Thursday, October 27, 2011

here's the problem

The problem isn't conservatives. That's not what I worry about, when it comes to my residual hopes for real change. The screeching of pathetic drones like Rich Lowry or Kevin Williamson is expected and immaterial. They don't change, nor are they corrigible, so they are ultimately irrelevant.

No, here's the problem.

Someone called Tom Bridge takes to the tastefully gated pages of Tumblr to express some sort of formless complaint about the Occupy protests. I've read it back three times and I'm still not sure what kind of argument is being expressed here. There appears to be an annoyance that Occupy protests are "taking up our public spaces," which is a criticism that is perhaps blunted by a familiarity with the definition of "public." He doesn't like the equation of the Occupy protests with the Arab Spring. I don't either, but then this is the kind of empty, citation-and-specific-target-free complaint that you can feel free to discard at any time without prejudice. He also is apparently under the impression that a police baton feels like the gentle caress of angel hair. Beyond that... what? What is the argument here? I haven't a clue.

What's funny is that this is a perfect inversion of the typical whinge about Occupy-- you don't stand for anything! Where's your list of demands! Who is the specific Democrat whose campaign you must be supporting!

You'll note, though, that this sentiment is popular. This Tumblr post has been reblogged and Tweeted and whatever else endlessly, despite not being insightful, fair, well articulated, specific, funny, meaningful, or intelligent. It doesn't need to be. Mr. Bridge is here operating as a cog in the resentment machine, and others celebrate his piece because they are afraid of what Occupy represents: the death of the idea that you can be protected from political impotence by apathy and your cultural convictions. 

This photo is prime evidence for my conviction that anything, no matter how lame or poorly executed, can be celebrated online, as long as it speaks to some kind of base animal anxiety. For Hipster B. Cool here, the idea that politics is something that has flesh and blood consequences for humanity is a terrible affront; he and those like him have built an entire culture around self-defense mechanisms. To admit conviction is to admit the possibility of vulnerability. To admit vulnerability is to lose in the endless game of "I am on the Internet and I am better than you." So Jackof Smirnoff here doesn't have to have a point, funny jokes, meaningful criticisms or a political notion to get reblogged. He just has to reassure his "arty" koffee klatsch that they are protected and safe within the bubble of their meaningless convictions about media and culture.

I mean, really. "Call a Congressman." Yes, that's the way to create change! Remember how Congress took action after the financial crisis and all of our problems were solved? When the money stopped going to the same tiny group of rapacious financiers who drove the entire world economy to the edge of the abyss? When the unemployed got a comprehensive jobs program? When we stopped spending billions on misadventures in the Muslim world and instead stimulated the economy and rebuilt our employment base? That was sweet.

The idea that the Occupy protests have no core complaints is and has always been a pure media phenomenon. It is an invention, fobbed off on people like Tom Bridge or Beardo McNotFunny here by a media that plays them for fools. I'll say it again-- there are those who are so deeply savvy that they become immeasurably stupid. (Think almost everyone who writes for New York magazine.) Here's all you need to know. For the large majority of our country's people, the engine of economic improvement has stalled. You can look at any chart of inflation-adjusted dollars and see that for the average American worker wages have been stagnant since the early 1980s. Meanwhile, for a tiny sliver of our population, wealth has exploded beyond the dreams of avarice during the same period. And this sliver represents the same people who ruined the economy and cast millions into unemployment. What Occupy represents is the loud and angry reaction to that fact. This reaction has been deeply deserved. Meanwhile, the legislative branch which Seamus J. Ironic Mustache here supports has done nothing of substance to redress this injustice. Nothing at all.

I genuinely believe that a person like Socially Approved Facial Hair here has to look out at Occupy with a kind of existential terror. Many people out there generate their self-worth from their ability to make fun of others. And who has traditionally been an easier target than the stereotype of an Occupy protester? Hippies are the people everyone can make fun of! Unfortunately for this anonymous man with his limp satire here, Occupy is not made up of the stereotype, and it has not been met with this kind of showy superiority. Instead it has been met with cautious but genuine interest, with critical examination, and with a deep interrogation of our current way of life. This kind of genuine, unfussy, and unembarrassed consideration of values and community morals is anathema to many, but they find their influence collapsing. In the face of that, they take cheap swipes like this.

