I was recently introduced to this rather patronizingly dismissive debunking of the Occupy Wall Street movement by media commentator/columnist Bill Whittle. He claims to have the “solution” to the OWS movement, for which all he needs is “three and a half days” of each protestor’s time.
Now, this date’s from the fall, and so much has transpired since then, one has to wonder if Mr. Whittle is still holding onto these original, rather limited perspectives. Whittle’s assumptions, which he so smugly delivers here, are misdirected to say the least, if warranted at all.
The fact that he defines this ever-growing body of protest as a bunch of “kids” who are simply part of the “self-esteem” generation, is demonstrably ill-informed (to say nothing of patronizing). Perhaps by now he has come to realize that the movement is made up of millions of people from just about every demographic of society, including war veterans, retirees, professionals, business owners, former police captains, airline pilots, etc.. on and on. The sense of entitlement Whittle begrudges in his screed, may be more accurately and effectively directed towards those who feel they can wield power with impunity, and whom the Occupation movement is challenging. People here are not protesting to get things free and easy. They are protesting the fact that the ability to achieve much of anything in the economic or civic sphere in this country is becoming increasingly impossible due to a system that is un-ignorably increasingly rigged and corrupt.
Plus, it does seem a bit strange for Whittle to proclaim that the movement is nothing but a bunch of kids who have lived soft and spoiled lives. He directly implies that they don’t know how to work for anything, that they just like cheap, modern conveniences, and are throwing a temper tantrum to have those things without having to earn them. However, how is it that these supposedly spoiled “kids” are expressing that desire for selfish comfort, thus displaying their supposedly soft, lazy, sacrifice-adverse character, by consciously living in difficult, improvised, and often physically uncomfortable conditions, eschewing most of those same spoiling comforts they are said to be whining for. This belies Whittle’s suggested solution for these “kids,” where he claims they should have to deal with the “reality” of living primeval lifestyles in order to better appreciate all the wonderful things that corporations are said to provide, while in actuality many of those manning the occupation camps are living lives much more spartan and voluntarily self-sacrificing in their creature comforts than most Americans (outside of the military). And on top of it all, many of them having the shit kicked out of them by hyper-militarized police forces, some of whom have clearly acted outside the realm of any law or code of decency. Not exactly what a self-absorbed, spoiled, rich, entitled kid normally does.
As for the argument that people are calling for an end to corporations, or implying that the message is “corporations are the evil of the world,” misinterprets and/or misunderstands the fundamental premise of the Occupy movement, and the nature and purpose of dissent amongst many Americans today. This is a point we at USTV Media have addressed before repeatedly. For those who are following the events and the discourses among people involved with this movement, this accusation is a corrosive distortion, one which is a dramatic oversimplification of the moral argument being forwarded. A distortion which I also suspect is often on purpose, at least on the part of certain factions who have a vested interest in discrediting the movement.
This brings to mind some of the critiques I’ve heard regarding those who support the occupation movement as being “hypocrites,” because many may claim an admiration for someone like Steve Jobs, yet are supposed to be “against corporations,” and “against the rich.” The OWS movement has nothing to do with people being against gaining wealth, becoming rich, doing well, being a successful entrepreneur, etc… It’s a protest against people getting rich and powerful through cheating and criminality, and succeeding through rigging the game, through corrupting the political and economic process in order to favor the few at the expense of the many. It is a political protest movement against a system becoming ever more inherently corrupted and illegitimate.
The claim being made by Occupy isn’t that “all corporations are bad,” which is a patently ridiculous cartoon characterization of not only the problem, but the fundamental point of the Occupation movement. The issue is injustice and corruption, and the inherent criminality which has now become ascendent in our system. It is the fact that our political system no longer even pretends to adhere to equal rights and equal justice under the law. Others have elaborated on this much more thoroughly and much more lucidly than I can here, particularly Glenn Greenwald, who goes into this in seering detail with his new book With Liberty and Justice for Some. Then there is Matt Taibbi’s reporting on the criminality of Wall Street, and how large financial corporations have become “too big to jail.”
The fact is that the corporate structure has metastasized into the primary medium for certain interests to wield inordinate and civically corrosive influence over government decision making today, turing the government into a tool to confer privilege on insiders. It has become the main instrument for placing the decision-making power of the nation into the hands of the few over the will of the many. And not in a “republican” way, but in a authoritarian, oligarchic way.
