Arquivo da tag: Neoliberalismo

You’re witnessing the death of neoliberalism – from within (The Guardian)

What does it look like when an ideology dies? As with most things, fiction can be the best guide. In Red Plenty, his magnificent novel-cum-history of the Soviet Union, Francis Spufford charts how the communist dream of building a better, fairer society fell apart.

Even while they censored their citizens’ very thoughts, the communists dreamed big. Spufford’s hero is Leonid Kantorovich, the only Soviet ever to win a Nobel prize for economics. Rattling along on the Moscow metro, he fantasises about what plenty will bring to his impoverished fellow commuters: “The women’s clothes all turning to quilted silk, the military uniforms melting into tailored grey and silver: and faces, faces the length of the car, relaxing, losing the worry lines and the hungry looks and all the assorted toothmarks of necessity.”

But reality makes swift work of such sandcastles. The numbers are increasingly disobedient. The beautiful plans can only be realised through cheating, and the draughtsmen know it better than any dissidents. This is one of Spufford’s crucial insights: that long before any public protests, the insiders led the way in murmuring their disquiet. Whisper by whisper, memo by memo, the regime is steadily undermined from within. Its final toppling lies decades beyond the novel’s close, yet can already be spotted.

When Red Plenty was published in 2010, it was clear the ideology underpinning contemporary capitalism was failing, but not that it was dying. Yet a similar process as that described in the novel appears to be happening now, in our crisis-hit capitalism. And it is the very technocrats in charge of the system who are slowly, reluctantly admitting that it is bust.

You hear it when the Bank of England’s Mark Carney sounds the alarm about “a low-growth, low-inflation, low-interest-rate equilibrium”. Or when the Bank of International Settlements, the central bank’s central bank, warns that “the global economy seems unable to return to sustainable and balanced growth”. And you saw it most clearly last Thursday from the IMF.

What makes the fund’s intervention so remarkable is not what is being said – but who is saying it and just how bluntly. In the IMF’s flagship publication, three of its top economists have written an essay titled “Neoliberalism: Oversold?”.

The very headline delivers a jolt. For so long mainstream economists and policymakers have denied the very existence of such a thing as neoliberalism, dismissing it as an insult invented by gap-toothed malcontents who understand neither economics nor capitalism. Now here comes the IMF, describing how a “neoliberal agenda” has spread across the globe in the past 30 years. What they mean is that more and more states have remade their social and political institutions into pale copies of the market. Two British examples, suggests Will Davies – author of the Limits of Neoliberalism – would be the NHS and universities “where classrooms are being transformed into supermarkets”. In this way, the public sector is replaced by private companies, and democracy is supplanted by mere competition.

The results, the IMF researchers concede, have been terrible. Neoliberalism hasn’t delivered economic growth – it has only made a few people a lot better off. It causes epic crashes that leave behind human wreckage and cost billions to clean up, a finding with which most residents of food bank Britain would agree. And while George Osborne might justify austerity as “fixing the roof while the sun is shining”, the fund team defines it as “curbing the size of the state … another aspect of the neoliberal agenda”. And, they say, its costs “could be large – much larger than the benefit”.

IMF managing director Christine Lagarde with George Osborne.

IMF managing director Christine Lagarde with George Osborne. ‘Since 2008, a big gap has opened up between what the IMF thinks and what it does.’ Photograph: Kimimasa Mayama/EPA

Two things need to be borne in mind here. First, this study comes from the IMF’s research division – not from those staffers who fly into bankrupt countries, haggle over loan terms with cash-strapped governments and administer the fiscal waterboarding. Since 2008, a big gap has opened up between what the IMF thinks and what it does. Second, while the researchers go much further than fund watchers might have believed, they leave in some all-important get-out clauses. The authors even defend privatisation as leading to “more efficient provision of services” and less government spending – to which the only response must be to offer them a train ride across to Hinkley Point C.

Even so, this is a remarkable breach of the neoliberal consensus by the IMF. Inequality and the uselessness of much modern finance: such topics have become regular chew toys for economists and politicians, who prefer to treat them as aberrations from the norm. At last a major institution is going after not only the symptoms but the cause – and it is naming that cause as political. No wonder the study’s lead author says that this research wouldn’t even have been published by the fund five years ago.

From the 1980s the policymaking elite has waved away the notion that they were acting ideologically – merely doing “what works”. But you can only get away with that claim if what you’re doing is actually working. Since the crash, central bankers, politicians and TV correspondents have tried to reassure the public that this wheeze or those billions would do the trick and put the economy right again. They have riffled through every page in the textbook and beyond – bank bailouts, spending cuts, wage freezes, pumping billions into financial markets – and still growth remains anaemic.

And the longer the slump goes on, the more the public tumbles to the fact that not only has growth been feebler, but ordinary workers have enjoyed much less of its benefits. Last year the rich countries’ thinktank, the OECD, made a remarkable concession. It acknowledged that the share of UK economic growth enjoyed by workers is now at its lowest since the second world war. Even more remarkably, it said the same or worse applied to workers across the capitalist west.

Red Plenty ends with Nikita Khrushchev pacing outside his dacha, to where he has been forcibly retired. “Paradise,” he exclaims, “is a place where people want to end up, not a place they run from. What kind of socialism is that? What kind of shit is that, when you have to keep people in chains? What kind of social order? What kind of paradise?”

Economists don’t talk like novelists, more’s the pity, but what you’re witnessing amid all the graphs and technical language is the start of the long death of an ideology.


Losing our Fear! Facing the Anthro-Obscene (Entitle Blog)

October 20, 2014

by Erik Swyngedouw**

It’s useless to wait-for a breakthrough, for the revolution, the nuclear apocalypse or a social movement. To go on waiting is madness. The catastrophe is not coming, it is here. We are already situated within the collapse of a civilisation. It is within this reality that we must choose sides.

The Invisible Committee

The hegemonic liberal frame that sutures the environmental literary landscape today is ‘market environmentalism’. Greening the market economy, so the fantasy goes, is systematically advanced across the academic and popular media landscape as the panacea for the environmental deadlock we are in. The dominant argumentation of ‘green economy’ pundits maintains that merely greening the existing socio-economic relations will bring a sustainable solution. Ecologising the economy would be necessary and sufficient to evade a pending ecological Armageddon while permitting the untroubled continuation of civilisation as we know it for a while longer.

It is precisely the premise of this biblical promise of an ecological catastrophe coming near you in the near future that should be rejected completely. Confronted with cataclysmic images of imminent ecological disaster, which predominate the ecological and climate discourse and imaginary, and whose ultimate goal is precisely to make sure that the disaster does not take place (if we take the right measures), the only correct radical answer seems to be ‘don’t worry’ (Al Gore, Prince Charles, green boys and girls, eco-responsible companies, environmental civil servants), your disaster scenario is factually correct, but just a bit out-of-synch; social-ecological Armageddon will not only take place, it is already taking place, it has already happened. Many already live in the apocalypse, in those places where the intertwining of environmental change and social conditions has already reduced living conditions to ‘bare life’. Socio-ecological entanglements have already reached the ‘point of no return’. It is already too late to do something about nature. It has always already been too late. It is precisely by accepting this reality that a new politics can emerge.

Source: Robyn Woolston

‘Welcome to the Anthropocene’ has become an often-heard slogan to inform us that a new geological era has started, that it is already too late to save Nature. Whereas until recently earthly processes only proceeded very slowly and irrespective of human interventions at the earth’s surface or in the atmosphere, human beings have now become co-producers of a deep geological time itself. Paul Crutzen, a Nobel Prize winning chemist, invented the term about ten years ago to refer to what comes after the Holocene, the relatively moderate geo-climatic period in which agriculture, cities and complex human civilisations came into being. The notion of the Anthropocene suggests that the intertwining of social and ‘natural’ processes is now so intense that Nature as the merely external condition of existence for human beings has come to an end. There is no longer a form of Nature that is not influenced by social, cultural, and economic relations. Henrik Ernstson, eminent political ecologist, recently proffered the term ‘Anthro-Obscene’ to signal the starkly de-politicising and plainly disempowering mobilisation of what nonetheless sounds like a revolutionary concept. Is the ‘Anthropocene’ and its intense human – non-human entanglements not precisely the name for the disavowed historical unfolding of the capitalist political ecology of the past few centuries? Has it not been the historical-geographical dynamic of capitalism and its global spread that has banned the very existence of an external nature?

The Anthropocene heralds the period since the beginning of industrialisation, and therefore capitalism, which brought a qualitative change in the geo-eco-climatic dynamic on earth as a result of the ever intensifying interaction between human beings and their physical conditions of existence. The Anthropocene is therefore nothing else than a geological name for capitalism WITH nature. Ocean acidification, changes in biodiversity, genetic migration and new genetic combinations, climate change, large infrastructures which influence the geodetic dynamic, new materials, global and often unexpected new disease carriers and so on and so forth resulted in ever more complex entanglements of ‘natural’ and ‘social’ processes whereby human beings became active agents in the co-production of the earth’s future history. The Anthropocene is just another name to indicate the End or the Death of Nature. This cannot be undone, however hard we try. Time is irreversible. There is no ideal, lost place, time or ecology, no Arcadia to which we can return. Eden has never existed anyway. The past is foreclosed forever, but the future – now including the future of a thoroughly socialised nature – is radically open. It is within this historically and geographically specific configuration that not only the possibility, but also the necessity for a real politicisation of the environment arises, that choices have to be made and different socio-ecological entanglements have to be experimented with and produced.

The Anthropocene in its Anthro-Obscenic reality displaces the terrain of the political as merely inter-human activity to the environment as a whole, including those processes, which recently were left to (the laws of) nature. Non-human actants and processes are now engaged in a process of politicisation. And this should be recognised fully in its radical materiality. The Anthro-Obscene opens a perspective whereby different nature-realities and social-ecological interactions can be imagined and realised. The political struggle about the nature, direction and development of these interactions and about the process of egalitarian social-ecological co-production of the commons of life is what a progressive politicisation of the environment envisages. Yes, the apocalypse is already here, but that is not a reason for despair or panic. Let us fully recognise the emancipatory possibilities of apocalyptic life!

The ‘green economy’. Source: Nation of Change

Many people would concur with the view that the climate crisis will fundamentally not be solved by hegemonic approaches of the ‘green economy’, by making capital compatible with – if not cashing in on – ecology; they note that energy costs are on the rise, social inequalities increase, rigid nationalisms – if not worse – emerge everywhere, and that the marketisation of everything is being paid for at an extravagant ecological and social cost. Many people know that things can and should be different. However, like me, they do not know what to do or how to get to something not only different, but better. We all share this gnawing and uncanny feeling that hopeless attempts by economic and political elites to translate the ecological and social catastrophe which surrounds us into a ecological and social crisisthat can and needs to be managed does not solve the problems but push them into the future or to other places. Indeed, does the dominant rhetoric of the elite not maintain that ‘the situation is serious but not catastrophic’? Is their neoliberal recipe book proffered as guarantee that the disaster will not occur? Don’t they claim that the crisis can be overcome with a bit of goodwill and effort: social unity will be restored, economic growth will recover and ecological problems will be addressed sustainably? ‘Hold on for a while’, they seem to be saying, ‘rescue is on its way!’

Don’t you have the surreptitious feeling that something is wrong about this rhetoric of those who (sometimes literally) want to conserve the existing situation at all cost; that the ecological and social crisis cannot be made manageable with the help of mere technical and organisational adaptations; that the attempts of the elite to reduce the catastrophe to a crisis which only requires ‘good’, ‘participatory’ and ‘ecological’ management only enlarges the anxiety, increases insecurity, and especially, worsens the catastrophe which many already experience?

