The Occupy Wall Street movement.

Thousands of people at the Occupy Cal strike, listening to Robert Reich speak.

The most succinct descriptor I have for the Occupy movement is that I believe it is a necessary evil.

There are a lot of different ways that I can view this movement, and since its inception (and I don’t mean  I  N  C  E  P  T  I  O  N ) I have found it difficult to determine what my stance on it really is. So many conflicting perspectives. Idealist me likes the concepts of social reform and accountability, and progression towards socialism from capitalism. Pessimistic me is upset at the protesters because they are stupid and annoying and have a false sense of entitlement. Mathematician / computer scientist me would prefer if the movement were better organized and had a clearly defined purpose. Civil Engineer me realizes that despite how nice optimization of the movement would be, on such a large scale absolute optimization is unfeasible and the way it is now might be the best we can realistically expect. Nihilistic me says I don’t really care anyways. Humanist me says that maybe I should care more than I do.

I’ve come to the conclusion that, at heart, Occupy Wall Street (henceforth OWS) is about a clash of perspectives. I suppose that is what most protests and social movements are about. It is hard for one with power to understand the perspective of one without power, and vice versa. It is hard for one who is ignorant to understand how much they do not know. I believe that many protesters are ignorant. Not to say that supporting the protests makes you ignorant necessarily. Just that many protesters happen to be ignorant. And ignorance is not a good thing to have when you are putting on the line your time, energy, and possibly your safety and the safety of your criminal record. For these reasons I myself could never be a protester. I am too ignorant to believe strongly enough in OWS to protest for it. I would want to know all the facts and make sure that I truly believed in what I was protesting before taking any action. Let it be known, I am a coward, but an intelligent coward.

I could talk about OWS for hours, but I feel I’ve bored you enough as it is. I’ll get to the point. I wish it had better organization. I wish that it had a more clear direction that I could support – I might support a part of the movement, but then disagree with a bunch of other parts of it. I wish that it made a stronger attempt to change the way things are other than through complaining and civil disobedience. I wish the proponents of OWS were better educated, more well-informed, and less annoying to me. The fact is, the movement sucks. So much time and energy being used up on nothing. Few people in the movement really know what they want. But in the end, the force that OWS is fighting against is too powerful, and my expectations of OWS too high. It needs to lack focus in order to gain sufficient numbers of followers. Its followers need to be ignorant so that they aren’t like me – they need to be passionate without really knowing what they are getting into, or else they wouldn’t get into it. It is impossible to effectively organize such overwhelming numbers of people in a short period of time.

I think Robert Reich put it very well in his speech at the Occupy Cal strike (google it) – there is a general sense of moral outrage that we all have. We’re not all sure exactly why we have it, or exactly what we can do about it. But we know that it’s there, and we know that it doesn’t have to be that way. We know we have to change something somehow. Right now, we don’t know the what or the how, and we lack organization to work together and figure out what it is. But more than anything else, we need sheer energy, and OWS is gaining that. Eventually we can channel that energy into action, but we need the energy to be there first.

Sorry this post was so all over the place. It’s hard to compose my thoughts about this issue. It’s very big, and I can’t really handle it. That’s what she said.

    • David
    • November 17th, 2011

    For me, the OWS and Occupy Cal movements represent the epiphany of meta-problem, if I can call it that. Obviously there are issues at hand, hence the strikes/protests in the first place, but I also do believe that the problem is undefined and more general than people think.

    OWS is a protest against our financial system, which obviously has issues. But then again, the financial system is dependent on whom? All of us. The people make the system, and the system represents us. In some ways, they are both the same, acting in different ways: The system fails us, but that’s because we allow it to fail.

    At the same time, I think that ultimately, systems are not the most important problem. I believe it is the individual person. Design any system, and as long as the system is able to be controlled by people with moral, educational, and/or general functional flaws, then the system can be bent, manipulated, broken, and even worse, perverted towards a different goal.

    An example I think of is Communism; in theory, there is no such thing as class, money, state, private ownership, etc. The basic principle behind it is that everyone tries their best to provide for the community and perhaps move it forward, but in the instance that someone can’t provide for themselves for whatever reason, then the community is there to help prop them up until they maybe can later contribute more. If everyone loved the people around them and were sympathetic towards those who are less able and also had strong work morals as well as no sense of superiority, communism would work. These are the assumptions under which it works.

    Similarly, capitalism has its own assumptions, but the thing is that all sorts of people are different: some work well under a capitalist society, others do not. Some will contribute to the system, some will try to manipulate it, etc.

