Tag Archives: Occupy Wall Street

Fame Day: Socialism Conference

I’m writing these words in the last hours of what has been a quiet May Day.

For me, at least.

Elsewhere in the world, red and black flags are being proudly waved as people march through the streets, chanting and singing. In Greece, a nation-wide strike is being carried out in defiance of massive lay-offs enacted by the government. In Bangladesh, thousands are protesting after the collapse of a sweatshop resulted in the death and injury of hundreds of workers. Similar protests have broken out in the Philippines as nearly 10,000 workers march in Manila. Youth in Spain are raging against the nearly 30% unemployment rate. Korea, Cambodia, Turkey, Indonesia- just to name a handful- are witnessing similar turnouts.

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Culture, Not Criteria

Earlier today Evan sent me a link to a documentary on YouTube dealing with the subject of “hacktivists,” or more specifically, the rise of internet mischief and mayhem group “Anonymous.” For the most part, the movie was decent enough, though of course it wasn’t without its own agenda and a there are a few misconceptions resulting from that. But this post isn’t going to be a review. Rather, it’s going to launch off from an interesting phenomena I saw throughout the documentary- and that was the way people talked about Anonymous.

See, whenever people talk about the group, they usually have to veer off into a parenthetical speech where they try to explain just exactly who these guys are, and how at the same time they can be anybody, because anybody can be “Anonymous.” The end result is that they wind up sounding like a paranoid schizophrenic or conspiracy theorist, and the explanation itself doesn’t sound all that believable. After all, how can any individual or group take on the mantle and conduct whatever hacking or pranking or ranting they do against their enemies without some leadership? How do they do anything if they have no demands or agenda?

The problem here (and elsewhere, but we’ll get to that in a minute) is that a completely wrong lens is being used to look at the group. People are looking for structure or goals- the two things that usually define any collection of people, and that’s where it falls apart. Anonymous isn’t a group, it’s an idea. It’s a culture.

Now that sounds strange, but bear with me here.

What’s a conservative?

You probably have an image in your head right now. You can probably tell me what a conservative would think about a certain issue, or how he or she would act in a certain scenario, or the general value system one might have, but if I really pushed you for criteria, my guess is that you wouldn’t be able to give me one. After all- there are varying ideas of “conservatism,” and no real defined boundaries. You’ll find conservatives who state that the “religious extremists” have a skewed view of conservative values, and those same extremists offer the exact same criticism of those wimpy fiscal conservatives. Regardless of the specifics, once you stand back, both groups do fit neatly into the category of “conservative.”

Now apply the same general lens to Anonymous.

What’s “Anonymous”? It’s not a group with an ideology- it’s an ideology with a group, or rather, a whole bunch of groups. Consensus isn’t made through secretive discussion boards or by a clandestine collective of angry computer-geeks. Consensus isn’t made at all- actions simply stem from a general set of perspectives and ideas (the most major of which is freedom of speech and opposition to censorship) held by the adherents. Anonymous doesn’t exist as a coherent, structured group anymore than any culture or subculture exists as a coherent, structured group. Sure you’ve got your major players, and you’ve got various projects or movements within, but at the end of the day, there’s no list of demands, just a set of values.

The reason I bring this up is that this kind of organic organization is becoming more and more prevalent in our culture, the most notable example perhaps being the “Occupy Movement.” Critics of the movement, in its early days, continually parroted the protest of “But what do they want?“- the issue with that being that there was no, and never could be, any list of demands. Occupy wasn’t a structured or unified group- it was, like Anonymous is, a culture. A massive number of people sharing (and developing) certain common perspectives and values and then taking actions based on those views (those actions further developing those views, and so on ad infinitum). Trying to get demands out of Occupy protestors would’ve been about as fruitful as trying to get demands out of conservatives. You’re going to get conflicting specifics, even if there is a general set of guiding principles.

And of course, there are others out there. Though there’s no real term or name for it yet, there’s a rising “Manly” culture, comprised of elements of survivalists, masculinists, and guys who debate each other on-line about how to build porches and properly maintain classic muscle cars. Now I can’t claim to know the origin of this- perhaps it’s partly a reaction against our increasing dependence on technology, perhaps it stems from our powerlessness in a time of political and economic hardship- but either way, it is a growing culture based in principals of independence, self-sufficiency, self-control.

On the other side of the spectrum, there’s the general philosophies and ideas of the trans-humanists, futurists, utopians, geeks, nerds, and people who worship the ground Bill Nye and Neil DeGrasse Tyson walk on. Those who view technology as being the solution to most, if not all, human ills, and eagerly await the day when you can get a free jet-pack when you go in for your cancer vaccine.

