I originally recorded what I’m about to write as a youtube video/podcast, but I got cold feet at the last minute about signing up to put my voice on the internet, and so here we are. But I wanted to speak… er, write, from the heart here for a moment because of the goings on in New York, where I work, and where I consequently spend a great deal of my life.
This whole “Occupy Wall Street” thing is getting a lot of press and someone (actually, several someones) asked me what I thought of it all, today, and so here is what I think of it. I have to admit that a lot of the grievances that are being raised are probably legitimate ones, and are worth a hearing. There is, and has been for many decades, a major entanglement of politics and financial clout in this country, and that has always been a very dangerous and counterproductive thing. Perhaps predictably, National Public Radio and a lot of other media outlets have latched onto this thing, and all the photogenic young hipster college students going out to change the world, and have approvingly and compliantly built the protest up into a “movement.” Now, whether or not it’s really that, I don’t know, but I do know that I find myself in sympathy with the emotions underlying it, in that I think that people who have no work and few prospects and mountains of debt have every right to be pissed off about it. I know I would be, and have been, at the times in my life when I’ve felt stuck or downbeat about my prospects, as we all have.
But beneath that I sense something far more destructive and sinister about the whole situation down there. It is possible for a peaceful protest to be violent, insofar as what it advocates is itself a form of violence. What I mean by that is that this kind of movement is inherently violent, not only because it provokes violent responses from the police, but because the act itself, going to get in someone’s face and “occupy” their property, is an exertion of force against them, even if you supposedly are “peaceful” about it. There’s an undercurrent of anger and threat to this whole thing that I find unsettling and which keeps me from being able to support what’s going on on Wall Street and elsewhere, because it runs very much counter to what I believe.
“Occupying” a place is what soldiers do to oppress people, and I don’t believe in that because that’s violence. Underneath thus “occupation” protest, likewise, is a sense that these people see someone who has something that they don’t have, and they want to take it for themselves. That, too, is a tendency associated with violence, and I don’t believe in that either. I keep getting the feeling that if they could, these protestors would drag bankers into the street and stone them, and that NPR would record the whole thing dutifully and spin it as progressive and forward-thinking. These people and now their Union cohorts are making speeches daily about something called “corporate greed,” but really the protestors strike me as just as greedy and self-interested themselves and that bothers me very greatly.
I don’t think that banks can do no wrong or that megacorporations are an American’s best friend, but the alternative that’s on the table in “Occupy!” is to start tearing down the successful and putting limits, taxes, controls, burdens and penalties on those who have managed to keep their livelihoods in difficult times. In short, they want theirs, and they want to take it from someone else. And that, again, is violent to me, because it implies the exertion of force against someone by someone else.
So what do I think of all this? I think it’s an understandable expression of emotion and frustration, but I think its indulgence in public and the approval that it’s getting is setting back the cause of producing a less regulated, more fair, just, merciful, compassionate and equitable society, because that kind of society can’t be handed down from above or forced to happen from below. Such a society can only occur from a general conversion of conscience among all the people, through peace, cooperation and voluntarism. That may be millenarian of me, but I make no apologies for that. Saying that the 99% want to kill off or imprison or take from or brutalize the 1% is abhorrent to me in the principle that it expresses, that any percentage of humanity can legitimately declare that the rights of the remainder don’t really matter. This attitude that being a majority entitles you to what a minority has is the first step down the slippery slope to fascism. What if it were 80% versus 20%? Would it still be okay to expropriate them? Or 66% versus 33%? Or 51% versus 49%? The numbers argument holds no water with me. In fact, it only makes what’s happening in New York more offensive to my sensibilities. Nor does the “you just don’t understand” argument, because I do understand. I wonder how many of those protestors have worked in an industrial freezer at 4 below zero in August for $4 an hour. Or in a dusty, drafty warehouse on Christmas Eve for $8 an hour. Because I’ve done both of those things, and I feel no desire or entitlement to expropriate anyone in compensation. The world owes me nothing: that’s the great joy of it! If I can just sit back and collect on some imagined debt society owes me for having gone to college, there’s no challenge, and the rewards are hollow and the setbacks meaningless. And subsuming your own common sense into a mass movement because of some sense of what you’re entitled to is a frightening prospect to me, and it should be frightening to any rational human being, college student or otherwise. That’s just the breaking-up of society into groups to make it easier to hate the Other. That should scare the HELL out of everyone!
Look, it’s a really tough time for everyone, and I understand people being pissed off about that; I would be, and have been when I’ve been in that situation. But a public temper tantrum, or a self-indulgent display of entitlement, or a demand that “if I can’t have it, nobody can!” is going to go nowhere good. If the society they want to build is going to be based on envy and the setting of limits on people’s ability to succeed, it’ll destroy what liberty is all about. Maybe I “just don’t get it.” Maybe. But what I really don’t get is why somebody always has to be the enemy, or why everything always has to be some kind of a fight. I’m a believer in peace, cooperation, compassion and mercy. And that’s why I cannot and will not get behind this… whatever it is.