Imagination

IN his web chat on The Guardian website, Slavoj Zizek noted that “we were all Fukuyamaists,” meaning that everyone, even the left, believed in a sense that we were at Fukuyama’s “end of history.” The meaning of this end of history was widely debated, but it argued that with liberal democracy, no further progress was required or possible.

Francis Fukuyama, author of The End of History and the Last Man

Fukuyama actually meant this in a Hegelian sense – that the thesis of monarchical authoritarianism and its liberal communitarian antithesis had been resolved with the synthesis of moderate liberal capitalist democracy. [Hegel’s most influential idea was that an idea, or thesis, confronts its opposite, or antithesis, and the two resolve at a higher level in a synthesis.]  Zizek’s point was that even the left had failed to imagine possibilities other than the same liberal democracy and that debate came to be about what kinds of reforms – essentially tweaks – could be made to make the system more just.

Prof. Slavoj Zizek is international director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities at the University of London and senior researcher at the Institute for Sociology and Philosophy, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia.

We continue to find ourselves in this rut, caused by an inability to imagine alternatives to the system we find ourselves in. This is particularly perilous for Hawaiians, who are in various ways trying to imagine an alternative society, but are trapped in the paradigms imposed on us over the past century.

When trying to imagine alternative social arrangements, it may be helpful to think about what kinds of assumptions can be made of people in any given system. In capitalism, for example, we assume that most people do not steal (most stores do not have security guards, but often a 100 pound teenage girl as the only one “guarding” the store – this is only seen as dangerous in “dangerous” neighborhoods, not in “normal” ones), but in fact believe in the system to the extent that people will go out of their way to show that they have the money to buy even overpriced goods (to which prestige may be attached). Those who do steal are shunned, perhaps shown on reality or crime shows as examples of social misfits. They are, in the terminology of [transpersonal] psychology, pre-conventional; they do not adhere to the expectations of the society, but to one “below” it. The ability to assume people do not steal is quite an accomplishment, because it is an assumption that people do not always do what is in their blatant self-interest – or perhaps that their self-interest can be much more complex.

NOW imagine a society in which one could assume that people are pro-social, and that they do not behave in ways that damage the natural world – this society is already beginning to emerge and its norms are being constantly enforced (see the film version of The Grinch). These people are “post-conventional,” but this view is quickly becoming “conventional” – Noam Chomsky noted recently that in his youth, women’s rights and the environmental movement did not exist. Now imagine further a society in which it can be assumed that history, law and intellectual and artistic pursuits are actually important and should be encouraged, even if they don’t have “market value” – or where they’re given market value (or where there is no market). This exercise may be viewed as utopian, but that is exactly the point, as Robert Kennedy said, “to imagine a world which has not been and say ʻwhy not?'”

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3 Comments

Filed under academia, Environment, ʻĀina, Globalization, intellect, Uncategorized

3 responses to “Imagination

  1. onibaba1

    Not one of the better Zizek statements. As you know when Fukuyama penned that sentiment, he was responding to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the “end of the Cold War.” What was being celebrated by the investment regime was this move from a multi-polar world to a unipolar world. Suddenly, all the economies that had depended on the Soviet’s for trade, had economies well on their way to collapsing. This is when the unipolar, neoconservative push for global neoliberalism came in. That is Fukuyama’s end of History.

    But behold, nearly 25 years forward, the emergence of BRICS and the New Development Bank, creates a new imagination for all developing countries and occupied territories. As we move forward in the consensus building world of the UN and global alignments, suddenly, the global organization built around the US and the other OECD countries seem as dated as grunge rock.

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  2. umi

    Maybe Wallerstein is a better prognosticator – he predicted the rise of Brazil before their unscathed emergence from the financial crisis, though he didnʻt take it really seriously…

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  3. onibaba1

    Forgot to add there may be a good reason why alternatives to an independent Hawaii may feel “trapped.” How is it that the imagination for independence has been co-opted by pastorality. The mindset has more in common with the romance of Holderlin than the vision of Hau’ofa and that does little to exercise the muscle needed to engage in a regional or global imagination that many of the emerging markets share.

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