On Occupyosity and Making Real versus Illusory Differences

I got sucked into Occupyosity by a Facebook friend’s posting of a particularly obnoxious article entitled, “What Exactly Is It that Occupy Critics Don’t Get About Civil Disobedience?” To read the article is to reminisce fondly about those days when we were 14 and 15 and 20 and absolutely certain, so abundantly clear in our early mushy work-in-progress brains, that we grasped the core truth, and that our doddering misdirected contemptibly careful and uncommitted elders didn’t even have rudimentary sense, much less our vision!

Mmmm, yes. It was a feeling so fine I would wish it for everyone, momentarily. “Getting it.” That’s the fascinating power trope of youth speaking to entrenchment — all manner of entrenchment, politicians pursuing naked self-interest, parents stuck in their eye-rolling, pathology-perpetuating ways, bosses being intractably stupid — oppressors all! And the poor Masses, swooning to the insidious fiddles of nefarious Power Elites — oh my the pitiable Masses, those dim-witted enablers of oppression who let this vast stupidity avalanche over their own interests, well, they’re almost as bad as the oppressors. They almost forgivably just don’t get it. Like we do. Mmmm, yes…

Back when I Got It, I was liberal, supremely confident, and certain my Dark Foes lacked the basic synapse that connected thinking and Compassion. And by Compassion, I meant, you know, Caring Deeply about a set of politically significant Abstractions. And by thinking, I meant that thing I did in abundance that set me apart from the dunderheads who couldn’t see the abject stupidity of Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan. I was teaching in Kenya during Reagan’s reelection campaign, and swaggeringly bet my possessions with a transient American tourist that America would never reelect that buffoon.

Which is to say, I was a wincingly ridiculous liberal — and I know that none of my liberal readers here is that kind of liberal (except for the three in my sidebar survey who say they are so extremely liberal they almost come full circle to fascist, unless they were kidding). Do not feel obliged to defend yourselves. But I do see a bit of my old self in Occupyosity. But just a bit, as I will explain.

First I hasten to add, I see intermittently much to admire in Occupyosity. I see individuals dedicated to mediating conflict. I see individuals articulately decrying their comrades’ anti-Semitic outbursts and other hate rants. I see surges of sincerity, genuine appeals to economic fairness and focus on jobs. I see capable fundraisers (a war chest of several hundred thousand dollars). I see individuals focused on cleanliness and spontaneous sanitation departments. I see individuals focused on feeding — their own and the surrounding homeless. I see individuals dedicated to literacy, and even a “people’s library.”

I admire each of the foregoing individuals, and would have much to learn from them in riveting individual conversation. I just wonder why they’re not simply doing what they do so well — why these talented individuals aren’t very busy raising money, cleansing and ordering, feeding, and teaching in their own communities — and making a measurable difference they cannot possibly make as simpleton trespassers? Why are they finally doing what they do well in consort with a rag-tag aggregation of petty (and occasionally felonious) criminality and political vapidness?

Bias and serious personal deficit alert: I don’t do groups. I love professional football but will never, ever, actually go to a stadium and endure my species behaving that way. I like it slickly mediated on television, thank you — and even then, the crowd noise vexes me. I believe, with faux-mathematical precision, that people gathered in numbers greater than seven behave exponentially more mindlessly and recklessly with each additional person. I believe, with faux-sociological precision that groups, over individuals, are inclined in predictable relation to their numbers to the greatest atrocities — including the atrocity of embracing massive injustice, which they would never do as individuals — for the sake of silly solidarity with their makeshift identity-pumping group.

“Mob,” the very word, makes me shiver. From the Latin mobile vulgus, meaning vulgar hand-held devices and the spectacularly brazen rudeness committed millions of times a day by owners of these diabolical grace-suckers… oh wait, another subject, I digress. Mobile vulgus, the “gathered transient commoners,” the “mob,” as our language, with its gift for Anglo-Saxon grunts, shortened the Latin phrase. Which makes me scurry to Edmund Burke for solace, for a measure of relief against the Jacobin fury and orgy of self-righteous slaughter. Mindless anger and literal carnage acquire lethal force in numbers. Genocide — the ultimate human horror — germinates and cannot gather force without mobile vulgus.

Human beings are wonderful, ever less so in the aggregate.

Now you know my visceral suspicion of Occupiosity. As it was my visceral suspicion of the Tea Party. Collections, both, of interesting people, squandering their charm in service to their comforting mobs. But then I saw very little of the contempt for common manners in Tea Party gatherings. Quite the contrary. More like PTA gatherings writ large. A very few bad actors to be sure, but by and large well-mannered people, roughly organizing around a coherent grievance about our over-reaching government, who never broke a single ordinance. And then I saw the fury and orgy of leftist contempt for them, the vicious bile and ridicule heaped upon them, and I actually felt sympathy for a group I didn’t particularly like.

