Going on cultural strike

I think Matt Taibbi is right when he says this about the Occupy movement:

This is a visceral, impassioned, deep-seated rejection of the entire direction of our society, a refusal to take even one more step forward into the shallow commercial abyss of phoniness, short-term calculation, withered idealism and intellectual bankruptcy that American mass society has become. If there is such a thing as going on strike from one’s own culture, this is it. And by being so broad in scope and so elemental in its motivation, it’s flown over the heads of many on both the right and the left.

As I’ve said before, I like the Occupy movement for the questions it raises, both explicitly and by its very existence.

I have no opinion about whether the movement is sustainable; I just heard a report on NPR describing how a similar popular uprising (the Bonus Army in 1932) came out of nowhere, captured the American imagination for months, and then was squashed by the US Army in one brief night. But there were aftereffects.

The hope I have for the Occupy movement is that it will lead more people to ask: how much of what we assume about the proper way to live life follows from morality or nature, and how much is simply arbitrary—or even against morality and nature?

I like Taibbi’s observation that, even though the meaning of the Occupy movement goes far deeper than modern finance, it was a stroke of genius to focus on it:

There’s no better symbol of the gloom and psychological repression of modern America than the banking system, a huge heartless machine that attaches itself to you at an early age, and from which there is no escape. You fail to receive a few past-due notices about a $19 payment you missed on that TV you bought at Circuit City, and next thing you know a collector has filed a judgment against you for $3,000 in fees and interest. Or maybe you wake up one morning and your car is gone, legally repossessed by Vulture Inc., the debt-buying firm that bought your loan on the Internet from Chase for two cents on the dollar.

This is why people hate Wall Street. They hate it because the banks have made life for ordinary people a vicious tightrope act; you slip anywhere along the way, it’s 10,000 feet down into a vat of razor blades that you can never climb out of. [Emphasis added]

Many folks who are successfully walking this tightrope assume that this is the way God would have it, that their very success demonstrates how good and right and reasonable the system is, that the punishment for slipping off fits very well with the crime committed.

But those assumptions may be wrong. And it may be necessary to step back from it all for an extended period—to go on strike—in order to see other possibilities.

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2 thoughts on “Going on cultural strike

  1. I really liked your post. You know, the situation is not irreversible. Only as recently as five hundred years ago, no company was allowed to get too big to fail, no bank could lend at interest, companies were kept small on purpose by tax structures and just general custom, so that logically advertising was unnecessary and in fact was prohibited under the argument that when you had ‘enough’ it was time to pass the business on. There were no labor unions, because the guilds united management and workers in a long-range planning organization that handled price, production, and education. Health care was non-profit (because there were religious orders who provided the leaven of free labor). We destroyed all that. We are still destoying it today, and how? By our hatred for Catholicism, who brought all that regulation–and peace! Working people had one third of the days off a year, but they ate every day, and had a regular and generous grog allowance. Unemployment was very low. There were more people enrolled in university in the thirteenth century, relative to the population, than there are now, and that included women, who did not, however, have to get out of the house and work eight to ten hours a day to feed her kids. She could go to school for the fun of it and then be a wife and mom. Think of it! You can google all this, or get some books. Key terms are distributism, or try the thirteenth, greatest of centuries, as a title. But we can’t wave a magic wand and make that happen now, without recognizing both one God and one Church, not multiple, and especially not protestantism, which caused the Reformation in rebellion against the regulation–and they still do today, via the Tea Party etc. etc. etc. All the etc. to account for their influence in all of US history, but not European (we were _always_ f**cked if you will excuse the strong term). We could have all that back if we’d give up some freedom, mainly of the DADT kind, because people have always been sinners and probably always will be but there’s no need to wave anything in one’s face or change all of society to make it ‘okay.’ However, the Church has confession–think of a restart button, or reset–the marriage sacrament, baptism that gives a soul a little edge toward virtue. We can’t have anything without virtue. Our problem now is theft and greed, and there’s no system that can address that for ‘those other guys’ and not for oneself, at a social level without also at a personal level. Please investigate these things, and the Catholic church. Some of us are trying our darndest to get us to see what a huge mistake, economically and socially, the Reformation really was, and return to our economic roots where justice for the poor was a rule.
    I like it when you very accurately wrote,
    “Many folks who are successfully walking this tightrope assume that this is the way God would have it, that their very success demonstrates how good and right and reasonable the system is, that the punishment for slipping off fits very well with the crime committed. ” That’s the heart of protestantism, not Catholicism, which was ever generous to the poor as Christ demanded. I hope you could check it out.

  2. I agree with many aspects of the Occupy movement including our need to move away from mindless consumerism and towards a moral compass. I am not sure we really want to go back to the 13th century or even 500 years ago. Public torture was a spectator sport, the murder rate per capita was much higher, the poor had no rights and women could be beaten by their husbands.

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