Top Video of 2016 #10: Trump Against the Machine: How Political Elites Failed

Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek thinks the U.S. political machinery is truly broken. He guides a verbal tour through the failure of manufactured consent, the appeal of human baseness, and politics as a real struggle of life and death.

Slavoj Žižek: I know that even in the United States when you have someone like Donald Trump, I know that there is a lot of elitist liberal reaction. Like here we see the limit of democracy but in the wrong sense, in the sense that you see stupid ordinary people are seduced and so on and so on. Well, although Noam Chomsky doesn't like me very much, I admire him sincerely and I must admit that I like his term. I think it's not just a journalistic term, it's a concept, which he took over from American tradition even mainstream right wing liberal of manufacturing consent. You know, Democracy is not only formal rules of elections, democracy is an entire thick network of how political consensus is built; a lot of unwritten rules. And now I think the United States are at a very important moment, at the moment when this machine to build consensus has broken down. Now these are moments which can be catastrophic. In such moments direct fascism can take over, but this can be also moments when the left, or whatever would be the new left, provides a new answer. So my first reaction to those elitists liberals who claim you see the stupid rednecks, white trash or whatever are voting for Trump, yes but it's your responsibility. One moment of truth in all those enraged people who vote for Trump it that they nonetheless so clearly that this traditional machine of manufacturing consent no longer works. To put it in this slightly bombastic and exaggerated Marxist term, the ruling ideology mobilizes certain machinery to keep people in check, to control the excesses and so on. That machinery no longer works.


And here I'm not just a pessimistic, in contrast to liberals for whom Trump is the ultimate devil, it's a nightmare and so on, I claim it's much more complex. Of course Trump is almost but not quite proto fascist phenomenon, but it's because they, the liberal centrist mainstream because they failed. And that's why, not that I like in anyway Trump, Trump is scum, trash and so on, but my but is this one, first Trump nonetheless if you are a leftists you should admire him sincerely. He did something wonderfully. He almost single-handedly destroyed the Republican Party. What I mean you have two main vaguely orientations, the Christian fundamentalists in the party hardliners and this Republican liberal enlightened big business elite. Both of them are more or less horrified of Trump. And Trump is vulgar, but in his very vulgarity you can see a common human baseness, opportunism, now I will say something horrible, but for me people like Ted Crews or you remember eight years ago Rick Santorum, there's something much worse. Trump is a dirty disgusting human being, do you really think that Rick Santorum is a human being? I think that they are aliens. There's something so monstrous about them. That's my first one.


My second point is that I never trusted this absolute obsession with Trump. Oh now we should be all together just to stop Trump, for this we sacrificed Bernie Sanders. This is how Hillary got us. Hillary is not just LBGT rights, a little bit more progressive, Hillary is today the vote of the establishment even of the Cold War establishment. Do you know that most of the big names of from the area of George Bush, Paul and so on. They moved to Hillary now. Hillary is not only the voice of the liberal establishment, she's also the voice of let's call it Cold War establishment. Now in the last days there was some propaganda against Trump saying oh but can we trust this guy? He will bring us into a new world war. No, I'm much more afraid that Hillary will do this. So again, in no way I am for Trump. He personifies what I was talking about this disintegration of public values, of public manners, this obscene situation where you can talk about whatever you want. Again, things which years ago were unthinkable as part of a public debate are now normalized, open racism and so on. And here I think political correctness doesn't work. Because political correctness is a desperate attempt when public mores all these unwritten rules which tell you what is this and what is not, break down, political correctness tries directly to legislate. This expression is to be used, that expression is to be used and so on and so on.


