Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Neither a Conquest, Nor a Vocation

Almost two months have passed since the inception of Occupy Wall Street, which is more than enough time for everyone to take sides according to whether or not they sympathize with anti-corporate collectivism. Thus far, public opinion (though hardly unanimous) is more supportive of OWS than its Old Testament-meets-Wall Street libertarian dopplegängers, the Tea Party. This is meaningful because OWS and the Tea Party cannot be arbitrarily substituted for one another. True, they're both nominally anti-establishment populist uprisings, but that's as revealing as remarking that Jim Jarmusch and Chris Columbus are both successful caucasoid filmmakers from Ohio. Only the most facile & disingenuous among the commentariat pretend there's meaningful similarity between OWS and the Tea Party - a comparison so paper-thin that it can be debunked in about nine bullet-points augmented by flashy graphics.

Objectively, OWS is far easier to sympathize with than the Tea Party, and not simply because the former has refused the latter's embarrassing reliance on Nazi similes and racist imagery. The Occupiers themselves sympathize with the unemployed, the indebted, the working poor, and struggling families around the world, whereas the Tea Party sympathize with precisely no one. Their philosophy is equal parts Horatio Alger & avarice; they've infamously bayed for the blood of the incarcerated & the infirm; and the bootstrap-pulling pugnacity of the "We Are the 53%" blog reads like a suicide pact with the free market, inadvertantly highlighting the very tragic inequities that OWS seeks to correct.

So at the risk of surrendering to these Fountainhead-cases enslaved by Stockholm Syndrome to capitalist rapacity, why can't I offer my full endorsement to the #Occupy movement?

So far, I've been conspicuously silent about Occupy Wall Street, both online and off. After all, it's difficult to debate tactics & policy when there's little evidence or exercise of either: the very term "movement" implies momentum and direction, neither of which OWS has. The fraternal occupations that have sprouted around America & across the Atlantic are growth, for sure, but less snowballing locomotion than an entropic clustering of mass. The greater the Occupiers' numbers (or the greater the appearance of their numbers), the safer & more attractive it is for others to join their ranks. The Japanese have a saying: the more people running a red light, the less there is to fear. (Evidently, the Japanese have been to Baltimore.)

For all the attention & swelling attendance, I suspect the reason OWS has yet to win the majority's support is because it appears as a closed operation. It doesn't matter how inclusive the message or sentiment is when the Occupation is conducted via theatrical arcana and insular code: anyone who doesn't understand the symbolism of wiggling fingers, doesn't know what a "human microphone" is, or doesn't understand why the Occupiers keep throwing up Jay-Z's hand-sign is definitively outside the movement. I understand that creating rituals & codes are integral to a group's cohesion & identity. It's also what cults do precisely because of the divisive, exclusionary function those rituals & codes serve. Stephen Colbert's "field report" on Occupy Wall Street demonstrated this: relatively straightforward questions, refracted through the liturgical jargon of the "movement," became an impenetrable fog of Newspeak that failed to address such simple concerns as what's on the agenda.

Colbert too noted that they "seem like a cult."

Dogged adherence to process is proof of both an abiding civility and an intolerance for radicalism. For a "movement" that doesn't want to recreate the flaws of corporate hegemony, they've taken very quickly to restrictive & stifling discursive codes. In fact, this legislative orthodoxy explains the lack of any specific, articulable demands: as a heterogeneous assembly, the Occupiers refuse to presume any one demand would be adequately representative of, or beneficial to, each of the participants. Tasks are delegated, but representation never exceeds the level of the individual. They've even formed caucuses to promote "marginalized voices" within the "movement." As though the plutocrats give a shit about the diversity of their serfs. Patient acknowledgment of every demographic peculiarity looks good on the recruitment pamphlet, but it's arboreal taxonomy at the expense of the forest. If no collective action can presume to demonstrate the communal will, then the Occupy "movement" is merely a motley form of group therapy, the scattershot yawp of recession-scarred consumers.

When Colbert asked (with uncharacteristic earnestness) how he could be part of Occupy Wall Street, Justin Wedes replied, "You need to come down to the park, Stephen... you need to make your voice heard." Well, to stand & be counted is only an effective political act in a representative democracy, which America absolutely is not. (To say nothing of the likes of Harper, Cameron, Sarkozy, Berlusconi, Putin, or whoever the Japanese Prime Minister is today.) Has the "movement" already left no room for invention, adaptation, or a more aggressive engagement against capitalism? To wit, the Occupiers have issued a blanket condemnation not of corporations as malignant entities, but of the defacement or destruction of corporate property - reifying the very system the Occupiers claim to challenge!

I understand that it's too much to ask that someone had a readymade wholesale ideology with which to replace capitalism. But if we make no demands, then we can expect to make no progress either. What's essential is the exercise of imagination beyond what is expedient, practical, or indeed attainable. If we refuse to take "no" for an answer, then we have to ask questions that cannot be answered thusly. Naturally, we don't want our goals reappropriated & assimilated by capitalism as it reforms & resurrects itself in response to the current crisis. But this, Howard Zinn would remind us, is a dilemma that leftists has faced before:
It is hard to say how many Socialists saw clearly how useful reform was to capitalism, but in 1912, a left-wing Socialist from Conneticut, Robert LaMonte... suggested that progressives would work for reforms, but Socialists must make only "impossible demands," which would reveal the limitations of the reformers. (A People's History of the United States, p.354)
That is, of course, assuming that Occupy Wall Street are sufficiently radical or ambitious to want something other than merely a kinder, cuddlier form of global capitalism.


Jeffrey said...

I understand that it's too much to ask that someone had a readymade wholesale ideology with which to replace capitalism.

We don't need a new economic model (capitalism is not an ideology). We just need to enforce the existing rules and, as necessary, enact new ones.

As Matt Taibbi wrote in his recent RS article, the rich aren't winning, they're cheating.

DPirate said...

The rich are not cheating. What we have now is WAD; it's not a bug, it's a feature. I do agree that we do not need a new economic model, but only insofar as we do not need an economic model at all.

You know those little kids that get locked in their rooms and beat so they turn out unable to function normally? That's us, and we cannot imagine any other way of living. We'd miss the bruises.

Seb said...

Jeffrey, I'm inclined to agree with DPirate here. Yes, capitalism is ostensibly an economic model, but once any structure becomes a lens through which the very propagation of society & "progress" is framed, it is an ideology. That is what capitalism has become.