RATHER THAN “American Spring” (it’s the wrong time of year,) or “American Autumn” (meh,) wouldn’t American Fall have had a nicer ring to it?
Of course, what IOZ says is right on the money:
Occupy Wall Street is no revolution, and we are in no danger of replacing democracy with democracy. The protests are symptomatic of something else; they do signify change, even though they are neither the cause nor the ultimate result of it. These sorts of things are like melting glaciers and long tomato seasons: phenomenal indicators of a self-catlyizing reaction across a whole vast and complex system of systems. [IOZ]
Once can only hope that the “something else,” and “these sorts of things,” are things like the decline of global corporate empire and American power. Maybe capitalism itself? It’s obvious, at least, that there is some kind of geopolitical realignment of power underway. #OWS is a symptom of that, not an agent of actual change in terms of shifting power. So the malcontent, the overly-weepy pessimist, can’t help but wonder: is it even too much to hope that #OWS can influence any sort realignment of widely-held perceptions* of the machinations of financial power? [*See how your host adroitly avoids using the term 'public opinion.']
They have been, and will continue to be, criticized for the lack of a clear, unified goal and a list of specific demands. Though, I’ll admit being partial to one slogan heard early on, “Occupy Everything, Demand Nothing.” For a minute it seemed the occupiers might be trying to forge a festival-like public space where new, more egalitarian means of exchange and divisions of labor might develop, a sort of petri dish of alternatives to profit motivated capitalism. It’s not clear #OWS was ever that, really. The whole thing seemed to get bogged down in the development of, well, the democratic town hall meeting.
The unified message might have been seen in a demonstration that, yes, people are perfectly capable of getting along without The Economy. The unspoken demand might have come in the form of a realization among the horde of human participants who drive crony capitalism: better to let it fade into obscurity without a fight.
THE OCCUPY WALL STREET “General Assembly” decision making process, what I’ve read of it, is interesting. But I sense that changes are afoot. The group is starting to produce documents “working drafts” at the moment, but it would seem to indicate that there is some sort of organized core of people working on actually writing stuff down, distributing it, and, what, preparing to put it to a vote? Unless I’m wrong and they’ve some sort of open-source wiki of the document that anyone can edit or something along those lines. If so, then what follows may be moot with respect to the OWS moment in time.
One of the Principles of Solidarity under consideration is “Engaging in direct and transparent participatory democracy.” [source] Which makes Old Montag a little weepy, ’cause democracy is EVIL! The rejection of democracy that has been put forward here at The Stump is based in democracy’s basic assumption of inequality. (Which is not just the unequal value judgments foisted on us by an amoral system of financial power, but also the intrinsic need within a functioning democracy for trusted authorities to steer the ship as unequal superiors.)
Another Principle put forward by the OWS group is “Redefining how labor is valued.” Which makes Old Montag a little weepy, ’cause FUCK YEAH RADICAL EGALITARIANISM! [Hat tip: Devin Lenda] The radical egalitarianism put forward here at The Stump acknowledges that any person’s time spent contributing to the cooperative efforts of the group, regardless of utility, is of equal value.
What is the difference between voluntary, mutually beneficial,cooperative social relations and “social order” where individuals are expected to submit to custom: traditions, norms, hierarchical authority? Under the second, the relation stops being voluntary. The individual is forced to give up a part of themselves when they submit to it. Is “culture” a better word for this, maybe, than “society?” IDK.
The basis for inequality imposed by the impulses of financial power are easy to understand and can be discerned by simply asking the question: “Is there money in it?” It’s the second type of inequality that’s difficulter to pin down. What is the essence or basis for social inequality, specifically hierarchy?
What of death, the base and terrible equalizer, the only measure by which every person is acknowledged as equal? Could it be that human foreknowledge of death and fear of uncertainty is how certain specialists come to be esteemed above other members of society? Doctors, who delay death, Philosophers who help one prepare for death, Mystics who offer a sense of certainty about the hereafter, Generals who deal death to our enemies so that we may live.
Is it a false dichotomy? (Appologies, Charles Davis!) Perhaps it simply comes down always to measures of power. It’s simply that the power that currently holds sway over our social imagination is the financial power we’ve been talking about. People are willing to pay for the treatment and drugs to extend their life; to pay tuition to learn, wield, influence, and preserve society’s accumulated knowledge; pay a tithe to ease their conscience, sooth their worry, to petition some higher power for leniency or forgiveness; to purchase, at all costs, security…
The danger in venerating authority, even well-meaning, trusted experts, is that democracy doesn’t arise from, nor constitute, the consent of the governed. Democracy operates in service to a system of control. Once a movement is committed to democracy, the only matter left to decide is what form of power will be surrendered to.
Image: jamie nyc
HERE’S TO the Occupy Wall Street folks. Interested to see what comes out of all of this. Interested to see how real powers deal with the movement. Will they strike a deal, or deal a strike?
As a gesture toward solidarity, I’ll refrain from posting my inane philosophical musings, which seem kinda out of place against the background of OWS. Instead, I reckon what what Crispy has to say is worth considering. And anyone interested can read about my own economic disestablishmentarianism right here.
I’M SO FAR TO THE LEFT my liberal friends think I’m a reactionary small-government conservative. Which is true in a way because you can’t get much more small-government than evaluating all exercises of state force through an anarchist framework, and refusing to acknowledge any as justified or legitimate.