    In the end, issues like bad loans are like this: We allow banks to give out bad loans, and we also allow ourselves to accept loans from the banks when aren’t sure enough we can pay it back. That makes us guilty as well. Unfortunately, I don’t see anyone in the OWS movement rallying up people to protest this: no one creates a movement against themselves.

    Another problem I have with rallies is that too often they are done out of hatred, out of dislike, out of a narrow-minded view and agenda of what should not exist, what should not be allowed, what should be removed. The message I’m getting from it isn’t positive, isn’t constructive, and so isn’t helpful.

    I think the best we can do in the economic and political realm is establish strict guidelines that undermine any person or entity’s capacity to do harm. Restricting individual power always places limit on potential, but since harm is much easier to cause than good, I don’t see another institutional way to make things better.

    Ultimately, I still find the problem with the OWS movement as well as with the abuses of Wall Street to lie in human character (which is not the same as nature, although it may strongly be based from it).

    • David
    • November 17th, 2011

    Also, I would like to request comment-conducive music, the choice being up to you of course.

  1. “At the same time, I think that ultimately, systems are not the most important problem. I believe it is the individual person.”

    I challenge your idea of what defines the importance of a problem. When you use the word problem, the implication is that you would like to find a solution. A problem without a solution is not a problem, it is a fact. I believe the problem of “the individual person” is an insurmountable problem. The problem of the system is not insurmountable. Hence I think our focus should be on the system, not on the individual.

    I think your example of communism is actually wonderful. Yes, the individual will often be subject to corruption – this is why the system should not assume anything of the individual. The system should be built to work regardless of the folly of any individual. We cannot seek to fix the individual here – that is a fruitless task, and that is why communism fails as a system. The system of communism needs revising so that it can take into account the failure of individuals. This is why socialism has proven itself to be far more successful than communism.

    • Steven Davies (Zero)
    • November 19th, 2011

    I wasted a lot of time thinking about this. I might post it later.

    I’ll sum it up.

    I think what you’re describing is a form of cognitive ergonomics.

    ->Surgeon required to fill out check list before surgery starts
    ->Nuclear Power Plant has hella safety features that operate independent of humans
    ->More appropriately, court’s appeal system, mistrial, ‘checks n balances’ etc

    I personally believe that you’re right alex, once we understand human cognition to near perfection, it should be a small hurdle to design a government that manipulates that knowledge to prevent human flaws from making everything shit.

    Its not really avoiding the ‘individual’ level tho. It’s just understanding the individual to the point where you can have a general definition of ‘individual’, and be able to work with that.

    Because, as david pointed out, people are currently different. And we haven’t a clue why. Once we do know why, suddenly, people aren’t so different.

    Whoah electricity! whoah magnetism! shit, one’s invisible and feels weak. shit, one is all bright and loud and is awesome. Oh…what? They’re the same thing? I just didn’t understand the base mechanisms through which everything was operating? They only looked fundamentally different because I didn’t know that a different set of conditions changes my fundamental perception? You mean its theoretically possible to take lightning and convert it into the phenomenon I knew as magnetism as long as I’m clever?

    (Also acceleration & gravity)
    (Also mass and energy)

    • David
    • November 20th, 2011

    I don’t think that the “individual person” cannot be changed. Education can help people make informed choices, can condition them to certain mindsets. Drugs can also affect the mind. The culture that people create that dictate what is okay and how people should be treated depends on each individual person to both create and follow.

    Brave New World is the closest I’ve seen to a utopia, I feel, where education and drugs are combined. I’m not saying that Brave New World is anything that I would want for our world, but I think that the system to change/regulate each individual person was incredibly effective at getting what it wanted to achieve, and people in there were happy. They weren’t happy because they had freedom to choose to be happy, but they were happy nonetheless.

    The problem with working on the system itself is that people can render it useless; the problem with working on each individual person is that the solution either needs to be complicated, patient, and/or incredibly comprehensive.

    Either way, I don’t think that fixing only the system without addressing individual people themselves is a long-term solution.

    • @David: I’m not sure I follow you here – surely you believe that education is a system. The entire premise of Brave New World (and many other Utopian / Dystopian novels) is there there is a powerful system controlling everything. How to implement that system is an entirely different matter (I wouldn’t want the world to be like BNW or 1984 or anything like that), but I would still call it a system.

      @Steven: I agree with you here as well.