What would happen if we threw off the fear? If we resolutely accepted that the ecological, social and economic apocalypse is already here, that we live in the Anthro-Obscene, that it no longer needs to be announced as a dystopian promise for an avoidable future (if only the right measures are taken today)? What if we really would believe that things can not only change, but have to? That it really is already too late for many people and ecologies?

Yes but, you might think. After all, there is no catastrophe, we don’t live in the Apocalypse. It was a good wine year, the summer was a bit disappointing but the holidays were sunny, the financial crisis is being addressed without too much pain for me and my siblings, my education proceeds as planned, sustainable environmental technologies are stimulated, the hybrid car really drives smoothly, waste is being reduced, and the new IKEA catalogue promises sustainable entrepreneurship. Furthermore, the green parties are not doing badly in the polls. You’re right. The catastrophe is not for most of you or for me. Crisis, yes, but talking about catastrophe appears a bit overdone.

But perhaps we should not forget the words of the Italian Marxist Amadeo Bordiga: ‘when the ship goes down, so too do the first class passengers’. There is no salvation island where the elites can retreat into splendid isolation (despite their best efforts to do so) he claimed. This slogan is often adopted by ecologists of a variety of stripes or colours. We are all in the same boat. Bill Gates, Al Gore, Jeffrey, Richard Branson, the inhabitants of sinking islands, my son, and even Prince Charles today share the opinion of this notorious communist of the common threat facing the commons. But on closer inspection – I would argue — good old Amadeo was desperately wrong. See the blockbuster movie Titanic once again. A large share of the upper class passengers found a lifeboat; the others remained stuck in the underbelly of the beast. The social and ecological catastrophe is indeed not here for everyone; the apocalypse is uneven. And this is where the ultimate truth of our current predicament is situated. Remember the images of the earthquake in Haiti a few years ago, or the devastation wrought by hurricane Katrina in New Orleans: hundreds of thousands of homeless people, hundreds of deaths, dysentery and malaria spreading fast, exaggerated reports about thieves who stole paltry possessions to stay alive, shortages of drinking water. The earthquake was not the consequence of human interventions in nature, the hurricane perhaps. But what we know very well is that the socio-ecological catastrophe is not caused by the earthquake or the hurricane. It was there long before disaster struck. Nature was not responsible for the post-apocalyptic post-human landscape after the quake. Most Haitians, together with all the others who balance on the verge of survival, have always already lived in the apocalypse, before, during and after the quake. Racial prejudices, dire living conditions and a precarious socio-ecological existence were also the lot of the poor in New Orleans. Or think about the incalculable number of environmental refugees.

Source: FightBack

We have a rough idea about the number that is reaching European shores via the Mediterranean, but we have not a clue about the countless migrants, except through occasional harrowing stories of sunken boats, that fail to make it to the continent, and become fish fodder. It is precisely the combination of ecological, social and economic relations, which pushes them, often with desperately little means, to leave their home countries. They, too, fled a catastrophe. Our apocalyptic times are perversely uneven, whereby the survival pods of the elites are fed and sustained by the disintegration of life-worlds elsewhere.

Consider, for example, how the socio-ecological conditions in Chinese mega-factories, like Foxconn, where our iPhone, iPod, iPad and other gadgets, so indispensable for ‘normal’ life are assembled, make 19th century European cities look like socio-ecological utopias. The social and ecological catastrophe which international elites imposed upon Greece to make sure the European neoliberal model could be sustained a while longer shows that the collapse of daily life is reserved for certain people, so that the others can go on with business as usual. If nuclear power plants close down tomorrow, the lights will continue burning on Putin’s gas. Despite Pussy Riot. And tar sands exploitation or ‘fracking’ will protect us from the disaster of ‘peak oil’ while further pumping up greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere never before found in the earth’s history.

‘Natural’ and ecological disasters show in all their sharpness what we have already known for a long time, namely, the politically powerless and economically weak are paying the price, they always do. The apocalypse is always theirs, and only theirs. While the biblical apocalypse of Saint John announced the final judgment which offered paradise to the chosen few and damned the evil ones, the socio-ecological apocalypse separates the elite from the powerless and excluded.

Perhaps something must be done about the lifeboats. For some, the solution is to seal them off hermetically, to protect them with electric fences and impenetrable walls, to strengthen militarised forces to secure the perimeter of their own little eco-paradise. The zombies of the apocalypse, the hordes at the gates, the motley crew that demands its share of nature, the rebels who ask a new order: they represent the reality of catastrophe today. And this reality should be taken seriously. We all share in it. Eco-warrior, advocate of nuclear energy, incorrigible Malthusian and inventor of the Gaia hypothesis James Lovelock summarised the possible consequences of the uneven apocalypse very eloquently and soberly:

“… what if at some time in the next few years we realise, as we did in 1939, that democracy had temporarily to be suspended and we had to accept a disciplined regime that saw the UK as a legitimate but limited safe haven for civilisation. Orderly survival requires an unusual degree of human understanding and leadership and may require, as in war, the suspension of democratic government for the duration of the survival emergency.”

The emergency situation evoked by Lovelock is not there to make sure everyone survives. It is supposed to be the consequence of the demographic explosion cum ecological disintegration of the Global South as a result of which hordes of eco-zombies will crowd at the gates of the egalitarian social-ecological paradise at the other side of the Channel. An autocratic leadership and the suspension of democracy are precisely needed to keep the gates firmly shut. This might appear a somewhat exaggerated perspective. But is this not exactly what happened over the past few years? Perhaps not so much with regard to climate change (very little has happened on that terrain), but surely with regard to attempts to reduce the economic-financial catastrophe to a manageable crisis. All other problems were shoved aside. Draconian austerity measures were imposed which especially affected the weakest, massive public means were and are mobilised to keep financial institutions afloat, migration is being managed with all possible repressive means. Despite profound and previously unseen protest, only one set of recipes was applied to restore the existing financial-economic order. The elite indeed will, if necessary, use all means available to maintain its status and position.

But does in the generalised forms of resistance reside not only the hope, but the absolute certainty, that change is possible and needed? A change that revolves around the signifiers of democracy, solidarity and the egalitarian management of the commons? Does this not suggest, rather provocatively, that the political project that combines those terms might carry the name ‘communism’; ‘a communism of the commons’. This suggestion breaks so strongly with the currently hegemonic logic and recipes that many will sceptically respond: how can the democratic management of the commons ever be realised? How can the egalitarian and collective management of the commons be organised in the current neoliberal climate which includes the privatisation of nature, the individualisation of daily life, and the fragmentation of the political and ideological landscape? Of course, the critique of the hegemonic project of the green economy is valid, and another approach is necessary, but should we – faced with the coming catastrophes – not rather opt for practical solutions, which maybe do not really question the status quo, but are at least a bit more realistic, less weighted down by history, and feasible today?

Furthermore, the term ‘communism’ probably – and rightly – evokes the horror of the 20th century (the Stalinist terror, the ecological disaster, the social inequality), or at least, the term refers to a radical failure of what was once presented as a utopian solution for society’s ills. Perhaps ‘communism’ is indeed not a good name to refer to a democratic ecological project of the commons. Perhaps we should let fear triumph here too. Or maybe it is better to reserve the term socialism or communism for the elitist and undemocratic mobilisation of the commons for personal gain and the reinforcement of the elite’s power position.

We are all socialists now. Source: Newsweek

In February 2009, Newsweek, not immediately the most radical magazine, stated on its cover “We are all socialists now”. The title evidently referred to the 1.5 trillion dollars of public money that President Barack Obama pumped into the banking system to save Wall Street and to prevent a (foretold apocalyptic) planetary financial meltdown. Shortly afterwards, other countries, including the European Union would follow suit. Trillions of euros, part of the common capital, of our commons, were mobilised to provide the sputtering profit motor with new oil. Is there a better example to show that socialism is a real possibility, that collective means, the commons, can massively and collectively be used to reach a particular social goal, in this case the maintenance of elite positions, the avoidance of the apocalypse for the elite on the back of the weakest? Despite the Spanish Indignados, the Greek outraged, and many Occupy! movements which demand ‘Real Democracy Now’, the assembled elites continue undisturbed, realising their collective phantasmagorical utopia. Indeed, we are living in properly socialist times, a socialism of the elites.

We are NOT all socialists now…..Source:

Is a better example possible that the commons can indeed be used collectively (in this case the collective of the 1% – still a significant number)? That a communism of the elites is precisely the political name for the current neoliberal practice? Putin’s Russia is a good example of the appropriation of the commons by an oligarchic ultra-minority. As Marx stated long ago, history unfolds as a drama (the real socialism of the 20th century) and repeats itself as a farce (the real socialism of the elites today). What the socialist movement of the 20th century mostly failed to realise (the nationalisation of the banks) is being achieved by the elite in a very short lapse of time, in the name of the recovery of and sustainability of capitalism! It appears indeed that the collective management of the commons as such is not the problem. It is certainly not a naive or utopian proposal. The question is rather one of its management by whom and for whom?

Where resides the problem then? What is it that we don’t dare to face? What withholds us from tackling the unequal social-ecological apocalypse? The answer is implicit in what precedes. Not the collective management of the commons, of the environment, is the problem, but rather the undemocratic character of the current type of management. This does not relate to the shortcomings of the institutional and electoral machines of daily policy-making (parliaments, regular elections, public administration, political parties, etcetera  – very few still believe in its potential to nurture democratizing and egalitarian change), but to the basis of a democratic society itself. The foundation of democracy is that everyone is supposed to be equal. Democratic equality is not a sociologically verifiable given – we all know that each concrete society knows many clearly observable inequalities – but an axiomatic principle. The democratic is precisely the axiomatic acceptance of the equality of everyone and the recognition of the egalitarian capacity to govern in a concrete context, which is always marked by social and ecological inequalities.  That is the truth which is put forward time and again by resistance movements, Indignados, the Arab Spring, the women’s, workers’ and environmental movements. That is why the truth of democracy is not a universal standard. Its universal truth (we are all equal in principle) is carried by the particular group who is wronged as its equality is mis- or unrecognised. That is why we can conclusively state that Al Gore, Richard Branson, the president of the European Central bank, or Angela Merkel are undemocratic, while environmental refugees, climate justice activists, resistance movements against the privatisation of the commons and Occupy! activists, through their political action, reveal the scandal of institutionalised democracy and the necessity of an egalitarian communist restructuration of political, social and ecological relations, although they too are a sociological minority. In this sense, they precisely indicate what really matters in these apocalyptic times. Let’s join them. Translating the egalitarian demand in concrete social-ecological equality is the stake of a real politicisation of the environment. And this requires intellectual courage, social mobilisation, and new forms of political action and organisation. We have nothing to lose but our fear.

* I have taken the term ‘Anthro-Obscene’ from Henrik Ernstson, eminent political ecologists of the Universities of Stockholm, Stanford, and Cape Town, who suggested it as part of the theme for an upcoming workshop on politicizing urban political ecology that we are organising in 2015. This blog is a redacted reflection of a foreword for a fantastic book coming out in 2015: Kennis A. and Lievens M. The Myth of the Green Economy. (London and New York: Routledge).

** Erik Swyngedouw Erik is Professor of Geography at the University of Manchester in its School of Environment and Development. He received his PhD entitled “The production of new spaces of production” under the supervision of David Harvey at Johns Hopkins University (1991). From 1988 until 2006 he taught at the University of Oxford and was a Fellow of St. Peter’s College. He moved to the University of Manchester in 2006. Erik has published several books and research papers in the fields of political economy, political ecology, and urban theory and culture. He aims at bringing politically explicit yet theoretically and empirically grounded research that contributes to the practice of constructing a more genuinely humanising geography.

