On Occupy

I, like so many others, have been following the Occupy movement these weeks and months, but I’ve written very little about it. I’m in sympathy at a general level–I have a low opinion of banks–but I’ve been unclear about how Occupy Wall Street would cause actual change. I was no clearer after visiting Occupy Boston on my way home from Salem, although I admired the community spirit.

Today I got some insight into both the movement and the reaction against it from an unexpected source, a mid-twentieth century book on cultural communication, The Silent Language by anthropologist Edward T. Hall. As a passing remark to illustrate a discussion of explicit and implicit cultural markers, the former being as obvious as laws and the latter being the givens that no one knows they know, he states: “The discovery that one of the implicit assumptions of American life is that hard work will be rewarded may explain a good deal about behavior in this country…” (p. 65)

Indeed. Let’s look at Occupy from that perspective.

  • I worked really hard (and spent a lot of money) to get my college degree, and now you tell me there’s no job for me?
  • The kids in the street are bums. If they worked hard, they’d do all right.
  • The suits got lots of money without really working for it. They are manipulators of a system, not creators of wealth.
  • If you don’t have a job, it’s because you haven’t tried hard enough (or in the right way) to find one.
  • If you are rich, you damn well better have worked hard to get that way.
  • If I am rich, I must have worked damned hard to be rewarded this well.
  • The system (work hard and get rewarded) doesn’t work for me. The system is broken.
  • The system (work hard and get rewarded) works just fine for me. There is nothing wrong with the system.
  • How tents in public squares will fix any of this is beyond me. But I do believe that most of us (the 99.5%) are playing with a stacked deck.

    The culture says that a college degree will get you in the door, but the jobs that are being created by our trickle-down system are for food service and landscaping. The culture says spend whatever you have to spend to get a good education. Parents start saving for college when their kids are born. Kids accumulate tens of thousands of dollars in debt on the gamble of good employment later. The parents are left with not enough funds for a decent retirement, and the unemployed and underemployed kids despair when see what little they have left after the banks and the loan companies take their share.

    Yet both sides of that decimal point think they’ve gotten a raw deal. “I worked hard, and now I have to spend my money to support you bums?” “I worked hard, but now what I did is meaningless?”

    I’ve heard it said that it was the educated kids in the 1960s who ruined it for everyone, with all their social turmoil and political actions. Education, they say, was dumbed down after that to help preserve the status quo. It’s an interesting theory. Certainly there has been a weird shift where now a college degree qualifies you for positions where a high school degree used to suffice. It is interesting to note that a high school diploma is essentially free to all, where a college degree requires money–sometimes a lot of money. Hmmm…

    I also haven’t seen a lot of mention lately of the fact that much of the upheaval in the Arab Spring was fueled not just by political dissatisfaction but by the dissatisfaction a generation (or two or more) of well-educated college graduates who could not find jobs. They took down the political system (or tried to, things are not yet fully resolved). Our over-educated and underemployed are trying to take down the financial system. I wonder which is the more entrenched? I’m guessin’ money.

    At any rate, I got no easy answers here, people. If you expect that, move along. I still don’t know what tents in the park will accomplish, but then, no one knew where the Free Speech Movement was going to lead, either.

    Can’t help but wonder what Isaac would have though of it all.

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    2 Responses to On Occupy

    1. Pingback: Magickal Media Blog » Blog Archive » News for Pagans, Tuesday, 11-22-11

    2. For the moment, I don’t know if we need a more defined focus as much as we need the tricksters and the Matangi among us to turn concepts topsy turvy, calling to question what we hold sacred, profane, rational, irrational, right, wrong, stabilizing, destabilizing, dignified or dehumanizing. There’s supposed to be this constant dance between harmony and discord, stability/clarity and chaos, else decline and decay set in more than they have.

      So while “conservative” folks attempt to boil down the Occupy movement “to bums looking for handouts,” the chaotic processes of shaking things up and getting people to think anew (and for themselves) can lead to straightening a lot out in the long run. Not everything worth anything **begins** with a crystal clear, concise message.
      We treated economic markets as if they’re entirely rational and ruled by neat equations, but a look at financialization tells us otherwise.

      Financialization — Most papers, articles, websites and books focus on the economic aspects of financialization but the truth is that first it spreads from the arts, religion, agriculture, and other sectors and then translates into economic failures. Boiled down to its essence, financialization is all about putting power networking and making a buck first to such an extreme that it both sabotages economic systems and ends up impacting every sector of society in a falling dominoes effect. It can be addictive to focus on power and making money. People are more inclined to think themselves quite clever and create formulas (grandiosity) to play markets, use or seed churches, control ideologies and wrench political systems to the point that leverage becomes the important thing rather than soundness and actual worth or demonstrable character. The spirit of it is myopic, greedy and power hungry. It’s very needy and unbalanced. (Hint: That is not the type of power that nurtures equality. It will batter civil rights on strategically chosen fronts.)

