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Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Universal humanity drives Occupy movement

Shooting Scott Olsen in the face with a tear gas canister, nearing killing him, won't stop Vendetta. The Vendetta is of course a refence to the movie of that title, V for Vendetta, where on Guy Fawkes Day the people rise up and otherthrew their dictator.

I did see some Guy Fawkes masks (holding "I Wish I Could Go to the Doctor" poster and here) on display at a Occupy: Bloomington demonstration late last month. Bloomington is a town about an hour and a half south of Indianapolis, made famous in the iconic film Breaking Away.

The Occupy movement has spread so quickly that the Establishment must be scared. I think the police actions recently in Denver and Oakland show that imperial opposition to the movement has progressed from the Ghandian second first base--"First they ignore you"--to third, "fighting you" which represents progress to the anti-Establishmentarian. (The second step, ridiculing you, seems to have been skipped altogether, although pictures of champagne glass-holding 1%ers/Wall Streeters mocking the Occupiers were posted.)

Boldly proclaiming himself to be the 1%, Peter Schiff did confront the mob and tried to reason with them. Schiff writes a good article here. Schiff writes:
"...it seemed like the protesters fell into two categories: those who generally understood and agreed that Washington caused this mess, and those who could only recite Marxist talking points."

In a brief video clip, Schiff jabs back at an angry mob, trying to make sense with people who clearly aren't in a mood for intellectual discourse. Get people angry enough and reasons don't matter. And the people are certainly angry.

Marxism, or any "ism" for that matter, probably sounds better than capitalism if you're disenfranchised. Facts are, our country's economy has declined, real wages for working folks have remained frozen, and the chance of upward social mobility is now higher in Europe than here.

Capitalism symbolizes the ascent of individualism. Our society has "progressed" to the point monetary capital is valued more then social capital. We do measure ourselves and each other by the size of our pocketbooks. Yeah, we might all pretend to we care more about other things more--family, God, or whatever--but in our system, we can't survive without means to eat and find shelter. (In defense of religion, money is discussed some 25 times by Jesus...)

The refreshing part about OWS is that it isn't limited to a singular persona. In this sense it's the opposite of the President. We seem to channel all our fears, hopes, and dreams into the person who occupies the White House. Like a celebrity, the President these days interjects himself into virtually every issue, in realtime.

Are we so deficient as to require the President to speak for us? Agree or not, Presidents use the bully pulpit to sound Presidential. Like most ecumenical services, we don't get any real meat when words are watered down to public statements.
I think OWS represents everyman. In the society we've created our collective voice, the quiet one, and perhaps the more enlightened side of who we are as a people rarely gets heard. The simple act of coming together unifies the individual, transforming people into more than the summations of the things they chose to buy, to quote Rachel Corrie.

Individually, we yearn to be more than just consumers, but the capitalist system (and even Schiff) seem to fixate singularly on sales and money. Quality of life can't be measured in money--look at the 1% and you won't find an especially happy bunch. Many 1%ers are scared of losing what they have-that someday they'll run out of that which makes them different: money and slide down into the pack.

Being wealthy can be a curse that way. Sure you have more, but quality of life is a subjective and relative notion. Get used to sipping Dom Perignon every night and Korbel will end up tasting like crap. Drive a Porsche too long and a Honda just isn't acceptable.

The lifestyle of our rich and famous comes down to the common people in the form of celebrity worship. The rich are framed as superior in every way because they're rich. It's a message meant for a child and people want more than that. They won't buy the rags-to-riches myth because they know full well they work hard and never seem to get ahead while the already rich get richer not through work but by virtue of being rich.

Pat Buchanon said OWS will "end badly" but I can't see how it will, at least not anytime soon. The problems we face are largely structural. Our economy is deficient: anyone born more than a few decades ago knows full well that things were better in America. They can see our crumbling infrastructure, all the money being spent not on them but for bright and shiny toys the generals can use, among other things.

Bullets can't kill a leader, because Occupy Wall Street has no leader. There's no one in charge. Perhaps the message suffers for want of direction-from having some . Yes, there are leaders persay, though I can't quite seem to come up with any names at the moment. I can remember some good speeches (repeated in that way they do, with everyone saying what the speakers say, sometimes to farcical effect yet intellectual, open, and honest shared all the way through.)
The authorities can storm the plaza but in so doing lose the base of their support--the people. Nonviolent resistance generates sympathy for the victims of police brutality.

The act of participating manifests itself physically as people come together in one single time and place. History can be rewritten, a new form of government created, forever altering a nation's past, its psyche and indeliably, its future.

While there may be violence, peaceable revolution isn't about the end justifying the means. Soldiers and police can be converted. After all, it's mostly psychopaths who revel in the violence. I doubt even White-shirted Bologna liked what he did; he may even feel guilty. Then again, I know not what lurks in the hearts of men like that.

Tahrir Square showed us the power of the people--how a population that commits--goes all-out, risking life and limb, transcends individualism.

If all the people are united and not divided, they present an unbeatable force.

They lose their oneness, although not their sense of individuality, only their sense of being more different from one another than they truly are.

Corpratism, the evil monster that this is all about, must bow to the power of the people. Wow, I'm sounding like a Marxist. Too much time watching the LiveStream from occupywallst.org.

More than the message which it sends, Occupy Wall Street represents a mass popular movement with legs. Its sustenance and energy will grow in the following months, and yield fruit as more and more people catch on to the face the America they've known has changed. And not for the better.