On Culture and Other Crimes: An Interview with Slavoj Zizek (Exchange)

Accessed October 28, 2014

By Kerry Chance
University of Chicago

Slavoj Zizek, psychoanalytic philosopher and cultural critic at the Institute of Sociology in Slovenia, has taught all over the world, most recently at the University of Chicago. His first public lecture at Chicago, entitled “The Ignorance of Chicken, or, Who Believes What Today”, looked every bit the rock show. Crowds stretched across the main campus quad, a ‘merch’ table featured his latest book The Parallax View, and as the lecture began with crowds still waiting outside, people climbed through the windows of the packed auditorium. While at Chicago, Zizek also taught a seminar as the Critical Inquiry Visiting Professor on topics ranging from Lacanian ethics, political correctness, habit in Hegel, the Big Other, Stalin, theology, politics and the role of the intellectual. Zizek has written innumerable articles and is the author of more than fifty books, including The Sublime Object of Ideology, The Ticklish Subject, Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism?, On Belief andWelcome to the Desert of the RealÑto name just a few that have contributed to his widespread popularity in and outside the academy. Here, Zizek speaks to Exchange about culture, Lacan, cognitive science, neoliberalism and projects for contemporary anthropology.


Chance: In class and in your public lectures here at Chicago, you’ve frequently talked about culture and have done so in two ways: first, in terms of belief as you have theorized it in your earlier work, and secondly in terms of Hegel’s notion of habit. How are you thinking culture in Lacanian terms?

Zizek: Traditionally, Lacanians like to identify culture simply as the symbolic system, within which there is a linguistically limited horizon of meaning, but I think two things should be added.

First, what is for me the zero-sum of culture, if I improvise, is what to do about embarrassing excesses. When somebody does something embarrassing, burps after eating for example, culture is how you react to it in a polite way. To be very vulgar, all seduction rituals are the cultured way of dealing with the fact that people would like to copulate with each other. Now, someone will say, “wait a minute, to feel something as embarrassment, culture must already be there.” No, I don’t think so. Somehow, embarrassment is first. In other words, we have to presuppose an excess, again, embarrassment apropos of something disgusting, non-social, or an excess of obscenity or enjoyment.

So again, this would be the first specification: to put it in bombastic Lacanian terms, first the excess of the real, embarrassment, shock – and culture is how you deal with it. This is why Lacan in a nice, tasteless way put it that one measure of the passage from the animal to the human kingdom is what to do with shit. He always liked this example, that an animal by definition just shits wherever, for humans shit is always an embarrassment. It always amused me when I was a boy that, at circuses, you have animals, horses and especially elephants that take a big shit and usually you see people hidden behind them ready to make the shit quickly disappear. Animals don’t care. The problem with humans is what to do with this embarrassment.

The second thing that interests me, which is a much more concrete historical analysis, is why there is such an obsession with culture today. Why is it that today not only do we have culture studies but everything – and by everything I mean at least the humanities and for some people even the hard sciences – has become a subspecies of cultural studies? In the hard sciences, people will say following Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, their history is the history of culture, of paradigm shifts and so on. Everything becomes culture.

Chance: How is this linked to your notion of belief?

Zizek: Again, this is linked to my notion of belief, to the idea that something is changing in the status of belief. Today, the predominant form is a belief that culture is the name of a belief, which is no longer taken seriously. Culture means, for example, I am a Jew, and although I don’t think there was a stupid god coming down and shouting some stupid things to people on Mount Sinai, I nonetheless say out of respect for my lifestyle or whatever, I don’t eat pork. This is culture.

To complicate things even further, I think two traps should be avoided here. Among other things, I have tried to focus my work on one of these traps in the last few years. First, it is too simple to say, “does this mean once before people were taking culture seriously.” No. Not only conservatives, but even progressives like to criticize the present, evoking, “oh, but once it was different, things were more authentic.” No, it wasn’t. It is not that before people did believe. If anything, they believe more today. It’s just that the modality of distance was different. Before, it wasn’t a matter of belief. Rather, it was a feeling of being more attached to, and having more respect for, the power of appearance of ritual as such. Something changed today at that level, I think. So paradoxically these external signs of belief – “nobody takes anything seriously” – if anything, points to how it’s more difficult today for us to trust the symbolic ritual, the symbolic institution. But again, there is no time when people ‘really meant it.’

What I know from anthropology, I may be wrong, is that all the great errors started with a phenomenological evolutionary illusion. I think when researchers found a certain gap between reality and beliefs or between form and content, they always thought, “ah, we have a later descendent state of evolution, there must have been some point earlier when people meant it.” The dream is that there was an original moment when people really ‘meant it.’ An example I know from my Marxist past, in anthropology you must know him from the 19th century, Lewis Henry Morgan. I remember from my youth that Engels among other classical Marxists relied on him. Morgan found that in some tribes all the men in one tribe referred to the women of the other tribe as their ‘sister wives.’ From this he deduced, that this is the linguistic remainder of some primordial form of marriage. The incest prohibition already in place, you were not allowed to have sex with women in your tribe, but only with the women in another tribe. The women were exchanged in a block, collectively. It was basic incest, but regulated. The way I heard it, anthropologists later proved that there never was this nice regulated collective orgy. That is to say, the wrong conclusion was that from this name ‘sister wives’ you conclude that there was a point when it was really meant. No, the gap is here from the very beginning.

What fascinates me in this example also is the logic of institution. By institution, I mean how, in order for something to function as a belief, you cannot simply say, “okay, let’s pretend.” In my book, I think the Ticklish Subject (Verso, 1999), I have a wonderful anecdote, which for me again tells about what culture is as an institution. It is a crazy story about elections some fifteen years ago in my country, Slovenia. An ex-friend of mine, who was a candidate told me – okay, he had to do these democratic games like kissing the asses of local constituents – an old lady came to him and said if he wanted her vote he would have to do her a favor. She was obsessed with the idea that something was wrong with her house number (number 24, not even 13), that this number brings misfortune. There was a burglary twice, lightning struck the house, and she’s convinced that it’s because of the number. She said, can she arrange with the city authorities to change the number, to 23a or something, just not 24. He said to her, “But lady, why even go through all this mess? Why don’t you simply paint a new number and change it yourself?” She said, “No, it must be done properly.” Though it was only superstition, to be effective it must be done properly through the institution. The must be a minimum reification to take the game seriously.

Chance: Is this a project for anthropology?

Zizek: This returns to another aspect of your question. That is, another lesson of all these notions of culture is the irreducibility of alienation. We should abandon this old phenomenological – and for some people, Marxist motive – that every institutionalization means reification in two directions, the past and the future. For the past, it is the idea that we should try to reconstitute a moment when it was not alienated, when it was ‘meant seriously.’ For the future, it is to isolate the moment, to dream or to work toward the moment when this transparency and authenticity of meaning will be reinstalled. No, we should also see the liberating aspect of it.

To return here to what I know of anthropology, when anthropology about half a century ago shifted from “let’s observe the mating rituals in Southern Samoa or South Pacific” or whatever, to focusing on our daily life rituals. You remember Florida, the scandal elections and the first Bush victory. A guy somewhere from Africa wrote an article imitating that sort of journalistic report, you know, an enlightened Western journalist goes to Africa, where they allegedly have some election and he mocks the election, “ha, ha, what corruption.” Well, this guy wrote about Florida in the same way, saying there are votes disappearing, the brother of the candidate is the local government, you know, describing Florida as a provincial Banana Republic case of cheating. It was a wonderful result. It was anthropology at its best.

I think this is what interests me, the anthropology of our lives. Not only is this a politically correct procedure – in this exceptional case, I use the term ‘politically correct’ in a positive way – but also I find it always a subversive procedure. The starting point is always the implicit racism of the anthropologist: you look at a foreign culture, you study them with this detachment, “oh what strange rituals” and so on. The phenomenological humanist temptation would be to say, “No, in this engaged participating fieldwork, we should immerse ourselves, become one of them to really understand them.” This series of presuppositions we should reject. What does it mean that we should be one of them to understand them? They usually don’t understand themselves – isn’t it the basic experience that people as a rule follow rituals that are just a part of tradition, which they themselves don’t get? I think the anthropology of our lives is the true breakthrough from this implicitly racist attitude of studying the eccentricity of others, to adopt the same view of ourselves. It is much better as a double alienation.

This is connected to another central motive of my work, this obsession with not only rules but also habits, which tell you how to obey or disobey rules. Especially social prohibitions never mean what they appear to mean. This is an incredibly wealthy topic of ideology for contemporary anthropology. Why is it so important? Precisely because we live in an era of so-called post-ideology. I claim that at precisely this level, ideology has survived.

My interest in anthropology, what always fascinated me was people never mean what they say and in order to be a part of a culture you have to get this gap. There is an important role of obscenities here. Let me tell you a comic adventure. This weekend, I was with Fred Jameson at Duke and there Fred invited an old, very distinguished Argentine gentleman – I will not tell you the name it’s too embarrassing – because of my wife, who is also Argentinean. This gentleman, you would be afraid of using the f-word in front of him, so I said to myself, okay, can I make him say something dirty? And I did seduce him, you know how? The specificities of Argentine Spanish are very different from say Venezuelan Spanish or Mexican Spanish. So, I told him how I tried to learn Spanish, and then I made my first step into obscenity. I told him I knew the word ‘cojo,’ which in Spanish simply means ‘to catch’ something, like “how do I catch a taxi?” Now, this word will be important because I told him I heard somewhere in Argentina there is a series of jokes, where a stupid Spaniard comes to Argentina and asks, “Where do I catch a taxi?” In Argentinean Spanish, ‘catch’ here means the f-word. Then, the distinguished gentleman smiled briefly and I saw that he knew a really dirty example. And I like it how he broke down. After two or three minutes, he broke down and said, “It’s against my nature but I must tell you Argentines have an even more dirty joke…” which is that a Spanish guy says, “How do you catch a cab?,” which means to fuck a taxi, and the Argentine says, “Well, the only practical way I can imagine is the exhaust pipe.” I was so glad that this distinguished gentleman, that I made him say this joke. For me, this is culture. For me, it is not a violation, but the closest you can get to authentic communication.


Chance: I wanted to talk about Lacanian ethics and about Lacan’s injunction to be consistent with your desire –

Zizek: The thing about Lacan’s injunction is what if your desire is not consistent? In other words, the way I read Lacan is that more and more in his late work he devalues desire, desire itself as not an ethical category. The Lacan of the fifties and sixties, it is the ethics of desire to not compromise your desire. But later, more and more he emphasizes that desire is a priori something hypocritical, inconsistent. In this sense, desire mostly thinks with a secret code that you will not get, the whole economy is to avoid the realization of desire, which is why Lacan understood that fantasy is a realization of desire. He doesn’t mean realization of desire in the sense of getting what you desire, like I want to eat strawberry cakes and I in the fantasy imagine myself realizing it. For Lacan, it is to stage a scene where that desire as such emerges. What would be a nicer example, let’s say I have a desire to eat strawberries but as always with desires, you have this suspicion, what if I will be disappointed. A fantasy would be, for example, I am there sleeping and somebody brings me strawberries, then I taste one, then I stop and it goes on. This ‘going on’ – I never fully have the strawberries – is fantasy. You don’t realize desire – getting your dirty mouth full of strawberries – you just stage this scene on a pleasant, hopeful state of desire, on the verge of satisfaction but not yet there. There is a pleasant obstacle preventing it all the time. This is fantasy.

Chance: How does this ethical injunction, both in the early and late Lacan, play out in the political realm, specifically thinking about it in relation to the cartoon depictions of Mohammad, a debate that opposed unlimited freedom of the press to respect for the other?

