A Third Pill

Last week I had a conversation with a friend about #occupywallstreet, and at one point I observed that Estonia must be the most quintessentially capitalist and unabashedly neoliberal country in the present-day Europe — to the point that, perhaps also uniquely for Europe, there is almost zero resistance. Of course, one could refer to the fact that social democrats managed to more than double their constituency in last elections — but apart from making some noises about fast increasing social and economic stratification and the abstract need to “put people first,” they too are simply too scared to go against the standing orthodoxy of Estonia as the last bastion of Chicago-School-style capitalism and protestant ethics in Europe. Anyone trying to publicly challenge the wisdom of that notion — or indeed, suggest that it could be somehow different in the future — would risk looking like an idiot (or worse) in the eyes of Estonian voters. However, this is where my friend, quite correctly, pointed out that there in fact is resistance to neoliberal capitalism in Estonia. It is only that this resistance is not progressive but reactionary, ranging from ultra-orthodox catholic to extreme nationalism, who both see Estonia having joined the EU as a catastrophe that unfortunately could not be averted but should now be undone.

Of course, my friend was right. And this is the reason why today’s demonstration in Tallinn in support of #occupywallstreet ended up looking akin to something that you’d get if you crossed Salvador Dali with Aki Kaurismäki.

At around noon there was a sparse crowd in the middle of the Freedom Square, with about perhaps 20% of it being made up by reporters and cameramen from all the major media companies. Most of the people seemed rather unsure about why exactly they were there, apart from the fact that it had something to do with Swedish banks and Estonian government, and the general sense of impending doom. After a brief introduction the first speaker to have the stage was Ivar Raig (a well-known Euro-skeptic) who made a token reference to #ows and then proceeded to explain how Estonia’s participation in the EFSF is €2,000 out of every Estonian pocket and thus unconstitutional. After this entirely unsurprising if still otherwise relatively sane speech, an older gentlemen took the stage in order to read out aloud his manifesto “to all the people of the world” that started innocently enough but somehow got to the point where the speaker was advocating for an international effort to “discover the speed exceeding that of the speed of light” (apparently possible under some obscure formula by Albert Einstein) that would enable the mankind to colonize inhabitable planets elsewhere in our galaxy once our Earthly resources get depleted in next couple of decades. At that point his microphone was turned off and the next speaker stepped up — and suffice to say that it only went downhill from there. Finally at around 2pm another gentleman concluded the meeting with words to the tune that “we are here not to start a revolution rather than draw attention to the fact that Europe is reeling to the left and everywhere one looks there is moral relativism and the decay of traditional family values.”

The whole travesty was of course particularly tragic in the context of what is going on in NY right now, which I have been following rather closely. Sure, there must be people at Zuccotti Park too who think that our salvation lies in faster-than-light space travel, but in general #occupywallstreet raises some extremely interesting questions about the nature and legitimacy of representative democracy in today’s world. It is basically the first time after 1968 when there is a real, tangible effort to try something new, something that resists (or at least tries to resist) being absorbed into partisan politics — on this there is an interesting recent article by Bernard E. Harcourt in NY Times. This is Žižek’s proverbial “third pill” that rejects both trying to “fix the capitalism” (something that apparently rather few people outside the G20 meeting in Paris deem possible or even desirable) or struggle against it on its own terms (in a form of “list of political demands” that could then be voted upon).

In order to keep up with what is going on, I have recently been reading at a rather ferocious pace, catching up on a lot of stuff that I had long planned to read, such as Bakunin, Kropotkin, Proudhon, Gramsci, and on to Negri, Virno, Ranciére, Laclau, Mouffe, Callinicos, Žižek and Graeber — all pretty radical fare, and absolutely fascinating. I even read Lenin this week, for the first time in my life as far as I can remember :). I am still working it all through, and I won’t get into it here anyway, lest this post turn into a multi-part essay.

On a related note — a local daily paper has asked me to write them something and a couple of days ago I told them that okay, I will write an essay on radical democracy and resistance in the style of a travelogue à la Tocqueville’s De la démocratie en Amérique if they buy me a return ticket to New York, so that I can go and live this thing for a week at Zuccotti Park. Although the initial response was rather enthusiastic, the next day I received a response that their editor-in-chief had figured €600 being too much for them to dish out for that sort of a thing. I am almost tempted to go and write the thing on my own — but then again, the said editor-in-chief (name withheld to protect the innocent) was probably right in judging that this is a topic that would really interest very few people in Estonia, most of whom I suppose I know personally anyway.

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