Why I don’t buy ‘Occupy’

…At least for now. There are a few things in American politics that can induce otherwise rational liberals to completely suspend their skeptical disbelief, and the “Occupy” movement is one of them. Were any of this coming from the political right (or if it were a religious proposition), many of these people would be examining its claims and actions with a critical, empirical eye in order to honestly evaluate the thing. Unfortunately however, “occupy” instead seems to serve almost like a religion — unquestioning acceptance of vague propositions, with unshakable faith that if our applause grows ever louder, then Tinkerbell is certain to rise again.

As I see it, part of the problem is the movement’s semi-random laundry list of long-standing liberal complaints. I mean really, does the animal rights thing belong in the top five complaints about moneyed interests having wholly captured society’s levers of power? How about the hyperbolic claim that the food supply has been “poisoned;” is that really a top five economic policy complaint? Clearly not, yet everyone I’ve talked to who supports the movement doesn’t bat an eye about either the list of complaints, the order in which said complaints are presented or the complete lack of proposed resolutions for said complaints. That laundry list may well have been arrived at by means of consensus (at least in NYC, what about the rest of the country’s input?), but in politics the happy-bunny word “consensus” is very often a synonym for the less palatable concept of “groupthink.” No less a figure than Mark Twain warned us of this phenomenon, pointing out that “when you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” Something that had been compiled with a more critical eye would be less likely to be directly self-contradictory:

  • They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press.
  • They purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media.

Well, which is it? If “they” control the media, then “they” certainly don’t need to use the cops and military to “prevent freedom of the press,” right? The problem lies in the definition of “they,” which is every bit as vague as everything else about this series of protests. In one line the pronoun seems to refer to corporate interests, but another line presents a complaint about some action by “them,” which is by definition an act of government. The quote above is just a representative sample, the “declaration” when considered in toto is laden with this sort of thing. I realize that the idea is to paint with as broad a brush as possible, but the fact remains that (despite regulatory capture) corporations and government are not actually the same entity. The complaints require different actions from different actors, yet the protesters seem to completely ignore this simple (and obvious) fact. As for what those actions should be, once again the question is completely ignored in favor of vague platitudes to the anti-consequentialist effect that the process is more important than its result. If consequences don’t matter and the process is more important than the result, then this whole thing is little more than masturbation: it feels good and may serve to release some tension, but otherwise it accomplishes exactly nothing.

The “occupy” movement needs to get its act together, and fast. Despite the fact that I disagree almost totally with the so-called “tea party,” I can certainly acknowledge the superior tactical ability it displayed. This begins with the time it made its debut — early Spring, giving it almost three full seasons of media attention to make its presence felt. “Occupy” started in September, so at maximum it will have until Thanksgiving to make its case. How long will those protest encampments last after first frost, or the first snowfall accumulation? And will the American public continue to patiently pay attention when the two biggest holidays on the calendar are rapidly pressing in? How about the beginning of the presidential primary season, which will start in early January at the latest? “Occupy” is quickly coming up against some major structural obstacles, and I don’t see it maintaining its momentum once they manifest — unless it gets much better organized and makes actual policy proposals instead of merely indulging in a very public form of primal scream therapy.

I’m willing to be convinced otherwise, but I’m not holding my breath.

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  • Leonard  On 2011/10/20 at 9:07 pm

    Cold weather or otherwise, I feel fairly certain that Thanksgiving is the cut-off point for this thing. It’s difficult to think of a better example of a consumer pop culture event than the Macy’s parade, making it a plump, juicy (and televised) target for protests. Will it be targeted? No idea. Do the city and its merchants have a stake in making sure that this annual tourist (and shopping) event goes off without a hitch? You bet they do, which basically means that this is a conflict waiting to happen. After Thanksgiving, the holiday blitz hits full stride (not to mention the run-up to 2012’s primary season) and America will have very little time or patience for any remaining protesters.