since its eviction from municipalities all over the country, occupy wall street (OWS hereon) has faded from the news. detractors couldn't be happier. it plays into this assumption that the movement lacked political program and/or direction. OWS had a visible center of energy and attracted a great deal of attention. the status quo had the right intuition: Dismantle it!
If vilifying the leading companies of this sector is allowed to become an unchallenged centerpiece of a coordinated Democratic campaign, it has the potential to have very long-lasting political, policy and financial impacts on the companies in the center of the bullseye.
though is still too early to say that OWS has failed, there is no doubt that the movement has suffered a setback. how is the status quo so effective in trampling on peoples' rights?
wall street precipitated the 2008 global financial crisis, but they were able to preempt their fall with a "too big to fail" narrative. they got bailed out by the taxpayers and proceeded to (what would you expect?) do business as usual. congress was overwhelmed by an army of lobbyists (twenty-five times the lobbyists defending bank interests as promoting reform!), the result was a reform package that has not addressed any of the fundamental issues that led to the bubble and the burst and the collapse of our economy.
it seems that this time people could see through the system's hall-of-mirrors. the "normal" of the g.w. bush years seemed like a patent display of systemic dysfunction. the 1% had taken our government hostage. how? money interests in the form of campaign contributions (30-70% of our politicians' time is spent rising money for the next campaign!). it's no secret that our government has become a mouth piece of corporate and personal interests. plutocracy rules!
What instead we saw was that congress was overwhelmed by an army of lobbyists – twenty-five times the lobbyists defending bank interests as promoting reform! The product of that swarm of bank lobbyists was a reform package that has not addressed any of the fundamental issues that led to the bubble and the burst and the collapse of our economy. And that’s testimony to Wall Street’s extraordinary power over the left and the right.
lawrence lessig's prescription (above) goes hand in hand with what philosopher john rawls perceives as "one of the main defects of constitutional government," i.e., "the failure to establish the fair value of political liberty":
(...) Disparities in the distribution of property and wealth that far exceed what is compatible with political equality have generally been tolerated by the legal system… Political power rapidly accumulates and becomes unequal; and making use of the coercive apparatus of the state and its law, those who gain the advantage can often assure themselves of a favored position… Universal suffrage is an insufficient counterpoise; for when parties and elections are financed not by public funds but by private contributions, the political forum is so constrained by the wishes of the dominant interests that the basic measures needed to establish constitutional rule are seldom properly presented.1these disparities in distribution are legitimized and internalized by people as "personal freedom-narratives," which produce policies perceived -and enacted- as participatory spaces. it's very difficult to become aware that one's own freedom could be "programmed" the system makes it look all fair: to start, the field is opened for all. that only a few seem to make it is not the system's fault, but instead the way things are. it all boils down to personal choices. some just work harder and make it to the 1%!
The only clear phrase of Occupy Wall Street is the call of the 99 percent (mainstream society) against the privileged and aristocratic 1 percent. But the definition of the 1 percent depends on who is doing the calculating and from where they hail. The likes of Michael Moore, Jay Z and Warren Buffet strangely have been given a pass. Few protesters seem to be aware that as citizens of the United States, they've already experienced an unfair financial advantage. According to World Bank figures, the poorest 10 percent of Americans have more income than nearly 4 billion other inhabitants of the planet. Put another way, Americans are relatively rich compared to most of their global counterparts.are we really?
is comparing ourselves with the worse off a reliable way of improving our deficiencies?
16th century humanist étienne de la boétie examines why people usually exhibit bentley's kind of soporific complacency:
It is this, that men born under the yoke thereafter nourished & brought up in servitude are content, without searching any further, to live like they are used to not being aware at all of any other situation or right than the one they know, they accept as natural the condition into which they were born. 2la boétie mentions a second reason for what he calls "voluntary servitude": the secret of power's domination lies in that it revolves around a structured systems of threats and privileges.
