Monday, October 3, 2011

Occupation and Understanding

The last few weeks I've been peppered with news articles and videos regarding the various "Occupations" occurring around the country; namely Occupy Wall Street and Occupy DC. Of course, according to supporters, these events aren't being covered at all by major media outlets...which moves me to question my own sanity. Perhaps the clips and articles I've seen were really intricate mental fabrications I've unconsciously integrated in order to deceive myself. It's not out of the question. A lot of people think that's also a plausible explanation for libertarianism as well.

At any rate, there's a contingency within that fragmented hallucination (libertarianism) who have, for various reasons, attempted to attach themselves to the "Occupation" movement in different respects. Some are simply latching as an attempt to re-direct the movement to engage what they perceive to be the true source of injustice (government), while others seemed to be under the impression that the larger movement is, in essence, already a movement running counter to government reach and power. Slowly but surely I believe the latter group are finally becoming disillusioned.

I'd like to think that there was some sudden swell of rationality in the American zeitgeist, but the literature, signage, and interviews of "Occupation" participants have proven quite otherwise. While there are plenty (and I mean plenty) of arguments to be made about how government unjustly tilts the economic game in favor of all kinds of special interests, not the least of which would be those on Wall Street, it seems instead the protesters have been focused on vintage Progressive talking-points; namely inequality of wealth...without regard to the nature of such acquisitions. Nothing new under the sun. From calls to behead the wealthy to pleas to have others embrace the cost of student-debt, it appears that participants have no moral qualms with tossing aside the rights of others to achieve their desired ends. Of course, the tragic irony is that their "protestations" are not towards the end of thwarting the truly unjust actions of government or its beneficiaries but rather to strengthen the resolve and general support for the very institution responsible for much of the plight the "protesters" evidence.

And all of this is happening, perhaps not so coincidentally, at the same time that supporters of the current administration are fending off claims of class-warfare generated from recent debate over tax-policy. For me, in both regards to tax-policy and the recent "protests", the class-warfare aspect is painfully visible if not revolting. A simple acknowledgment of general moral sympathies is more than enough to understand the socialization of compassion and charity that evolve, I would estimate, very naturally...and possibly even particularly in more reasoned post-Enlightenment societies in the Western World. But how we reconcile those very real moral sympathies with (at least some of) our predisposition to actually demonize the relatively wealthy is another question altogether.

I say "relatively" because there is no absolute definition of poverty. If we expand the (perhaps even selfish) concern for only American citizens to, say, the entire world, then a new definition of relative poverty begins to emerge. Suddenly even the very poor, by American, first world, standards, suddenly seem...wealthy. Compared to the squalor, dire famine, and impoverishment of the third world, the American poor live in relative comfort. This, of course, is not to dismiss the troubles that burden the lower class in America...or even the middle class in America. But it does make one question the aims of the supposed compassionate among us who demand, in the name love and humanity, that we tithe not to the truly poor and suffering in the world (by truly rational and relative definitions) but to those much higher in the wealth strata.

Or what of relative poverty from an inter-temporal perspective? Does anyone doubt that many of the people today in the lower rungs of income in the U.S. enjoy much vaster riches than kings and queens of past? Perhaps not in terms of mere leisure time, although we certainly enjoy more leisure time than the working classes of the past. But even just looking at the absolute marvels available to us - cars, TV, computers, cell phones, wireless internet, plumbing, air conditioning, refrigeration, heating, supermarkets - it's easy to see that even things we may consider basic necessities in the U.S. today, things that even most of the domestic "poor" have access to, were far out of the reach of the upper echelons of society mere decades ago. We can push the argument back even further. Does anyone really think the poverty of the industrial revolution (circa 1880) was the same as the poverty that existed at the turn of the 19th century? In a hundred years could poor people who have a much higher quality of life than the upper-middle class of today also be considered poor? By what standard(s) of need and want do we define poverty?

My fear, judging from the words and actions of the supporters of these recent "protests" is that poverty has no standards except relative ones. And if it is indeed the case that poverty rests not in some standard of comfort from need and want but rather in protestation of the over-productive by the less productive then I fear libertarians have a long, arduous road ahead of us. It's seven pitches of black above maddening and below disheartening to try to openly engage the people who have such predispositions. My own personal experience is that you can work their beliefs into knots and yet they'll evade, ignore, or simply dismiss your contentions. My friends, the cards are not in our favor.

If libertarians truly want to roll over the institutions of old they are going to have to start at the very bottom. No presidential race under the sun will move the ideological goal-posts for people who think that prosperity and peace can be bought with coercion and theft. So, while I have my doubts regarding many of the libertarian-minded civil disobedients out there trying to win the hearts and minds of such people, I have nothing but praise for their effort. Such attempts may seem futile in the short run, but we know what we're up against. Vassals of the state, of all stripes, will hold the comparative advantage in coercion and force. Our weapons, first and foremost, must always be love, patience, and understanding. We may never live to see its fruition, but this is how we free the ensnared. This is our part in the revolution. Reach out to them. Embrace them. Help them.

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