Occupy Vancouver 2011
I was at parts of the occupy Vancouver event yesterday. Despite normal Canadian political correctness , the debate over the People’s Mic vs the Electric Mic went on for over an hour, it was almost impossible to figure out what the hell was going on during that time. Also the hour long quest for translators was getting a little tiresome. Occupy Vancouver had the usual mixture of good and bad speakers. However overall a very well organized event which put its many points across well.
Please visit their site for a way better informed opinion than I could possible give.
Contrasting Psychologies of ‘Occupy Wall Street’ and the ‘Tea Party’
One is primarily a psychology of exclusion, the other inclusion. But both start with deep similarities: anger, fear, frustration, resentment, and an enduring faith in democratic ideals (why else participate?). No one likes what’s
been going on since the Bush-era housing bubble burst and we woke up to the fact that buying and selling houses to each other with money borrowed from China was no way to run an economy. A majority then bought into a message of hope and change without fully realizing hope is so very fragile (“a thing with feathers, That perches in the soul”) and change is scary-messy. Many who didn’t buy in have then gone on to reject anything Obama proposes, even when they themselves have previously expressed agreement with the very same idea.
In other words, we’re in a real mess with lots of reasons to be upset. No differences there. The differences between the Tea Party position and that of Occupy Wall Street emerge in how that upset is expressed, in how solutions are sought. If we think of the Tea Party starting with a rebel’s yell of “get your f-in hands off my f-in stuff” then OWS begins with a naive complaint about being hungry while others unfairly have too much, “how much stuff do you really need, really, to have a good life?”
From the start the Tea Party was about safety through exclusion, protecting oneself from outside influences—including a President seen as an un-American “other,” perhaps for racial reasons, perhaps other reasons as well. What the Tea Party rejected was anything perceived by them as coming from outside the center of America. It’s not us, it’s never us; it’s them. Bad things were by definition “un-American” or “against the Constitution.”
America, the true America uncontaminated by outside influence, is therefore exceptional by definition. And not just exceptional, but Exceptional. We’re good, they’re bad, regardless of who they are and what we do. No matter that you have no job, no healthcare; you’re an American and your suffering is “their” fault. This Tea Party message soothes through exclusion. What we now need to do is close ranks, reduce outside influence and go back to how wonderful it used to be when we were uncontaminated by outsiders. America, real America, the America envisioned by our Founding Fathers, is where goodness is found. Lock the doors and windows; never explain, never excuse; don’t tread on me. Of course, the price paid for such a pristine American vision of self is always feeling persecuted by neighbors against whom one must remain constantly vigilant.
The start of OWS is radically different. Everyone is included, everyone gets to have a say. Rather than policy they have process. The “we” of OWS is worldwide, a globalized, networked “we” full of good and bad existing simultaneously and everywhere. The messier the better; better to let in those you don’t want then miss out on including those you do. Of course, inclusion can be a big problem because people say and do lots of really stupid things. And all that stupidity is then felt as “us,” not “them.” But that’s the trade-off of inclusion; you have to take the good along with bad.
This path to a better America, a better world, includes living with some fear that getting your needs met might mean hurting someone else about whom you care. Rather than the constant state of hyper-vigilance that comes
from the Tea Party’s psychology of exclusion, OWS inclusion carries with it a sadness that no repair is ever perfect, that even the most exceptional America possible will still and always fall short of our aspirational ideals. And beneath the various critiques, like the ratio of CEO to worker compensation almost doubling in the last 10 years, there is a wild optimism at the wooly center of OWS. You see it at the marches, in the music, when you listen to people at Zuccotti Park organizing the clean-up to avoid police action. What becomes clear through a psychological lens is the optimism of cooperation and relationship, of being imperfect together, of searching for repair as community even while knowing no repair is perfect.
For Tea Party members, the world will always remain full of persecutory others (Obama’s the devil!!) while OWS holds out the promise of community, no, of communities of difference. The effort after inclusiveness can be so dramatically full of sympathy and concern for others that you may feel the movement respecting your subjective experience before they even know what their own point of view is. But if you knit together the union worker and ex-hippie, the college student sharing some shade with the cop, you find a belief that working together instead of against each other presents the very real possibility that people will end up not as triumphant winners but as people with enough—and in a radically inclusive networked world enough is, well, enough.
Of course, moving from the psychology of protest to specific policy recommendations is the responsibility not of the protestors whose message needs to be heard but of political leaders. And I want to note that there’s something profoundly anti-capitalist about the critics of OWS. It’s a movement about which capitalists, real capitalists who work hard and smart, have nothing to fear. Oligarchs, on the other hand, should be afraid, very afraid. Entrepreneurs and corporate leaders will find a way to make money and allocate capital so that jobs are created even in a workable financial system. Sure, breaking-up the incestuous relationship between Wall Street and K Street will change the rules of the game, but it won’t end the game. Maybe wealth disparity will shrink, maybe CEOs will make slightly less relative to average workers. But the entrepreneurial spirit will still triumph. Who knows, just like Steve Jobs emerged from the ethos of 1960s radicalism and spiritual-seeking, perhaps the 21st century’s next great industrialist will emerge from the Zuccotti Park tripod tarps and all-inclusive General Assembly in which everyone has a say.
As for me, obviously, I’m inclined towards inclusion, relationship, and sadness rather than exclusion, competition, and suspiciousness. And I know lots could go wrong. Extremism and fools, even violence, are all possible. But the essential message of getting Wall Street money out of K Street pockets, of realizing that corporations are not people, of treating people like people, of letting capitalists win over oligarchs all together means hope can once again perch in the soul. More than anything else, OWS is helping facilitate a shift in psychological values from more—and then more more—to enough, from the destructive envy of raging at someone who has more to the genuine satisfaction of appreciating what one has. It just may help us get to the point that we realize we are all in this together, that we’re all playing in the (American) band.