October 19, 2011

WELCOME TO CAMP CREEPY:

Protests and Power: Should liberals support Occupy Wall Street? (The Editors, October 12, 2011)

One of the core differences between liberals and radicals is that liberals are capitalists. They believe in a capitalism that is democratically regulated--that seeks to level an unfair economic playing field so that all citizens have the freedom to make what they want of their lives. But these are not the principles we are hearing from the protesters. Instead, we are hearing calls for the upending of capitalism entirely. American capitalism may be flawed, but it is not, as Slavoj Zizek implied in a speech to the protesters, the equivalent of Chinese suppression. "[In] 2011, the Chinese government prohibited on TV and films and in novels all stories that contain alternate reality or time travel," Zizek declared. "This is a good sign for China. It means that people still dream about alternatives, so you have to prohibit this dream. Here, we don't think of prohibition. Because the ruling system has even oppressed our capacity to dream. Look at the movies that we see all the time. It's easy to imagine the end of the world. An asteroid destroying all life and so on. But you cannot imagine the end of capitalism." This is not a statement of liberal values; moreover, it is a statement that should be deeply offensive to liberals, who do not in any way seek the end of capitalism.

Zizek is not alone. His statement is typical of the anti-capitalist, almost utopian arguments that one hears coming from these protesters. A recent debate about whether to allow Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights icon, to speak to Occupy Atlanta was captured on video and ended up on YouTube. As Lewis looked on, arguments on both sides were bandied about. "The point of this general assembly is to kick-start a democratic process in which no singular human being is inherently more valuable than any other human being," argued one protester. Ultimately, because no "consensus" could be reached, Lewis was turned away. Yes, like the Zizek speech, this was just one data point. But surely it was an indication that liberal skepticism about this movement is not unwarranted.

And it is just not the protesters' apparent allergy to capitalism and suspicion of normal democratic politics that should raise concerns. It is also their temperament. The protests have made a big deal of the fact that they arrive at their decisions through a deliberative process. But all their talk of "general assemblies" and "communiqués" and "consensus" has an air of group-think about it that is, or should be, troubling to liberals. "We speak as one," Occupy Wall Street stated in its first communiqué, from September 19. "All of our decisions, from our choices to march on Wall Street to our decision to camp at One Liberty Plaza were decided through a consensus process by the group, for the group." The air of group-think is only heightened by a technique called the "human microphone" that has become something of a signature for the protesters. When someone speaks, he or she pauses every few words and the crowd repeats what the person has just said in unison. The idea was apparently logistical--to project speeches across a wide area--but the effect when captured on video is genuinely creepy.


Of course, if liberals were actually skeptical we'd have a different president.

Posted by at October 19, 2011 7:05 AM
  

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