The Abonilox recently sketched out Left and Right positions on equality (while noting that most people’s views “fall somewhere in the middle”):
The person on the left embraces a radical view of equality that presumes and rationalizes all inequities to some form of environmental phenomenon that can be ameliorated by willful intervention (presumably by members of an educated class trained to identify such problems).
The person on the right tends more to a fatalist perspective and is more accepting of inequality insomuch as it is obvious that there are inferior specimens everywhere he or she looks. That they are less successful is not an environmental deficiency so much as a congenital one. [Abonilox]
Like the stance on government mentioned above, I find myself holding a somewhat more radical view than the Left, while sharing some aspects of the Right position. Deterministic rather than fatalistic, I recognize a certain kind of inequality: that people will differ in their aptitudes and appetites, and differ in their capacity to produce intended effects. This is the acknowledgement of the unequal distribution of power, the evidence of which is painfully plain to see. I diverge from the Right position in denying that a value judgment should be drawn from these differences. How is it that someone bound by necessity (or fate!) can be found inferior, or somehow less human, for simply persevering in their situation?
My sense of equality is an ideal. It’s FAKE. It does not obtain. Here it is nonetheless: No matter how powerful — regardless, even, of an individual’s utility to society — every person’s time is of equal value. That entrepreneurial ability, or test taking ability, or influence peddling ability are rewarded so much more richly than a strong back and a willingness to get dirty, is demented. The system of rewards is indeed a function of a demented religion of financial power. It is a system by which circumstance dictates whose potential will be fulfilled, and whose will lie dormant for lack of training or education or simply the lack of official sanction. Under such a system, circumstance always favors established power, and gatekeepers and nepotists reign.
JUST ADDED a third element to the self-description of my political leanings. Will henceforward claim the title Anti-Imperialist, Economic Disestablishmentarian, Cultural Nihilist.
IT’S KIND OF A PARADOX, this flavor of misanthropy Your Host suffers from. It kind of weird, right, to genuinely like nearly every individual one has had the fortune to get into a conversation with, yet despise Us All for our incurable, often irrational fear of uncertainty, desperate greed, and self-destructive tribalism?
Let’s trot this quote out once more:
As I ran, I thought how I hate any kind of mob–I hate mobs of sports fans, mobs of environmental demonstrators, I even hate mobs of supermodels, that’s how much I hate mobs. I tell you mankind is only bearable when you get him on his own. [Toltz]
Most of the people waiting outside Wal-mart at midnight on Black Friday, or outside the gates before a rock concert, don’t want to trample another human being to death. Given the choice they wouldn’t do so, even if it cost them the opportunity to get hold of a $150 widescreen tv, or prime floor space up near the stage. (This much faith I have in our humanity.) Of course, once that crowd rushes the door, who knows exactly what induces the rush, but once that moment of hysteria begins, it’s a dangerous game to stop, or try to stop, or hesitate at all. You risk being trampled yourself. Going with the flow becomes a matter of self preservation.
Upon finding out later that the older guy who fell down in front of the entrance during the rush fucking died, you may feel a twinge of regret, but it wasn’t your feet that trod on him as he lay defenseless. Despite the possibility that the person you leaned against when you got jostled in turn pressed against someone else propelling them into yet another, actions and reactions rippling through the crowd of humanity to the heavy set woman who wanted to stop to help the man up from the ground but got bumped from behind and instead dropped to one knee right on the guy’s ribcage then was only barely able to scramble over his crumpled form to reach her own safety, you can ultimately rest easy knowing that it wasn’t your fault. Someone else started the push. You couldn’t help but go along with it.
Now apply this principle to a certain idea of Nation which arises out of a sense of having done great things together and wishing to do more. Where many of the things that have been done can’t rightly be considered “great,” but where the individual whose belief buttresses the notional Nation isn’t culpable in any of its evils. Because going with the flow is simply a matter of self preservation. A nation is a mob.
Image via: After The Smoke
YOU WOULDN’T BE entirely off-base to accuse me, Dear Reader, of some form of child abuse, when I confess that, yes, the youngest person in the Montag household watches a fair bit of television. A significant part of that fair bit being programming on the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon.
As if this kids programming wasn’t already dePLORable enough without giving it much thought, I’ve actually put enough study to it to notice that there is a trend on these channels of making light of the increasingly intrusive and violent security measures taking root in Western society. Mad lulz regarding security checks, surveillance, and a sickeningly jokey treatment of Tasers. People getting Tased is HIGH-larious!
Here’s a clip of a recent episode of the Disney Channel show A.N.T. Farm. In this episode we see two people Tased hilariously. Not in this clip though. This clip is an ode to simple old fashion police brutality. To set it up: the young woman main character’s father, a cop, suspects that she may be guilty of shoplifting, so he sends his diminutive partner undercover to her school to
spy on his own daughter investigate. (Start at 1:03 or so.)
Functions as propaganda to get young people used to the idea of living in a police state, no? Makes it seem normal, more accessible. You’ll prolly tell me it’s a case of “art” (HA!) imitating life or some such — the writers of these shows making comedy out of the normal experience of everyday life in America. But I have to wonder if orders have been given.
Additional fun fact: the other pervasive theme of almost all of these programs: the characters are famous, or aspiring to some sort of fame. Pop stars, clothing designers, hosts of popular webcasts, students at Performing Arts schools, aspiring reality tv stars, Solid Gold/American Bandstand-type television dancers… Peculiar little facet of the current empire in decline.