I still don’t like the Tea Party and I don’t like Occupiosity, such is my abiding distaste for determined gatherings of too like-minded people. But I am struck by the astounding hypocrisy of people who celebrate Occupiosity while slamming the Tea Party — these twin burps of challenging times. Like, to come full circle, the Seattle-based lad who authored “What Exactly Is It that Occupy Critics Don’t Get About Civil Disobedience?” The Tea Party — or “teabaggers,” as he offensively prefers, waved “their trademark poorly-spelled signs,” and got more media attention than his favored labor-union-driven rally about health care. And then Occupiosity got just as much media attention, simply because the Occupiers committed “civil disobedience” (that is, they “shut down a goddam bridge”), and he’s pissed, whereupon he defends, in Saul Alinsky style, the attention-getting prowess of “shutting down a goddam bridge,” and bludgeons the people who might wish the Occupiers would simply behave a little better.

What exactly is it the lad doesn’t get about “civil disobedience,” as that hallowed term is now commonly understood in our political parlance? Gandhi and Martin Luther King promoted deliberate, non-violent disobedience and violation of manifestly unjust laws, and did so with stupendous honor and self-sacrifice. I am a conservative today with enormous respect for some of the liberals of yesteryear, what they did and how they did it, and how much we owe our modern civil polity to their steadfast courage against entrenched injustice.

But I have little patience for people piggy-backing willy-nilly on that legacy who fundamentally misunderstand it. Occupiosity isn’t protesting any particular unjust law the way Rosa Parks so courageously did. I’ve yet to hear about any specific law the Occupiers are challenging. They’re just protesting “economic injustice,” or “corporate greed,” or “capitalism.” And in the service of that vastly vague objection, some of their numbers are breaking the law — even with substantial latitude to do their thing.

To be sure, police have run the gamut from responding well to badly. Let it be a given that when you “occupy” places that aren’t yours, when you “shut down a goddam bridge,” you tend to invite a bit of push-back, even conflict. When you disrupt neighborhoods, the neighbors can get testy. So instead of critical inquiry into what the Occupiers want, we get a media frenzy of dramatic sub-plots involving rapes, murders, and pepper spray. None of this gets us beyond the level of shallow spectacle. None of this gets us beyond a juvenile celebration of “idealism” and its discontents (or, for the older wistful spectators of the spectacle, a Big Chill-like nostalgia — and by the way, my pseudo-sociological conclusion regarding groups larger than seven comes, entirely arbitrarily, from the seven old friends in The Big Chill).

And I keep coming back to those conversations in my head with the Occupiers, the conversations that remain imagined because of my admittedly idiosyncratic distaste for large gatherings. Okay, if you’re not sure what you specifically want, how about doing what you do so well in your own community? How about making a small but real and meaningful difference instead of wasting your time and abundant community resources thinking you’re making some media-lusty and empty “big” difference by simply Occupying?

9 Responses to On Occupyosity and Making Real versus Illusory Differences

  1. jmgoyder says:

    Okay, you’re a bit verbose and maybe a bit arrogant (this is not necessarily a criticism) but I think I could get used to you!

    • Well! You’re neither verbose (yet) nor arrogant (yet), and I already know I could get used to you! :) Thanks for joining. I take your point, and struggle (believe me) with both, such is my selfish bias in favor of my words and my viewpoint.

  2. lbwoodgate says:

    I tend to agree overall with your premise about mob action and the juvenile celebration of “idealism”. I saw some this “idealism” at the recent Occupy event I attended here locally last this Thursday. It was amusing but not offensive. This is how nascent movements, especially with inexperienced younger individuals tend to come across. But your jabs at them Kendrick are not that far removed from what many of us saw with the Tea Party rallies.

    “Why are they finally doing what they do well in consort with a rag-tag aggregation of petty (and occasionally felonious) criminality and political vapidness?”

    Yes, the OWS crowd has had the misfortune of having those more violent elements assimilate into their movement but they have been repudiated by the movement itself. Some have even tried to thwart bad behavior but this is a movement primarily of youth who tend to be more physical than the older crowds of the Tea Party. However I don’t think we have seen any of the OWS parading around with signs about over throwing the government, menacingly toting guns or depicting any one conservative or CEO as Hitler, Stalin or Pol Pot

    “But then I saw very little of the contempt for common manners in Tea Party gatherings. Quite the contrary. More like PTA gatherings writ large. A very few bad actors to be sure, but by and large well-mannered people”

    Really, a PTA gathering writ large. Your being too gracious

    “roughly organizing around a coherent grievance about our over-reaching government, who never broke a single ordinance.”

    Over-reaching how? Providing a social safety net for the elderly or medical coverage for those who the private sector refuses to insure or wants out of reach premiums for many? Perhaps some within this crowd were also reacting to government over-reach that occurred during the Bush years like the prescription drug bill that benefitted Big Pharma and tapping private phone conversations of millions of Americans but you would never know it from the display at most of their rallies.

