Occupy Wall Street is happening in my back yard. I’ve been down to offer a warm body and moral support a few times, but I’m not what I’d call involved in the movement. I post news stories and pictures to Facebook and sometimes Twitter, trying to help get the word out, but I’m pretty sure my social base is largely impatient with the idea in general, not to mention hesitant about protesters altogether.
I also follow the blog Information is Beautiful regularly. Everything they do fascinates me, and their presentations go beyond beautiful: they are always interesting and usually helpful, even if only in a very minute sense.
These two threads joined today when Information is Beautiful posted via BusinessInsider.com “CHARTS: Here’s What The Wall Street Protesters Are So Angry About… I knew most of the narrative, but I didn’t know most of the information as specifically as they listed it, so I was happy to see it and shared it with a friend and my social networks. But it also made me sick to my stomach with anger, one of the reasons I’m sympathetic towards and participate (even as distantly as I do) in OWS: something is wrong, and the numbers communicate it, and there’s a narrative to the numbers, so not knowing really is about not looking at this point.
So I tried to communicate this with my girlfriend, which may have lead to her asking why I’m so bent out of shape about it, which might have lead to a conversation that included my saying, “That’s like saying Hitler’s Germans didn’t know about the Holocaust.” Hyperboles aside, she later asked me, “So why don’t you participate?” Which is a really good question, to which I only have a really bad answer: I don’t know what to say. But not knowing what to say usually only occurs because one hasn’t tried yet to say anything.
Well. Then. Here’s attempt #1.
A new kid arrives at the playground one day and sees all the children playing. Cliques are already formed, and in the corner is a lonely giant trying to catch a grasshopper. The new kid surveys the social groups, picks one for his own reasons, and begins to socialize with all the others. He builds some clout over the next weeks or months until he feels like trying to double-down on his status: he begins to pick on the first group he noticed, using all of his observations to grief and nitpick them until all of the other cliques form into an anti-that-group clique. Then everybody except that group belongs to the new kid; he even befriends the stupid giant in the corner and courts him as a strongman.
But that’s not overthrow, except maybe from nature to structure; that’s normal political functioning. Overthrow comes after the new kid has gotten his clout to mature into something substantive. It’s at this point he defines another anti-that-group group, allowing the first disenfranchised to re-enter the social circle at the expense of another. But this is the only way to collect all of the pawns: to rotate hatred from one group to another to another and so on ad infinitum.
One day the new kid realizes that if he just sacrifices the stupid giant so that he’s always the enemy, he can keep the other social groups all the time, whose social capital is always greater. And so he begins an escalating assault upon the stupid kid in the corner, because everyday the jeers from before lose a little luster, and every day things have to become a little more intense to maintain the feeling of realness. So the big kid stays in his corner, lonely and feeling utterly stupid and without power. He searches for more grasshoppers to pass the time.
But one day the jeers aren’t just jeers anymore. Once, another kid worked up the courage to kick at the stupid giant as he passed, and everyone laughed but no one pointed fingers. And another day, another kid slapped the giant upon the head, and everyone leered with little tight smiles. And these little cruelties continued; the students broke the playground rules in order to solidify their moral alienation of the giant. They increased until the giant was too dejected to even look for grasshoppers anymore. He just sat there in the corner wondering how he had gone from being alone to being so lonely.
And then the real escalation began: The new kid began to hit the giant, too. Before, the new kid had refrained for fear of retaliation, but seeing everyone else do it without so much as getting a swing thrown back at them, he finally worked up the brass. Except once he felt he had implicit permission from the group, he could sanction in his own mind the worst tactics. Instead of a poorly aimed kick here and there, the new kid aimed for the giants knees or kidneys or stomach, always looking to hurt in addition to breaking the rules. He began to throw a pinch or a bite into every attack, just for a little humiliation to spice his enjoyment. But the other kids were watching, and seeing this kind of broke some of their hearts, for though they could agree to alienate the giant and hate him, they still remembered when he was one of them and kind of loved him, and felt his alienation as a kind of participation in them. If this progression continued, though, they may not be able to count him as a friend, even a bad one.
So it came to pass that some of the children felt bad for the giant, and they stopped hitting him and teasing him. Instead, they offered a kind word here or there. Others said that the giant deserved what he was getting and continued to attack him and increased their viciousness to match their leader, the once-new kid. The giant didn’t understand any of it, and he didn’t try to; he just sat in the corner, wondering when the next hit might come but smiling at a few of the nicer children every now and again.
One day, the once-new kid and his little gang attacked the giant all at once. They pushed him to the ground and started kicking him, and he cried and asked them to stop but they didn’t. The other children began to complain, saying that this had gone too far, but the once-new kid’s gang was in the moment, animal, and they wouldn’t let it go until they had to. One of the others threw a rock and hit the once-new kid in the head, and he fell on top of the giant, and there was blood. The once-new kid staggered to his feet, tried to guess which one had been brave enough to throw the stone, and lunged for an attack.
Which, of course, was when the giant finally acted. He grabbed the once-new kid by the ankle so that he fell chin-first into the gravel. The giant climbed on top of the once-new kid and waited for the cue: either the new kid would go slack, or he would struggle. The first meant the fight was already over, the second that it had to be finished.
I apologize if it’s first-draftiness obscures any of what I meant to say but will say that I view all politics through the lens of this allegory. Those in control will abuse those not in control up to and including the point where revolution tips from possible to likely to happening. Whether or not those in control recognize the tipping point or can even summon the opposite force to negate the momentum before reaching no-return is decided historical moment to historical moment. I base this understanding of historical turmoil on an intense reading of history’s literature and a light education of world history.
On another note, if you’ve read this far and are still interested, I thought I’d share with you that I thought about the 99% before it was cool: Here’s a post I wrote about the problem of profit.