Fair Trade chocolate as objet petit a?

I have been reading Zizek’s The Fragile Absolute and thinking about some of our attempts to rupture the capitalist system.  One way we try to do accomplish this is by promoting fair trade chocolate.  My question is, if Nestle chocolate operates in an economy of desire, does fair trade chocolate operate in an economy of love? Does fair trade chocolate actually rupture the capitalist system (according to Zizek’s thought)?

I don’t think it does. I think fair trade chocolate would be another objet petit a because a) it seeks a stake in the global market, and b) it claims to solve real problems (fighting poverty by paying just wages for local cocoa farmers in developing countries). It might also be worth noting that these just wages are determined against a first world capitalist measure of what just wages are or what the value of certain work is (i.e. we are inviting developing countries to assume capitalist organization and economics). I’m not, however, prepared to say that Ten Thousand Villages should therefore stop importing chocolate that is traded with farmers at first world prices.  Not because I want to buy their chocolate (though this might be the case for many, a revolution-without-revolution) but because I’m not sure that is a solution either. Thoughts?


6 comments on “Fair Trade chocolate as objet petit a?

  1. Theophilus says:

    I find it helpful to think about this in terms of apocalypse. Fair trade goods are obviously not a total break with the ways of the world as it is, and neither do they comprise the totality of experience in the world; therefore, they do not constitute the apocalypse. Nevertheless, as something which considers the well-being of others as a good within the system of buying and selling, it disrupts business-as-usual capitalism in the name of something different and better, and is thus apocalyptic. So long as one holds to the traditional Christian view that only elements of the apocalyptic are breaking into the world before the Return of Christ, when the apocalypse will transform everything all at once, this would seem to be a tenable way of thinking about this sort of thing. But for Zizek, a dialectical materialist, it isn’t. Incrementalism is only reasonable if one is not responsible for bringing about the apocalypse itself.

  2. A.J. Smith says:

    Žižek, in my reading, would not be conceptually amenable to fair trade chocolate – or anything similar – because it is trying to redeem something through the very mechanism that precipitated the need for this redemption (such that through the very gesture of my egotistic consumer act I undue, if you like, my very egotistic consumer act). For him – and the Oscar Wilde he likes to quote here – the worst antebellum slave owners were the ones who were kind to their slaves because they hid the worst excesses of the system and allowed it to perpetuate.

    Of course, Žižek would illustrate this with a movie reference to Hitchcock and an aside to Lacan. Sadly, I am not as entertaining.

    Not to seem too misanthropic, Žižek claims that, of course, charity and things like fair-trade chocolate are better than nothing. But I think Žižek’s not faithful to his own reading here. If it is the kindly who are indeed the worst slave-owners, does it not behoove us then to do the opposite? That is, if we really want to end capitalism do we have to become the most capitalistic of all? As I read Žižek, to truly rupture the capitalist system then we have to undo it by taking capitalism it to its end. That is, instead of buying fair-trade chocolate and hiding the true nature capitalism we should instead buy chocolate – and whatever else – from only exploitative corporations and sweatshops so that the system reaches its apogee and we can abolish it and establish one, in the Marxist reading, where poverty is impossible, etc.

    • A.J. Smith says:

      I’ve been thinking, isn’t that what Žižek does (on a much smaller scale) with his excessively hyperbolic book-blurbs, which are now appearing in the oddest of places (such as alongside Hauerwas in Conner Cunningham’s book on science and Christianity)? Instead of recognizing the ‘art’ of the book-blurb as meaningless and manipulative publishing device used to sell books and refusing to indulge, he writes the most ridiculous and obviously overwrought recommendations imaginable and, in the process, illustrates how ridiculous this marketing device is precisely by assuming the mistake and going to the end.

      • Theophilus says:

        This is orthodox Marxism at work, I think. The apocalyptic destruction of the system will only occur when it collapses under its own absurdities; one can be an agent of this change by pushing the capitalist system further towards the point of its own hyperextension. Fair trade, then, is a Bismarckian thwarting of the movement of capitalism to its end point, by widening the circle of those who draw benefit from capital.

    • Kampen says:

      That sounds about right to me. Especially when he writes in “The Breakout” chapter that “in order effectively to liberate oneself from the grip of existing social reality, one should first renounce the transgressive fantasmatic supplement that attaches us to it.” And prior to that, his Shawshank Redemption reference illustrates his point well: “Inner distance and daydreaming about Life Elsewhere in effect enchain me to prison, whereas full acceptance of the fact that I am really there, bound by prison rules, opens up space for true hope.” For Zizek, this is accomplished by the the gesture of “striking at oneself.” I haven’t decided where I stand in relation to that yet. Also, to reiterate, I am not so dialectical. And I don’t think that the pursuit of incremental or better-ness necessarily results in a posture of revolution-without-revolution.

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