A Battle Over Control of the Apparatus for the Creation of People

The Commoner

Issue 10

Spring/Summer 2005


“The economy”, after all, is ultimately a gigantic system of means and not of ends. Neoclassical economics has in fact only been able to make a successful claim to being a science since it has effectively vanished the analysis of ends—of values, of why people want the things they do—entirely from its purview. It can thus reduce human life to a series of strategies by which rational actors try to accumulate different forms of value: while exiling the study of value itself to other, inferior, disciplines: psychology, sociology, anthropology, and so on. (What this comes down to in practice is an insistence on treating all human behavior with total cynicism, and then treating the ability to do so as a value in itself. Hence, students learning rational choice analysis are endlessly told that one should not look at, say, idealists who sacrifice themselves for a cause as acting selflessly, but rather, as maximizing the feelings of self-satisfaction they get out of the knowledge that they are sacrificing themselves; while the obvious question—”why is it that anyone can get such feelings of self-satisfaction out of self-sacrifice in the first place?”—is treated as irrelevant.) The moment we refuse to sever these things, however, we realize that what on a personal level is a battle for access to the right to behave altruistically becomes, on a political level, a battle over control of the apparatus for the creation of people.


Anarchic Growth

Sarah Leonard wrote an account based on her experience at Occupy Wall Street and it was published online at Dissent’s blog (http://dissentmagazine.org/atw.php?id=571) and The New Inquiry (http://thenewinquiry.com/post/11573891823/occupy-a-bank). Its tone was generally positive and enthusiastic and it was titled Occupy A Bank. Her account raised some issues for me; primarily, her claim that the movement was growing ideologically. A large basis of my argument against her claim is due to the troublesome ideological contradictions that readily abound within the movement. Additionally, the movement’s “leaderless,” “goal-less” anarchic foundations raise my concerns and render me less than optimistic. The following is my reply:

Anarchic Growth

I’ve been making myself a fixture of Occupy Philadelphia when I’m not at work. I’ve been to Occupy Wall St. (OWS) a handful of times since September. I’ve been a participant rather than a pure observer and will continue to be… I may not be “hopeful” that anything will result from these actions but I’m supportive. Judging from her report (http://dissentmagazine.org/atw.php?id=571) ) if Sarah Leonard’s optimism and enthusiasm were able to be bottled; I’d drink a case. However, her qualities and subjectivity can’t and all I have are my own.

My point of contention is that this movement is not growing, “ideologically” or any other way outside of attracting brief media attention and new curious onlookers’ bodies. Looking back, at some point, out of curiosity, I passingly read some of David Graeber’s work concerning social anthropology and anarchy before all of these occupations started. I understand consensus decision-making processes, their history and their costs and benefits; however… I have questions.

How will this movement produce anything other than a spectacle and a “change in the national discourse?” One minute the nation could be talking about Don Imus, then the next Jon and Kate plus Eight, then Bill Clinton’s sex life, then Death Panels, then election fraud in Florida, then Michael Jackson, then Occupy Wall St., then Steve Jobs, then the GOP and whatever stupid thing Rick Perry Bachmann Cain said lately, etc… ad nauseam. If the goal is to solely change the national discourse then much is left to be desired. The issues at hand impact real lives and I don’t think that should ever be forgotten.

My concern about this movement’s inability to produce or affect change is rooted in the movement’s origins in anarchism and its adherence to a direct democratic consensus decision-making process, its “politically perfect” all-inclusiveness, and its fetishism of being self-sustaining and working “outside” of the system- which is illusory and escapist at best. Anarchism is weak in its theoretical foundations. Tell me, what is anarchism exactly? Anarchism really doesn’t provide any prescription for moving from the status quo. Isn’t that what’s always said about Marx’s communism  in regards to its prescribed (violent) clash between workers and exploiters, proletariat and bourgeoisie and its subsequent move to a system that’s controlled by workers- that its too vague?

It could also be argued that the OWS movement isn’t really working outside of the system; on the contrary, its very much a functional part of the system, and its job is to act as an temporary escape valve for the maddening negative energy produced as a byproduct of a highly visible system of exploitation. In other words, vent now for a little while then get back to work and embrace life’s constructed precariousness with entrepreneurial flair. Just don’t make too much of a scene or disturb the lives of regular folks. Only time will tell how long these occupations will last and what effect they will have. The economic inequalities and political conflicts of interests that OWS protesters highlight have been around for years. Stratification and inequality social science researchers have made careers out of documenting such trends which largely indicate that the quality of life for most people within this country have been on a downward trend for a long time. What made people want to act now? I suppose the 2008 financial crisis was the straw that broke the “lazy, entitled, welfare queen-like” camel’s back and forced people out into the streets to try to set up an alternative system in which to exist- even if the alternative “working outside of the system” system that they are constructing is reliant upon donations from people working for and within “the system.”

One last point that I wanted to broach was that all-inclusive, “organized” anarchy seems like a perfect vehicle for adverse political energy or ambition in an oligarchic capitalistic system. All oppositional forces get channeled into a baseless vacuum to be diffused, marginalized and essentially castrated while the elites stand by, watch and wait; which reminds me of a video that went viral of a group on a balcony on Wall Street, drinking champagne, looking down, pointing, and laughing at protesters one afternoon during the first week of the occupation. I may be skeptical; but, I’ll be at the next direct action probably positioned in proximity to a Sarah Leonard type, trying to find answers to my questions.