A Zizekian Case For Vaccine Mandates

I am being accused of being an authoritarian by many so I will embrace the label. If Slavoj Zizek tells me to walk off a cliff, I will follow. The reason for this is not political. The reason to follow Zizek right off the edge, even to death, is that Zizek can tell a good joke.

I would let Slavoj take me to the gulag simply because he is funny. I would assume that the gulag would just be one more joke but if he called my bluff, of course, his sense of humor would be even better than I anticipated.

My death drive is relatively dormant compared with most of the left who want to use Hegel and Marx to justify an anti-vaccine mandate march to death’s door. Who can blame the left for wanting to meet death when this is the world we live in? Freedom to die is indeed our last right and many are clinging on hard to it.

Subconsciously a more militant stand against freedom emerges from the mind of the anti-vaxxer. At this point, the stand against a vaccine that does no harm and reduces death by nearly 100 times is not only a case for death but also most crucially a case for lockdowns. The anti-vaxxers have revealed their position as one that wants an economy that is not based on labor but rather authoritarianism.

Woah! I beat you to the punch this time anti-vaxxer. Why would the anti-vaxxer want us all to shelter in place, without work or society, in the name of refusing a medicine that does you no harm? The goal is death. The question is why.

Death is a relief. Perhaps it is the only exit from capitalism. The only way to win the class war. The only way to overcome contradiction.

There are some good arguments against the vaccine mandate. Fabio Vighi takes on Zizek for being pro-vaccine mandate. Vighi’s theory about the coronavirus is that it was useful to the ruling class because it discouraged spending, and therefore kept out hyperinflation, which would cause another economic crisis, which the ruling class would have no way to explain without the coronavirus. This is true.

Vighi explains that thanks to the development of technology, capitalism is in a crisis of creation of surplus value. The rate of profit has declined because capitalism no longer needs labor in the same way as it once did. Instead of producing surplus value through the exploitation of workers, capitalism must grow through the financial sector.

Thus the dialectic of capitalism is that workers can only get a piece of the pie when they are exploited. When capitalism grows primarily through labor, workers get less than they deserve but they often earn more than they need to survive. Hence consumption by the workers can go into other sectors and the economy is seen as strong.

However, when capital grows by reinvesting in itself, either through the creation of technology or the creation of money, workers are left out of the equation. Vighi rightly critiques Marx for the labor theory of value.

There are two main misconceptions when it comes to today’s economy. The first misconception is that the problem is simply inequality or greed. The response to this notion is Modern Monetary Theory which is a method that states that money is artificial and therefore it can be printed in order to solve society’s problems. This theory is true, in a way.

The thing that Modern Monetary Theory taught me is that taxation is simply a means to cut against inflation. You wouldn’t know this based on the tax policy of conservatives who cry wolf about inflation. This past of MMT is true. The first choice of most everyone would be to tax the rich and pay for what we need for the poor. However, taxing the rich is easier said than done.

When you can’t tax the rich, MMT allows for one to print money for those in need. This devalues the currency, making everyone except for those receiving money poorer, but it does allow for a needy portion of the population to be targeted. If MMT assumes there is such a thing as a free lunch, it is wrong. If it assumes however that we should spend money on the poor even if we can’t tax the rich, they are right.

The second misconception is that the rate of profit isn’t declining because inequality is widening. Inequality is one problem but it isn’t even our biggest economic crisis. The larger crisis for the future is that the rate of profit is falling and surplus-value cannot be created. As a result labor is increasingly not the power that creates value.

Fabio Vighi diagrams Marx’s errors. So far in history Marx has been prophetic. However, we are getting to that point where capitalism can no longer make surplus value but we have never been further from communism. Many dismiss Marx wholesale, Vighi counters that Marx wasn’t Hegelian enough. Todd McGowan has even argued that Marx was a right-wing deviation of Hegel.

