In the past few weeks, I have been closely watching, and also participating in, the Occupy movement. After a rather dry decade in terms of both street activism and also any evidence of concern on the part of the general populace about the dramatic gains being made both within countries and also globally in the distance between rich and poor, I have been struck by the remarkable cogency of the message being delivered by protestors (despite all defensive attempts to deny the movement coherence): they would like more social equality.
Enough opportunities have been opened by this movement to explain why that I can skip ahead to a brief discussion of #Occupy narrative. (Although I will say that I have perhaps never as much appreciated the validating nature of being on the side of a dominant culture narrative--along with its accompanying epistemological danger: if everyone agrees with me, I must be right! In addition, if you haven't been following any of the various Occupations, I'll exhort you to read up on them, particularly in the indie press; they're making good points salient to most people.)
As I have also been exhorting my classes (especially my course on globalization, more or less abstracted here in the links in this post) for years, the targets being taken on by various Occupy protests are large and obvious enough that the narrative thread is fairly available: the economic activities of the free market, despite all the attractive imagery of trickle-down economics and the tide rising all boats that was supposed to follow from that has not worked; instead it has dammed ever-larger proportions of world wealth in ever-smaller pockets of circulation. Even if some laggards have fallen behind on this message and insist that they really ARE part of the 1%, despite all indications to the contrary (particularly amusing in this and related schoolings), most people who are paying attention are understanding the basic message that power needs to be wrested away from the small cluster of financial giants controlling the world economy -- enough that a wide range of personal testimonials, succinct expressions of anger, and kind of random signs are all building a movement that, if you hadn't been paying attention to the financial sector taking over, would seem almost implausibly coherent.
No less than George Lakoff has weighed in on this coherence* (having impressively waited, first, though, a decent interval to allow the movement to express itself without people perceiving messaging "help" from corners like his): "From what I have seen of most members of OWS, your individual concerns all flow from one moral focus."
OWS is a moral and patriotic movement. It sees Democracy as flowing from citizens caring about one another as well as themselves, and acting with both personal and social responsibility. Democratic governance is about The Public, and the liberty that The Public provides for a thriving Private Sphere. From such a democracy flows fairness, which is incompatible with a hugely disproportionate distribution of wealth. And from the sense of care implicit in such a democracy flows a commitment to the preservation of nature.
To allow you, dear readers, some time to catch up on all these interesting analyses, I will keep my comments brief. However, having been mulling muddy set of complex financial arrangements into a personal experience people can identify with? Has something about the narrativization of the current financial crisis transformed it from an analysis people didn't want to hear about from social scientists like me into something people cannot wait to share the latest tidbit about on their facebook pages? For those of us interested in maintaining the momentum of this engagement with important progressive politics, it will be important to understand what enables different people to tell their stories of current experience and future vision in ways that engage with difficult politics (even the 99% in Canada and the U.S., for example, are still mostly in the world 1%, and the political implications of that probably come with enough cognitive dissonance reduction to sink the most agentic and fun-seeming promotional campaign possible). But while people are paying attention and trying to figure out what to do, this seems like an excellent moment to read some signs, listen to your local protestors, and figure out how implausibly aspirational change narratives that are usually relegated to the realm of fictional utopias become real for people.I have been curious about the cognitive processes that have gone into the development of the #Occupy narratives. Has the opportunity to read and hear about so many others' narratives about their own experience of being down and out, despite their best efforts, due to systemic barriers helped to transform a
* I was somewhat less impressed with Jonathan Haidt's analysis, which, although cleverly illustrated, was frustrating in its seemingly willful slippage in discussing the central #Occupy tenet of fairness, since such a large part of the message everyone else seems to be taking away has to do with the unfairness of the similar amounts of work done by (/"contributed by") the "99%" and the "1%", despite their huge outcome disparities, in contrast to his assessment that "When everyone’s contribution is the same, then the proportional outcome is equality. But in a free market system, where some work harder or are more talented or lucky, it will always be the case that some people make a greater contribution than others, and therefore end up taking home a larger share of the pie."