Zizek: Do you see the piece I wrote – not in The New York Times, which was censored – but “Antinomies of Tolerant Reason”? (See HYPERLINK “”

You know, many leftists were mad at me there. They thought I made too many compromises with Western liberals, too much anti-Muslim compromise. But the reason I did it was that I got a little bit sick and tired with these politically correct Western liberals – didn’t you notice this hypocrisy? I noticed it was the same people, who in the West are so sensitive – like I look at you and it already can be harassment – and all of sudden, they say it is a different culture, blah, blah, blah. I hate that even some feminists now are turning to culture as one of the standard defenses of Islam. In the West, we at least have formal equality of women. I am very sorry but there, you have a culture, at least in the predominant mode that is so openly anti-feminine. My god, but they are openly doing what we here are trying to unearth as the anti-feminism beneath the emancipated feminine. My god, are we now even prohibited from stating the obvious?

Do you know this famous, eternal politically correct example of clitoridechtomy? This example is not Islam – it is a ritual independent of Islam. But I remember some Muslim women claiming: isn’t it that in the West in order to be attractive to men, women have to remain slim, seductive; isn’t this a global clitoridechtomy; isn’t it much worse? There, it’s only the clitoris, here, it’s as if your entire body is clitoridechtomized. I hate this – I remember when I was a youth what the facts were about the Gulag. People would say: but at least here, you are in or out of the Gulag; isn’t it that the whole United States is one ideological Gulag? You know, this cheap counter universalization. I don’t buy it – this is what I try to say in that text. The first thing is to admit a genuine deadlock and to stop this hypocrisy.

In that text, I hope it is obvious this fury I have at this logic of respect. Sometimes, respect is the most disrespectful category. Respect here is like telling a child false things so not to hurt him. Here, respect means not taking him seriously. I think a lot of the people who preach, “you should show restraint, show respect to Islam,” are enacting the worst sort of patronization. Paradoxically, violent critics of Islam, on the most elementary level, show more respect for Islam than those who, out of respect, do not attack it. I am not saying we should turn to this, but at least those critics take people seriously as believers.


Chance: What does it mean to return to big theory?

Zizek: You remember, years ago it was fashionable to say big theory overlooks its own historical, concrete, anthropological conditions and presuppositions. That it is na•ve. Foucault has this attitude in its utmost when he says, before asking what’s the meaning of the universe, you should ask in what historical context is it even possible to ask this question. So direct truth questions become questions about the concrete historical conditions in which one can raise such a question. I think this was a deadlock.

Today’s big theory is no longer a na•ve big theory. It’s not saying “let’s forget about historical context and again ask, does god exist, or are we free.” No, the point is that concrete theory – the idea that we cannot ask metaphysical questions, only historical questions – had a skeleton in the closet: it has its own big theory presuppositions. Usually, even some rather primitive historicist, relativist ideas, for example, everything depends on historical circumstances or interactions, there are no universalities, and so on. So for me, it’s about not forgetting from where one speaks. It’s about including into reflection, into historical reflection, the very historicism, which was unquestioned in this eternal, Foucauldian model. I find it so boring. It’s so boring to say, “no, you shouldn’t ask are we free, the only question is what does it mean in our society to ask the question are we free.”

Chance: The presence of cognitive science is increasingly felt in anthropology. What particular problems does cognitive science pose for social sciences?

Zizek: Big theory brings us nicely to cognitive science because what it so tickling about them is precisely this question of freedom – does it mean we are not free? It’s interesting that all the debates about cognitive sciences – the image of the human being emerging from all these interactions, from the brain sciences or more abstract mind sciences – is about are we free.

I don’t know about social sciences, but I know about my field, psychoanalysis. I dealt with cognitive sciences extensively in my last book (SeeThe Parallax View, MIT Press 2006). I think firstly, they should be taken seriously. They should not be dismissed as just another na•ve, naturalizing, positivist approach. The question should be seriously asked, how do they compel us to redefine the most basic notions of human dignity, freedom? That is to say, what we experience as dignity and freedom is it all just an illusion, as they put it in computer user terms, a user’s illusion. Meaning, for example, when you write a text on a computer, you have this user’s illusion scrolling up or down that there is text above or below. There is no text there. Is our freedom the same as a user’s illusion or is there a freedom?

The thing to do – and I’m not saying I did it, I’m saying I am trying to do it – is to take these sciences very seriously, and find a point in them where there is a need for an intervention of concepts developed by psychoanalysis. I think – I hope – that I isolated one such point. I noticed how, when they tried to account for consciousness, they all have to resort to almost always the same metaphor of this autopoesis, self-reflexive move, some kind of self-relating, self-referring closed circuit. They are only able to describe it metaphorically. What I claim is that this is what Freud meant by death drive and so on.

But it’s not that we psychoanalysts know it and can teach the idiots. I think this is also good for us – and by us I mean, my gang of psychoanalytically oriented people. It compels us also to formulate our terminology, to purify our technology as it were.


Chance: What, if anything, is neoliberalism?

Zizek: You must know, and it has often been noted, that the big shift in the study of the human mind from traditional approaches to modern cognitivism mirrors perfectly the shift from bureaucratic capitalism to neoliberal capitalism with its flexibility and plasticity. It’s so interesting to notice how many cognitivists that I’ve read even say this openly. They say that traditional science of mind was production oriented, organizing up and down, like traditional bureaucratic capitalism. Today, it’s like this digital, flexible capitalism – you don’t have one central deciding point, you have free interaction, nomadic plasticity and so on. I found this very interesting.

Catherine Malabou wrote a wonderful book called What to Do With the Human Brain. She develops, in a very nice way, that plasticity can have two meanings. One meaning is this neoliberal plasticity. Basically, it’s an accommodating plasticity: how to succeed on the market, how to adopt new identity. But there is a more radical plasticity, where the point is not just an adaptive plasticity. It’s a plasticity that not only adapts itself to existing circumstances but also tries to form a margin of freedom to intervene, to change the circumstances.

The same would go for me for neoliberalism. My point would be first, there obviously exists something like neoliberalism. That is to say, it is a fact that at the level of relations between the states, within singular economies new rules of capitalism are emerging today.

But my first doubt would be about the process of describing the fact that something new is emerging. I don’t think it is adequately described by the way neoliberalism describes itself. For example, saying “the rule is no longer state intervention, but free interaction, flexibility, the diminishing role of the state.” But wait a minute, is this really going on? I mean, take Reagan’s presidency and Bush’s presidency today. While bombasting against big spending Democrats – that is to say, big state – the state has never been as strong as it is today and there is an incredible explosion of state apparatuses. State control today is stronger than ever. That would be my automatic reaction: yes, there is something new but, when covered by the label neoliberalism, it is not adequately described. The self-perception of today’s era as neoliberal is a wrong self-perception.

Even leftist critics all too often accept this self-description on its own terms and then proceed to criticize it, saying, “no, we can’t leave everything to the market.” Wait a minute, who is leaving everything to the market? If we look at today’s American economy, how much support there is for American farmers, how much intervention, military contracts, where is there any free market? I mean, sorry, but I don’t see much free market here.

Just look at this paradox, which I think is the nicest icon of what goes on today. You know the problem of cotton in the state of Mali I think, which is the producer of cheap cotton far better than the United States’ cotton. The country is going to ruin because, as you know, the American cotton producers get more state support than the entire Gross Domestic Product of the state of Mali. And they say there, we don’t want American help, what we want is just when you preach about corrupt state intervention and the free market, you play by your own rules. You know, there’s so much cheating going on here.

So that would be the kind of anthropological study that’s needed: what neoliberalism really means. That’s what we have to do.

Zizek PicksMost important book published in the last six months: On Creaturely Life by Eric Santner

It will sound hypocritical but really, I would say On Creaturely Life. If you go further back to 2005, it would be The Persistence of Subjectivity by Robert Pippin.

Most important film released in the last six months: Manderlay directed by Lars Von Trier

My god, this is a tough question. My problem is, as much as I love even commercial Hollywood, I really don’t remember one in particular. It’s a weird film but I like it, the last Lars Von Trier, Manderlay. Need I add that I haven’t seen it, but a priori I don’t deal with empirical things.

Favorite obscure text: Sex and Character by Otto Weininger

Sex and Character. It’s obscure today but remember that this book was published in 1903 and was reprinted like fifty times. Then, it was a megabook. It’s vicious – radically anti-feminist, anti-Semitic, anti-whatever-you-want but I think it’s shattering.

Most underrated philosopher: Hegel

It will sound crazy because he is one of the most overrated philosophers, but I think, Hegel. Because for the last two hundred years, every philosopher defines himself as somehow wanting to go over Hegel. He’s this universal punching bag. Known as he is, he is still the most underrated.

Favorite politician of all time? Lenin and Cromwell

My answer is so boring. It’s boring, it’s stupid, it’s provocative, I’m ashamed to pronounce it: Lenin. You know, many na•ve leftists, who want to maintain their democratic credentials, would say some tragic victim like Allende. I think there is no perspective there. I have a cynical idea that Pinochet’s coup d’etat came at the right point. Imagine what would have happened if someone like Clinton and not that stupid Nixon-Kissinger gang were in power. Someone like Clinton would have gotten the formula: annoy him economically, wait for the true economic crisis to explode and then Allende would either have to opt for a three-way neoliberalism and play all those emancipatory welfare games. Or, he would have to turn Castro, get really tough and lose. Don’t you think they struck at the right point to redeem him? So I don’t respect this kind of person.

I would love to have somebody else – I have such traditional tastes. Okay, again, it’s traditional but if you go back further, Freud loved him: Oliver Cromwell. I like it the way he ruthlessly went from first using the Parliament to cut off the head of the king, to then disbanding Parliament.

What surprises me is this myth that Cromwell was this cruel Puritan. Not only did he have personal integrity, but contrary to royalist myth, he was not revengeful. To put it naively, he was even personally kind. It may also come as a surprise how religiously tolerant he was. This is a myth, you know, this pale-lips Puritan just killing all the Catholics and everybody else. No, he was striving very much, for his vision was a kind of secular plurality of religions. He was a genuine tragic, tragic figure, I think.

Metade da riqueza mundial pertence a 1% da população, diz relatório (Portal do Meio Ambiente)



O 1% mais rico da população detém mais de 48% da riqueza mundial, que cresceu 8,3% de meados do ano passado a meados deste ano.

De acordo com relatório do Credit Suisse sobre o assunto, em 2014 o total da riqueza no mundo bateu um novo recorde, alcançando US$ 263 trilhões.

No documento, o banco diz que o valor já é o dobro do registrado em 2000, “apesar do ambiente econômico desafiador”, marcado pela crise econômica e pela lenta recuperação dos países.

A criação de recursos foi particularmente forte na América do Norte, com um crescimento de 11,4% entre meados de 2013 e meados de 2014, e na Europa, onde a alta foi de 10,6%. Nas duas regiões, o mercado de capitais foi o principal impulsionador.

Nos mercados emergentes, a Ásia –com destaque para a China– foi a principal responsável pelo aumento de riquezas, assim como no ano passado.

“No entanto, achamos que o crescimento das riquezas no mercados emergentes não foi capaz de manter o seu momento pré-crise, entre 2000 e 2008. Isso não deve nos distrair do fato de que a riqueza pessoal na Índia e na China cresceu pelo fator de 3,1 e 4,6 desde 2000.”


Segundo o relatório, uma pessoa precisa de US$ 3.650 para estar na metade mais rica do mundo. Para ser membro dos 10% mais ricos são necessários US$ 77 mil. Já para fazer parte do 1% mais rico é preciso ter US$ 798 mil.

