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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

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Friday, January 27, 2012

USEFUL LESSONS

I am back from the hospital, apparently in good shape.  I think that is enough about my physical condition, which is of the very greatest interest to me, and to a small circle of loved ones, and of very little interest to anyone else.  If I should die, I will sure to mention it on this blog.

Some while back, I observed that the Occupy Wall Street Movement has already won, since it has utterly changed the public conversation in America.  The brilliant polemical device of defining the fundamtnal issue as a struggle between the 1% and the 99% -- a definition that cannot, of course, withstand any sort of serious political and economic analysis -- has thrust into the public space the issue of income and wealth inequality and the consequent power inequality.  Precisely because the roots of this inequality lie so deeply embedded in the structure of capitalism, no laundry list of manageable reforms can address it.  The refusal of the OWS movement to formulate such a list is strategically brilliant, and infuriating to those in Washington who would just like to know "what they want" so that a palliative deal can be struck.

The success of the movement is astonishing when one reflects on how small it is.  I may be way off, but it seems to me that nation-wide there cannot have been many more than forty or fifty thousand active OWS participants.  Now, this is a nation of roughly 330,000,000, so the movement has involved maybe fifteen one thousandths of one percent of the population.  Any Sunday pro football game is probably watched by twice that many people in the stands. 

Recall the famous and very moving line from one of Obama's stump speeches in 2008:  "Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek."  He did not say "I am the one you have been waiting for," though that does seem to be what people heard.  Real change never comes from the top, for all that we on the left seem fatally inclined to look for saviors and leaders.  The biggest change in the public discourse of the past generation came from that half a hundred thousand men and women, or maybe even fewer, who acted without political leadership -- indeed, even without the usual leadership that popular movements most often produce.  All of the tactical devices of the Movement -- the People's Mike, the General Assembly, the demand for unanimity -- are deliberate anti-hierarchical manoeuvres.

These fifty thousand people, and they alone, have earned the right to say, "We are the ones we've been waiting for."

Where will the OWS movement lead?  Only those who take part in it can say.  But their success stands as a lesson and a challenge to the rest of us.

2 comments:

NotHobbes said...

"I am back from the hospital, apparently in good shape"

Today, I received a letter from HMRC informing me that I have overpaid taxes to the tune of £3000 over the last 5 years and am due a refund.
Your opening remark however, gives me infinitely more pleasure
:-)

High Arka said...

The necessary conclusion to the OWS movement is the well-heeled concluding that it has accomplished something by "shifting the dialogue" which the rich and powerful teevee folks will use for a few months.

At the end of it all, the steam will be released, and nothing will change. We'll continue paying taxes to fund genocide and provide a court system to protect the propertied class. However, we will have the right to claim that we accomplished something by supporting OWS on our blogs and by murmuring appreciative comments during television interludes.

Explain, Professor, how the OWS people going home to the same land of imperial mass murder and caste extortion change anything other than the buzzwords used by our overlords.