Now why bring any of this up?

Because it’s important.

We’re currently breaking away from the liberal/conservative paradigm, and we’re going to need to understand what else is out there. This isn’t to say that we’ve only had conservative and liberal cultures- that simply isn’t true. But we can’t deny that there has been, over the past decade, developments of new value-systems which are really neither here nor there. New and alternative views for what the world ought to be, and how you ought to be in it. Over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll be focusing on dissecting these various concepts, so be sure to stop by next Monday for my examination of “Manly” culture.

Evan and Gordon Talk: The Greatest Flaw of This Generation [Continued]

EVAN: Last week Gordon and I discussed the greatest flaw of this generation, and discussed apathy, laziness, entitlement, and creative bankruptcy. Deciding that we had much more to work with, Gordon left us with this question last week, which heads this continuation of the topic:

““Do we want to be good, or do we just want to look good?”

GORDON: I’m not entirely sure I can come up with any swift dismissal of this possibility, I mean- look at the world we live in. Do we believe in being environmentally and socially conscious? Absolutely. But to what extent? I mean, we’ll chuck our soda cans in the recycling, but are we gonna picket Monsanto?

Are we really just observing these “little” things because they’re expected of us? Do we actually care one way or another?

EVAN: As far as recycling goes, we do that in Canada because it’s the law. Looking good only has so much to do with it.

If we want to go with the example of, say, giving a few dollars towards an environmental organization [or maybe because the fundraiser was cute], that works a little more maybe. It at least contrasts with picketing/protesting. I think we care, but maybe not enough? That’s if we’re quantifying “care” now by the actions that it results in.

GORDON: Is it, perhaps, that we’re cynical? Do we as a generation ultimately despair of the effectiveness of any method of change? Is the reason we’re unable to really go the distance when it comes to our causes because we think it’s all just in vain?

EVAN: Do we think it’s all futile? I mean, we’re certainly led to believe that to some extent. To focus on environmentalism, the extent of the destruction to this earth is growing ever closer to irreversible, and we’re made aware of this.

As far as documentaries and the like go, however, we are told over and over that what we do does indeed matter. Being conscious about how we spend our money and that sort of thing.

GORDON: That’s what we’re told, but then again, the creators of such documentaries are overwhelmingly members of older generations.

Look at the Occupy Movement, for example.

People were there from all demographics, but more than anyone else it was the youth- our generation. Despite massive popularity, that venture ultimately met its death under the boot heels of riot cops and a fog of pepper spray.

It’s been about a year since it all started, and the situation is the same, yet there’s really no push for any resurrection of the movement or even for any major protest at all. Have we given up? We’re all the same people- we have all the same drives and values- have we simply despaired of peaceful protest?

EVAN: It’s funny you should say that, since just yesterday former protesters gathered in a park in Toronto to call attention to the movement that happened a year ago.

That aside, maybe you can explain what exactly happened as the movement petered out. It’s somewhat well-known that the weather was a large contributor to those occupying various streets and cities, but what else led to its collapse. Was it simply fatigue?

GORDON: I’d blame massive crackdowns on the part of the mayors of the occupied cities- let’s not forget that mayor Jean Quan pretty much turned Oakland into a warzone. Injured a protesting war vet so badly most folks thought he was going to become the first casualty of the movement (he pulled through, fortunately).

EVAN: This sort of all falls back to a point I made in relation to apathy our first attempt at this topic. That people care, but simply don’t feel like stepping outside their comfort zones. I realize that this may seem like a ludicrous thing to say in the face of the Occupy Movement, but I feel that the vast majority of youth, our generation, don’t want to do what it takes.

They, we, value comfort too much.

GORDON: I’m gonna have to second that theory.

I remember back when I was in college, going door-to-door trying to get students to boycott various unethical companies [Coca-Cola, Nike] doing business on campus. I was amazed at how many people would nod their heads and smile and agree with each and every word out of my mouth until I called on ’em to stop buying those companies’ products.

Guts. We got none. Difficulty with the concept of actual sacrifice, you know?

EVAN: And the refreshing taste of Coca-Cola is the very basest of comforts. If we can’t part with a caffeinated beverage we’re into, then what can we do?

I’ve joined in your personal boycott of the company, and although it can be a little difficult, it’s certainly nothing compared to being beaten by batons as I march on Parliament.