Vighi explains that in Marx’s time there was pressure upon philosophers to use positivism. Hence Marx, unlike Hegel, saw the dialectic ending in something positive (communism). Capitalism has a dialectic of surplus-value coming through exploitation, where the value created advances the standard of living. By exploiting workers at a wage less than they are worth, capitalists are able to use excess capital to invest in technology, increasing the productivity of labor and eliminating the need for it. While surplus-value explains workers’ exploitation, without this exploitation workers have no means to survive. Hence exploitation is necessary for the survival of both the individual and the system.

Back to the virus. If I seem obsessed with it, that’s because I think we can use this event of the virus to explain a lot more than the virus alone. The perfect Hegelian meme of the virus goes as follows. This is a mainstream meme so I don’t think this was consciously Hegelian. It goes, 2019: Avoid negative people. 2020: Avoid positive people. 2021: Avoid all people.

The 2019 part refers to the power of positive thinking mantras that circulate capitalist ideology. If one simply avoids those people bringing them down they can overcome the contradictions of capitalism on their own. The 2020 part is a joke on the virus; avoid people with positive tests for coronavirus. The 2021 conclusion is that everybody is infected, either with the virus that is continuing to mutate or with the negative mindset we were supposed to exit our material conditions to overcome. The point of course is that without exiting the material conditions of the positive test no one could exit the negative mindset on their own.

Slavoj Zizek uses the analogy of an abusive husband to explain his support for vaccine mandates. He notes how capitalism and state power are like an abusive husband who hits his wife constantly. The wife is us. However one day the wife is choking and the husband slaps her on the back to save her life. Are we to stop this? Jeffrey St. Clair has observed how horrifying it is that the anti-vaxxer movement has more energy than the climate movement today. The cause for a conspiracy death gets more of a movement than our mass extinction. Go figure.

We can expand Zizek’s analogy of the abusive husband to capitalism today. As Zizek has pointed out it is now the exploited workers who are the lucky ones, relatively speaking. What else explains the impasse of the debate amongst the left: Are Trump voters working class? They certainly, for the most part, have hard lives, but in comparison to who? It is possible in this stage of capitalism to be both exploited in a technical sense and privileged in a relative one. Hence the fascist can use a real grievance to inflict terror upon someone more vulnerable.

Workers today of course are exploited, and more so than in recent memory. The change in the economy we are tracking here is whether or not that exploitation is producing profit. This is why many commentators rightly point out we are exiting capitalism into feudalism and/or slavery. Here the worker still does the capitalist a whole lot of good, and is needed at certain times for certain tasks. But the capitalist’s power does not come from exploiting that worker specifically, so it becomes much harder for the worker to leverage their labor in order to gain rights or money. Rather the capitalist’s power comes from outside the labor, or at least a large share of it does.

This share is only getting larger. Through investment in financial markets that accumulate money on their own as well as new technology. Rent and debt are crucial to this economy. All of this might be the real subconscious reason behind the leftist opposition to vaccine mandates. The left is aware that technology is replacing our labor power and the left rebels against technology. However, the alternative world is that the working class gets no benefit from the technology created. Not only does it replace our work, it replaces our right to life.

Vighi’s insight is that the economy is in a Hegelian loop. To quote Hegel directly: “Each of the parts of philosophy is a philosophical whole, a circle rounded and complete in itself. In each of these parts, however, the philosophical Idea is found in a particular specificality or medium. The single circle, because it is a real totality, bursts through the limits imposed by its special medium, and gives rise to a wider circle. The whole of philosophy in this way resembles a circle of circles. The Idea appears in each single circle, but, at the same time, the whole Idea is constituted by the system of these peculiar phases, and each is a necessary member of the organisation.“

What are the implications of this logic for the economy? Exactly as described above. Rather than a revolutionary subject progressing out of the dialectic of capitalism, capitalism spins out on its own path, more and more alienated from its origin, which is labor. What is labor? It is when human beings extract from the earth and create something of value to other humans. Something is valuable because it takes time and/or skill to acquire. Or maybe because only a certain environment has this material. Eventually trading one item for another was replaced by a universal signifier of money, in which each good could be weighed against the other, as could each type of labor.

