A brace of videos from Oxford (Varoufakis, Piketty & Žižek)

Published by marco on

I watched a brace of pretty rewarding videos from the Oxford Union.

Yanis Varoufakis

Yanis Varoufakis | Full Address and Q&A | Oxford Union (YouTube)

Yanis talks about the Euro: “It’s like taking the shock absorbers out of your car and then driving into a pothole. […] This is designer idiocy.”

He talks about RussiaGate:

“In the United States, you have the ridiculous situation where the Democratic party is going to the people and saying ‘you were duped by Putin. Putin stole the election through Facebook.’

“My goodness! I mean, what an insult!

“To people who … by the way, most of those people who voted for Trump, had voted for Obama in 2008 … how can you say that to them they are racist and that they were duped by Putin.

“I mean, did Putin try to influence the election of the United States? I’m sure he did. But I did, too.

“I did. I really did. I did my best to influence the election…and failed spectacularly.

“And Putin had, I’m sure, about the same impact that I had.”

When asked about his days as finance minister, he reminds the crowd that Greece was not without leverage:

“You see, if you own your bank £1000, then you’re in trouble. If you our the bank £320 million, then they’re in trouble.”

Another question was from someone asking what will happen if the Euro fails.

“What’s going to happen if Europe now, if the Euro—no matter how terrible it may be—dissolves.

“Well, I’ll tell you what’s going to happen. There’s going to be a tectonic shift that divides Europe down the river Rhine and across the Alps. What will happen is Germany will re-create the Deutschmark and Austria, Holland, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia and the Baltics… they will join the Deutschmark zone. They’re not going to create their own currencies. They’re too integrated with German heavy industry. Volkswagen, IG, Krupp and so on.

“That chunk of Europe— Northeast Europe, Calvinist Europe, call it what you want—is going to have a gigantic current-accounts surplus in relation to the rest of the world. So that means that Deutschmark is going to go through the roof […] That will mean…exports will fall and there will be a substantial increase in unemployment in Germany, Poland and other countries. So, you’re going to have falling prices because the price of the currency goes up—deflation—with unemployment, in Germany. Not good. The only people who will benefit from that situation are the AfD and the various folks who are thinking of the 1930s with glee.

“The rest of Europe. What’s going to happen? The currencies in the rest of Europe will depreciate, which will create inflationary pressures. And you’re going to have a combination of inflation and unemployment in France, Italy, Spain and so on. Is this a Europe we want to live in?”

His summary tells of the greatest myth that people believe about the Eurocrisis. If we continue to swallow it, there’s no way out.

“One of the greatest tragedies of the Eurocrisis is that it was portrayed as a clash between and Greece, between the Netherlands and Italy, between North and South. This is analytically false and politically toxic. In my view, what happened was, is that the grasshoppers of the North—the bankers, like Deutschebank—and the grasshoppers of the South—the Greek oligarchy and the Italian oligarchy—binded together before the crisis to create a gigantic bubble. The bubble burst. Then they gathered together to shift all the pain to the German hardworking people, to the Greek hardworking people and portrayed it as a North/South divide and a North/South clash. We need to overcome this.”

Thomas Piketty

Prof Thomas Piketty | Full Address and Q&A | Oxford Union (YouTube)

This is a very interesting and wide-ranging talk. One of the first questions is from some genius who thinks it’s productive to explain the difference between correlation and causation to Thomas Piketty. That woman/girl was a perfect example of the Dunning Krueger Effect and the arrogance of unearned confidence in one package. Piketty gave a good answer, which is more than she deserved.

He said many interesting things, but I haven’t gone back to transcribe any of them. Sue me.

Slavoj Žižek

Professor Žižek | Full Address and Q&A | Oxford Union (YouTube)

Žižek told several jokes, as is his wont. As usual, his jokes highlight the topics he wanted to discuss.

He is a philosopher who many would call a contrarian. I think the reason that he generally sees things differently than others is due to (A) his being extremely widely and well-read and being able to provide a context to topics that others don’t have, as well as an ability to see similarities in topics and themes that are not evident to others and (B) most people not being able to even follow along with (A) and assuming that, because of his dirty jokes and his multitudinous tics that he’s just a showboat preening for attention. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you read any of his books and truly understand it, you’ll be the better for it. To me, his reasoning is clear as a bell. Perhaps that makes me mad, as well.

Here’s his first joke:

“A group of Jews in a synagogue publicly are admitting their nullity in the eyes of God.

“First, a rabbi stands up and says:

““O God, I know I am worthless. I am nothing!”

“After he has finished, a rich businessman stands up and says, beating himself on the chest:

““O God, I am also worthless, obsessed with material wealth. I am nothing!”

“After this spectacle, a poor ordinary Jew also stands up and also proclaims:

““O God, I am nothing.”

“The rich businessman kicks the rabbi and whispers in his ear with scorn:

““What insolence! Who is that guy who dares to claim that he is nothing too!””

Here’s another joke:

“It’s a very cruel joke and I discovered with wonder and respect that there is a whole tradition of Jewish jokes about Auschwitz. Not making fun of it, but drawing out the paradoxes.

“There is something very deep in this. […] For tragedy to take place, it must happen within certain limits, where the victim maintains his dignity—you know, the tragic victim. When things get really terrifying, a mote of comedy has to enter, which is not comedy where you have to laugh, but horrifying comedy (i.e. gallows humor).

“In Paradise, some Jews who’d been killed at Auschwitz were talking about how they’d been killed. One says to the other,

““Do you remember, Jacob, when they dragged you to the death chamber, you slipped on something and died even before you entered the gas chamber?”

““Oh, yeah, that was so funny!”

“Then God, taking a break, walks by them, listens to their jokes and says:

““Sorry guys, I just don’t get it.”

“[digression explaining background of joke for the young audience[1]]

“One of the Jews goes to God, embraces him in a patronizing way and says,

““Don’t worry, our Lord, you weren’t there, so, of course, you don’t understand.”

“You know what’s the beauty: it’s not that God cannot understand the horror. He can. He’s all-powerful. He cannot understand it’s possible to make a joke out of it. God doesn’t get the joke.”

And what a world it is that we live in, when Slavoj answers the question of what he thinks of the Gilets Jaunes with almost the same wording as Pamela Anderson. Watch the video to see his answer (I don’t feel like transcribing any more), but Anderson’s answer is from Pamela Anderson on Europe’s Turmoil: an Interview with Pamela Anderson and Srecko Horvat by David Broder (Jacobin)

“I agree with Srecko. As I said, when I was commenting on the gilets jaunes, the real question is whether the disobedience can be constructive, what comes the day after: can the progressives in France, and all over the world, use this energy so that instead of violence we see equal and egalitarian societies being built?”

It’s a funny world.


[1] He explains the reason that the joke is funny: because it is always said that divinity was absent from the Shoah, particularly Auschwitz.