GORDON: Is that it then? Are our values just skewed ever so slightly in favor of immediate gratification? Do we prefer keeping our skulls in once piece over bread and freedom?

EVAN: History would say: yes. At least until things reach a certain point. Until we realize that being comfortable doesn’t outweigh what we put up with to get that comfort.

GORDON:  So what’s the word for this?

EVAN: To put it simply would be “laziness,” and we both know it’s more than that.

GORDON: “Over-Attachment,” perhaps?

EVAN: “Comfort-Loving”?

GORDON: “Hesitation”? “Looking back towards Sodom”?

EVAN: Looking back towards Sodom assumes that they’re actually doing something.

GORDON: It’s a fear- a very specific kind of fear. The kind where you “choke” just before doing something major.

EVAN: I’m going to say there’s probably something in French or German for that, but since we’re writing this in English we’re pretty limited in our options.

GORDON: Can we make one up?

EVAN: Heh. I don’t see why not.

How about . . . “Statusquophilia.”

GORDON: “Fluxophobia”?

EVAN: Haha, I like how we went different directions with our Greek roots.

GORDON: As do I. Shall we have the readers vote?

EVAN: Sounds good to me, and we should be wrapping things up anyway. Want to summarize how we got here?

GORDON: Ultimately, o readers, it all comes down to this. The great and terrible flaw of our generation- from what we’ve discussed- is not a sin of commission. We are not entitled, we are not lazy, we are not without our values. Our fault is in what we lack the guts to be good, the balls to be bad. In short, the unwillingness to part with what we have for the chance to attain something more. We’re trapped in a dance with the devil we know.

EVAN: Vote for the terminology you like more. “Statusquophilia,” meaning a love for things as they are, or “Fluxophobia,” meaning, in this case, a fear of sacrifice.

GORDON: For next week’s topic, we’ve got: Zombies- Are We Beating a Dead Horse At This Point?

EVAN: Or what is going on with all the wars on television? I’m referring to programs like “Storage Wars” and the like. Real wars are happening, I realize this.

GORDON: And with that, people of the interwebs, we are out of time- make sure to vote for your preferred word as well as the topic for next week, and be sure to check out our new “Fame/Shame Day” feature!

Violence (Not) In Media

In the wake of the Aurora Shooting, the Sikh Temple Massacre, and a recent spate of gun violence across the country, the debate of the violence in media has once again reared its head. On one side, those who cite the saturation of film, music, and video games with violence and the glorification of violence as responsible for creating these monsters, or at the very least, pushing them over the edge. On the other side, the ranks of apologists, who declare that it’s ridiculous to blame movies and music for mass-murder.  I’m not here to analyze the claims of either point, or to make an argument for one side or the other- that’s already been done better by The Escapist’s Robert Chipman (check it out here).

No, I’m here to address the subject of violence and its possible contributing factors outside of film and music.

When I touched on a complaints I had with movies like Brideshead Revisited and I Love You Man a few weeks ago, I briefly mentioned goth-rock-star Marilyn Manson, whose music was accused by many of being responsible for having influenced the Columbine shooters in committing the massacre. Interviewed by Michael Moore in his documentary Bowling for Columbine, Manson had this to say regarding violent influences:

And therein really lies the crux of the issue- when tragedies like this happen, the scope of our outrage is usually so small that we fail to take into account all the other possible factors. We can cite GTA or rock or rap or cartoons as being responsible and maybe- just maybe- there’s something to that. But what about everything else? If violence in media causes violence, surely violence itself should be cited here!

You remember this?

That’s Marine Corps veteran Scott Olsen, moments after he was shot in the head with a gas canister from close range. Part of the brutal crackdown by police on the Occupy Oakland protests last year- back when Mayor Jean Quan decided the best way to deal with a peaceful protest was by turning her town into a war zone.

But why talk about Oakland and countless other cities being turned into war zones when we can just talk about actual war?

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, this is the single longest war in American history. Year after year after year, it goes on, and with no end in sight. That’s got to be the single largest and publicized campaign advocating violence, yet where is the outrage against it?

And what about hunting? That’s all about guns and the glorification of killing things…

What about Civil War Reenactors?

What about the national anthem? That thing is full of references to bombs. What about the 4th of July? A day when we celebrate our victory in a war by setting off explosives!

What about the very way we talk about violence? Should the Mob Museum here in Las Vegas be shut down? Should we do away with anything related to pirates? Should we stop teaching about the war of 1812 in schools?

