STA, 20 April 2019 - Slavoj Žižek, the internationally acclaimed Slovenian philosopher, and Canadian bestselling author and psychologist Jordan Peterson, faced off their views on capitalism vs Marxism in a packed auditorium in Toronto last night.
The long-awaited debate at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts opened with an introduction by moderator Stephen Blackwood, who pointed out how unusual it was to see "the country's largest theatre packed for an intellectual debate".
According to the newspaper Dnevnik, Peterson admitted that capitalism produces inequality, but added that it also created wealth for the poor, while all other systems produced only inequality. "The poor are not getting poorer under capitalism; the poor are getting richer under capitalism," he said.
He criticised Marx for being uncritical about his own ideas when writing the Communist Manifesto. He does not agree with the focus on the economic class struggle, arguing that biological differences were are more important and that is where hierarchies emerge.
Peterson also defended the motive of profit as a reward for good work, what enabled growth and showed what the demand was for. There is no surprise then that Peterson will keep the profit form ticket sales, while Žižek will give it away for charity.
Žižek acknowledged deficiencies of communism and communist regimes, offering the example of China and its rise since it added the capitalist system to authoritarianism, asking the audience whether the Chinese were happier now than they were under communism.
He said that the stories about the disintegration of traditional values and the refugee crisis were false ideological stories made up by people in order to find the justification for their actions, in this case to conceal the problems of capitalism as such.
He believes that capitalism today is also being corroded inside by the threat of climate change and depletion of natural resources because of the logic of expanding production.
He pointed out the paradox of an increasingly linked but at the same time divided world, and the willingness to mitigate the consequences but not to deal with the root causes of global problems. He does not think solving these is a utopia, but rather that it is a utopia to expect the problems would not need to be solved.
Žižek sees equality as an opportunity for an individual to pursue creative and personal aspirations instead of just trying to satisfy basic conditions for survival.
He reproached Peterson for being active in society because he was aware it was not enough to advise an individual to get their lives sorted out, as this was really possible only when made possible by the society's structure and its system.
Peterson, who expressed surprise that he was not taking to a hard-line communist, partly agreed with Žižek, but also insisted that individuals had to take on the responsibility to solve their own problems to be able to take on bigger, even social problems.
The Žižek-Peterson debate, themed Happiness: Capitalism vs Marxism, was one of the most eagerly awaited events in the academic world, featuring two ideologically completely different thinkers.
The initiative for the debate was made by Peterson in November last year as he visited Ljubljana to promote his book d 12 Rules for Life. The 3,200 tickets for the Toronto debate sold out quickly, with resellers charging exorbitant fees - as much as $950 for a seat. The debate was made available online at a cost of $14.95.
All our stories on Žižek are here