As long as there are things to be made from the earth this works fine, not for the earth or those living on it, but fine for those who want a functioning economy. Why would the exit out of this form of production necessarily come from the laborers who create the value? Why would the least powerful necessarily become owners of their own production? Wasn’t this the start of the whole formulation? Marx is more clever than that as he sees communism as absorbing capitalism’s gains in technology and organization. There is something almost dialectical there.

This doesn’t go far enough, however. Vighi reminds us that it is labor that creates capital and following this it is capital that creates capital through the same market. Labor is only the beginning of a circle or circles where money through trade can be created again and again. The original source (the earth) isn’t even viable to live on anymore. We have already extracted all we could from it. Finding new resources will become more and more expensive and it is easier to just create money out of thin air.

What are the implications of such a society in political terms? Vighi links this all to authoritarianism. When labor creates value, workers have direct representation. When money is simply created as soon as a crisis comes along workers have no say about who gets to live or when the faucet of money comes on. Vighi notes that like access to basic resources access to money can be turned on and off. Even worse, much of the money pump never even goes into the hands of those who need it because doing so would create hyperinflation. Rather the money sits in the hands of the rich, where they can control it.

To diversify their power the rich can purchase natural resources, access to the only livable places on the planet, for example, with their social relation of money. The climate bill will continue to grow and who will pay for it? Emergency funds will not be proactive. The new normal is that we will wait until people are about to die to swoop in and profit.

Zizek says it best: “So, in a technical sense of wealth, as embodied in values, there is more wealth in a society where you pay for water since freely available water doesn’t count as wealth. This example gained additional actuality today when the privatization of water is on the neoliberal agenda: the owners of water supply and utility companies get richer, while the mass of those who need water get poorer…The same goes for air: if, due to worsening air pollution, we need oxygen to breathe normally, our society will in a formal sense get much richer and a new profitable industry will emerge. Does the same not hold for the pandemic? There was an enormous rise of production in pharma-industry, not just vaccines but also masks, medical instruments, etc., which formally count as economic growth, even though they make actual people poorer. And one can be sure that global warming will generate even more of such “economic growth.”

Even if we were to exit the construct of money the rich would still own the best resources outside of fake money, for money is the universal lie in which all of us bought into. The less money one has, the more one needs it.

Fabio Vighi makes the most convincing case against vaccine mandates. He frames his stance within the realm of democracy, which is a higher stage than that of freedom, where most anti-vaxxers stop. Slavoj Zizek however gains the upper hand because he stays Hegelian by keeping a negative. Fabio wants us to resist all consolidation of power, even as he admits we are stuck within a Hegelian loop, not a Marxist transcendence. Vighi’s argument against the vaccine mandate is fully Marxist. He sees resistance to power itself as an exit from power. While Zizek rightly sees that the working class must leverage power for there is nothing outside of it. Fabio makes an honest Marxist argument but Marx was too optimistic.

Zizek recognizes that real life interrupts the cycles of money: “Global warming is a traumatic real, which calls for the socialization of economy; the largely predominant tendency of the capitalist establishment is to downplay the threat, and the fact that it is (in a very limited way) astutely used by the global order is a limited, secondary fact.”

Why is Zizek on my mind? Because I recently had a nightmare starring Slavoj Zizek and Glenn Greenwald. Believe it or not it wasn’t long ago I praised Greenwald for being the lone voice of reason and I denounced the entire left for disowning him. Now, in a hypocritical and confused turn I call Greenwald a fascist! My hands aren’t clean.

Check out this stunning hypocrisy by yours truly: “Why are people not bound to the left-wing ideology of anti-fascism more equipped to take on the fascists than the leftists? Perhaps it is because of ideology itself. By simply turning friends into fascists, whether that be Greenwald or poor and working people, we could oppose fascism in theory and support it in practice.”

