Sunday, October 09, 2011

Occupy Wall Street

I went down and checked it out. It's your basic, as Eric Cartman would call it, hippie jam fest. The people involved and disparate, even contradictory, lefty demands represented look like the composite radical protests I witnessed during college. The only prescriptive position I found belonged to a couple who called themselves socialists but whose views were mostly libertarian, though granted, I didn't stay to listen to every soapbox speech.

Common views at the protest: Wealth redistribution is good (whether through big estate tax or uncovering the corporations' secret trillions), President Obama is reviled as an exposed Manchurian candidate corporate stooge, and the belief that big money (400 richest families and corporations!) and big government are closely allied in advancing plutocracy against the populist interest. Anti-corporate is a common label at the protest but different protestors define the label differently. On one end, some are calling for campaign finance reform and barring corporations from political campaign funding, very much in line with the opposing view in the Citizens United case. On the other end, there are ideological calls for an end to capitalism, destruction of the current political economic system, and radically redistributive class warfare (99% overthrow of the 1%). I don't agree with many of the various views at the protest, but I have some common ground with a few of the more reasonable protests. I agree with the critique of nominally American but actually global corporations that their primary loyalty, indeed their legally mandated fiduciary duty, is not to America and Americans, but to their own corporate profits. which may be maximized by investing and employing outside of the US. I also am concerned that legal personhood has been extended too far for corporations, which was a commercial legal concept that imbued a specific business model with a specific legal character and rights in order to serve a specific risk-mitigating business purpose, not to actually become a fully endowed legal person. Generally, I agree that a critical reassessment needs to take place of our relative global economic standing, and our system and assumptions. Perhaps most troubling is the dire job market for the college educated, many of whom committed their youthful prime and took the risk of non-dischargeable student loan debt based on the promise that higher education was the path to financial security. That promise has been broken and people who followed the rules are stuck. We need a sophisticated sober conversation among the American people and leaders about the economy; it remains to be seen whether actions like Occupy Wall Street will spark or hinder this needed conversation.

There's no substantial difference from similar yet marginalized protests that have taken place in the last 10-20 years, except the current protest fits neatly with the widespread angst over the current financial and jobs situations. The lack of coherent agenda helps the protest by allowing others to impute their concerns and anxiety on the story. The media helps the protest because the media is in the business of telling simplified memetic stories. When enough dramatic ingredients are present, the media's professional story-tellers will fill in the blanks with their own narrative.

The Occupy Wall Street protest on its own merits is less than advertised, but the public angst amplified by the media coverage of the protest is real. However, the lack of reasonable options by the protestors may indicate the most powerful threat of the movement: emotion-driven oppositional force with a 1000 faces that can only attack and cannot compromise because it has no reasonable negotiable positions with which to compromise; in that light, Occupy Wall Street is an anarchist movement.

10/21/11 add: Lexington Green has a detailed account of his visit to OccupyChicago. He doesn't believe the Occupy Wall Street protest will lead to the sober national conversation we need. He believes the movement will more likely follow the destructive 60s template of tantrumic lashing out by mobs. (He points to an emphasis on nonviolence, but I didn't see that in my visit to OWS. I saw plenty of violent rhetoric in the composite viewpoints. As well, the 60s protest history that Green believes is being repeated featured peaceful protests displaced by violent protests.) He saw some worthwhile points in the protest but no prescriptive movement. Can I find a prescription? Can the Ivy civil-military movement evolve into the sober, prescriptive, problem-solving movement our nation needs?

11/26/11 add: Matt Continetti, who as a student wrote about ROTC return for the Columbia Political Review, analyzes the Occupy Wall Street movement. He sums it up thus: "The idea is utopian socialism. The method is revolutionary anarchism."

5/1/12 add: Another analysis, Shoplifters of the World Unite, which says the lack of message is the defining feature.

Eric

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