Let me say this a thousand times, let me say it a million: I will take the most horrid conservative over this, any day of the week. I will take someone who is wrong, but is wrong about something, over this desperately preening, showy nothing. I will take total commitment to incorrect values over this proud emptiness. This kind of showy cowardice, this contempt for the notion of meaning, is what it looks like when you give any control of your country or your community away, or worse, when you sell it for some cheap commodity like irony or "wit."

Put that on your Tumblr, culture bunny.


FredR said...

Ironically, this eloquent post reads like a rhetorical exercise.

redscott said...
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redscott said...

The point is that it's rhetoric about something, not rhetoric that's about nothing and that's overweeningly proud that it's about nothing. I think conservatives are nuts in many ways, but at least they give a damn in their own nutso way. Fuck the people who don't give a damn and who want the rest of us to feel lame if we do - and I mean that without any irony at all.

Justin said...

"Put that on your Tumblr, culture bunny."

I just did! Because that picture annoyed me when I saw it in my Tumblr this afternoon (my version of it originated with Felix Salmon.) Somebody in the notes claimed Beardo McNotFunny looked like some legendary hipster figure, which would make your analysis dead on. (To be specific: he said Beardo was Gavin McInnes, who you can google yourself, but I have no idea if that's true or not.)

Anonymous said...

If you don't know what they stand for why are you being so supportive (yes you're being supportive)? They're not some inkblot where you get to pretend they're about whatever pet cause you currently favor.

Michael Ginda said...
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Michael Ginda said...

Anon, he's being supportive of OWS because at least OWS is attempting to be rhetorically constructive. When some joe-shmoe complains about 'not getting it' or is snarky for personal fulfillment, they're just impotent whiners.

Rob H said...

Amen, as always Freddie. Snarky McPunny is the ascetic priest of the 21st century. Reinforcing, and dulling the pain of, youth's own fecklessness.

jcapan said...

"To admit conviction is to admit the possibility of vulnerability."

Such selective nihilism, the smug certainty that convictions are meaningless, or that those of us who hold them are naive, is irritating*, but the collapse of the economy and biosphere will provide widespread defibrillation. I doubt the social-media matrix will provide nearly as much sustenance at that point.

* See also the likes of Ioz scorning Greenwald

Greg Sanders said...

I don't think I can agree with your conclusion that courageous zealots are to be preferred over cowardly undercutting hipsters.

I totally agree with the idea that undercutting virtuous activist movements for social self-aggrandizement is harmful, cowardly, and should be named and shamed.

I think the difference between the disaffected snarker and the opposition zealot is that we have much more of a chance to reach and affect the hipster. This is a problem we can push back on and I'm glad you're picking it up. I just disagree with the conclusion because I think it risks a misdiagnosis of how such people can better themselves and because it stands in stark contrast with your foreign policy writings.

That Fuzzy Bastard said...

The Occupy protests are not the refutation, but the apotheosis of the idea that you can be protected from political impotence by cultural conviction. What's striking about them is how many people have mobilized without anything resembling a politics---that is, a structure for how relations between levels of society should be conducted---but tremendous cultural conviction regarding one's ability to rhetorically express outrage about and how discussion should happen within the movement.

Your conviction that Congresses failure to act after the crisis proves that calling Congressmen is useless is similarly a perfect demonstration of the problem you say you're angered by. Lefties of the OWS variety scorn engagement with the legislative system. Then the legislative system doesn't react to their complaints. Inspiring futher scorn, like yours, for that system. It's a perfect engine, allowing everyone to get what they want---legislators get to ignore leftist complaints, leftists get to write outraged articles. Perfect, so long as your goal is to feel outrage rather than make change. Congrats!

You're wrong about folks like the above, or myself, or the masters of the universe, looking at OWS with terror. We look on with respectively scorn, despair, and amusement, at the spectacle of people so loudly and proudly embracing impotence. Your whining pride in the refusal to do things that would actually impel the system to change is precisely why change is not happening. You are the 99%, and you are the problem.

