Living in the End Times
Reading Slavoj Žižek for the first time is not unlike being stuck on a bar stool next to a slightly inebriated, repentant MBA who just read a Karl Marx biography and thinks he has the world figured out. An aside about the deeper meaning of 3:10 to Yuma, a diatribe against Slovenia’s failure as a communist state, and praise of the five stages of grief seem like disconnected nonsense unless taken as a larger, comprehensive analysis of the failure of global capitalism. After a while, you’re either also drunk or so bewildered by the onslaught of information that you begin to see the reason behind this grizzled young man’s ramblings. Now just imagine that this is one of the most gifted living intellectuals.
Žižek—one of the world’s leading contemporary academic thinkers—is at once obscure and brilliant. In Living in the End Times, he pulls together themes from several smaller works and dozens of speeches and papers from the past several years to illuminate the apocalyptic zero-point for which the world is headed. The four horsemen of the apocalypse are approaching—ecological crisis, explosive social divisions and exclusions, consequences of the biogenetic revolution, and systemic imbalances (struggles over raw materials, food, and water; as well as more abstract battles over issues like intellectual property)—and our textbook-diagnosed reactions show that the end is nigh.
Using Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ model, he categorizes our reactions to modern economic, social, and ecological crises as stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. While many believe Kübler-Ross’ framework to be somewhat flawed, it does provide a handy way of determining one’s own stage of grieving the collapse of society. How else to make sense of our apathy in the face of the simultaneous rise of extreme religious fundamentalism, crumbling banking systems, and expansive, violent political repression? What other way to explain away the near-psychotic binaries in wealth and poverty in places like Kuwait and Dubai, oil-dependent towering desert empires built by thousands of slave-wage immigrants and ruled by a frighteningly wealthy upper class—and the ways with which we turn the other cheek?
If you believe the state of the global economy, social hierarchy, and legal affairs to be as dramatically desperate as Žižek, you’ll not be surprised that he beckons us to prepare for famine, plague, global warfare, and ultimate death. If you have little faith in humanity, you’ll find good company in the bright if troubled theorist. If you believe in our eventual recovery, you’ll also find nuggets of helpful wisdom between his dismal predictions.
You may not be able to keep up the apocalyptic philosopher, but you’d be better off for trying.