What makes me afraid of these this procedure is the following: do you remember how to years ago or even three or four when all this debate about torture began, waterboarding and so on? The U.S. Army did something very nice, they no longer talked about torture but about I think the term was enhanced interrogation technique. And this is for me establishment version of political correctness. You put a nice her name like I can well imagine that ten years from now, and it's not a joke I claim, rape will be called well why not enhanced seduction technique. Like this basic politically correct idea that you use words which will not hurt other, I totally subscribe to this when we are dealing with all this marginal sexual identities which can traumatize you and so on, but I absolutely don't think that this is any kind of universal right, not to be called in a way which hurts you. Let's take a big criminal corporation boss who maybe also wants to see him as a humanitarian. No he should be publicly called with words which will hurt him and that's the whole point that he should be hurt and so on and so on.


So again, I don't to like this narcissistic idea of the ultimate horizon do feel hurt, are you wounded or not and so on and so on. I mean this is a very ambiguous topic. Of course you can in this way defending gay rights, the exclusion of LGBT people and so on, but then what would prevent white Arians or whatever, white power people to say sorry guys but we are hurt if you attack us like that and so on. No, in politics we have authentic enemies. Everyone should not be respected in politics and so on. Politics is a real struggle of life and death.

Prepare to traverse the U.S. political landscape, Slavoj Žižek style. It’s wild, zig-zagging, and you can practically see the neurons fire when you ask the Slovenian philosopher for his take on the U.S. Presidential election results. Žižek begins by stating that America’s political machinery is broken. Borrowing a term popularized by Noam Chomsky, Žižek states that the traditional media machine for manufacturing consent – all the platforms that support a certain propaganda and subtly build the public to a point of agreement – spluttered and came to a stop on November 8, 2016. At least, in the eyes of the liberals.

Žižek warns that he is in no way pro-Trump, going so far as to call him ‘scum’ and a ‘dirty, disgusting human being’, but there is something all those on the left should appreciate about the President Elect; he did what liberals have been trying to do for decades – he nearly single-handedly destroyed the Republican party. Compared to party members like Ted Cruz and Rick Santorum, Žižek argues that Trump is at least human next to those "aliens". Trump’s vulgarity is different to theirs; he is wild and uncensored in a way that reveals a common human baseness. This is an appeal everyone but Trump supporters underestimated, the exhibition of bare humanity.

Alluring as it is to some, with it comes what Žižek calls ‘the disintegration of public values, of public manners, this obscene situation where you can talk about whatever you want." Is political correctness the solution? No, says Žižek, legislating language and expression is a process he fears, especially when it’s institutionalized. When the government stops saying torture and uses euphemisms like ‘enhanced interrogation’ it makes processes less transparent. The whole point is that if a behavior or a thing is deplorable, it should be called exactly what it is so the corresponding shame of speaking it, or enacting it, regulates that behavior. If you’re afraid of war breaking out then breathe easy, because in Žižek’s eyes it was actually Hillary Clinton, the "establishment" candidate compared to Trumps wildcard status, who would have brought us closer to that danger. She speaks the evolved and tricky language of politics, Trump speaks on the baseline.

Žižek weaves so much more between these points – watch it once, and then again, to catch onto the comet tail of his train of thought.

Slavoj Žižek's most recent book is Refugees, Terror and Other Troubles with the Neighbors: Against the Double Blackmail.

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An open letter predicts that a massive wall of rock is about to plunge into Barry Arm Fjord in Alaska.

Image source: Christian Zimmerman/USGS/Big Think
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The Barry Glacier gives its name to Alaska's Barry Arm Fjord, and a new open letter forecasts trouble ahead.

Thanks to global warming, the glacier has been retreating, so far removing two-thirds of its support for a steep mile-long slope, or scarp, containing perhaps 500 million cubic meters of material. (Think the Hoover Dam times several hundred.) The slope has been moving slowly since 1957, but scientists say it's become an avalanche waiting to happen, maybe within the next year, and likely within 20. When it does come crashing down into the fjord, it could set in motion a frightening tsunami overwhelming the fjord's normally peaceful waters .

"It could happen anytime, but the risk just goes way up as this glacier recedes," says hydrologist Anna Liljedahl of Woods Hole, one of the signatories to the letter.