    “I’ve yet to hear about any specific law the Occupiers are challenging. They’re just protesting “economic injustice,” or “corporate greed,” or “capitalism.”

    It more like certain policies that aid the 1% rather than any specific law. But if you’re really not looking for specifics then you won’t find them. Try the OWS website for a list of specific grievances. (you’ll have to scroll down just a bit when you first click on their website)

    People see and hear what they want to Kendrick so it’s possible that the image you have of OWS is tainted some from your antipathy toward their anti-corporation sentiments and your empathy for the TPers pro-corporate/free markets sentiments. TPers may see a problem with government over-reach but they seem to be ignoring corporate over-reach that statistics show is creating the greatest income gap in the last 40-50 years and its negative impact on what was once a vibrant middle class in this country.

    At least my progressive slant is getting that vibe. :-)

  3. Oky, deep breath here, count to ten, Jean … hope your next post on the OWS can outline why exactly you disagree with their positions and go beyond your assumption: “how about doing what you do so well in your own community? How about making a small but real and meaningful difference instead of wasting your time and abundant community resources thinking you’re making some media-lusty and empty “big” difference by simply Occupying?”

  4. bronxboy55 says:

    I agree with you, Kendrick. Whenever I see another one of these massive protest movements “sweeping the globe,” I always wonder if it’s possible for so many people to feel so cooperatively passionate about something, or to even know precisely what they’re protesting and what they want. To be sure, these actions must begin with clear goals shared by a few thinking individuals. But at some point (and maybe it is seven), the objectives become fuzzy and, it seems, marching and chanting and occupying are done for their own sake. As with terrorism — and I’m not making any other comparison — it should seem clear that not much is getting accomplished.

  5. FrechPhew says:

    Well, I generally don’t like crowds, lines, groups or causes – am usually quite suspicious of the aforementioned and make many of my life choices to avoid same. That being said, I feel there is a definite cost to not only my reality and understanding, but my quality of life.

    You take ANY group of almost any size and it breaks down to good folks, bad folks, media folks, criminal folks, put attention on me folks, etc. Don’t blame the cause for the bad folks’ actions. I agree with BronxBoy55 that it sometimes is not about the cause but the opportunity to act out strange impulses. I avoid small, intellectual groups because I blurt out stupid sh*t sometimes and people giggle. Give me a larger group, especially with regular folks, and I feel empowered. I’m reminded of a time when I was witness to a protest. All the protesters wore masks and a friend went over and talked to a few of them. They didn’t know what they were protesting, they had been paid to be out there and thought it would be fun. Probably an inaccurate analogy for anything but the point I am making.

    As with any organization, you have to have all 88 keys working to actually get “chip clips” on the supermarket shelves. I should apologize by saying that I honestly don’t know what they are protesting and a deeper, more humble apology that I probably won’t take the time to find out. They have their human resources and marketing departments working away like mad. But it seems to stop there. What they are doing is great as a whole – they are trying to make things better and willing to be out there and on the record and stating they want that. They are willing to suffer a lot of discomfort to do that, and I wish I had a cause that motivated me like that. But, are they just nagging at their spouse to change or do they have a detailed plan for how to bring that change about. Cause, let me tell you, we don’t know how.

    So, please assemble a few of your brightest minds and work on how you actually want things to be and work backwards from there. Make something good come out of all of this, except stiffer laws that prohibit public congregating.

  6. lobotero says:

    I think that the occupy and mostly your working type stiffs and do NOT have the clout to influence well paid and thoroughly unconcerned politician…then what is left for the working stiff to do to try and influence? Let’s not use elections…we all know you almost have to be a millionaire to win any election including some local ones….if money talks and there is no money….what are you options?

    BTW, well done, Kendrick!

  7. How many people are in the Tea Party and OWS? Maybe the first point is that is still missed in the media is that there are many many people who are frustrated and are not well served in the economy or by their government. Just numbers alone say that the will of the American people is moving in a new direction, a proverbial worm is turning.

  8. bigdtootall says:

    To compare the TEA Party rallies to a PTA meeting is a gross exaggeration of the human civility exhibitted in any PTA meeting I have ever attended. I am almost sure that I saw on TV one of our past PTA presidents spitting at a cop on Wall Street. It is my prayer that the police chiefs across the nation ask our police forces to stand down and let Mother Nature do her thing this winter. A few freezing nights on the streets and most of these “occupiers” will retake their mamma’s sofa!

    My biggest fear is that some of the “rabble rousers” will incite a riot to further their cause (whatever the hell that is) and many of these dreamers will be seriously hurt for no good reason. Most sensible folk know that the problem is in Washington DC. If these folks had the guts of the civil rights movement or the anti Viet Nam war movement they would occupy our capitol! When these fanatics compare themselves to MLK or the peaceniks of the sixties I want to throw up all over their Birkenstocks! These guys can’t even organize a circle jerk. Leave ‘em alone and they’ll crawl home.

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