A Few “Occupy” Thoughts

A few people have asked why I haven’t been posting a lot about the Occupy movement. After all, I have a blog and I don’t seem to be afraid to use it. It’s not like I don’t have opinions on the matter. So I figured I’d take a few moments and touch on a few things.

Excerpted and modified from an xkcd post.

The strength and weakness of the Occupy movement is its diversity of views. On the one hand, it amply shows the systemic breadth of the problem. On the other hand, it makes it difficult to actually fix anything because it’s hard to specifically pin down what to fix.

From my point of view, this isn’t about anger over whether or not someone is rich. No, the anger is with how the wealth was gained and how the influence that wealth gives is wielded.

Most people have to work to make money. They have to perform an actual service or create something tangible not previously in existence—you don’t try to take value from others without giving value in return. If you don’t give that return value, you are a criminal. It’s that simple. However, we have learned time and time again over the past several decades that wealth reduces your accountability; i.e. you’re more likely to get away with it. Getting away with it, and the idea that you are above the silly concerns of the lower classes so we don’t have to play by their rules (in fact, we can make new rules that favor us), is what the anger is about.

The Occupy movement isn’t about socialism as it’s accurately defined. It’s about fairness. Yes, that fairness includes a significant restructuring of the country’s wealth, but that doesn’t mean that there won’t be rich and there won’t be poor. What it means is that wealth needs to be earned. It means that there is a social contract that must be adhered to. For example, you pay people a fair wage and don’t overwork them. Henry Ford understood this. He wanted to make sure his workers were able to buy and use the cars he was manufacturing…and thus make him even more money. That’s the contract. Milton Hershey not only helped his community, he even built the town his workers lived in. That’s the contract. It’s about not forgetting about the people building your wealth who are also your consumers.

Something that the Occupy movement has done that it didn’t intend to do is to expose in high relief a fascist mentality that permeates police departments and (apparently) some government administrations. It’s hard to quantify how pervasive this is, but scenes of anonymous, riot-geared storm troopers (calling them simply police seems overly generous) abusing the citizen class they are supposedly also a part of has been disturbing. More disturbing is how the “good cops” aren’t restraining their out-of-control brethren. This, in my opinion, makes them increasingly culpable and accountable. If it’s just a few rogue cops, then they need to be publicly controlled by the law-abiding cops also present. If it’s more an indictment of the current police culture in general…well, then we might just have a bigger problem than only the narcissistic rich.

Combined, it does paint a dystopian picture of a United Fascist States of American Corporate Interests. I’m not convinced we’re quite there yet, but we are definitely recognizably close. The thing that does give me pause is that we are a constitutionally approved, incredibly well-armed country. So far, the violence in the protests has been pretty much one-sided. I can’t help but wonder how long that will last. I shudder at what would then ensue (still remembering the riots in the 60s), so I hope restraint is increased on the “law enforcement” side and continued on the Occupy side.

In the end, I blame the “we are better than those who are not us” mentality of many groups. They have fostered a climate that says “we are chosen” and the rest of you are lucky to get our scraps…so stop persecuting us. Yes, they are both the bullies and the victims in their delusional narratives. It’s not just the province of the self-entitled rich. Unless and until we re-establish our common purpose, accepting that it’s our cooperative diversity that makes us mighty, then we as a nation are nothing but a disappointment in the eyes of our founders.

There are many ideas being floated about on what the diverse Occupy movement wants. One of the more recent dispatches, “The 99%’s Deficit Proposal: How to create jobs, reduce the wealth divide and control spending” (link) includes some good discussion points along with some pie-in-the-sky you’ve-gotta-be-kidding-me ideas. The key here is that it’s an attempt to have a dialog. If all parties aren’t willing to at least seriously discuss the problems with an honest intent to solving them, then we’re just spinning our wheels. The time has long past for political wins at all cost. The politicians need to remember the definition of a good deal: in the end you feel a little bit happy and a little bit had.

Mostly I want to apologize to the young people for this mess (and other messes) the more short-sighted of those in my generation and the the ones they’ve trained have built. All my adult life I’ve tried to get people to recognize this foolishness, but when you are a small fish in an ocean of sharks, the sharks don’t tend to pay you much mind and the other fish are just trying to stay alive. I’m also very proud of the Occupy movement. We really haven’t seen its like since the 60s. We’ve been long, long overdue. I just hope it stays a force long enough to affect constructive change.

Photo: Igal Koshevoy (CC Attrib.) modified

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