Saturday, October 01, 2011

The Occupiers and other thoughts

Sorry about the lack of posting. I've been busy with lots of stuff, including helping a friend move. (She's going to Vegas. A gruesome idea, if you ask me -- which she didn't.)

Our last post, on the Occupy Wall Street movement, made a lot of people feel queasy. I'm queasy about it too. Theodore Roosevelt's "In the Arena" quote haunts us all: If you're just a spectator, what right do you have to sneer at the warriors?

Then again, perhaps this blog constitutes a form of fighting.

Part of the problem stems from personal history. My only first-hand experience of protest marches occurred during the movement to end America's covert wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador. Those marches seemed ineffectual, silly and depressing; worst of all, they offered a glimpse of the thin line separating mass action from mob action. I neither liked nor trusted many of the people with whom I marched.

On the other hand: Just how ineffectual were those protests? Reagan never did send American troops into open warfare, although he clearly wanted to do so. When polled, the American public always remained anti-interventionist. I'm not sure that the protest marches played any role in keeping us out of war. How can one judge such a thing? But perhaps they helped.

We still haven't processed the lessons of the Reagan revolution.

I never will forget that the Reagan movement was created by people who once protested the Vietnam war. For that reason, whenever I look at the Occupiers, I see Tea Partiers, or at least potential Tea Partiers: The opposites look more like equivalences to these jaded eyes.

The thirst for rebellion will always -- in the long run -- serve the cause of reaction, because conservatism is revolutionary. James Kwak at the Baseline Scenario makes the point. Never forget that Boulanger, Mussolini, Hitler and Franco were all rebels. So was Reagan.

I noted, in the earlier post, that the political history of the 1970s came down to this progression: The slogan "Don't trust the Pentagon" turned into "Don't trust the government," which turned into "Don't trust the very idea of government," which turned into "Vote for Reagan."

Today, the "occupiers" have no universally agreed-upon program beyond an outrage over police brutality. Watch it happen: "Fuck the police" will turn into "Fuck the government," which will turn into "Fuck the very idea of government," which will turn into "Let's live in AynRandLand." Alienation from power is always a sentiment that the Libertarians can work with.

I suppose that support for the protesters depends upon one's level of discouragement over electoral politics. If you are a liberal, how can you not be discouraged right now? The "liberal" label has been misapplied to a bad president who is anything but a liberal.

Nevertheless, I have always counseled New Deal idealists to work within the Democratic Party with an idea toward an eventual takeover. This is how the Libertarians took over the Republican party. Why not emulate a successful strategy?

Today, as in the Vietnam era, the protesters seem to think that elections can solve nothing because the candidates have been purchased by the powerful. Look, we're all angry at the corruption which has ruined so much of the American political system. But if you have given up on electoral politics altogether, then what are you for? The only alternatives are fascism and/or AynRandLand.

Krugman: Here's a point which no-one has made previously...
If fear of future regulations and taxes is holding business back, as everyone on the right asserts, why didn’t the Republican victory in the midterms set off a surge in employment?
The right has been insanely successful in convincing the populace that prolonged unemployment is due to something other than lack of demand.

Horatio Alger laughs at you: Gore Vidal once wrote an essay -- I forget which one -- in which he noted that, during the Depression, every person who lost a job blamed himself. In the play Death of Salesman, the unsuccessful businessman must listen to innumerable tales of smart go-getters who made it big. Our culture offers a thousand daily jabs at our egos: "You're not talented enough. You're not good enough. That's why you're not rich."

Ever since the early 1980s, I've noticed that every recession is marked by a propaganda barrage designed to convince the public that bright, upbeat up-and-comers can still make it in America. The Horatio Alger myth just won't die. We're always being told that personal success has nothing to do with inherited wealth and everything to do with pluck and ambition.

Here's an example. Yahoo News runs a story like that nearly every day.

I think that the cumulative effect of these stories is not positive. The message is not "You can do it too." The message is "Lost your house? You have no-one to blame but yourself."


OTE admin said...

The Horatio Alger myth is the worst thing anybody ever came up with.

It simply isn't true one gets ahead on "merit"; in fact, merit doesn't even exist.

Unknown said...

Never forget that Boulanger, Mussolini, Hitler and Franco were all rebels. So was Reagan.

So were Washington, Paine, Mandela, Walesa, Gandhi,and Havel. Revolutions (and revolutionaries) come in all types. Reactionaries tend to have money and power on their side - so yes, they have very high odds of success.

Anonymous said...

There's ample evidence to know that corporations, especially financial institutions have Americans by the short hairs. This has only been possible with the help of the politicians in Washington. The Wall Street protestors may not understand how Wall Street works, but they have a sense that something is wrong and that those who run Wall Street institutions have something to do with what is wrong with our economy. Wall Street and Washington should pay attention. One day a leader will tap into the discontent, and hell will break loose.

Joseph Cannon said...

Hell indeed. I agree, DM.

Sextus: Washington and Paine operated against a background of the Enlightenment. Today's rebels are trying to speak to a generation which knows nothing of enlightenment values; their only reference points go to Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Ron Paul and Alex Jones. Do you really expect to find ANYTHING nourishing in such a cultural stew?

Penelope Pennebaker said...

"The thirst for rebellion will always -- in the long run -- serve the cause of reaction, because conservatism is revolutionary." Joe Cannon

"Conservatism arises in reaction to something, and it oftentimes perceives itself to be the underdog." Corey Rubin author of "The Reactionary Mind" in interview with Thomas Rogers of Salon

Great minds think alike.

Anonymous said...

I certainly take your point, Joseph. But I also feel in my gut that these protests in NYC, what will happen very shortly in DC and the satellite marches and demonstrations growing through the country is a direct expression of an unresponsive government that is unwilling or incapable of telling any truth to its citizenry.

On the financial side, we haven't had our Pecora moment. A relatively small group of financiers brought down the world through greed and lies. And yet, no one has been held accountable, short of Bernie Madoff [a piker in comparison].

We have endless, stupid wars that have bled the country of treasure and blood. I was listening to Book TV last night, a presentation of a former CIA agent on the subject of 'enhanced' interrogation and what we've lost in terms of who we're 'suppose to be over the last dozen years. And who is touring the country with books and more propaganda? Cheney and Rumsfeld.

In terms of elections, we've had three compromised elections in a row: 2000 where GW was installed by the Supreme Court, 2004 where the results in Ohio were highly suspicious and never answered adequately and a botched primary in 2008, which gave us Barack Obama [because frankly the Dems could have run Happy and Clown and won].

Money has corrupted the legislative process, corporate abuse has become the norm [think BPs outrageous behavior in the Gulf] and people--the working-class, the middle-class--are hurting be it through unemployment or a health system that's obscenely expensive and ruled by the insurance industry.

So, when I see the livestream of these kids in the street, my eyes register the unsettling nature of it but my heart knows that if I were a kid [one of the fetuses] and had possibly watched my father lose his job, my family lose our house, my mother sick but unable to get adequate treatment, my school loans coming due and I'm without a job and with no prospect of finding one? I'd be in the street, too. Because I'd feel I had no alternative.

Unsettling yes. But the choices are pretty miserable.

Peggy Sue

Anonymous said...

Peggy Sue,

I have noticed the same thing. I think I know the reason. The reason there has been no Pecora moment, is because they continue to be in control. We continue to live in a bankocracy. Jamie Dimon is one of our leading Oligarchs. We do not matter. Only our banking masters matter because it is only with money that you can take political power.

You are absolutely right Peggy Sue. And consider the recession that is coming. What will that end up doing to us? Where will this process end?