Glenn, once, in my eyes, was the cause of all good, as he claimed to be. Now I have to take a breath to remember he isn’t the cause of all evil. Perhaps the reason I support vaccine mandates is that I can’t see the evil of Big Pharma as I am addicted to another drug: Mr. Glenn Greenwald.

Greenwald is relevant to today’s piece because he wants freedom without negativity. Zizek asks what freedom is in a world where the negative is guaranteed.

Freedom without the contradiction of the social is no freedom at all. Freedom without the negativity of society leaves us alone and divided and paranoid. The ruling class has already won if our freedom is singular rather than universal. No one man, not even Greenwald, can save us with his righteousness. I won’t pretend to be any better.

We have to interrogate the claim that only Glenn can save us. How can he claim to be neither left or right but rather true? We should be most wary of those who claim not to be biased. I’m not all that surprised that I had a Greenwald nightmare. He slips into my thoughts throughout the day: ‘Be kind to Glenn. But he’s a fascist! Be kind to Glenn! Woe is me. Back and forth they go. Bah humbug.”

The phrase Rabbitpuncher has been thumping around my head lately. An overly affectionate reader coined the term for me recently. Rabbitpunch proper doesn’t share my hypocrisy about Glenn Greenwald. Good for them.

Rabbitpuncher the phrase sticks with me. Maybe it’s true. Am I punching down on Glenn just as he punches down on so many? To Glenn or not to Glenn. Emails pile in. I’ve never seen emails like these. Such devotion and disdain for one man. I know I’m right now. Say NO to collaboration with the right. Say no loudly and proudly. A sigh of relief. Until the leftists guilt me again. Will I hold strong to an anti-Glenn line? Can I? Is it possible to make it out of the Glenn echo chamber online without turning to mush? Time will tell.

I am slammed down a glen by a giant paw. A rabbit paw. A rabbit punch. This rabbit has an unsparing look on its face. Is it Tucker? It’s Glenn himself. Wam! A rabbitpunch to my other side and I tumble down. He towers above me.

Authorities surround us. They laugh at me. Glenn tells me I can punch him back. The authorities aren’t real. There is no big Other. What is real? I ask Glenn, hoping he is not. Freedom is real, says Glenn. He informs me he is free to hit me as many times as he wants. I am free to do the same. The world is fair, you see.

This is a green rabbit. I can barely see him. The valley is green. Next to the green rabbit is the green M&M. Glenn points to her. You said nothing! I wondered what I should have said. Whack! He hops over me just to show his power. They took her right to womanhood and you said nothing! You hate freedom! You Fauci-loving fascist! The next punch hurts the worst.

I am becoming green now too. I look up to see Glenn is done punching. For the first time I see him in a mask, with a giant needle. He begins his full Jim Breuer routine. Facts and figures! Facts and figures! He squawks. I need to get off the internet. I roll around. Too weak to get up. I seem to only go downhill. He jabs and jabs. It hurts. I get it now. I don’t get it but I want it to stop. He hops away, taunting me.

What did he give me? I’m a tortoise. A green tortoise. Glenn has quarantined me inside a heavy shell! I cannot get out of this glen. I’m going to die here. I try to wake up. I can’t. I hear a sniffing noise behind me. Just end it now. Between the sniffs someone is muttering about ideology. I think. Slavoj?

Slavoj doesn’t notice me. He is immersed in his own thoughts but I can’t quite make them out. Cinema. Hegel. Tortoise. Tortoise? That’s me! Slavoj knows my name!

Slavoj says some lines that I can now make out very clearly: “You don’t carry your house. You carry your home. That’s a whole lot of ideology on your back. Our negativity is guaranteed, our freedom is not.”

The kind and gentle man then lifted me out of the glen and set me on solid land. He patted me on the shell. “I will be back. I’m walking my Hegelian path. When I return I will have absorbed something new, but I will still be myself. That’s all that has happened to you.”

Nick Pemberton writes and works from Saint Paul, Minnesota. He loves to receive feedback at pemberton.nick@gmail.com