O mínimo de recursos para pertencer ao 1% mais rico cresceu desde a crise de 2008. Naquele ano, eram necessários US$ 635 mil, contra US$ 798 mil hoje.
Por sua vez, a riqueza média global tem diminuído desde 2010.

“Esses achados indicam um aumento da desigualdade global nos anos recentes. No entanto, nossos resultados sugerem que a tendência inversa ocorreu no período que antecedeu à crise financeira.”

Nudge: The gentle science of good governance (New Scientist)

25 June 2013

Magazine issue 2922

NOT long before David Cameron became UK prime minister, he famously prescribed some holiday reading for his colleagues: a book modestly entitled Nudge.

Cameron wasn’t the only world leader to find it compelling. US president Barack Obama soon appointed one of its authors, Cass Sunstein, a social scientist at the University of Chicago, to a powerful position in the White House. And thus the nudge bandwagon began rolling. It has been picking up speed ever since (see “Nudge power: Big government’s little pushes“).

So what’s the big idea? We don’t always do what’s best for ourselves, thanks to cognitive biases and errors that make us deviate from rational self-interest. The premise of Nudge is that subtly offsetting or exploiting these biases can help people to make better choices.

If you live in the US or UK, you’re likely to have been nudged towards a certain decision at some point. You probably didn’t notice. That’s deliberate: nudging is widely assumed to work best when people aren’t aware of it. But that stealth breeds suspicion: people recoil from the idea that they are being stealthily manipulated.

There are other grounds for suspicion. It sounds glib: a neat term for a slippery concept. You could argue that it is a way for governments to avoid taking decisive action. Or you might be concerned that it lets them push us towards a convenient choice, regardless of what we really want.

These don’t really hold up. Our distaste for being nudged is understandable, but is arguably just another cognitive bias, given that our behaviour is constantly being discreetly influenced by others. What’s more, interventions only qualify as nudges if they don’t create concrete incentives in any particular direction. So the choice ultimately remains a free one.

Nudging is a less blunt instrument than regulation or tax. It should supplement rather than supplant these, and nudgers must be held accountable. But broadly speaking, anyone who believes in evidence-based policy should try to overcome their distaste and welcome governance based on behavioural insights and controlled trials, rather than carrot-and-stick wishful thinking. Perhaps we just need a nudge in the right direction.

Governo de SP institui cobrança por água de áreas protegidas (Portal do Meio Ambiente)


Rio Passareúva, no Parque Estadual da Serra do Mar, em Cubatão, área de proteção de manancial próxima à Baixada Santista
(Foto: Secretaria do Meio Ambiente do Estado de São Paulo/Trilhas de São Paulo)

Um decreto publicado pelo governo de São Paulo na sexta-feira (28.mar) estabeleceu, entre outras medidas, que o uso da água produzida em parques, estações ecológicas e outras unidades de conservação do estado poderá ser cobrado para gerar novos recursos a serem aplicados na gestão dessas áreas.

Assinado ontem pelo governador Geraldo Alckmin, o decreto 60.302 de 2014 prevê também para unidades de conservação (UCs) a destinação de um percentual fixo sobre a arrecadação de pedágios de rodovias que atravessam essas áreas. A Secretaria do Meio Ambiente (SMA), com o apoio de outros órgãos do estado, deverá apresentar no prazo máximo de dois anos um estudo com proposta de percentual a ser adotado e do mecanismo para viabilizar essa transferência de recursos.


A cobrança pelo uso de água é estabelecida na norma publicada hoje em seu artigo 38, para as unidades de conservação estaduais sem discriminar categorias dessas áreas. Desse modo, em princípio, fica aberta a possibilidade de recursos para as 31 reservas particulares de patrimônio natural, as RPPNs.

No entanto, a publicação prevê a receita proveniente de pedágios somente para as UCs classificadas como de proteção integral, que são os parques estaduais, as estações ecológicas, os monumentos naturais e os refúgios de vida silvestre.

Planos e metas

Em suas linhas gerais, o decreto estabelece novas regras de articulação entre os órgãos estaduais envolvidos com áreas protegidas, principalmente a Fundação Florestal e o Instituto Florestal.

A publicação de hoje obriga os gestores de UCs do estado a apresentar, até o dia 30 de outubro de cada ano, plano de metas anual, que deverá especificar ações e despesas previstos para o ano seguinte. Em cada unidade, o plano deverá ser apreciado pelo respectivo conselho — que é formado por representantes da comunidade nomeados pelo governo — para ser em seguida aprovado pelo dirigente do órgão estadual responsável.

Impactos ambientais

Outra novidade do decreto envolve empresas de captação e distribuição de água, de telefonia celular, de transmissão de energia elétrica, de distribuição de derivados de petróleo e outras que possuem instalações e equipamentos dentro de UCs. Essas companhias passam a ter a obrigação de cuidar permanentemente para que seus oleodutos, gasodutos, torres de transmissão, tubulações, vias de acesso ou outras instalações não gerem novos impactos ambientais além daqueles previstos no licenciamento de suas atividades, como estabelece o artigo 31:

Os empreendedores, permissionários e concessionários responsáveis por abertura e/ou manutenção de acessos de uso exclusivo necessários aos seus empreendimentos, no interior das unidades de conservação de proteção integral, deverão manter controle diuturno desses acessos para fins de conservação dos atributos ambientais da unidade de conservação.

Um bom exemplo da necessidade desse dispositivo está nos chamados bairros-cota de Cubatão, que resultaram de invasões em áreas do Parque Estadual da Serra do Mar durante e depois das obras das rodovias Anchieta e Imigrantes, aconteceram debaixo do nariz de todo mundo. E — pior — nesse caso o empreendedor foi o próprio governo do estado.


As unidades de conservação da Secretaria do Meio Ambiente abrangem 47 mil quilômetros quadrados, que correspondem a 18,9% da área total do estado de São Paulo.

Elas estão distribuídas em 31 RPPNs, 30 áreas de proteção ambiental, 37 parques estaduais, 26 estações ecológicas, 15 florestas estaduais, cinco reservas de desenvolvimento sustentável, quatro áreas de relevante interesse ecológico, dois viveiros florestais, dois monumentos naturais e uma reserva extrativista.

Há, portanto, algumas boas novidades em meio aos 51 artigos do decreto baixado hoje. Esses e outros aspectos merecem ser analisados em profundidade. Inclusive porque resta saber se as novas medidas serão eficazes para o objetivo de proteção das UCs.

Vale questionar, por exemplo, se valerá retroativamente para as empresas permissionárias ou concessionárias já licenciadas a obrigação sobre instalações e equipamentos dentro de UCs. Vamos aguardar.

Agropecuária brasileira torna-se mais produtiva, porém mais excludente (Fapesp)

Artigo publicado na revista Nature Climate Change analisa mudanças no padrão brasileiro de uso do solo nos últimos 20 anos e ressalta “comoditização” da agricultura (foto:Margi Moss/Projeto Brasil das Águas)


Por Karina Toledo

Agência FAPESP – As mudanças no padrão brasileiro de uso do solo nas duas últimas décadas são destaque da capa da edição de janeiro da revista Nature Climate Change.

A boa notícia apontada pelo artigo é que, nos últimos dez anos, ocorreu no país uma dissociação entre expansão agrícola e desmatamento – o que resultou em queda nas emissões totais de gases de efeito estufa. O fenômeno, segundo os autores, pode ser atribuído tanto a políticas públicas dedicadas à conservação da mata como à “profissionalização” do setor agropecuário, cada vez mais voltado ao mercado externo.

Mas essa “comoditização” da produção rural brasileira trouxe também impactos negativos, entre os quais se destacam o aumento da concentração de terras e o consequente êxodo rural.

“As grandes propriedades – maiores que 1 mil hectares – representam hoje apenas 1% das fazendas do país. No entanto, ocupam praticamente 50% das terras agrícolas”, ressaltou David Montenegro Lapola, professor do Departamento de Ecologia da Universidade Estadual Paulista (Unesp) em Rio Claro e autor principal do artigo.

As conclusões são baseadas na análise de mais de cem estudos publicados nos últimos 20 anos. Entre os 16 autores – todos brasileiros – estão Jean Pierre Henry Balbaud Ometto e Carlos Afonso Nobre, ambos pesquisadores do Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (Inpe) e integrantes do Programa FAPESP de Pesquisa sobre Mudanças Climáticas Globais (PRPMCG).

Também participaram Carlos Alfredo Joly (Universidade Estadual de Campinas) e Luiz Antonio Martinelli (Universidade de São Paulo), do Programa de Pesquisas em Caracterização, Conservação, Recuperação e Uso Sustentável da Biodiversidade do Estado de São Paulo (BIOTA), da FAPESP.

“Os dados mostram, em 1995, um pico de expansão na agricultura coincidindo com um pico de desmatamento na Amazônia e no Cerrado. Isso volta a ocorrer entre os anos de 2004 e 2005, quando também houve pico de crescimento do rebanho bovino do Brasil. Após esse período, porém, a expansão agropecuária se desacoplou do desmatamento, que vem caindo em todos os biomas brasileiros”, disse Lapola à Agência FAPESP.

Se na Amazônia é claro o impacto de políticas públicas voltadas à preservação da floresta – como criação de áreas protegidas, intensificação da fiscalização feita pelo Instituto Brasileiro do Meio Ambiente (Ibama) e pela Polícia Federal e corte de crédito para municípios campeões do desmate –, nos demais biomas brasileiros a queda parece ser resultante de iniciativas do próprio setor produtivo.

“As culturas que mais cresceram são as voltadas ao mercado externo, como soja, milho, cana-de-açúcar e carne. É o que chamamos no artigo de ‘comoditização’ da agropecuária brasileira. De olho no mercado estrangeiro, o setor passou a se preocupar mais com os passivos ambientais incorporados em seus produtos. O mercado europeu, principalmente, é muito exigente em relação a essas questões”, avaliou Lapola.

Também na Amazônia há exemplos de ações de conservação capitaneadas pelo setor produtivo, como é o caso da Moratória da Soja – acordo firmado em 2006, por iniciativa da Associação Brasileira das Indústrias de Óleos Vegetais (Abiove) e da Associação Brasileira dos Exportadores de Cereais (Anec), para impedir a comercialização e o financiamento de grãos produzidos em áreas desmatadas.

“Na Amazônia, a soja tem avançado sobre áreas antes usadas como pastagem. O mesmo pode ser observado no Estado de São Paulo, no caso das plantações de cana. A maior parte da expansão canavieira dos últimos anos ocorreu sobre áreas de pastagem”, afirmou Lapola.

Tal mudança no padrão de uso do solo teve um efeito positivo no clima local, apontou o estudo. Em regiões de Cerrado no norte de São Paulo, por exemplo, foi registrada uma redução na temperatura de 0,9° C.

“A maior cobertura vegetal aumenta a evapotranspiração, libera mais água para a atmosfera e acaba resfriando o clima localmente. Mas a temperatura ainda não voltou ao que era antes de ocorrer o desmatamento para dar lugar ao pasto. Nessa época, o aquecimento local foi de 1,6° C”, disse Lapola.

Êxodo rural

Dados do Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE) confirmam que as áreas dedicadas à pecuária no Brasil estão diminuindo. No entanto, o número de cabeças de gado continua crescendo no país, o que significa um maior número de animais por hectare e maior eficiência na pecuária (o uso do solo predominante no país).

De acordo com Lapola, o mesmo pode ser observado no caso de outras culturas voltadas à alimentação, como arroz e feijão, que tiveram suas áreas de plantio reduzidas embora a produção total tenha aumentado. Graças a esse incremento na produtividade, a segurança alimentar brasileira – por enquanto – parece não ter sido afetada pela “comoditização” da agricultura.

