Žižek vs Hannan re Marx

Žižek vs Hannan re Marx

On 3 June 2021 the Cambridge Union streamed a virtual debate between brilliant speakers who have both been featured on this blog before.

Slavoj Žižek appeared in January 2019 with a speech delivered to the Oxford Union. He it was, with his manifold twitches and fidgets, that finally cemented my conviction that if you are interesting enough it doesn’t matter if you display idiosyncrasies and mannerisms. I described him then as a tonic. I still do.

Daniel Hannan has been featured no less than seven times, the first time in November 2012, and epitomises my oft-repeated declaration that the better they are the pickier I get. My pickiness with him was that his search for public speaking perfection risked smoothing away his edges so much that his personality could get hidden.

Could you have a more contrasting pair? And the motion they are debating is This House Believes Marx Was Right.

The debate is introduced and chaired very well by Joel Rosen, President of the Union, and begins with a ten minute statement from each of the speakers. Žižek for the proposition goes first.

It is interesting that, rather than fill the screen with just the speaker, the producers elect to show both speakers all the time. My advice to those who are on TV debates is never while others are speaking to pull faces, nod, shake your head, scowl or make any other tacit comment, but remain impassive and keep your powder dry. I am therefore delighted to see Hannan listening intently but without expression. (There is one dramatic exception late in the debate when Žižek makes a staggering statement which causes my jaw to drop and Hannan’s eyes almost to pop out. I’ll come back to that.)

Žižek’s fidgets and twitches are matched by his Slovenian accent that you could slice and dice with a blunt spoon. Normally this doesn’t matter, but add to that the sound distortion through the virtual meeting medium, and I fear that here he is often very difficult for my English ears to decipher. This is a pity because he is good, and knowing this I concentrate like fury – and though it’s sometimes hard work it is worth doing.

Ten minutes later Hannan begins his opposition, and the contrast is even greater than I expected. Whereas Žižek delights in going off on convoluted tangents, Hannan is keeping everything super-tight with coherence to match. Nevertheless the deep-frozen Hannan discipline that I have seen in the past thaws enough to allow more passion to show through, and that delights me.

The centre section of the debate consists of rebuttals, and then questions from each other, from viewers and from the chairman.

One question put to them concerns whether Marx’s philosophy would be better at combatting the climate crisis. What climate crisis? My instant reaction is that I am watching here something I have never seen on the subject of global warming – a debate. Al Gore used to parrot a slogan, “The debate is over!” What debate? I have never seen or heard of any actual proper debate, though I have seen plenty of debate challenges issued causing alarmists to scurry for cover. You’d have thought that alone would have weakened their standing, yet “the climate crisis” is blithely dropped into a question in a debate like this as if everyone accepts its very existence – while many seriously significant scientists don’t, as a recent speech on this blog testifies.

A question to Hannan is “who is your favourite communist thinker?” and to Žižek “who is your favourite conservative thinker?” As usual Žižek goes around the houses a few times before giving his answer. It comes at 1.11.35 and there is the afore-mentioned jaw-dropper which I shall not spoil, but Hannan’s face is a sight to behold.

The debate rounds off with a concluding speech from each of of them.

Is there a winner? Is a vote taken? I don’t know, and I don’t really care. I have had a riveting hour and a half, and that satisfies me.

E.Calvin Beisner speaks on behalf of the world’s poor

On 27 April 2015 there was held, in Rome, what was called a ‘prebuttal’ to the Vatican’s Climate Summit on the following day. A substantial collection of leading independent scientific experts was assembled to convey a simple message. All the empirical data show that there is no climate crisis.

As the summit the following day was concerned with the role of Christianity in this fictional crisis, one of the speakers at the prebuttal was a theologian, E. Calvin Beisner.

Beisner kicks off uncompromisingly with a bald statement to the effect that his having read fifty books on the science and more than 30 on the economics of climate change, and hundreds of articles and peer-reviewed papers, he can state categorically that the computer models have been shown to be wrong. He gives a few examples of real-world data, but stresses that he will leave the science to the scientists that are speaking at this conference. His concern is with ethics.

He narrates an ethos-laden account of his childhood in Calcutta, leaving us in no doubt that he has seen grinding poverty up close.

He then tells us that there is no empirical evidence that fossil fuels are driving dangerous warming (only empirical evidence is relevant: theoretical projections from computer models are not empirical), but there is overwhelming empirical evidence that the use of fossil fuels to supply abundant cheap energy is crucial for lifting the world’s remaining four billion poor out of the miseries of poverty. There is also overwhelming evidence that our use of fossil fuels enhances plant-life globally by adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

It is a very telling speech. and leaves us with an uncomfortable conclusion. In the face of all that, you have to question either the diligence of fact-checking or (somewhat alarmingly) the motives of anyone who takes any steps to deprive the world’s poor of access to fossil-fuel energy. It is a shameful list that belongs in that category. including the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England. The issue of those motives was addressed in another speech that we shall examine shortly.