And so on…

You get the idea. Ours is a culture and history built on violence. It’s in everything–  not just our media. While I’ve got my own views on what does and doesn’t cause or promote violence, my purpose here isn’t to take a side. I’m simply trying to demonstrate that if you do want to try to get into the causes of violence, you don’t get to be selective about who you put on trial.You want to find out if there was something in our world beyond the killer’s diseased mind responsible for death and destruction, you have to look at everything- anything less is just a witch hunt, pure and simple.

Let’s face it, half the time, tragedies like these are the platform from which we get to lynch things we didn’t like to begin with…

…I wonder if that kind of vicious and petty mentality might contribute to violence at all…

In Defense of This Generation

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot- a lot– to criticize about the millennial generation. There’s creative bankruptcy (see Evan’s post), “slacktivism” and general laziness, ever-shortening attention spans, and of course, loud, obnoxious repetitive music without any discernible beginning, end, or climax.

I cannot state enough how much I hate techno…

Now with all that stated, I do want to address some of the criticisms thrown at Generation Y by our elders and (as they see it, anyways) betters.

Late last year, I came across this article, titled “5 Ways We Ruined the Occupy Wall Street Generation“. In his defense, the author emphatically states at the beginning of the piece that “This is not a sarcastic apology, I’m not a big enough dick to write all of this as a backhanded insult about how lazy and entitled you are. Because you’re not…”. Even so, it’s tough to read the article and not feel frustrated at some of the more glaring errors, or condescended to by false conclusions drawn from them. Despite the author’s best intentions, you can’t really walk away from the piece without imagining him to look something like this:

I’ll get right into things here with his first point “#5. Making You Ashamed to Take Manual Labor Jobs“. The author opens by offering the example of a piece of dialogue that went viral about a year ago.

It’s a great little bit, but I still have to stop things right there. We’re not ashamed to take manual labor jobs. We never have been. In this economy more than ever, there are college graduates willing, ready, and even eager to take jobs sweeping floors, unloading crates, answering phones, or stocking shelves. We’re not ashamed of flipping burgers, we just can’t afford to flip burgers. See, we have this funky little thing called “debt”, and not just any debt, the one kind of debt we, by law, cannot have discharged. To clarify- if I went bankrupt, if fire burned down my house and destroyed each and every last earthly possession I had, the only thing I would have left would be tens of thousands of dollars of debt I still need to pay.

The appropriate reaction…

All that’s to say we can’t take jobs flipping burgers because the $7.25 an hour you get for being abused by the customers and/or inhaling carcinogenic fumes just isn’t enough us to live independently and pay off our various mountains of inescapable debt.  Even if we move back in with our parents (more on that in a minute) things will still be tight- and God forbid we should even think about getting married or having kids until we’re in our mid-30’s. Which brings us to our next point- “extension of adolescence”.

This is a psychologically documented phenomena, and something that’s rather throwing the combined worlds of sociology and psychology. Ever since the line between childhood and manhood ceased to be set at bringing down an elk and bathing in its blood, figuring out exactly when a person ceases to become a kid and becomes an adult is tough. It’s certainly not something new, but it is currently far more pronounced than with previous generations. Take that picture up there for example. Two guys, looking to be in their mid or even late twenties, playing X-Box. There’s the clincher there- the X-Box. The older generations, having had really nothing quite on the level of video games (pac-man doesn’t really count), labeled them as “kids’ stuff” from their inception, and the fact that we still play video games well into our twenties is seen as us extending our teen years, rather than shifting over to being an adult. The author of the article has this as his third point “Adding Seven More Years to Being a Teenager”.

Of course, it’s absolute nonsense once you think about it. What did our grandparents or even our parents do for fun when they were kids? They played cards, board games, hunted, fished, went to the movies, and beat up minorities.

KKK Rally, or as they called it in the 30s, “Wednesday”…

And what do our grandparents and parents do today when they want to have fun? They play cards, board games, go hunting, fishing, and go to the movies (hopefully they’ll have dropped “Harassing Pollacks” from the daily planner by this point). You never hear anyone accuse them of extending their teen years. My grandfather and his friend have been playing cribbage together for over half a century, does anyone tell them that they need to start acting like adults? Let’s face it, when it comes to what this generation does for fun, we really don’t differ from anyone in a previous generation, it’s just that what we do is so radically different, we have the appearance of being immature.