the internalization of the regimes of an impersonal status quo is explored by michel foucault's critique of power. once we've internalized power's subtle constraints, we end up perceiving it as part of our freedoms! power is tolerable because it "masks a substantial part of itself," its success "is proportional to its ability to hide its own mechanisms" 3
power is effective because we are able to tolerate it, according legitimacy to relations of power to the extent to which we fear the chaos which may result in the absence of its presumed stability. the modern subject becomes colonized with "new methods whose operation is not ensured by right but by technique, not by law but by normalization, not by punishment but by control, methods that are employed on all levels and in forms that go beyond the state and its apparatus" 4
with democracy, we take it that the system has rules, that those rules are fair and that we should abide by them. as pieces on a game-board, some moves are licit or illicit depending of the rules defined by the game. so "truth" means making the right moves in a discourse. "right" is what is dictated or tolerated by a truth-regime's criteria for what is acceptable or sanctioned (or excluded by its mechanisms). this is what foucault means when he says that power produces truth rather than merely distorting it. power produces this illusion of "justice" (since it offers spaces of opposition and potential correction).
let's problematize this point: we are not saying that there are no spaces of opposition. only that in our present climate, these spaces have been co-opted by the system.
this is the how charles kadlec, a contributor to forbes magazines depicts OWS: to occupy ... is to take possession of someone else’s property through the power of the mob.
take bloomberg's justification of his decision to evict OWS by force:
No right is absolute and with every right comes responsibilities. The First Amendment gives every New Yorker the right to speak out – but it does not give anyone the right to sleep in a park or otherwise take it over to the exclusion of others – nor does it permit anyone in our society to live outside the law. There is no ambiguity in the law here – the First Amendment protects speech – it does not protect the use of tents and sleeping bags to take over a public space.
police action seeks justification behind a narrow interpretation of the first amendment (as if dissension could not be seen as part of the first amendment's content):
...free speech should be taken beyond merely "tolerating" dissent: the first amendment should be taken to reflect a constitutional commitment to promoting dissent... dissent is necessary to combat injustice.5following foucault, we can suggest a space of power:
1- a mode of action which does not act directly and immediately on others, 2- a normalizing regime, 3- a back-and-forth movement of anonymous processes of subjugation, 4- "a total structure of actions brought to bear upon possible actions", 5- a technology of "disciplinary production of life."
|A protester arrested by the police at Zucotti Park, November 15, 2011|
in this moment of dissolution of places into micro-virtual differences of solipsistic satisfaction, consumption becomes the sole means of individual communication. "pursuit of happiness" is defined in terms of what we purchase, own & enjoy, as if these things were "real" needs. we miss the bigger picture that consumer society ties the individual into a network of dependencies. this is the subtle and pervading challenge of power: the modern subject becomes domesticated with "needs."
|Barbara Kruger, I Shop Therefore I am, 1987|
first, new commodities make the necessary chores that much easier, and then the chores become too difficult to do unaided, so what is necessary cannot be distinguished from what is unnecessary but which one can no longer do without.6
each new commodity imply its own new necessity.
Recently, Apple Inc. surpassed Exxon Mobil as the wealthiest American company. The disparity between the two companies' products could not be greater, and yet unlike the ideas of the occupiers, have integration. You would find very little conflict with Apple's wealth in the crowd of protesters occupying Wall Street. Many of them are communicating with iPhones and appreciate their value, and rightfully so. Apple is their example of clean, efficient technology. But mention the name Exxon and you will most likely receive looks of revulsion and a speech about why Exxon is the reason for the ills of the world.against power's colonization of space, we must present an equally effective opposing space. let's call it a space of resistance, where "things are not as self-evident as one believed, to see that what is accepted as self-evident will no longer be accepted as such."8
The truth is Apple would not have been a Wall Street entity trading at more than $400 without Exxon.7
(it will continue)
1 Steven H. Shiffrin's Dissent, Injustice and the Meanings of America (Princeton University Press, 1999). p. 94. 2 La Boétie, Discours de la Servitude Volontaire, p. 22, cited in Roland Bleiker Popular Dissent, Human Agency and Global Politics (Cambridge University Press: 2000) p. 63. 3 Michel Foucault's History of Sexuality (Vintage: 1990), p. 86 4 Ibid. p. 89. 5 The suggestion that society should nurture dissent is defended by Ian Shapiro, Democracy's Place (Cornell University Press, 1996). 6 "Practicing Criticism", in Politics, Philosophy, Culture: Interviews and Other Writings, 1977-1984, ed. Lawrence D. Kritzman, tr. Alan Sheridan et al. (New York: Routledge, 1988), p. 155. 7 James H. Head, "The Hypocrisy of Occupying Wall Street," The Washington Times, October 13, 2011. Much more so, after the recent revelations of Apple's sweat shops in China. 8 See The Consumer Society and the Postmodern City (Routledge: 2003), p. 109.