The Barry Arm Fjord

Camping on the fjord's Black Sand Beach

Image source: Matt Zimmerman

The Barry Arm Fjord is a stretch of water between the Harriman Fjord and the Port Wills Fjord, located at the northwest corner of the well-known Prince William Sound. It's a beautiful area, home to a few hundred people supporting the local fishing industry, and it's also a popular destination for tourists — its Black Sand Beach is one of Alaska's most scenic — and cruise ships.

Not Alaska’s first watery rodeo, but likely the biggest

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There have been at least two similar events in the state's recent history, though not on such a massive scale. On July 9, 1958, an earthquake nearby caused 40 million cubic yards of rock to suddenly slide 2,000 feet down into Lituya Bay, producing a tsunami whose peak waves reportedly reached 1,720 feet in height. By the time the wall of water reached the mouth of the bay, it was still 75 feet high. At Taan Fjord in 2015, a landslide caused a tsunami that crested at 600 feet. Both of these events thankfully occurred in sparsely populated areas, so few fatalities occurred.

The Barry Arm event will be larger than either of these by far.

"This is an enormous slope — the mass that could fail weighs over a billion tonnes," said geologist Dave Petley, speaking to Earther. "The internal structure of that rock mass, which will determine whether it collapses, is very complex. At the moment we don't know enough about it to be able to forecast its future behavior."

Outside of Alaska, on the west coast of Greenland, a landslide-produced tsunami towered 300 feet high, obliterating a fishing village in its path.

What the letter predicts for Barry Arm Fjord

Moving slowly at first...

Image source:

"The effects would be especially severe near where the landslide enters the water at the head of Barry Arm. Additionally, areas of shallow water, or low-lying land near the shore, would be in danger even further from the source. A minor failure may not produce significant impacts beyond the inner parts of the fiord, while a complete failure could be destructive throughout Barry Arm, Harriman Fiord, and parts of Port Wells. Our initial results show complex impacts further from the landslide than Barry Arm, with over 30 foot waves in some distant bays, including Whittier."

The discovery of the impeding landslide began with an observation by the sister of geologist Hig Higman of Ground Truth, an organization in Seldovia, Alaska. Artist Valisa Higman was vacationing in the area and sent her brother some photos of worrying fractures she noticed in the slope, taken while she was on a boat cruising the fjord.

Higman confirmed his sister's hunch via available satellite imagery and, digging deeper, found that between 2009 and 2015 the slope had moved 600 feet downhill, leaving a prominent scar.

Ohio State's Chunli Dai unearthed a connection between the movement and the receding of the Barry Glacier. Comparison of the Barry Arm slope with other similar areas, combined with computer modeling of the possible resulting tsunamis, led to the publication of the group's letter.

While the full group of signatories from 14 organizations and institutions has only been working on the situation for a month, the implications were immediately clear. The signers include experts from Ohio State University, the University of Southern California, and the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska.

Once informed of the open letter's contents, the Alaska's Department of Natural Resources immediately released a warning that "an increasingly likely landslide could generate a wave with devastating effects on fishermen and recreationalists."

How do you prepare for something like this?

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The obvious question is what can be done to prepare for the landslide and tsunami? For one thing, there's more to understand about the upcoming event, and the researchers lay out their plan in the letter:

"To inform and refine hazard mitigation efforts, we would like to pursue several lines of investigation: Detect changes in the slope that might forewarn of a landslide, better understand what could trigger a landslide, and refine tsunami model projections. By mapping the landslide and nearby terrain, both above and below sea level, we can more accurately determine the basic physical dimensions of the landslide. This can be paired with GPS and seismic measurements made over time to see how the slope responds to changes in the glacier and to events like rainstorms and earthquakes. Field and satellite data can support near-real time hazard monitoring, while computer models of landslide and tsunami scenarios can help identify specific places that are most at risk."

In the letter, the authors reached out to those living in and visiting the area, asking, "What specific questions are most important to you?" and "What could be done to reduce the danger to people who want to visit or work in Barry Arm?" They also invited locals to let them know about any changes, including even small rock-falls and landslides.

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