      Time to paradigm shift. It’s time to value imagination as one of our greatest and core virtues. It takes a lot of imagination to question reality, preferably before it gets this out of whack in just about every sense possible.

      We also should realize that many good things come to us from slow movements, as it were. The slow build of excellence…Renaissance and other “incubator” phenomena fascinate me, and I think that the Occupy movement could be a tributary to that flow, as many other things will become.

      And it makes incredible sense that if “the economic crisis” is really a whole set of woes in and outside of the economic realm, that we’re not going to fix our society and economy overnight.

      We’re facing a slow movement. It will involve a lot, just as financialization did. It’s primarily a cultural movement.

      Ultimately, it will focus on the state of education, informal vs. formal education, mastery and personal excellence. It will involve things transcendent and personal. It will be about things that transcend race, religion, economic background and other things government can use to profile us. It will go deep, deep into intrinsic factors involved in effective motivation, education reform, guided change and learning as a lifestyle.

      We’re facing an intellectual revolution much more charged than that which went on in the 60s. Slow movements reveal what we don’t otherwise take the time to examine, analyze, understand, innovate, and improve. Slow movements let us examine our values, our habits and our perspectives. They beg excellence and mastery. They’re rooted in culture, enrich culture, change culture and elevate our species above poor logic and underdeveloped social and political intelligences. Slow movements led to the United States’ independence, constitution, balance of powers, and Constitutional Amendments. All our civil rights movements are also slow movements. Occupy Wall Street is a slow movement that will entangle with others to create a larger one, one that’s inevitable. Yup.

      Why Not Excellence? Because It’s “as Fast as a Speeding Oak?” Oh, I know you recognize that! (Grin.)

      As many know, “The” Renaissance was actually birthed by increasingly competitive clusters of intellectual, cultural movements that gained recognition, admiration, dignity, patronage, funding, and multi-disciplined momentum. Personal excellence was highly valued. Artists did not learn and work as independent students taking classes. There were apprenticeships and workshops, some of which differentiated themselves sharply from simple craftsmen and their guilds because of the heights to which they raised their arts. Workshops often acted as incubators of excellence and mastery. In the fine arts and developing sciences, one was not merely in competition with others; one was expected to push oneself as far as possible. This cultural and intellectual climate affected large scale economics. Stimulating economies was not as simple as funding, investing. It involved cultural and intellectual cluster movements that bloomed, affecting more and more of the globe.

      Today different “incubators,” art incubators for example (which I add because I’m an artist at heart), are usually done in a cart-before-the-horse business model fashion (financialization mode). That’s a mistake. Measurable outcomes make better tools than they do goals, although such goals are necessary. They don’t give us a complete view of values and they don’t impassion us. They create blind spots regarding what else we need to value. We need to value the natures of **humanitarian motivations.** It’s imperative that we understand what motivates us and what doesn’t.

      If you read the “Candle Problem” and watchc the TED talk where Dan Pink discusses “the surprising science of motivation,” you should have a clearer understanding about intrinsic motivators (Autonomy, mastery, purpose, excellence).


      The seeds of the present economic crisis and declining education system started when we cut the ways kids learn about their intrinsic motivators. We’ve been cutting funds for art programs and art classes in public schools for decades now. And shop. Anything that took time, was creative, and involved using more of the creative/mystical side of our brain. It’s true. The pendulum swung, and swung too far, after the cultural and intellectual freedom movements in the 60s unwittingly acted out many assumptions of many versions of Apollonian vs. Dionysian (“wholeness”/mainstream tinged with consumerism and branding vs. anything goes individualism with its creative, social innovators) false dilemma.

      We started devaluing and underfunding or cutting the arts in schools despite the established fact that students who study the arts along with their other studies also tend to have better math and other grades. A well-rounded education allows us to make connections and awakens much within the human brain. This in turn awakens external systems, including national and international economies.

      Art revivals often herald before and during social and economic ones. And for good reason. History repeatedly demonstrates that cultural and intellectual revivals that depend on (not in name only) widespread education reform end up fueling economic networks. They motivate better and can accomplish what financialization myopic focus on networking and using various kinds of leverage (putting the cart in front of the horse) cannot because they cover more ground and can establish a sound and more sustainable foundation.

      Today’s U.S. has seen a rise in anti-intellectualism and cultural war for at least four decades now. “Education reforms” have propelled our educational system into increasing decline. They’re played an absolutely huge role in that. Besides making the mistake of trying to strong-arm reform by mandating behaviors and values through funding and other methods, education reform has involved a business model mentality of running schools and choosing what to fund, how much to fund it, and what to sacrifice or cut. That’s a financialization type of mentality.

      Pundits attempted to sweep all that under the rug in favor of left vs. right name calling (e.g. “bums looking for handouts”) but one thing that the Occupy movement is doing now is dragging that into the full light of day. For examination.

      It’s an invite to begin. To begin a slow movement that best not and cannot have that much clarity or defined focus at this point. That will come in time.

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