Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Occupy movement

I've been back and forth on the Occupy movement. On the one hand I sympathize with their goals, as a liberal agree with many of the typical liberal stances. I see the people making 53% pictures bragging about working two jobs without having healthcare as if that's something that's desired. As if one needs to work 60 hours in order to be a hard worker, or one needs to go without healthcare in order to demonstrate self-reliance. These are horrible ideas, and it's a shame people genuinely are duped into believing them, and being proud of those beliefs. My sympathies overwhelmingly lie with the 99%/Occupy folks. But I have very serious misgivings about everything beyond their general goals, and any brevity in the objections I list below is more likely due to tiredness rather than running out of objections.

  • They've taken the admirable goal of equality and gone too far trying to achieve it
  • They try to obtain false meaningfulness using cheap tricks
  • They abandon facts-based reality when it suits their message
  • Everything has a pathological need to be recognized as smart/clever/original/valuable running through it

To begin with, they've taken a healthy fear of leadership co-opting the movement thereby not truly reflecting the interests of the participants and turned it into something plain silly. Any group has to express common things (otherwise why band together?) and they've constructed an elaborate system of working groups, spokes councils, and assemblies with participation via hand signals. As can be expected, some people have split and formed their own councils, groups, and assemblies. There are no leaders, there is no method to ensure cooperation, decisions can be reversed immediately, and no individual is accountable. They've taken a desire for equality to such an extreme that their decision-making process resembles a dysfunctional sociological classroom experiment.

The Guy Fawkes masks. I guess they feel that wearing them automatically renders one cool, or that by putting a piece of plastic on your face your message is automatically transformed into something deep and respectable. A person merely speaking? Rubbish! A person speaking while wearing a piece of plastic covering their face? They're transforming the nature of society! It makes no sense to me, it's a cheap ploy designed to carry the false impression of serious meaning and being an important person. It's an attempt to get something important without working for it, and that's the opposite of their overall message.

Pretending they're innocent bystanders being brutally attacked by Big [anything] via police officers. I get that police brutality exists, I get that we've given police officers special authority and they should be held to a higher standard, I get that some police officers abuse that authority. These are all things we agree on. But... they take that reality and exaggerate it beyond the facts. The Occupy movement often pretends that when you physically assault a police officer they won't protect themselves. There's a line as to how aggressive you should be able to get with the police. That isn't advocating that Statist Jack-Booted Thugs should be able to beat citizens – it's the reality of what a police force is.

Even if we dismiss all false allegations of police brutality, I still have issues with their legitimate allegations of police misconduct. The perfect example is the YouTube video where several female protesters were sprayed with mace. In my opinion, they shouldn't have been sprayed. They have my sympathy and support at that point. But... the protesters then drop to their knees and cry out with hands outstretched, they put on a performance. The non-protesters appear unaffected, the police officers appear unaffected, the only people suddenly putting on a false performance of agony are the people trying to spread the message of police brutality. Only the protesters were directly sprayed, but considering how close everyone else was – it was a crowd – it seems like a dishonest performance. It's that moment when they leave reality and begin twisting it to fit their ends that we disagree. Perhaps it's a personal shortcoming, but I believe in a facts-based reality. We can only have constructive discussions about the world if we agree on a facts-based reality, leaving that behind means constructive discussion is no longer possible.

The fact that any police officer or veteran who does or says something positive about Occupy is immediately held up as heroic. Either A) the action of being a police officer or veteran supporting Occupy is heroic, or B) it's a false assertion of heroism. Obviously A isn't true, so we should ask why B is true. My personal opinion is that it fits perfectly into the overall theme of cheaply trying to obtain a false status of being meaningful and important. One can either work to sway the opinions of police officers and veterans, or one can hold a handful up as a token symbol.

Admittedly the next one is somewhat an indictment of my generational peers, but it's particularly relevant to the Occupy movement. There is a pathological need to constantly demonstrate how clever, smart, and worthy of praise they are, and it manifests itself in childish displays. Wearing a mask popularized by a film is one aspect of it, but it's in everything they do. For example, the Denver mayor wanted representatives of the Occupy Denver movement to talk to city and state officials. One would think this is normal – we've developed a system of representatives for negotiations and discussions because you can't have a meaningful conversation with several hundred people at once. It's remarkably basic, and it's how groups can communicate effectively.

But representatives aren't very clever or original, so Occupy Denver elected a border collie to be their leader and claimed “[the dog] is closer to a person than any corporation: She can bleed, she can breed, and she can show emotion. Either Shelby is a person, or corporations aren’t people”. It's utterly stupid. It's misstating the concept of corporate personhood, it's not engaging in dialogue with the people who can do what you want, and it's referring to a statement that's actually true! When Mitt Romney used the phrase “corporations are people” he was making the point that raising taxes on corporations is effectively raising taxes on the shareholders because they will have less money coming in. Whatever the corporate tax rates are, whether we should raise or lower them, it is a factual statement describing reality. Leaving reality behind in an attempt to demonstrate how clever and right one is... it's stupid, and not something I can support.

Basically: I like the goals of the movement, but the movement is trying to reach those goals as if they were children unable to operate in an adult world. Until they begin behaving in an adult way I don't see any similarities between Occupy and myself.

Friday, November 4, 2011


I was recently part of a discussion about whether kidneys should be legally bought and sold in the US. It's worth noting that the discussion usually concerns body parts we can't readily notice rather than eyes, ears, hands, etc. The simple act of changing one word for another "should there be a market for the poor to have their eyes gouged out?" can shed light on the answer. But for the sake of argument, we can pretend the same people who want to buy kidneys have no interest whatsoever in buying anything else.

One of the main problems with allowing organs to be bought and sold is that the seller often can't afford not to sell - it's rarely a voluntary choice. Selling the kidney could mean: the difference between sending a child to a decent school or a poor one; the difference between healthcare or not; the difference between having a car to drive to a better job or staying at an old one; the difference between trying to find space in a homeless shelter or getting an apartment; the difference between eating that week or not. This is a market designed solely to exploit the poorest and most vulnerable members of our community - and it's designed so only the wealthy can benefit. Applying the typical "people behave towards their own self-interest and everyone benefits from voluntary choice" model does not work in a market like this. It produces an efficient market, but it produces a deeply unjust market. Exploiting the most vulnerable members of society should never be respected, and it certainly should never be allowed to masquerade as moral.

All men are created equal. When we take by coercion the bodies of the most vulnerable, we forget this basic tenant of humanity. We turn the most vulnerable into the least equal. When we take the poor and transform their bodies into commodities to be bought and sold, they lose their dignity and we lose our humanity.