O artigo revela, no entanto, que a concentração de terras em grandes propriedades voltadas ao cultivo de commodities intensificou a migração para as áreas urbanas. Atualmente, apenas 15% da população brasileira vive na zona rural.

Em locais onde a produção de commodities predomina, como é o caso do cinturão da cana no interior paulista, cerca de 98% da população vive em áreas urbanas. “Essa migração causou mudança desordenada de uso do solo nas cidades. O resultado foi o aumento no número de favelas e outros tipos de moradias precárias”, afirmou Lapola.

As mudanças no uso do solo afetaram também o padrão brasileiro de emissão de gases do efeito estufa. Em 2005, o desmatamento representava cerca de 57% das emissões totais do país e, em 2010, esse número já havia caído para 22%. Hoje, o setor agropecuário assumiu a liderança, contabilizando 37% das emissões nacionais em 2010, advindas principalmente da digestão de ruminantes, da decomposição de dejetos animais e da aplicação de fertilizantes.

Novo paradigma

No artigo, os autores defendem o estabelecimento no Brasil de um sistema inovador de uso do solo apropriado para regiões tropicais. “O país pode se tornar a maior extensão de florestas protegidas e, ao mesmo tempo, ser uma peça-chave na produção agrícola mundial”, defendeu Lapola.

Entre as recomendações para que esse ideal seja alcançado os pesquisadores destacam a adoção de práticas de manejo já há muito tempo recomendadas pela Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuária (Embrapa), como o plantio na palha, além do fortalecimento do Código Florestal (que estabelece limites de uso da propriedade) e a adoção de medidas complementares para assegurar que a legislação ambiental seja cumprida.

“Defendemos mecanismos de pagamento por serviços ambientais, nos moldes do programa de Redução de Emissões por Desmatamento e Degradação Florestal (REDD), por meio do qual proprietários rurais recebem incentivos financeiros pela conservação da biodiversidade e outros recursos naturais”, explicou Lapola.

Os autores também apontam a necessidade de políticas públicas – entre elas a reforma agrária – que favoreçam um modelo de agricultura mais eficiente e sustentável. “Até mesmo alguns grandes proprietários não têm, atualmente, segurança sobre a posse da terra. Por esse motivo, muitas vezes, colocam meia dúzia de cabeças de gado no terreno apenas para mostrar que está ocupado. Mas, se pretendemos de fato fechar as fronteiras do desmatamento, precisamos aumentar a produtividade nas áreas já disponíveis para a agropecuária”, concluiu Lapola.

O artigo Pervasive transition of the Brazilian land-use system (doi:10.1038/nclimate2056), de David Lapola e outros, pode ser lido por assinantes da Nature Climate Changeem

Academia’s indentured servants (Al Jazeera)

Outspoken academics are rare: most tenured faculty have stayed silent about the adjunct crisis, notes Kendzior.

Last Modified: 11 Apr 2013 11:19

Sarah Kendzior

“To work outside of academia, even temporarily, signals you are not “serious” or “dedicated” to scholarship,” writes author [AP]

On April 8, 2013, the New York Times reported that 76 percent of American university faculty are adjunct professors – an all-time high. Unlike tenured faculty, whose annual salaries can top $160,000, adjunct professors make an average of $2,700 per course and receive no health care or other benefits.

Most adjuncts teach at multiple universities while still not making enough to stay above the poverty line. Some are on welfare or homeless. Others depend on charity drives held by their peers. Adjuncts are generally not allowed to have offices or participate in faculty meetings. When they ask for a living wage or benefits, they can be fired. Their contingent status allows them no recourse.

No one forces a scholar to work as an adjunct. So why do some of America’s brightest PhDs – many of whom are authors of books and articles on labour, power, or injustice – accept such terrible conditions?

“Path dependence and sunk costs must be powerful forces,” speculates political scientist Steve Saidemen in a post titled “The Adjunct Mystery”. In other words, job candidates have invested so much time and money into their professional training that they cannot fathom abandoning their goal – even if this means living, as Saidemen says, like “second-class citizens”. (He later downgraded this to “third-class citizens”.)

With roughly 40 percent of academic positions eliminated since the 2008 crash, most adjuncts will not find a tenure-track job. Their path dependence and sunk costs will likely lead to greater path dependence and sunk costs – and the costs of the academic job market are prohibitive. Many job candidates must shell out thousands of dollars for a chance to interview at their discipline’s annual meeting, usually held in one of the most expensive cities in the world. In some fields, candidates must pay to even see the job listings.

Given the need for personal wealth as a means to entry, one would assume that adjuncts would be even more outraged about their plight. After all, their paltry salaries and lack of departmental funding make their job hunt a far greater sacrifice than for those with means. But this is not the case. While efforts at labour organisation are emerging, the adjunct rate continues to soar – from 68 percent in 2008, the year of the economic crash, to 76 percent just five years later.

Contingency has become permanent, a rite of passage to nowhere.

A two-fold crisis

The adjunct plight is indicative of a two-fold crisis in education and in the American economy. On one hand, we have the degradation of education in general and higher education in particular. It is no surprise that when 76 percent of professors are viewed as so disposable and indistinguishable that they are listed in course catalogues as “Professor Staff”, administrators view computers which grade essays as a viable replacement. Those who promote inhumane treatment tend to not favour the human.

On the other hand, we have a pervasive self-degradation among low-earning academics – a sweeping sense of shame that strikes adjunct workers before adjunct workers can strike. In a tirade for Slate subtitled “Getting a literature PhD will turn you into an emotional trainwreck, not a professor”, Rebecca Schuman writes:

“By the time you finish – if you even do – your academic self will be the culmination of your entire self, and thus you will believe, incomprehensibly, that not having a tenure-track job makes you worthless. You will believe this so strongly that when you do not land a job, it will destroy you.”

Self-degradation sustains the adjunct economy, and we see echoes of it in journalism, policy and other fields in which unpaid or underpaid labour is increasingly the norm. It is easy to make people work for less than they are worth when they are conditioned to feel worthless.

Thomas A Benton wrote in 2004, before tackling the title question, “Is Graduate School a Cult?”:

“Although I am currently a tenure-track professor of English, I realise that nothing but luck distinguishes me from thousands of other highly-qualified PhD’s in the humanities who will never have full-time academic jobs and, as a result, are symbolically dead to the academy.”

Benton’s answer is yes, and he offers a list of behaviour controls used by cults – “no critical questions about leader, doctrine, or policy seen as legitimate”, “access to non-cult sources of information minimised or discouraged” – that mirror the practices of graduate school. The author lived as he wrote: it was later revealed that “Thomas A Benton” was a pseudonym used by academic William Pannapacker when he wrote for the Chronicle of Higher Education – a publication said to employ more pseudonyms than any other American newspaper. The life of the mind is born of fear.

Some may wonder why adjuncts do not get a well-paying non-academic job while they search for a tenure-track position. The answer lies in the cult-like practices Pannapacker describes. To work outside of academia, even temporarily, signals you are not “serious” or “dedicated” to scholarship. It does not matter if you are simply too poor to stay: in academia, perseverance is redefined as the ability to suffer silently or to survive on family wealth. As a result, scholars adjunct in order to retain an institutional affiliation, while the institution offers them no respect in return.

Dispensable automatons

Is academia a cult? That is debatable, but it is certainly a caste system. Outspoken academics like Pannapacker are rare: most tenured faculty have stayed silent about the adjunct crisis. “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it,” wrote Upton Sinclair, the American author famous for his essays on labour exploitation. Somewhere in America, a tenured professor may be teaching his work, as a nearby adjunct holds office hours out of her car.

“It is easy to make people work for less than they are worth when they are conditioned to feel worthless.”

On Twitter, I wondered why so many professors who study injustice ignore the plight of their peers. “They don’t consider us their peers,” the adjuncts wrote back. Academia likes to think of itself as a meritocracy – which it is not – and those who have tenured jobs like to think they deserved them. They probably do – but with hundreds of applications per available position, an awful lot of deserving candidates have defaulted to the adjunct track.

The plight of the adjunct shows how personal success is not an excuse to excuse systemic failure. Success is meaningless when the system that sustained it – the higher education system – is no longer sustainable. When it falls, everyone falls. Success is not a pathway out of social responsibility.

Last week, a corporation proudly announced that it had created a digital textbook that monitors whether students had done the reading. This followed the announcement of the software that grades essays, which followed months of hype over MOOCs – massive online open courses – replacing classroom interaction. Professors who can gauge student engagement through class discussion are unneeded. Professors who can offer thoughtful feedback on student writing are unneeded. Professors who interact with students, who care about students, are unneeded.

We should not be surprised that it has come to this when 76 percent of faculty are treated as dispensable automatons. The contempt for adjuncts reflects a general contempt for learning. The promotion of information has replaced the pursuit of knowledge. But it is not enough to have information – we need insight and understanding, and above all, we need people who can communicate it to others.

People who have the ability to do this are not dispensable. They should not see themselves this way, and they should not be treated this way. Fight for what you are worth, adjuncts. Success is solidarity.

Sarah Kendzior is a writer and analyst who studies digital media and politics. She has a PhD in anthropology from Washington University.

You Don’t ‘Own’ Your Own Genes: Researchers Raise Alarm About Loss of Individual ‘Genomic Liberty’ Due to Gene Patents (Science Daily)

Mar. 25, 2013 — Humans don’t “own” their own genes, the cellular chemicals that define who they are and what diseases they might be at risk for. Through more than 40,000 patents on DNA molecules, companies have essentially claimed the entire human genome for profit, report two researchers who analyzed the patents on human DNA.

In a new study, researchers report that through more than 40,000 patents on DNA molecules, companies have essentially claimed the entire human genome for profit. (Credit: © X n’ Y hate Z / Fotolia)

Their study, published March 25 in the journal Genome Medicine, raises an alarm about the loss of individual “genomic liberty.”

In their new analysis, the research team examined two types of patented DNA sequences: long and short fragments. They discovered that 41 percent of the human genome is covered by longer DNA patents that often cover whole genes. They also found that, because many genes share similar sequences within their genetic structure, if all of the “short sequence” patents were allowed in aggregate, they could account for 100 percent of the genome.

Furthermore, the study’s lead author, Dr. Christopher E. Mason of Weill Cornell Medical College, and the study’s co-author, Dr. Jeffrey Rosenfeld, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey and a member of the High Performance and Research Computing Group, found that short sequences from patents also cover virtually the entire genome — even outside of genes.

“If these patents are enforced, our genomic liberty is lost,” says Dr. Mason, an assistant professor of physiology and biophysics and computational genomics in computational biomedicine at the Institute for Computational Biomedicine at Weill Cornell. “Just as we enter the era of personalized medicine, we are ironically living in the most restrictive age of genomics. You have to ask, how is it possible that my doctor cannot look at my DNA without being concerned about patent infringement?”

The U.S. Supreme Court will review genomic patent rights in an upcoming hearing on April 15. At issue is the right of a molecular diagnostic company to claim patents not only on two key breast and ovarian cancer genes — BRCA1 and BRCA2 — but also on any small sequence of code within BRCA1, including a striking patent for only 15 nucleotides.

In its study, the research team matched small sequences within BRCA1 to other genes and found that just this one molecular diagnostic company’s patents also covered at least 689 other human genes — most of which have nothing to do with breast or ovarian cancer; rather, its patents cover 19 other cancers as well as genes involved in brain development and heart functioning.

“This means if the Supreme Court upholds the current scope of the patents, no physician or researcher can study the DNA of these genes from their patients, and no diagnostic test or drug can be developed based on any of these genes without infringing a patent,” says Dr. Mason.

