I have been watching the Occupy Wall Street protests with mixed emotions. While I sympathize with some of what they say, the group says a lot – too much in fact to be coherent given their shotgun sloganeering. Over the years I have argued against the bailouts of banks and especially the American auto industry, and have railed against crony capitalism regardless of whether it was conducted by Republicans or Democrats. And I disagree with President Obama that much of what the bankers and other corporate leaders did the precipitated the crisis was legal so they are immune to prosecution. The only reason they are immune to prosecution is that those behind the economic crisis including Goldman Sachs’s Llloyd Blankfein, billionaires Warren “Backtax” Buffet, George “Judenrat” Soros, Solyndra backer George Kaiser and JP Morgan-Chase’s CEO Jamie Dimon are strong supporters of the president. If they went down, they would take the entire Obama administration with them. What these men have accomplished is as much “capitalist” as what China is doing is communist. Ayn Rand and Adam Smith would be shaking their heads and laughing ironically in that annoying Gen X way; Rand doesn’t strike me as much of a crier.
What is truly ironic is that in the beginning of the 21st century when Capitalism has proven itself to be the most successful form of economics, so successful that former communist states like China have become capitalist in all but name only, the nation at the heart of 20th century capitalism now gazes intensely at its navel, questioning its basic tenets that created its success in the first place. And the height of irony is that its children, wearing expensive clothing made by multinational corporations, carrying expensive gadgets designed and sold by multinational corporations, and skipping classes at their expensive colleges and universities paid by their parents working at some of the very corporations they are protesting 0r enjoying stock dividends from these same corporations. These children, who are the beneficiaries of capitalism to such an extent that they don’t have to work, have the time to protest thanks to the very system they want to overthrow. Maybe they should get back to class judging by how little they know about the economy.
And to top off that irony, they claim to speak for 99% of the population. How can these children claim that except through the arrogance born through their privileged upbringing? 99% of the population sure can’t afford $5000 laptops, unlike these protesters.
They don’t speak for me. Not only did I work my way through college, I worked my way through high school because its yearly tuition was roughly 20% of my mother’s take-home pay from her small home-based sales business. When I graduated with a degree in political science, my future here was bleak even 20 years ago, so I left the country and taught English – an option I saw recently floated for OWS protesters complaining about being indebted with worthless degrees. When I returned to the US I had enough experience under my belt to know what my skills were and how I could improve them. Since then I have had good jobs and bad, but I built a career on my own without government or anyone else’s support. I am proud of my personal success; I own it and no one can take it away from me. I also have failures; I own them too, and don’t blame anyone else for those.
How can these children speak for me when they haven’t been allowed to experience success, because success is often a zero sum game where to succeed someone else must fail, and we wouldn’t want to hurt the loser’s feelings? Take applying for a job for example – something most of these protesters haven’t had to do. Nearly all jobs have more applicants than openings, so winning one requires others losing. Such competition is thought to be barbaric and was avoided throughout their education. The irony is that their parents understand competition. Many of them had to compete with other parents to get their children into the “right” preschool or the “right” elementary school so that they will be accepted into the “right” colleges and universities. These protesters are the winners of these events. The losers are either working, attending schools where they can’t afford to miss classes to protest, or both. But Karma loves irony just as much as anyone. You know what these protesting “winners” will call their “loser” brethren in 10 years? “Boss.”
These winners might be smoking dope, crapping on police cars and mounting each other like a pack of horny poodles, but the fun won’t last and reality will assert itself. Unless they are part of the 1% they are protesting against (some, like the students of Bard college are part of that hated cohort) they will have to cut their hair, remove their nose rings, take a shower and get a job. Of course, majoring in Gender Studies will have adequately prepared them for one of the millions of high paid jobs studying genders, or perhaps the English majors can nab one of the millions of jobs in America teaching English (although judging by the grammar and spelling on the signs perhaps not). Meanwhile positions requiring petroleum and geology engineering degrees in the US, ones paying starting salaries that would push these kids into the top 5% straight out of school, go wanting, snapped up by foreign kids who majored in fields that society demanded but weren’t “green” or didn’t have the word “studies” in them.
