Home > Culture, Current Affairs, Politics > Occupy Wall Street and the Deep Grooves of Capitalism

Occupy Wall Street and the Deep Grooves of Capitalism

What the torn cardboard placard said.

As the Occupy Wall Street demonstration stretches into yet another week without outward signs of flagging, it likely behooves me to say something about it in this space at long last. Anyone with even a passing familiarity of Random Dangling Mystery’s emplacement on the political spectrum could surely guess that I feel some considerable sympathy for the protestors’ message. After a wishy-washy initial interregnum of mixed leftist signals, the movement’s chosen arguments has coalesced into a critique of income disparity and economic inequality (the oppressive response from the NYPD didn’t hurt either, or it did hurt physically but helped symbolically). When expressed with conviction, force, and nuance, a message of this sort is potentially very powerful.

There is no small number of citizens in America who feel dispossessed, marginalized, and betrayed by the monied elites, and, if properly energized and mustered, there could be considerable impetus for the kind of fundamental systematic alteration that it’s clear our collectively troubled capitalist democracatic order requires to survive in the long term. This form of bottom-up populism has not been the bread-and-butter of the Left for some time. Liberal political leaders have left such marshalling to their union allies while ceding the contested ground to the Right, who have left it sodden with selfishness, xenophobia, and conspiratorial animus. As with the protests against Wisconsin’s union-busting legislation some months back, Occupy Wall Street at the very least demonstrates that the left wing will not let conservative ideologues dictate every term of the popular debate on the economic situation.

Can't we all just get along? No? Well, at least I asked, right?

Still, the hard economic times south of the border have not yet lead to any sort of rapprochement between the warring political factions. Perhaps only a fool could have realistically expected that the 2007-2008 economic downturn would have lead to bipartisan cooperation; a fool, or a President-elect. Barack Obama is no more the ineffectual ruminator that the hard Left sees him as any more than he is the red-eyed socialist insurrectionist of the Right’s fever dreams. Still, the President certainly has consistently voiced an abiding confidence in the ability of his fellow citizens to rise above differences and disagreements (be they petty or deeply-held) that has not been borne out by very many political operators through his now-dwindling first term. Maybe he’ll be proven right yet; it’s a great fool who bets against this particular politician’s long game. But intransigence is a hard habit to shake.

Still, it would seem that the Right’s Tea Party fanatics and the Left’s Occupy Wall Street idealists have at least one big thing in common: both movements (if they can really be called that, in either case) distrust the dominant interests that they consider to be curtailing their freedoms. What they cannot agree on is who, precisely, those interests are, and both of their perspectives are hopelessly skewed by prejudices and biases.

For the Tea Party, the government alone is to blame for economic woes, while the corporate world is heroic, selfless, beyond reproach. Add to this point of view the considerable doses of resentment for minorities and “others” in various forms (African-Americans, Latin-American immigrants, homosexuals, Muslims, professional women, etc.) that are sadly endemic to the contemporary American conservative character, and it’s hard to convince anyone who does not share such preconceived notions to back the cause.

Occupy Wall Street employs a more tolerant, liberal approach, to be sure, and is willing to spread the blame from the usual capitalist bogeymen to the government representatives whose loyalty is owed first to their campaign donors in the corporate world and second to everyone else. But the whole demonstration is predicated on the sort of counter-cultural anti-capitalist critiques that tend to go over the heads of run-of-the-mill voters, or simply do not resonate with the ones they do reach.

Because ultimately, capitalism has more bullets in its chamber than its opponents do. The hormonal appeal of consumerism is powerful even amongst the protestors, surely, to say nothing of those they are attempting to persuade. Shit is fucked up and bullshit, sure enough, but how bad can it be, people must wonder, if you can walk into a Best Buy and, $500 later, come out with an iPad? Commodity fetishism is always a retardant of the fire of revolution, and can suck almost all of the oxygen from an event as distinctly sub-revolutionary as Occupy Wall Street. These are deep grooves in the democratic grain, not easily re-carven. I’m far from certain that a sit-in in the financial district can delve new ones, but it’s an attempt to trace them at least. Let’s see where it goes, if anywhere.

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  1. noyb@gmail.com
    October 15, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    What is with the sign the guy is holding? Is that the new motto because in the language of the stupid – it sucks.

  1. November 24, 2011 at 7:30 am

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