One Patented Sequence Matched More Than 91 Percent of Human Genes

Dr. Mason undertook the study because he realized that his research into brain and cancer disorders inevitably involved studying genes that were protected by patents.

Under U.S. patent law, genes can be patented by those researchers, either at companies or institutions, who are first to find a gene that promises a useful application, such as for a diagnostic test. For example, the patents received by a company in the 1990s on BRCA1 and BRCA2 enables it to offer a diagnostic test to women who may have, or may be at risk for, breast or ovarian cancer due to mutations in one or both of these genes. Women and their doctors have no choice but to use the services of the patents’ owner, which costs $3,000 per test, “whereas any of the hundreds of clinical laboratories around the country could perform such a test for possibly much less,” says Dr. Mason.

The impact on these patents is equally onerous on research, Dr. Mason adds.

“Almost every day, I come across a gene that is patented — a situation that is common for every geneticist in every lab,” says Dr. Mason.

Dr. Mason and his research partner sought to determine how many other genes may be impacted by gene patents, as well as the overall landscape of intellectual property on the human genome.

To conduct the study, Dr. Mason and Dr. Rosenfeld examined the structure of the human genome in the context of two types of patented sequences: short and long fragments of DNA. They used matches to known genes that were confirmed to be present in patent claims, ranging from as few as 15 nucleotides (the building blocks of DNA) to the full length of all patented DNA fragments.

Before examining the patented sequences, the researchers first calculated how many genes had common segments of 15 nucleotide (15mer), and found that every gene in the human genome matched at least one other gene in this respect, ranging from as few as five matches 15mer to as many as 7,688 gene matches. They also discovered that 99.999 percent of 15mers in the human genome are repeated at least twice.

“This demonstrates that short patent sequences are extremely non-specific and that a 15mer claim from one gene will always cross-match and patent a portion of another gene as well,” says Dr. Mason. “This means it is actually impossible to have a 15mer patent for just one gene.”

Next, researchers examined the total sequence space in human genes covered by 15mers in current patent claims. They found 58 patents whose claims covered at least 10 percent of all bases of all human genes. The broadest patent claimed sequences that matched 91.5 percent of human genes. Then, when they took existing gene patents and matched patented 15mers to known genes, they discovered that 100 percent of known genes are patented.

“There is a real controversy regarding gene ownership due to the overlap of many competing patent claims. It is unclear who really owns the rights to any gene,” says Dr. Rosenfeld. “While the Supreme Court is hearing one case concerning just the BRCA1 patent, there are also many other patents whose claims would cover those same genes. Do we need to go through every gene to look at who made the first claim to that gene, even if only one small part? If we resort to this rule, then the first patents to be granted for any DNA will have a vast claim over portions of the human genome.”

A further issue of concern is that patents on DNA can readily cross species boundaries. A company can have a patent that they received for cow breeding and have that patent cover a large percentage of human genes. Indeed, the researchers found that one company owns the rights to 84 percent of all human genes for a patent they received for cow breeding. “It seems silly that a patent designed to study cow genetics also claims the majority of human genes,” says Dr. Rosenfeld.

Finally, they also examined the impact of longer claimed DNA sequences from existing gene patents, which ranged from a few dozen bases up to thousands of bases of DNA, and found that these long, claimed sequences matched 41 percent (9,361) of human genes. Their analysis concluded that almost all clinically relevant genes have already been patented, especially for short sequence patents, showing all human genes are patented many times over.

“This is, so to speak, patently ridiculous,” adds Dr. Mason. “If patent claims that use these small DNA sequences are upheld, it could potentially create a situation where a piece of every gene in the human genome is patented by a phalanx of competing patents.”

In their discussion, the researchers argue that the U.S. Supreme Court now has a chance to shape the balance between the medical good versus inventor protection, adding that, in their opinion, the court should limit the patenting of existing nucleotide sequences, due to their broad scope and non-specificity in the human genome.

“I am extremely pro-patent, but I simply believe that people should not be able to patent a product of nature,” Dr. Mason says. “Moreover, I believe that individuals have an innate right to their own genome, or to allow their doctor to look at that genome, just like the lungs or kidneys. Failure to resolve these ambiguities perpetuates a direct threat to genomic liberty, or the right to one’s own DNA.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Jeffrey Rosenfeld, and Christopher E Mason. Pervasive sequence patents cover the entire human genome.Genome Medicine, 2013 (in press) DOI: 10.1186/gm431

Punishing Youth (

AUGUST 09, 2012

Saturated Violence in the Era of Casino Capitalism


There is by now an overwhelming catalogue of evidence revealing the depth and breadth of the state sponsored assault being waged against young people across the globe, and especially in the United States. What is no longer a hidden order of politics is that American  society is at war with its children, and that the use of such violence against young people is a disturbing index of a society in the midst of a deep moral and political crisis.  Beyond exposing the moral depravity of a nation that fails to protect its youth, the violence used against American youth speaks to nothing less than a perverse death-wish, especially in light of the fact that As Alain Badiou argues, we live in an era in which there is zero tolerance for poor minority youth and youthful protesters and “infinite tolerance for the crimes of bankers and government embezzlers which affect the lives of millions.”  While the systemic nature of the assault on young people and its testimony to the rise of the neoliberal punishing state has been largely ignored by the mainstream media, youth in Canada and the United States are resisting the violence of what might be called neoliberalism or casino capitalism.  For instance, the Occupy Wall Street Movement and the Quebec Protest Movement are demonstrating against such assaults while simultaneously attempting to educate a larger public about the degree to which American and Canadian public spheres, institutions, and values have been hijacked by a culture of spectacular and unrelenting violence—largely directed against youthful protesters and those marginalized by class and race, who increasingly have become the targets of ruthless forms of state-sanctioned punishment.

Put into historical context, we can see that collective insurance policies and social protections in the United States, in particular, have over time given way to the forces of economic privatization, commodification, deregulation, and hyper individualism now driving the ongoing assault on democratic public spheres, public goods, and any viable notion of equality and social justice. At least since the 1980s, the American public has witnessed the transformation of the welfare state by punitive workfare programs, the privatization of public goods and spaces, and a hollow appeal to individual responsibility and self-interest as a substitute for civic responsibility and democratic engagement. Embracing the notion that market-driven values and relations should shape every domain of human life, a business-centered model of governance has eviscerated any viable notion of the public values and interests, while insidiously criminalizing social problems and cutting back on basic social services, especially for young people, the poor, minorities, immigrants, and the elderly. As young people and others organize to protest economic injustice and massive inequality, along with drastic cuts to education, workers benefits and pensions, and public services, the state has responded with the use of  injurious violence, while the mainstream media has issued insults rather than informed dialogue, critical engagement, and suggestions for meaningful reform. Indeed, it appears the United States has entered a new historical era when policy decisions not only translate into an intentional, systemic disinvestment in public institutions and the breakdown of those public spheres that traditionally provided the minimal conditions for social justice and democratic expression, but are also merging with state-sanctioned violence and the use of mass force against the state’s own citizenry. I am not referring to the violence now sweeping the United States in the form of the lone, crazed gunman shooting innocent victims in colleges, malls, and movie theaters. As horrifying as this violence is, it does not fully equate with the systemic violence now waged by the state on both the domestic and foreign fronts.

On the domestic front, state violence in response to the Occupy movement in its first six months has been decisive and swift: “There have been at least 6705 arrests in over 112 different cities as of March 6, 2012.”  Similarly, in Montreal, Canada thousands of peaceful protests have been arrested while protesting tuition increases, increasing debt burdens, and other assaults on young people and the social state. What does it mean as young people make diverse claims on the promise of a radical democracy and articulate their vision of a fair and just world that they are increasingly met with forms of physical, ideological, and structural violence? Abandoned by the existing political system, young people are placing their bodies on the line, occupying shrinking public spaces in a symbolic gesture that also deploys concrete measures demanding their presence be recognized when their voices are no longer being heard. They have, for the most part, protested peacefully while trying to produce a new language, political culture, public institutions, and a “community that manifests the values of equality and mutual respect that they see missing in a world that is structured by neoliberal principles.”  Young people are organizing in opposition to the structural violence of the state while also attempting to reclaim the discourse of the common good, social justice, and economic equality. Rejecting the notion that democracy and markets are the same or that capitalism is the only ideological and economic system that can speak in the name of democracy, youth movements are calling for an end to poverty, the suppression of dissent, the permanent warfare state, and the corporate control of the commanding institutions of politics and culture.

Many of us have been inspired by the hope for a better future that these young people represent for the nation as a whole. Yet, of utmost concern is the backlash the protesters have faced for exercising their democratic rights. Surely, what must be addressed by anyone with a stake in safeguarding what little remains of U.S. democracy is the immediate threat that an emerging police state poses not just to the young protesters occupying a number of North American cities but to the promise of a real democracy. This threat to the possibility of a democratic social order only increases with the ascendancy of a war-like mentality and neoliberal modes of discipline and education which make it that much more difficult to imagine, let alone enact, communal obligation, social responsibility, and civic engagement.  Unless the actions of young protesters, however diverse they may be, are understood as a robust form of civic courage commensurate with a vital democracy, it will be difficult for the American public to resist an increase in state violence and the framing of protests, dissent, and civic responsibility as un-American or, even worse, a species of criminal behavior.

Stuart Hall suggests that the current historical moment, or what he calls the “long march of the Neoliberal Revolution,” has to be understood in terms of the varied forms of violence that it deploys and reinforces. Such anti-democratic pressures and their provocation of the protests of young people in the United States and abroad have deepened an escalating crisis symptomatic of what Alex Honneth has termed the “failed sociality” characteristic of neoliberal states. In turn, state and corporate media-fueled perceptions of such a crisis have been used to stimulate fear and justify the creeping expansion of a militarized and armed state as the enforcer of neoliberal policies amid growing public dissent. Police violence against young people must therefore be situated within a broader set of categories that enables a critical understanding of the underlying social, economic, and political forces at work in such assaults. That is, in order to adequately address state-sponsored violence against young people, one should consider the larger context of the devolution of the social state and the corresponding rise of the warfare state. The notion of historical conjuncture—or a parallel set of forces coalescing at one moment in time—is important here because it provides both an opening into the factors shaping a particular historical moment and it allows for a merging of theory and strategy in our understanding of the conditions with which we are now faced. In this case, it helps us to address theoretically how youth protests are largely related to a historically specific neoliberal project that promotes vast inequalities in income and wealth, creates the student loan debt bomb, eliminates much needed social programs, eviscerates the social wage, and privileges profits and commodities over people.

Within the United States and Canada, the often violent response to non-violent forms of youth protest must also be analyzed within the framework of a mammoth military-industrial state and its commitment to extending violence and war through the entire society. As the late philosopher Tony Judt put it, “The United States is becoming not just a militarized state but a military society:  a country where armed power is the measure of national greatness, and war, or planning for war, is the exemplary (and only) common project.”  The blending of the military-industrial complex with state interests and unbridled corporate power points to the need for strategies that address what is specific about the current neoliberal project and  how different modes of power, social relations, public pedagogies, and economic configurations come together to shape its politics. Such considerations provide theoretical openings for making the practices of the warfare state and the neoliberal revolution visible in order “to give the resistance to its onward march, content, and focus, a cutting edge.” It also points to the conceptual value of making clear that history remains an open horizon that cannot be dismissed through appeals to the end of history or end of ideology.  It is precisely through the indeterminate nature of history that resistance becomes possible.

