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Zizek in the Trash Heap

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Here’s my favorite part of The Examined Life, a very watchable documentary from 2008 — philosopher Slavoj Zizek discusses ideology and ecology in the trash heap:

Many interesting (and contentious) points for both present and future here: the relationship between ideology and ecology, nature as a series of catastrophes, ecology as a new opium of the masses, the myth that humans are alienated from the natural world, and more.

My favorite part is when he talks about “disavowal,” the idea that although we may know a fact, we sometimes act as if we don’t know. You might know certain foods lead to unhealthy outcomes, for instance, but you still eat them anyway. Zizek’s point here is that we consciously or unconsciously disavow, and disguise, the ecological impact of human activity on the earth by engineering our environment to separate human activity and behaviors from their ecological impacts. The trash heap in the clip here is an example: we produce all this waste, but it disappears from our lives. When we walk out of our homes and go to work, all we see is clean streets and groomed parks.

In other terms, Zizek is pointing to a material example of the psychogeographical engineering* that we (or the powers that be) do as a society and culture in order to support discourses of consumption and materialism. We have engineered our world to support mass consumption of disposable goods, and the inconvenient externalities have to be hidden so as not to disrupt that discourse.

If you were interested in a sustainable future, creating more awareness of ecological impacts would be useful, and to do that, you likely need to break the cycle of disavowal. We might have to make visual all the hidden waste and destruction happening as a result of our daily lives.

Technology could help us out here. Could some system be developed, integrating video, GPS, and RFID to make humans visually and quantitatively aware of their environmental impacts? If we saw everywhere the scale of our waste and destruction, would that change our behavior? It seems possible such a solution might work, and I think it would be more impactful than those online carbon footprint calculators.

Something to think about.

* Incidentally, I am thinking more and more about this psychogeography concept, which I mentioned in a previous post. I think it’s a good potential framework for cultural analysis of material-architectural-environmental discourse. If principles of psychogeography are part of the methodology through which the built environment reinforces the present, then it’s a critical space for contesting that present and for creating the future. More in a future post.

Author: Eric Kingsbury

Technology Futurism Creative Marketing Strategy Art Music Writing Thinking Ideas

One thought on “Zizek in the Trash Heap

  1. Pingback: Visualizing Environmental Impacts: The Hestia Project « Kiteba: A Futurist Blog and Resource

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