Zizek, Pentecostalism and the Inverted Fetishism of the Global North and South

We begin with Slavoj Zizek’s recent comments on a particular form of inverted fetishism,

“Populism is always sustained by the frustrated exasperation of ordinary people, by the cry ‘I don’t know what is going on, but I’ve just had enough of it! It cannot go on! It must stop!’ Such impatient outbursts betray a refusal to understand or engage with the complexity of the situation, and give rise to the conviction that there must be somebody responsible for the mess—which is why some agent lurking behind the scenes is invariably required. Therein, in this refusal to know, lies the properly fetishistic dimension of populism.”[1]

This populist logic of an inverted fetish is seen on both sides of the spectrum of the US political interpretation of the economic crisis: On one side, one has Arizona’s racist, and anti-constitutional immigration law, which makes a scapegoat out of the impoverished Mexican immigrant. On the other side, we have the corrupt Wallstreet trader. The best example of which is Bernie Maddof. What both of these cases ignore is the internal structural logic of present day capitalism: the ever present need for accumulation of profit.[1b]

One way to do this is for capital to find, and indeed create, cheap labor as a way of continually decreasing the cost of production. This was done in Mexico – still recovering, along with the entire global south, from the structural readjustment forced on them by the Reagan administration during the debt crisis of the 1980’s – through NAFTA in the 1990s. As Greg Grandin points out,

“Most disruptive, the importation of cheap goods decimated domestic manufacturing and small-scale farming, which could not compete with U.S. agro-industry. Half a million peasants were driven off their land, as cheap corn flooded the market. And since NAFTA compelled the state to slash food subsidies, ‘free trade’ actually increased the cost of meeting basic nutrition requirements… The NAFTA model provided no mechanisms to incorporate displaced peasants into the new global economy, except pushing them to travel north to supply cheap labor to service the American economy.”[2]

Thus, the populist who would place blame on the immigrate over looks the very processes which created, through radical disparities that benefited the populist, the immigrant in the first place, i.e. the movement of capital.

The same can be seen, from the other side, when it comes to the greedy Wallstreet executive. While the corrupt Wallstreet executive, exemplified perfectly by Bernie Maddof, definitively carries more personal responsibility for America’s economic woes, this blame game displays the same process of disavowal as the scapegoating of the immigrant. I am not saying that Wall-street executives doen’t deserve to face the consequences for their actions and crimes. The fact that they are making massive profits again, and doing so largely untaxed, is just another sign of the power of capital. What I am saying is that the scape-goating of Bernie Maddof in particular, and the scape-goating of Wall-street executives in general, again, ignores the structural logic of capitalism, the demand for growth of profit. When profitability derived from the real economy is no longer enough to sustain capital’s need for constant growth, financialization functions as a way for capital to increase its profit.  In fact, as the Italian economist Christian Marazzi points out, since the 1970’s and 80’s the economy as a whole has become dependent on financialization. [3] This
makes any sharp distinction between the real economy and the financial economy implausible.[4] Thus, those who would place all blame on the Wallstreet executive avoid the fact that capitalism, as we know it, could not function without the very speculative financial products Wallstreet provides.[5]

This same inverted fetishist tendency is seen not only in the secular West, but appears in the religious Global South as well. In looking at Pentecostalism in Sub-Saharan Africa, Amos Young and Samual Zalanga, point out the role that demonology plays in interpreting the reality of poverty and underdevelopment. Out of the eight important points they explicate regarding this complex phenomenon a general framework is revealed. In Sub-Saharan Pentecostalism’s interpretation of socio-economic-political realities the spiritual world—spirits and personal demons; individual, geographical and cultural curses; and the working of God directly and through intermediaries—casually affects socio-economic-political life more drastically than any material agents or systemic effects. From God being responsible for individual prosperity-Gospel-preachers’ excessive wealth, to demons and curses facing the blame for most, if not all, of the region’s social ills, any form of systemic critique is avoided. In addition, individual corrupt government officials and church leaders are not held responsible due to the power that the spiritual realm exercises over their actions.[6] In short, the someone-supposed-to-be-responsible is spiritualized in the face of radically dizzying complexity. While, seemingly different in their apparent dualisms both the immigrant/Wallstreet-banker of North America and the variegated spiritual representation of reality of Sub-Saharan Pentecostalism are two sides of the same inverted fetishist coin.[7]


[1] Slavoj Zizek, First as Tragedy, Then as Farce (New York: Verso, 2009), 61.

[1b] According to David Harvey Capitalism needs a growth rate of 3% in order to keep from stagnating. Cf. Joseph Choonara, “Interview: David Harvey—Exploring the logic of capital,”Socialist Review [Interview page on-line]; available fromhttp://www.socialistreview.org.uk/article.php?articlenumber=10801; Internet; accessed 5th May 2011. This process happens in-spite of individual nation-states participation if the system is to go on. One way of tracking a nation-states participation in this process, and thus ability to survive the indifferent march of Capital, is through GDP.

2] However the process of American accumulation of Mexican resources, whether in the form of cheap labor or natural resources, had been going on for quit some time before this. “ By 1911, Americans owned most of Mexico’s oil industry, which had become the world’s third-largest petroleum supplier…” See, Greg Grandin, Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, The United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism. (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2006), 16-20. For Reagan’s use of the debt crisis see, Ibid. 181-190.

[3] Christian Marazzi, The Violence of Financial Capitalism (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2010), 33.

[4] Ibid., 32-33.

[5] Of course, one may protest that these financial products need not be as speculative as Wallstreet made them. This is likely true and is why I suggested that blame more rightly falls on the Wallstreet banker. Nevertheless, this does not take away from the initial point that the process of capital accumulation itself has inevitably led to an economy that depends on financial speculation.

[6] See, Amos Young and Samuel Zalanga, “What Empire, Which Multitude: Pentecostalism and Social Liberation in North America and Sub-Saharan Africa”, in Bruce Ellis Benson and Peter Goodwin Heltzel, Ed. Evangelicals and Empire: Christian Alternative to the Status Quo (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2008), 243-249.

[7] While it may be tempting, due to a residual of the secular thesis, to ignore the Pentecostalism of the Global South it is becoming increasingly unrealistic to do so due to its rapid growth. See, Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007) and Lamin Sanneh, Whose Religion is Christianity?: The Gospel beyond the West (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmanns Publishing Co., 2003).

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