, particularly those writing in right-leaning publications, were referring to Piketty and his work as Marxist (for an example, see Kyle Smith’s piece in the New York Post) This apparently is so uncontroversial that The Week felt comfortable guiding people to the story with a Marx reference. I found this extremely troubling, both because Piketty is most certainly not a Marxist and because the practice of calling all those with radical left-wing views “Marxist” is an attempt to straw man those leftists and prevent people from thinking seriously about their views. I’d like to elaborate on both themes today.
Marxism is not generally my focus on this blog, but given that we’re spending a week on Marx in one of my grad school courses, I hope the reader will allow me to indulge myself in some further thoughts on Marx in addition to those I offered earlier in the week. After this, I’m moving on–there should be no more Marx for a while. I had a new thought today that I didn’t have several days ago, one that identifies a key contradiction in Marx’s work that I previously overlooked.
Today I seek to come to grips with Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, the late 18th and early 19th century German philosopher. Why Hegel? Because of Hegel’s influence on a broad range of philosophical movements and traditions that have sprung up over the last 200 years, and because there are elements within his system of belief that strike me as manifestly false (and, consequently, serve as a false foundation for spin-off theories), and I seek to articulate why.