It is helpful to remember that the original American Revolutionaries were not against commerce, providing goods and services, etc… Hardly! What they were against was the use of the chartered corporation as a tool of the monarchy to suppress and even crush economic (and eventually political) competition against its reign of power, and against the protestations of its usurping the wealth of the inhabitants of the colonies for the benefit of the few who made up the elite class of royal privilege. The rebellion (including that of the Boston Tea Party, if one will recall), was an act of vandalism which destroyed the “private property” of a what was in some respects the Wal-Mart of their day; The East India Company, which was a corporation chartered by the crown, and used as a tool of imperial expropriation. It was because of such abuses by it and other similar chartered corporations of the Crown, that the original American government even debated whether to outright ban the existence of corporations within constitutional law. This was because of the abuse they had experienced under the monarchy, which had wielded them as an instrument of such oppression. I recommend Ted Nace’s excellent tract Gangs of America, if one is interested in the role of the corporation in American history.
Again, does this mean that the people involved with Occupy are against commerce, entrepreneurship, markets, etc… of course not. Does it mean that corporations should be “banned”? Are people calling for that? Whittle’s underlying assertion that modern life is somehow made possible only by the corporate state is way off the mark. He uses “cheap electricity” as an example to make a point, but forgets to mention that electricity used to be cheaper, at least for the people of California, back when the public utility ran it, and before corporations like Enron got into the game, exploiting it for the private gain of the few at the expense of the many. Again, we have the conflation of a protest against domination of government by the few for the benefit of the few, with somehow being a rant against entrepreneurial economic activity. Any actual critiques I’m familiar with from people who support the OWS movement about the role of corporations within society are no less radical than those first posited by the Jefferson, Paine, Franklin, and others of their time. Conflating the protestations against corrupt and unjust power, as somehow being a rant against invention, provisions of goods in a modern, mass technological society, provision of electricity and the like, simply misses the point entirely.
- Andy Valeri, USTV Media
Postscript: Whittle says we should be grateful and thankful for Monsanto and Shell. Really? His merging of the interests of a company like Monsanto with that of the independent, hard working, self-reliant American farmer, a vision of which he conjures up in his presentation, in order to establish some kind of emotional bond with the point he’s trying to drive home, is simply sick. Clearly, Mr. Whittle hasn’t bothered to talk with many, if any, of those American farmers he wants you to thank, has he? Monsanto’s record in destroying the livelihoods of countless independent American farmers (and millions others around the world, particularly in India), is simply criminal. Perhaps Mr. Whittle should go to Nigeria and ask some of the people there how grateful they should be for Shell, considering the devastating political and environment havoc that their presence there has caused so many in that nation. Or perhaps he can go to Alaska and find out how thankful the fisherman there are for Exxon. I really do encourage people do some research into the full scope of Monsanto’s activities. “Grateful” or “thankful” are not the first words that come to mind in regards to what a warranted response to their activities should be. A couple of good places to start might be with the documentary film The World According To Monsanto, or the excellent Vanity Fair expose’ on Monsanto, Harvest of Fear. And of course, Monsanto is the leader in the whole GMO endeavor (or ‘Frankenfoods,’ as the Europeans call it, having wisely banned them), with the corporation paying no head to the Very Real Danger of Genetically Modified Foods. And on top of all this, there are recent reports out of WikiLeaks exposing More Evidence of Monsanto’s Bullying and Influence-Buying. This behavior is unfortunately par for the course for this corporation.
And regarding some of this nation’s original history, particularly in regards to the role of the corporation, This piece touches on the topic of the original American corporation, and how the Founders first approached the issue. Short, but good for an introductory perspective.
It’s also interesting to speculate as to what Thomas Jefferson may have thought about the impetus of the Occupy movement. A few thoughts of his may give us a clue…
“I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies.”
“I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”
“If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around them will deprive the people of all property until their children wake up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.”
“Tyranny is defined as that which is legal for the government but illegal for the citizenry.”
“I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.”
“A strict observance of the written laws is doubtless one of the highest virtues of a good citizen, but it is not the highest. The laws of necessity, of self-preservation, of saving our country when in danger, are of higher obligation. To lose our country by a scrupulous adherence to written law would be to lose the law itself, with life, liberty, property and all those who are enjoying them with us; thus absurdly sacrificing the end to the means.”
“Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.”
I dare say he likely would have had some words of approval for the general thrust of the OWS effort.