Some Thoughts on the Occupy Wall Street Movement

The First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution guarantees the right to peaceable assembly. The Occupy Wall Street movement, which is now catching on in cities across the world, is therefore not only guaranteed by our democratic system, it is encouraged. A healthy democracy is a democracy that is for the people and by the people. Our political leaders have spent far too many years giving in to the demands of Wall Street and other CEO principalities, and peaceable movement like this are long overdue.

In Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s magnificent book, Empire, they make the case that the days of traditional imperialism are over and the new empire is really a complex system of multi-national, or perhaps a more accurate term in “meta-national,” corporations that determine and control our lives through a network of biopolitical production systems as the frame of reference for contemporary (postmodern) life. On the very first page they state the following:

Along with the global market and global circuits of production has emerged a global order, a new logic and structure of rule—in short, a new form of sovereignty. Empire is the political subject that effectively regulates these global exchanges, the sovereign power that governs the world.

In other words, the “free” market now functions as the sovereign of world order, not only in the west, but globally. Corporate greed, a very real and frightening phenomena, is a bi-product of capitalism and has infected it like a virus from which there is no cure as of yet. Therefore, could we not say that the capitalist ideology is simultaneously playing out its destined role and that that role is inherently destructive? Absent from the latest version of capitalism is any sense of community and, I would also argue, ethical behavior. The responsibility is to shareholders and to making a profit, period. Ladies and gentlemen, this is how communities die, not in one fell swoop, but little by little, quietly and efficiently. The ideology of “Let’s not raise corporate taxes because they already pay too much,” while true for the rest of us but not for the richest corporations, is a stance that can only hit the most vulnerable aspects of our communities: schools, libraries, social services, and all of those aspects which make us a “community.”

Entrusting our money to a capitalist system that is by and large under-regulated, as conservative ideology wishes, would in fact place those of us who are taking part in a capitalist democracy at risk. In fact, I argue that the determining factor of a capitalist system is risk. It’s a little like playing roulette with one’s life savings. The gambler may take home millions (actually who wants to be a millionaire any longer, let’s become billionaires!), but is more likely to lose it all and go home with nothing. That is, for the few weeks it takes the bank to foreclose on one’s home. I shudder to think what would have happened if the Bush administration got its way and placed social security into the hands of the private sector.

What we are witnessing is the logical conclusion of a biopolitical system that has promoted greed and competition to the point that nearly all aspects of what it means to live in a community are in the process of crumbling away.

A student of mine recently wrote a blog on the Occupy Wall Street movement. Her assessment was that the people taking part are really just disgruntled ex-hippies trying to bring back the spirit of the sixties. In fact, in her first paragraph she admits to not realizing that anything was going on in lower Manhattan at all until a few days ago. This is a smart student who has been brainwashed into thinking that the goal of one’s life should be a well paying job. In order to secure that job, one cannot rock the boat. This is perhaps the saddest part of my profession: watching young students compromise their integrity for the sake of what they think will bring future success.

The Occupy Wall Street movement has so far remained relatively peaceful. Of course, I hope that it stays that way, but I also hope that a certain spirit of revolution is in the air. I hope this revolution will at the very least back corporate leaders into a corner. The simple question for me is this: how much money is enough? At what point does one stop feeding off the system and say “I’ve made enough money this year?” Of course, a capitalist system does not promote this type of ethical thinking. The main objective of a capitalist system is to make as much money as one can. Still, one can hope that these billionaire CEOs and their henchmen will go the way royalty went in revolutionary France.

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