Two great public intellectual heavyweights met last night for their much anticipated debate: Happiness: Capitalism v Marxism. In January this year just prior to the announcement of their debate, I wrote a post about Zizek and Peterson titled: Chomsky on Žižek and Peterson’s ‘Logos’ and ‘I act as if God exists’. So if you would like a smidgen of background leading into this event, then you can read that.
Firstly, it was assumed that Peterson would be arguing for how Capitalism can bring forth the most human happiness and Zizek would argue that Marxism brings forth the most happiness. However this was not the case exactly as Peterson stated in his first rebuttal of the evening, which I will discuss shortly. Overall it was a good-natured, humorous and mature discussion which was exemplified by Zizek’s remarks after he received ravenous applause at the end of his introduction:
‘(1:12:20) Please don’t do this…I hope you Jordan agree with me why we are here engaged in this debate don’t take it as a hit (?) competition..we are desperately trying to confront serious problems.’
Jordan Peterson stated in his opening of his first rebuttal:
‘(1:14:00) I would say that Dr Zizek focused more on the problem of Capitalism and the problems of happiness than on the utility of Marxism…and that actually comes as a surprise to me.’
JP (1:39:30) ‘You’re a strange Marxist to have a conversation with…You’re a character..it’s a sign of originality and a certain amount of moral courage…you appeal to young people the way outsider intellectual rebels appeal to young people. Why is it you came to presume…that the promotion of Marxism was appropriate? There is enough originality in your body of thought and lateral thinking their isn’t any reason why you should be allied with a doctrine which is 170 years old.’
SZ (1:41:50) ‘I still admire in Marx…I think his political critique of economy and capital and so on is a tremendous achievement.‘
If you want to get to the crux of the debate where they throw less caution to the wind then I recommend you watch from 1:46:00 onward. Certainly their differing world-views; namely Zizek’s propensity for Marxist critique of Capitalism and Peterson’s scathing critique of post-modernism and neo-marxist ideology are probed in some detail.
For instance Peterson’s principal concern regarding Zizek’s support of Marxism philosophy is best encapsulated here:
JP: ‘Any support for Marxism especially those directed to those who are young is likely to be read as support for the most radical and revolutionary proclivities…by trying to rescue the sheep you’ve sort of invited the dragon into the house‘.
And rhetorically Zizek puts to Peterson:
SZ: ‘You designate your enemy or what you are fighting against Post Modern neo-Marxism. Where did you find this data? I don’t know them. Give me some names or whatever. Where are the Marxist here?…. They are for equality and cultural struggle.’
Without casting my own partial opinion based on limited understanding about who I feel was the victor (which really isn’t the point of these conversations anyhow) I will leave you instead with the final words from each speaker about the ‘one thing’ they hope people take away from this debate:
JP: I hope they leave this debate with a belief in the power of communication of people with different views and they can come out of that communication improved.’
SZ: ‘I hope sincerely we made some people think and to reject this simple opposition…Please if you are a leftist don’t feel obliged to be politically correct. Don’t be afraid to think.’
Where I think this debate was most illuminating and entertaining was on each speaker’s psychological interpretation of ‘happiness’ and how its significance affects us profoundly as individuals. I hope you enjoy this discussion as much as I did.