Anonymous said...

The idea that OWS doesn't have a politics, even so restrictively defined as "a structure for how relations between levels of society should be conducted," is absurd. Their entire practice of organizing and decision-making is a demonstration of sharing horizontal political power, i.e. direct democracy. There's nothing more political than that. (Side note: you beg your question by defining politics as only involving different "levels of society," essentially defining out the potential for any kind of socially/politically equal system, which is precisely the politics that OWS is asking for and practicing.)

The fact that they don't think engaging the current political system is politically productive does not make them anti- or apolitical. That would make any revolution (not to say that OWS is a revolution) of any sort, any where, at any time, non-political, and at that point, what meaning remains for politics?

I couldn't really care less about your terror or your scorn/amusement, but your inability to spot your own logical inconsistencies and underlying assumptions is rather grating.

Skye said...

I have a parallel take on the gay rights movement. As a gay man, I am ultimately less perturbed by the fundies who cry Apocalypse at every step towards gay equality than by the gay men and women who express apathy towards the whole thing. For some of them it goes as far as assuming that gay people are "sick" for wanting to get married, and "fascists" for wanting to serve openly in the military. They seem to relish the idea of the gay ghetto.

proximity1 said...

Proximity1 writes

RE "Here's the problem"

It's certainly one of them and related in important ways to other problems which, together, make up the larger and complicated mess.

I think that much of the anti-OWS derision springs from fatalists who despise, above all else, those who refuse to join their fatalist resignation. And some springs from people who see real flaws in the OWS tactics and strategies even as they can recognize merits in the protests.

For me, the slogan "We Are the 99%", while it has definite points in its favor--it's pithy, appealing and implies the importance of democratic legitimacy that underlies it, also has certain flaws. It's tends to mask or distract us from certain core facts such as that, for example, the 99%, far from a unified and coherent whole, is composed of many antagonistic elements seeking various goals which aren't compatible.

Rank and file members of "Answer", "", the Tea Party movements, while all also part of the 99%, want very different and incompatible things--that is, when they even know what it is that they want.

I think lots more time, attention and effort are needed in some basic knowledge-acquisition. OWS is doing some of this but much much more is needed. The protests are the result of a dysfunctional system. To improve and reform it, better knowledge and understanding than most people noz hqve is prerequisite to progress.

But that is work which takes the time and effort of study and our culture abhors what isn't instantly and easily obtained.

jcapan said...

Greg said: "I think the difference between the disaffected snarker and the opposition zealot is that we have much more of a chance to reach and affect the hipster."

Agreed. And if Freddie's right, that these folks are striving after palliative meanings, perhaps they deserve our empathy more than our scorn. Just b/c they're leading unquiet lives of desperation doesn't make this any less true. And couldn't this-"their meaningless convictions about media and culture"--be said about much of the academy?

Anonymous said...

Is is too glib to blame South Park? I honestly don't remember sincerity/conviction being social taboos until about a decade ago.

Anonymous said...

Say what you want about the tenets of the GOP, dude, at least it's an ethos.

g. seferis said...

@Greg Sanders

I had the same thought as you, that though Freddy's conclusion makes for nice rhetoric it might be a bit much to say one would prefer a courageous conservative zealot to a cowardly nihilist.

But I think that in fact those who hold convictions completely contradictory to one's own are more easily reached than those who have no convictions at all, who are in fact anti-conviction. My college roommate freshman year had a rush limbaugh mousepad and by the end of the year he was a social liberal (and i much more in favor of the free market). We "reached" each other. Leftists have a better chance of reaching dedicated conservatives because at least on some fundamental level of interacting with the world we are the same. Dedicated conservatives and dedicated liberals have more in common than either does with a dedicated satirist of belief.

Greg Sanders said...

@G. Seferis

You may be right. In general I think I've been more successful in getting some involvement out of those that lean towards disengagement or cynicism but they make up a larger percentage of my social circle. COme to think of it, I'm not entirely sure which personality is easier to reach although I think there's more social opportunities for those without opposite views once you can choose your roommates.

Regardless, good work engaging with that roommate.