Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Occupy Wall Street is aimless nonsense

I don't like public protests.

It doesn't matter what the cause is, from calls for violent Marxist revolutions to the small government Tea Party rallies, there is something about public demonstrations that just turn me off.

They're loud, clumsy and mindless and they praise crude signs and annoying chants. Instead of the marketplace of ideas, protests are a monopoly of conformity. As Jean-Francois Revel said:

A human group transforms itself into a crowd when it suddenly responds to a suggestion rather than to reasoning, to an image rather than to an idea, to an affirmation rather than to proof, to the repetition of a phrase rather than to arguments, to prestige rather than to competence.
Enter Occupy Wall Street, a completely generic protest that has no real goals and is now trying to shoehorn every broad liberal talking point under a common banner. The idea of deciding what a protest is about after it's started isn't revolutionary, it's moronic.

This is the perfect example of the sad state of modern protests - self-righteous feel-good antics that have little chance of accomplishment.

If the goal is to change the world in a targeted way, than public protests are a poor investment of time and money. If instead the goal is to develop an undeserved sense of accomplishment, then by all means, paint those brown cardboard signs and repeat those slogans.


  1. Protest has an appropriate window of effectiveness. And it has to be done right too. Civil rights protests in the '60's lead by King, which were truly peaceful (as in, not rowdy) and where people were encouraged to "wear their Sunday's best," help to demonstrate a lot of people are serious about change.

    There's nothing serious about big hats, costumes, and window bashing teenagers clad in black and red.

    But again, protest can be effective. I think it's hard to argue that the Egyptian protests against despotism and in favor of establishing a Democratic government have been incredibly successful in driving change and garnering international support. They have a long ways to go - but they're galvanized and heading in that direction.

  2. I too am wary of clueless, unfocused, self-aggrandizing protests. There are definitely those elements in the Occupy Wall Street protests and will probably continue to be. I have greater hopes for the OWS movement _as a whole_ (compared to the flip side of their coin, the Tea Partiers) to mature into something more constructive and relevant for the improvement and progress of our country. Why? First of all, the underlying issue--corporate control of our government--gets more at the heart of what has gone horribly wrong with the mechanisms underlying our success as a nation: capitalism and democracy. Underneath all the B.S. and histrionics, you can coax out several worthy points from the Tea Partier movement, but they've had years to do this themselves and thus to present their best case to the Americans. They remain largely a straw-man, witch-hunt clown show. Maybe it's wishful thinking, but I do have higher hopes for this new movement while it's still in its infancy. It depends on how much the opportunists and demagogues get ahold of and shape the public debate. Seeing as how people like that thrive in our current atmosphere of fear and polarization,I hope my optimism is not misplaced.

  3. Jeremy, you make a good point. Some type of public protests are more successful (and focused) than others. I didn't see any silly costumes in the Libyan protests that lead to a civil war - and some major human rights violations on the part of the rebels.

    I stand by my position that I don't enjoy the shouting and conformity of a protest. I'm not saying that shouldn't be allowed, just that they're not right for me.

    It's easy for me to put down Occupy Wall Street gatherings because I disagree with their world view and the motivations of the protesters. It's much more of a stand for me to say I don't have an interest in the Tea Party protests, even though I agree with their consistent purpose.

  4. Ironically, I'm all for their highest-rated current demands: revise the rights granted to corporations by the government, repeal the patriot act, and end the war on drugs. Other highlights include ending capital punishment and repealing the 16th amendment. There are a few that essentially call for prosecuting fraud (aka protecting property rights), which I'm all for, and then a chunk of about 5 or so choices that I'll summarize as "become a social democracy".

    Where I agree with you against their world view and motives is the fact that, to the letter, these are demands of government and not of Wall St. I understand that people are mad, but I think if they had planned these demands in advance, the protest would be called "Occupy Capitol Hill" and I'd be much more sympathetic.

    I think if you were to combine this and the Tea Party and trim off the outlying socialists and the racist/religious freaks, you'd have a huge block of people who want common sense reform of government.

  5. Ben, where did you see this list of demands? I've seen five different lists so far, and missed those issues.

    I am with you, of course, on fighting crony capitalism, but most of the demands are just plain anti-capitalism. I think you're trying to put lipstick on a pig.

  6. .. This is the results page of the "Vote on our one demand" page you linked to.

    I think both groups have huge gaps in belief when compared to their own leadership. The Tea Party grew out of solid libertarian principles but all relevant polling I've seen says it's become a political machine for standard issue religious Republicans. One the other hand, I think OWS is led by some pretty hardcore socialists, but the only relevant polling I've seen says the people who are joining them are mostly people who are angry about government (aka the Michael Moore definition of capitalism) and just confused.

  7. Ben, I see exactly what you're referring to, but I've collected a few page of official demands and they are all over the place.

  8. Yes, but of the four I see linked there, the two really crazy ones are forum posts with limited/mixed support in the comments. One is the poll to which results I linked, which is the only one I've seen that's taken the approach of allowing votes and giving real number, and as I said, it's three leading demands are libertarian values.

    Only one is written by the webmasters of the official site, and it's basically a summary of the Democratic platform, with a sprinkling of complaints about police power. It also doesn't once mention government regulation, in which case I'm all for going after Wall Street by aggressive appeal to the consciences of it's executives and by choosing to do limited business with it's firms.

    I'm not saying the protest didn't grow out of strongly socialistic tendencies, and that we shouldn't debate these tendencies with vigor, but rather that as the demands compromise with the mainstream and become more pragmatic, a likely lingering effect will be people energized against at least the social injustices of the government, if not the economic.

  9. Can we please get past "Socialism" and "Capitalism" being universally dirty words, depending on which camp you're in? This is exactly the type of crap that is holding us back. Only small, fearful minds need something to be 100% one thing or the other. Critical thinking skills, flexibility, creativity, humility, and integrity would serve us much better than poorly-understand and terminally-misused labels and slogans. I swear to God (as an agnostic, mind you), watching the political process in this country over the last ten years is increasingly like watching West Side Story. Are you a Jet or are you a Shark? Well, neither, thank you...which is one reason I've enjoyed stumbling onto your blog.

  10. Ben: btw, well-put in your first post.

  11. M. Shelhamer, I think you've stumbled across my dirty secret here. I'm not fully a conservative, and the target audience of this blog is moderate liberals.