Capitalism vs. Marxism: Season Finale
This weekend, an event regaled as “The Debate of the Century” took place between popular philosophers Slavoj Zizek and Jordan Peterson. Now beyond the fact that maybe it’s a little early on in the century to be calling the Debate of the Century, it was pretty interesting in how boring it was.
For those unfamiliar, Slavoj Zizek is a Slovenian philosopher known for his thoughts on Marxism, ideology, anti-postmodernity and political correctness. He’s very popular, leading to nicknames like, “the Most Dangerous Philosopher in the West” and “The Justin Bieber of Philosophy”. I can see the resemblance.
Jordan Peterson is a similarly popular Canadian philosopher and professor at the University of Toronto. He’s known for his ideas on political correctness, identity politics and anti-postmodernity. He famously leans conservative politically and has been controversial in the past especially in the realms of “liberal snowflakes”.
The debate was labeled as “Happiness: Capitalism vs. Marxism” with Peterson naturally taking the side of capitalism and Zizek taking the side of…. Marxism I guess, though he’s not really a Marxist, more a Hegelian (you can all play the Zizek drinking game where you watch his lectures and take a sip everytime he mentions Hegel or Ideology, finish every time he switches topics on a dime). So right from the get-go we’re not really approaching the topic correctly, one person believes that communism was wrong and the other believes that communism is wrong but capitalism has some systemic problems.
In Peterson’s opening statements he demonstrates and pretty much admits that he hasn’t really thought that hard about Marx, makes the point that profit incentives people, concludes with capitalism:Good Marxism:Bad. His opening statement was downright embarrassing, his surface level reading of Marx was Freshman-in-College-esque and what’s even more puzzling is the fact that he knew he was squaring up against one of the world’s most famous Marxist thinkers. Moreover, it felt like Peterson (and a substantial portion of the audience) misread the title as Capitalism vs. Communism. Marxism is not communism, not same-same. It’s a shame because while I don’t agree with a lot of what Peterson says, I still think he’s a super intelligent guy and he can do better. I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.
Zizek on the other hand demonstrates once more why he’s not really all that good at debates. He is prepared and well spoken and has lots of ideas but just rambles about Donald Trump and leftist attacks on him and China and psychoanalysis and T.S. Elliot and Kierkegaard and Hegel (take a drink) and reiterating that he’s not a true Marxist and by the end so many dimes have been turned that we’re all gonna be fucking trashed. That’s just Zizek’s style. Everything he says is at the very least interesting because he’s a super smart dude with a ton of things to say. This earns him a great deal of well deserved criticism from the philosophical community. But I just happen to enjoy his style because I think he’s a riot. Do I want to hear his nebulous ramblings about Anti-Semitism? Absolutely. But @Zizek, when we have a 30 minute time limit we need a little more structure or else we’re never getting to the point my dude.
So after opening statements we arrive at Zizek's “communism is wrong but capitalism has some uncomfortable contradictions” and Petersons rebuttal is...
The Debate of the Century just lost the thing we were debating. From there the two ask each other questions for a while, the moderator also asks some questions, both sides give long, eloquent, “smart guy” answers. The actual content of all this is somewhat irrelevant to my point and is probably beyond the scope of this hot take and my eloquence. But the remarkable thing was how much they agreed on, the debate turned into a conversation. There was very little conflict between ideologies. Both had things they disagreed on, but the discussion was downright civil, almost awkwardly so.
Frankly, at the end of the day I took two big things from this “debate”. The first being that the reason this whole thing was lame is because both sides were misrepresented. Zizek has earned a reputation for being a hardcore Marxist... but he’s not, in fact he’s overtly critical of Marxist theory.
Peterson on the other hand has been called a misogynist and a bigot, but he’s not either. Both Zizek and Peterson have been critical of PC culture, which has both given them these types of labels in certain circles. Peterson especially, since his type of conservative ideals don’t gel well with the rest of these “certain circles” ideologies. I think the idea was to give a hyper-Randian, “corporations are people” side against Comrade Zizek. But Peterson doesn’t really fit the bill, he’s reasonable, he’s intelligent, he wants capitalism with regulation. What any sane, informed person wants.
The other thing I took away is that of the audience and how debate is thought of in general. As Peterson quipped in his opening, the event tickets sold for more than the Leafs game on the same night, in Canada... wow! The real reason these two were billed was the star power and a vague baseline notion that they had differing beliefs. Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao is a good parallel. Billed because fans bases had called for the brawl for years, ends up disappointing. That’s exactly the problem that debate has, it’s labeled a competition when it should be a mutual search for a greater understanding. This is a hard concept to implement in everyday life, our emotions are attached to our ideas and letting that go is hard. But in this case I would’ve hoped that the audience would’ve understood that, but it was obvious that they just wanted a bloodbath. Whenever someone would make a point there would be an eruption of jeers from the audience. To the point where Zizek made a comment along the lines of, “please don’t do this [applaud] because that’s the reason we’re here… for example when I mentioned China, I did not mean to celebrate it, this worries me terribly.” It also worries me terribly Slavy. For the record, while I was complaining that the debate was boring it’s because I want a competition of ideas, not a Jerry Springer episode.
So maybe it's for the best that “The Debate of the Century” was fucking boring.