      I think the disparity in both of your opinions with mine is the way we are thinking about what defines an individual vs a system. David, in your original comment to this thread, I see you say things such as this – “We allow banks to give out bad loans, and we also allow ourselves to accept loans from the banks when aren’t sure enough we can pay it back. That makes us guilty as well.” Here I think we can pigeonhole “banks” into the category of “system”, and “we” into the category of the individual. This is because banks are regulated / governed by sets of rules, whereas individuals have the power of free will. If we lose that power (say, due to oppressive laws), then I would argue that would be a case of the system overpowering the individual, so in general I think we can say that any situation involving an individual’s free will to make decisions would classify that decision as an individual decision. So, in your example, when you say “we are guilty as well,” you are implying that we (as individuals) making a mistake (exercising our free will in a stupid way) is a problem that needs solving, as opposed to all of the burden of the problem being placed on the banks (a system). I think that all problems on a large scale can only be solved on a systematic level. For instance, improving public education, which is a system, would alleviate many “individual” problems by enabling people to exercise free will more intelligently, yet I would still say that this is an improvement on the system of education and not on the individual being educated. Sure, it is a semantic difference, but I think my definitions make sense here. I could get more technical of course but that would take quite a while and I think you see my point anyways.

      Your assertion that we are “guilty” of taking out bad loans reminds me of the classic Rick Perry vs sex education argument, which if you are not familiar with it, basically goes like this:
      -> Abstinence is the most effective form of birth control.
      -> Focus on teaching abstinence everywhere.
      -> Blame the teachers of abstinence education / the youth when teen pregnancy goes through the roof.
      I think we can both agree that abstinence-only education is a terrible idea, because it places the burden of success on the individual rather than the system. Another similar example would be doing the dishes in a house of many people. You can tell everyone to just do their own dishes, but that never EVER works. Again, also why communism never works in reality. You need a systematic method of enforcing rules in order to solve problems like these, which is why I think focus should be taken away from the individual.

      Hopefully that all makes sense, and I hope we no longer have semantic misunderstandings lol… as Steven can easily attest to, the worst disagreements are when both parties actually agree but they interpret words differently.

    • Alex DeLarge
    • November 22nd, 2011

    If everybody loved each other, the work would be much better place.

    • David
    • November 22nd, 2011

    @Alex: I guess I phrased my thoughts incorrectly: I do think education is a part of a system, but by “system”, I really mean the way the government is run. I think that no matter what, administration can always be screwed up by bad/inept people, regardless of how many laws/policies are in place to try to limit how much damage they can do. Education is a way of improving each individual person so they can make better choices within the system.

    Brave New World does rely upon a system, but the difference in BNW is that instead of trying to limit damages and promote beneficial actions, it dictates them by controlling the minds of people. I don’t think the way BNW did things was right, but I think that the minds of people and how they think are much more important to running the system than the actual way the system is set up. Given the right person, a dictatorship could also work out well, and given the wrong people, a republic can still go down the toilet.

    Banks are indeed part of the system and governed by rules, but similar to humans, they also have their own choices they can make and they can also try to set precedents/force policies to improve by what they endorse. Similarly, humans are also constrained by rules and laws, even if not all of them are written. Financial prudence and restraint are all bound by a set of mathematical rules, and making sure that people are educated about these rules is just as important as saying that they are bankrupt when they run out of money. In essence, a more conservative approach to personal finance is important to be learned/taught, and instead of waiting until these people run out of money or default on their loans, the solutions to problems should be preventative, not reactive.

    In the issue of semantics, you are right. We both want the same thing and the practicality of it would be the same, I think.

    That’s true, forcing responsibility on the individual makes things a lot more difficult, and I do agree that abstinence-only sex-ed is bad. However, part of the issue with abstinence-only sex-ed is that a lot of the strain is on young people who are definitely less likely to be ready. I think that people who take out loans for mortgages should be ready at that point for a greater range of responsibilities, and there should be some individual accountability as well. Of course, we shouldn’t screw them over entirely, but there should definitely be something to slap them in the hand for making such a bad decision.

    A very morbidly persistent part of me insists that humans can somehow be educated/trained/accustomed to not being selfish and follow the Golden Rule (not the SNL version, lol). Unfortunately, people have not really helped my hope in that regards, but I think that to achieve a more perfect sense of progress, the individual person’s mindset has to generally change as well as the system they are a part of.

    Steven is definitely right in that once we understand people more completely, the system can accommodate for us. I think for now though, both the system and us have to move forward a bit first.

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