And what about responsibility? Is this generation really lazy and wussy compared to the generation who worked in the mill, took a break to fight Hitler, and went back to working in the mill and raising a family? Last time I checked, we’re in the worst depression since the 1930s (a crisis which we, incidentally, had nothing to do with but still have to pay for) and on top of this we’ve been locked in the longest war in American history- nearly twice as long as the entirety of WWII, just for some perspective. You can say a lot of things about this generation, but you can’t try to claim that we’re somehow just a bunch of young adults still trying to drag out our years as kids.

“Just look at that entitled, lazy kid. No concept of hard work or adult responsibility.”

Of course, we do tend to party, and while I could point to this being true of pretty much every young generation since a Cro-Magnon named Thruk invented partying roughly 43,000 years ago, I’m going to take a different approach.

This might come as a shock to some, but young people don’t want to spend their twenties partying because they’re afraid of turning into soulless corporate drones- it’s because we’re enjoying, often for the first time, full independence. Believe it or not, we don’t want to move back in with our parents and spend our youth still under their watchful gaze. We want our own place, our own job, our own car. We want responsibility, and as strange as it sounds, the partying is simply an extension of our attempts to explore our new found freedom.

As for us being entitled, there is something to be said for that. I recall once riding the subway with this blog’s regular contributor Evan and overhearing two youths snivel that the computer they were getting wasn’t quite as advanced as it could be. That said, there’s plenty of so-called “entitlement” that get’s unfairly pinned on us. The Occupy Movement, for example, was criticized by some as being a bunch of lazy kids that expected everything to be handed to them. I mentioned above that the current economic crises responsible for so many of our problems was- and this is key here- not started by us. What was I doing when the economy started to tank? Nothing. I was consuming the food put before me, buying as much stuff as could be expected from a teenager, and working summer jobs when I could. What did I do wrong? Why am I getting stuck with the economic crises I had nothing to do with? If you want to talk about entitlement, let’s talk about the generation who gambled with our collective futures and expects us to clean up the mess. Same goes for the wars we’re currently locked into.

As for our “armchair-activism”, again, there’s plenty wrong with this, and you could spend plenty of time going through what makes it such a pointless endeavor. Nevertheless, I can’t help but feel irked when someone from an older generation- specifically my parent’s generation (who would’ve been my age in the 80s and early 90s). Say what you will about people who mass-forward e-mails about signing petitions or demanding you like a cause on Facebook, there’s at least a level of interest. Barring the grossly simplistic anti-drug movement of the 80s, I can’t exactly recall the major moral movements of that generation. In short, the whole that this generation might be shallow isn’t without merit, but the people who point the finger ought to be awful careful that they pick the log out of their own eye first.

“What do we want?”
“Fluffy hair!”
“When do we want it?”
“After we’re done snorting crack!”

I’m going to finish up here with this last point- addressing the author of the article’s claim that the number one reason “We’ve ruined the occupy wall street generation” is that “we’ve taken away every reason to go outside”.
Am I the only one here who sees a staggering paradox? Am I the only one struggling to resolve how the “Occupy Wall Street People” need to “Get Outside More”? Last time I checked, the protestors at Occupy Wall Street were literally occupying Wall Street.

“Look at how pale you are! When’s the last time you went outside? Besides yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that, and the day before that, and…”

Now do we get outside as much as previous generations. Not really no. But then again, I don’t really see masses of the elderly roaming the streets either. Look, the reason we don’t “go out” is because many of us (who would, by the way, love to go out) are living in cities or urbanized areas. Short of just “walking around”, any major outdoor activity costs us money, which in case you haven’t picked up on by now, isn’t something we have just lying around. Between gas, food, entry fees, and other costs, I’d have to spend nearly a monthly payment to my college debt getting forty-eight hours in the great outdoors. That’s the reason we don’t like paying for entertainment (the author’s fourth point), only it’s not because we expect our entertainment to be free (just ask anyone who’s paid upwards of 60 bucks for a new X-Box game), it’s because we’re trying to be thrifty. If we want to get our own car and our own house to avoid the sneers of our elders, we have to pinch every penny until it slaps us with a sexual harassment lawsuit- entertainment is simply a major way we can save money and not go postal.

Look at those people trying to get food for free instead of paying for it! Lazy, entitled bunch of bums expecting everything to be handed to ’em, that’s what they are!

So in sum total, that’s my defense of my generation. It’s not a great generation- certainly not yet, anyways. It’s not the worst generation either, though, and before anyone- anyone– wants to label us as lazy or entitled or juvenile; please, look at us in the bigger scheme of things, and better still, look at yourselves. Would you want the standards you place on us applied to you?