Saturday, October 08, 2011

The Narcissism of Revolution

"Occupy Seattle", a thinly-attended offshoot of Occupy Wall Street, has been going on across the street from my office this last week. What do the "occupiers" want? If you view this rant narrated by Keith Olbermann (shredding whatever scraps of integrity he might have left), they want America to know that corporations are evil.

Don't get me wrong - I like a good protest. Lock yourself to the gates of nuclear plant, protest the war, demand equal rights, whatever. But here are the problems I have with this protest:

1. It's infantile and wrong.

Have corporations visited these evils upon us? Of course they have. But corporations have also generated jobs, enabled innovation and powered an unprecedented increase in the standard of living for Americans. Corporations have developed the tools used by the protestors, and employ most of their parents, making it possible for them to protest. And let's face it: if all you want to do is run out a one-sided diatribe, a similar litany could be employed against labor unions, public school teachers, religions - or the entire human race.

2. It's non-actionable.

What exactly would the occupiers do about the evil corporations? Regulate what they can pay their employees? How they can spend their money? How much profit they're entitled to earn?

Why yes, if you listen to many of the occupiers. They want public ownership of corporate assets. They want redistribution, Soviet-style. Never mind the experience of the last 80 years. Never mind the spectacular abuses and failures of centrally-planned economics.

3. It's narcissistic.

Many of the OWS protesters compare themselves to democracy activists in the middle east. America may have issues – we’ve got an overreaching security state, we waste tens of billions of dollars on a spectacularly failed war on drugs, we pay too much for middling health care outcomes, and we aren’t willing to tax ourselves enough to pay for all the goodies we want. But these issues are nothing - nothing - compared to what people in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and Yemen faced or are facing.

It's embarrassing that the OWS crowd thinks getting jailed over a hippie campout is the moral equivalent of facing bullets while standing up for democracy in Cairo or Damascus.

4. It's entitled.

At the center of these complaints is a failure to take accountability. No one forced you to take out that over-leveraged mortgage, or go $100K in the hole to get a college degree. We all have choices, and we own the consequences of those choices. And don't forget that many of the problems plaguing our state and local governments stem from the rapacious appetite of government employee unions, and the failure of our leaders to protect taxpayers from the ruinous pension obligations they've signed up for.

Joe Biden said Occupy Wall Street is like the Tea Party. And he’s right. Just like the Tea Party – with its “keep your hands off my Social Security/but don’t tax us” message - OWS suffers from magical thinking in its muddled blend of tired lefty tropes.

Those of us in the reality-based community don't have patience for such indulgent, pointless crap.


Anonymous said...

Okay. Great. So what's the alternative, then?

Josh King said...

The alternative? Get a job. Start a business. Take responsibility. Read and learn. Understand how the world works.

And if you want something to change, push for it in direct, actionable ways.

Anonymous said...

Your argument is facile in a lot of places, sorry to say. Get a job? I have one, but I was unemployed for ten months in 2008-2009 and unable to find work, despite holding a BA and an MA, and despite applying for -- at LEAST -- 250 jobs. Were it not for government assistance and the help of a generous family, I would have lost my ability to provide for my basic needs, including a major chronic illness that's incredibly expensive to manage, even with insurance. Start a business? Businesses require capital. Where would you suggest one source that from? How would you suggest someone deal with the fact that nearly all businesses lose money for at least the first year?

The best advice you've presented is to read and learn. I do both, constantly, but I recognize that others refuse to -- and that is something that people on both sides of this issue are guilty of.

I do understand the way the world works. I understand that a group of committed individuals can change it. I understand that the most major systemic changes in the past fifty-ish years have come about due at least in part to grassroots protesting.

What do direct, actionable ways look like to you? Voting doesn't help. Taking personal responsibility is essential, but these days it only gets you so far. I've written my representatives. I've done my best to give back to my community to pick up the slack left by the rich who lobby and funnel billions of dollars into preventing the slightest of increases. This isn't a rhetorical question -- what are you suggesting?

Josh King said...

You obviously missed my "take responsibility" point. Why on earth would a directionless street protest feel like the right answer?

Nobilis Reed said...

The essence of your point seems to be, that without an agenda, the movement is pointless.

Fine. Then don't support it. But just because you can't (or won't) see the point, doesn't mean there isn't one.

Either join up or get out of the way.

Susan said...

It takes money to make money and when 1% of the people control 90% of the wealth, the everyday man gets screwed. I am a legal professional and I know that the laws favor the rich. OJ Simpson murdered his wife and walked free, that would never have been possible for a poor man. But your are right in one respect. What the "occupy" groups should do is agree to stop supporting corporate America. They should stop paying their credit cards, stop working for corporate war companies. They should reinvent power at the local government level and reorganize their communities and evict corporate america lock stock and barrel.