But that isn’t the heart of the problem with the protesters. Their biggest problems are the assumptions that they understand the system well enough to criticize it, that their criticism means anything, and that they speak for America. None of these assumptions are based in fact.
You have 20-somethings who have never held a job criticizing the job making infrastructure of our society that has functioned pretty well although not perfectly for the past 200+ years. You have children who have not been taught civics or American politics because these courses “perpetuated male-dominated stereotypes” or some such claptrap; they don’t understand how our democracy works enough to criticize it because if they did they would do what the Tea Party has done and captured the apparatus of an existing political party. Finally, you have single, young, white, “educated” upper-middle class people who have never worked a day in their lives representing the 99% of America. That 99% includes whites, minorities, part-time workers, minimum wage workers, the elderly, people with children, people who are caring for their aged relatives, professional workers, doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, soldiers, garbage men, assembly line workers, plumbers, members of the coast guard, marines, independent contractors, ex-military, small business owners, the religious, atheists, straights, gays, non-union auto workers, construction workers, plumbers, retail sales workers, and yes, even the vast majority of Wall Street workers. And that’s just a sample of the diversity found in the American economy. To make it more reflective of the population, one would have to mix and match those categories: an independent contractor with children who is caring for his aging parents, or a black, single father working construction.
Isn’t it amazing that the group that wraps itself so tightly in the “diversity mantle” is one of the least diverse in skin color, education, ideology and wealth? The protesters have the uniformity of a Ku Klux Klan cross-burning. Their view of the world is incredibly naive and narrow, thanks to parents who like Gautama Buddha’s protected them from pain from suffering and teachers whose ideologies run the gamut from A to B. They spout slogans like “Question authority!” and “Dissent is patriotic!” without actually questioning their own beliefs let alone their professor’s, or proving how dissent can be patriotic when in their own worldview patriotism itself is derided as an outdated concept meant to mask class differences and prevent class consciousness from arising within the proletariat.
Worst of all they are incredibly narcissistic. These protests aren’t about the 99% of Americans they claim to represent; they are about enjoying themselves while role-playing “protester.” These kids won’t face National Guardsmen with live rounds in their magazines like Kent State, let alone the rampaging tanks and APCs of Tiananmen Square, but these kids can pretend they will. The biggest danger they face is catching a venereal disease or getting pepper sprayed; their protest zones are cocoons of safety that no city or state government is willing to disrupt for fear that it will face the wrath of these children’s parents. When hippies crashed the Democratic convention in 1968, Mayor Daley wasn’t worried about lawsuits when he responded with tear gas, water cannons, batons and police dogs. Today the lawsuits would rain down on the administration of any mayor or governor that hurt the feelings of a protester, let alone beat one. The protesters can get high, have sex, organize themselves in post-capitalist and pre-industrial, matriarchal ways, and twitter each other on how much change they are making in the world. These kids are more concerned with playing “protester” rather than actually changing society. It’s as if society gave them a giant cardboard box to play with and they are inside it busily imagining that box to be a new society, with new representational governments, and new ways of organizing the economy. But it’s just a box for children to play with – not Congress or the judiciary.
The protests have been quite useful in many, unanticipated ways. They have shown the moral bankruptcy, gross incompetence and overpriced uselessness of higher education. They have proven that the most spoiled generation in American history, the Baby Boomers, has begotten an even more spoiled generation than their own. Finally, they have shown that the economic situation in this country is nowhere bad enough to merit serious protest. Throughout our history protesters only took to the streets in desperation, whether it was the Irish fighting conscription in the Civil War, or the civil rights protesters fighting for their dignity a century later. All of these protesters put their lives on the line, and many lost them. These pretend protesters aren’t desperate; they aren’t even fighting for themselves and have no “skin in the game”, and should the protests go bad – as I fully expect them to do once they are taken over by nihilists and anarchists – they will run home to the safety of their upper middle class homes built by a corporation and paid for with a salary from another through a mortgage borrowed from a bank on Wall Street.
UPDATE: Mark Cuban lays out what the OWS should do.