We have a nation cast into doubt and self-recrimination over the longest war in American history, Afghanistan. Just a few days ago some NATO service members--13 of whom happened to be Americans--died in a bombing attack. The war machine grinds on relentless, chewing up young American servicepeople with no end or goal in site, facing unseen enemies in a hostile, alien land.

The pipeline must go in. Yes, the pipeline agreed to by Condoleezza Rice during her Unocal days. Among Rice's accomplishments was serving as Bush National Security Adviser, and being obsessed over by Muammar Qadafi, and having a oil tanker bear her name. Yes, you read the second one right: among Qadafi's scattered possessions was found some bizarre assemblage of Leezza, Leezza, Leezza eye candy (links below.)

Qadafi was crazy as a loon, but nonetheless capable of staying in power for forty years. I mean, just how far can the excess of power be taken? Someone should have done something about him years ago. Looking back now, it's a miracle even that such a cretin could have lasted so long.

Then there was Tahrir Square and the Arab Spring. As much as the Washington Consensus wishes it didn't, the revolutionary tide has changed things. And not just over there.

The tide that swept Qadafy, the Tunisian Ben Ali, Egyptian Mubarak, and may also take down Syria's Assad. Dictators all. Cold War leftovers for the most part, all of whom have long since outlived their usefulness--although Qadafi's coming out against terrorism did spawn a thaw in relations with the US. Mubarak served his purpose: to keep the radical fundamentalists at bay. They'd killed his predecessor, Anwar Sadat, for signing the Camp David accords.

Included in Mubarak's jails at one point was the Egyptian doctor turned radical (dictators' jails have a tendency to do that), al Zawahiri. Zawahiri did more to plan the 9-11 task than OSama bin Laden, or Khalid Shiek Muhammed--the patsy who confessed to everything--including things there was no way he could have done!--when his kids were traumatized by bugs in a Pakistani interrogation center.

Another inhabitant of Mubarak's prison was Egyptian-born cleric Abu Omar. Omar, you may remember, was abducted from the streets in Milan, Italy in 2003, then shipped off in a process known as extraordinary rendition. Some 26 Americans and five Italians "intelligence operatives" faced (are facing) charges for the abduction.
[The Chicago Tribune article on Omar's story, one of many, can be found here.]

The point with Omar is how Mubarak's prisons served the very important purpose of intimidating people who'd otherwise be more sympathetic to the jihad cause. Mubarak's regime had a long track record of torture and barbaric treatment of prisoners, particularly radical fundamentalists, who'd killed Sadat.

The Tribune article cites Omar's account of the ordeal:
"he was kept in an underground cell "where you cannot distinguish between night and day and the cockroaches and rats and insects walk all over my body night and day."
You get the idea. And so too does the message resonate, although not so deeply as to keep the masses afraid.

Mubarak may have continued in power for years because he was considered a useful ally in the War on Terror. Without that attempt to align countries against terror in a sort of Cold War us-vs.them alignment, Mubarak's demise may have come much sooner.

My point here is that these dictators had their enablers. In the case of Mubarak, it was all the aid the US sent to him year after year that forestalled regime change. In our zeal to fight terror, we ended up creating new enemies. Or is it the other way around--did we create the enemies in order to launch the war? At this point I guess it doesn't matter how it started only that the War on Terror is continuing.

Assuming the least malignancy on the part of our government, it's highly possible that unforeseen consequences emerge from our persistent meddling. I define "meddling" to military aid, which is a major element in projecting "hard power" across the world. It's acceptable to label all forms of foregin aid as arbitrarily "meddling," though I doubt the Peace Corps--who come in peace--are scarcely seen as meddlers but rather an example of low-profile yet effective "soft power".

I've talked about the benefits of soft power over hard power, and the way that hard power--military force--crowds out and diminishes the effectiveness of soft power. Kind of hard to not hate someone when they--or the government they're supporting--is raining missiles down on you.

A good example of this comes from the classic "Goodmorning Vietnam," where Robin Williams tries to befriend a young Vietnamese man, Tung Thanh Tran, or Tuan. Williams is likable, personable, and through the music he plays projects an image so very American. In one scene, as raucus American music plays simultaneously in the sound track, young Vietnamese are gathered up in a coffee bar and shot, in retaliation for a bomb set by Tuan and his VC sympathizers.

Tuan symbolizes the mind of the South Vietnamese people, to be won alongside the hearts. Meanwhile the music projects the appeal of a many splendored America: catchy, glitz, rocking and rolling, carefree and fun...in sum, the exact opposite of the stark realities and dangerous and unpredictable facing the Vietnamese, particulary those faced with befriending an American, a process tantamount to fraternizing with the enemy, treason even, in Tuan's cause against the occupier.

Adrian Cronauer, played by Williams, almost pulls it off. Surely no one could hate someone so nice! And Tuan struggles with it. Cronauer tries to reconcile the two halves of Tuan, one a friend and the other his mortal enemy. Which will he win? In the end it doesn't matter, the war consumes everyone and their soul, friendship is belittled. Seen through its music, the niceties of American culture are marred by the crushing infliction of firepower playing out in the streets and rice paddies of South Vietnam.

I guess in some future age, we'll have movies where charismatic Americans try to befriend Afghans, who are crushed twixt loyalty to their cause and human instinct. The latter is universal; the former absolute. When the two are apart, a cause--no matter how noble--can last. However, if the cause is to preserve our humanness, to connect again in a way that celebrity-worship can't provide, then we can overcome our individual differences and perhaps recapture, in time, what made this country great.

"V for Vendetta."

Condi affixation before Quadafi's death and


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