While there is always hope because a democratic political project refuses any guarantees, most Americans today are driven by shared fears, stoked to a great extent by media-induced hysteria. Corporations stand ready to supply a culture of fear with security and surveillance technologies that, far from providing greater public safety, do little more than ensure the ongoing militarization of the entire society, including the popular media and the cultural apparatuses that shape everyday life. Images abound in the mainstream media of such abuses. There is the now famous image of an 84-year-old woman looking straight into a camera after attending a protest rally, her face drenched in a liquid spray used by the police. There is the image of the 19-year-old pregnant woman being carried to safety after being pepper-sprayed by the police. There are the now all-too-familiar images of young people being dragged by their hair across a street to a waiting police van. In some cases, protesters have been seriously hurt. Scott Olsen, an Iraq war veteran, was critically injured in a protest in Oakland in October 2011. On March 17, 2012, young protesters attempting to re-establish an Occupy camp at Zuccotti Park in New York were confronted by excessive police violence. The Guardian reported that over 73 people were arrested in one day and that “A woman suffered a seizure while handcuffed on a sidewalk, another protester was thrown into a glass door by police officers before being handcuffed, and a young woman said she was choked and dragged by her hair….Witnesses claimed police punched one protester several times in the head while he was subdued by at least four officers.”  Another protester claimed the police broke his thumb and injured his jaw. Such stories have become commonplace in recent years, and so many are startling reminders of the violence used against civil rights demonstrators by the forces of Jim Crow in the fifties and sixties.

These stories are also indicative that a pervasive use of violence and the celebration of war-like values are no longer restricted to a particular military ideology, but have become normalized through the entire society.  As Michael Geyer points out, militarization in this sense is defined as “the contradictory and tense social process in which civil society organizes itself for the production of violence.” The war on terror has become a war on democracy, as police departments and baton-wielding cops across the 
nation are now being supplied with the latest military equipment and technologies imported straight from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. Procuring drones, machine-gun-equipped armored trucks, SWAT vehicles, “digital communications equipment and Kevlar helmets, like those used by soldiers used in foreign wars,” is justified through reference to the domestic war against “terrorists” (code for young protesters) and provides new opportunities for major defense contractors and corporations to become ever “more a part of our domestic lives.” As Glenn Greenwald confirms, the United States since 9/11 “has aggressively paramilitarized the nation’s domestic police forces by lavishing them with countless military-style weapons and other war-like technologies, training them in war-zone military tactics, and generally imposing a war mentality on them. Arming domestic police forces with paramilitary weaponry will ensure their systematic use even in the absence of a terrorist attack on U.S. soil; they will simply find other, increasingly permissive uses for those weapons.”

With the growth of a new militarized state, it should come as little surprise that “by age 23, almost a third of Americans are arrested for a crime.”  In a society that has few qualms with viewing its young people as predators, a threat to corporate governance, and a disposable population, the violent acts inflicted on youth by a punishing state will no doubt multiply with impunity. Domestic paramilitary forces will certainly undermine free speech and dissent with the threat of force, while also potentially violating core civil liberties and human rights. In other words, the prevailing move in American society toward permanent war status sets the stage for the acceptance of a set of unifying symbols rooted in a survival-of-the-fittest ethic that promotes conformity over dissent, the strong over the weak, and fear over civic responsibility. With the emergence of a militarized society, “the range of acceptable opinion inevitably shrinks,” as violence becomes the first and most important element of power and a mediating force in shaping all social relationships.

The grave reality is that violence saturates almost every aspect of North American culture. Domestically, violence weaves through the cultural and social landscape like a highly charged electric current burning everything in its path. Popular culture has become a breeding ground for a form of brutal masculine authority and the celebration of violence it incorporates has become the new norm in America. Representations of violence dominate the media and too often parade before viewers less as an object of critique than as a for-profit spectacle and heightened source of pleasure. As much as any form of governance seeks compliance among the governed, the permanent war state uses modes of public pedagogy—practices of pedagogical persuasion—to address, enlist, and construct subjects willing to abide by its values, ideology, and narratives of fear and violence. Legitimation in the United States is largely provided through a market-driven culture addicted to consumerism, militarism, and spectacles of organized violence. Circulated through various registers of popular culture, cruelty and violence imbue the worlds of high fashion and Hollywood movies, reality TV, extreme sports, video games, and around-the-clock news media. The American public is bombarded by an unprecedented “huge volume of exposure to… images of human suffering.” As Zygmunt Bauman argues, “the sheer numbers and monotony of images may have a ‘wearing off’ impact [and] to stave off the ‘viewing fatigue,’ they must be increasingly gory, shocking, and otherwise ‘inventive’ to arouse any sentiments at all or indeed draw attention. The level of ‘familiar’ violence, below which the cruelty of cruel acts escapes attention, is constantly rising.”

When an increasing volume of violence is pumped into the culture as fodder for sports, entertainment, news media, and other pleasure-seeking outlets, yesterday’s spine-chilling and nerve-wrenching violence loses its shock value. One consequence is that today’s audiences exhibit more than mere desensitization or indifference to violence. They are not merely passive consumers, but instead demand prurient images of violence in a way that fuels their increasing production. Spectacularized violence is now unmoored from moral considerations or social costs. It now resides, if not thrives, in a diverse commercially infused set of cultural apparatuses that offers up violence as a commodity with the most attractive and enjoyable pleasure quotient. Representations of torture, murder, sadism, and human suffering have become the stuff of pure entertainment, offering a debased outlet for experiencing intense pleasure and the thrill of a depoliticized and socially irresponsible voyeurism.  The consuming subject is now educated to take intense pleasure in watching—if not also participating as agents of death—in spectacles of cruelty and barbarism. After all, assuming the role of a first shooter in the age of video game barbarism has become an unquestioned badge of both pleasure and dexterity, leading potentially to an eventual employment by the Defense Department to operate Drone aircraft in the video saturated bunkers of death in some suburban west coast town.  Seemingly unconstrained by a moral compass based on a respect for human and non-human life, U.S. culture is increasingly shaped by a disturbing collective desire for intense excitement and a never-ending flood of heightened sensations.

Although challenging to ascertain precisely how and why the collective culture continues to plummet to new depths of depravity, it is far less difficult to identify the range of horrific outcomes and social costs that come with this immersion in a culture of staged violence. When previously unfamiliar forms of violence, such as extreme images of torture and death, become banally familiar, the violence that occurs daily becomes barely recognizable relegated to the realm of the unnoticed and unnoticeable. Hyper-violence and spectacular representations of cruelty disrupt and block our ability to respond politically and ethically to the violence as it is actually happening on the ground.  How else to explain the public indifference to the violence waged by the state against non-violent youthful protesters who are rebelling against a society in which they have been excluded from any claim on hope, prosperity, equality, and justice? Cruelty has saturated everyday life when young people, once the objects of compassion and social protections, are treated as either consumers and commodities, on the one hand, or suspects and criminals on the other.

Disregard for young people and a growing taste for violence can also be seen in policies that sanction the modeling of public schools after prisons. We see the criminalization of disadvantaged youth, instead of the social conditions which they are forced to endure. Behaviors that were once handled by teachers, guidance counselors, and school administrators are now dealt with by the police and the criminal justice system. The consequences have been disastrous for young people. Not only do schools take on the technologies and culture of prisons and engage in punishment creep, but young children are being arrested and put on trial for behaviors that can only be called trivial. There was the case of the 5-year-old girl in Florida who was put in handcuffs and taken to the local jail because she had a temper tantrum; or the 13-year-old girl in a Maryland school who was arrested for refusing to say the pledge of allegiance. Alexa Gonzales in New York was another student arrested by police—for doodling on her desk. There is more at work in these cases than stupidity and a flight from responsibility on the part of educators, parents, law enforcement officers, and politicians who maintain these policies. Clearly, embedded in these actions is also the sentiment that young people constitute a threat to adults, and that the only way to deal with them is to subject them to mind-crushing punishment. Students being miseducated, criminalized, and subjected to forms of penal pedagogy in prison-type schools provide a grim reminder of the degree to which the ethos of containment and punishment now creeps into spheres of everyday life that were once largely immune from this type of official violence.

Governing-through-crime policies also remind us that we live in an era that breaks young people, corrupts the notion of justice, and saturates the minute details of everyday life with the threat if not yet the reality of violence. A return to violent spectacles and other medieval types of punishment inflict pain on both the psyches and the bodies of young people. Equally disturbing is how law-and-order policies and practices in the United States appear to take their cue from a past era of slavery. Studies have shown that “Arrests and police interactions… disproportionately affect low-income schools with large African-American and Latino populations,” paving the way for these youth to move almost effortlessly through what has been called the school-to-prison pipeline.  Sadly, the next step one envisions for such a society is a reality TV franchise in which millions tune in to watch young kids being handcuffed, arrested, tried in the courts, and sent to juvenile detention centers.  This is not merely barbarism parading as reform—it is also a blatant indicator of the degree to which sadism and the infatuation with violence have become normalized in a society that seems to take delight in dehumanizing itself.

The prevalence of institutionalized violence in American society and other parts of the world suggests the need for a new conversation and politics that address what a just and fair world looks like. Young people and others marginalized by class, race, and ethnicity appear to have been abandoned as American society’s claim on democracy gives way to the forces of militarism, market fundamentalism, and state terrorism. Until educators, intellectuals, academics, young people, and other concerned citizens address how a physics and metaphysics of war and violence have taken hold on American society and the savage social costs they have exacted, the forms of social, political, and economic violence that young people are currently protesting against as well as the violence waged in response to their protests will become impossible to recognize and act on. The American public needs to make visible and critically engage the underlying ideological, political, educational, and economic forces that embrace violence as both a commodity, spectacle, and mode of governing.  Such an approach would address the necessity of understanding the emerging pathology of violence not just through a discourse of fear or isolated spectacles, but through policies that effectively implement the wider social, economic, and political reforms necessary to curb the culture of violence and the institutions that are sustained by it.  There is a cult of violence in America and it is reinforced by a type of collective ignorance spread endlessly by special interests such as the National Rifle Association, politicians wedded to the largess of the military-industrial complex, and national entertainment-corporate complex that both employs violence and uses it to refigure the meaning of news, entertainment, and the stories America tells itself about its national identity and sense of destiny.  Violence is not something to be simply criminalized by extending the reach of the criminal justice system to the regime of criminals that now run the most powerful financial services and industries. It must be also understood as part of a politics of distraction, a poisonous public pedagogy that depoliticizes as much as it entertains and corrupts.  That is, it must be addressed as a political issue that within the current historical moment is both deployed by the neoliberal state against young people, and employed as part of the reconfiguration or transformation of the social state into the punishing state. At the heart of this transformation is the emergence of new form of corporate sovereignty, a more intense form of state violence, a ruthless survival of the fittest ethic used to legitimate the concentrated power of the rich, and a concerted effort to punish young people who are out of step with neoliberal ideology, values, and modes of governance.  Of course, these anti-democratic tendencies represent more than a threat to young people, they also put in peril all of those individuals, groups, public spheres, and institutions now considered disposable because that are at odds with a world run by bankers, the financial elite, and the rich.  Only a well-organized movement of young people, educators, workers,  parents, religious groups, and other concerned citizens will be capable of changing the power relations and vast economic inequalities that have generated what has become a country in which it is almost impossible to recognize the ideals of a real democracy.

Henry A. Giroux holds the Global TV Network chair in English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University in Canada. His most recent books include: “Take Back Higher Education” (co-authored with Susan Searls Giroux, 2006), “The University in Chains: Confronting the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex” (2007) and “Against the Terror of Neoliberalism: Politics Beyond the Age of Greed” (2008). His latest book is Twilight of the Social: Resurgent Publics in the Age of Disposability,” (Paradigm.)