Can Occupy Wall Street Make Sense of Itself?
The five oddest attempts to make OWS seem coherent


The Occupy Wall Street protests have been notable for their inchoate nature as much as anything else. At its root, OWS’s brotherhood of anger largely comprises rebels without a cause and is punctuated by those either young enough to lament that they missed the Woodstock generation by a long shot, or old enough to regret that the naive political ideas of their time never came to fruition.

Try as they might, neither the OWS leaders (sorry, quasi-autonomous horizontal change facilitators) nor the mainstream media can develop a compelling or coherent narrative. Still, that hasn’t stopped them from trying. Here are some of the best attempts to thread a sense of coherence through a movement which simply hasn’t exhibited any, and to accord the patina of respectability to a group that has very little in common with itself:

Writing in Esquire, Charles P. Pierce conceded that “the protests here are omni-directional.” However, he argued, “they appear inchoate” only “because their target is so diffuse — an accelerating sense in the country that there is no pea under any of the shells, that the red Jack is not in the deck, that the wealth of the country is being swindled and gambled and frittered away by so many people in so many ways that to sharpen the focus on one of the long cons is to let a dozen others reach fruition.”

In other words, there is no coherent form. Occupy Wall Street is a general protest, against a thousand different targets. To Pierce, OWS seems to be the natural manifestation of an Indignez-vous! mentality, which holds that protest is inherently virtuous, regardless of its reasoning. I have asked protesters down in Zuccotti Park at what point the United States became this den of iniquity, and to which point in history they would like us returned. It is soon apparent that, far from the current state of the union being an anomaly, the majority of those angry at the state of the union have never considered there to be peas under the shells.

Loath to be outdone on this post-modernist front, CNN’s Douglas Rushkoff babbled an excuse for OWS’s incoherence so vague and full of casuistry that it would make Noam Chomsky proud. To conclude that this is really about anything concrete, he argues, is to miss the point: “We are witnessing America’s first true Internet-era movement, which — unlike civil rights protests, labor marches, or even the Obama campaign — does not take its cue from a charismatic leader, express itself in bumper-sticker-length goals and understand itself as having a particular endpoint. . . . That’s because, unlike a political campaign designed to get some person in office and then close up shop (as in the election of Obama), this is not a movement with a traditional narrative arc. As the product of the decentralized networked-era culture, it is less about victory than sustainability. It is not about one-pointedness, but inclusion and groping toward consensus. It is not like a book; it is like the Internet.”

The Internet is not a bad comparison, actually. The Internet has a lot about it that is admirable, but it is also a completely open book which is mostly filled with mindless, narcissistic drivel, pornography, bigotry, self-delusion, paranoia, redundant nonsense, and spam. The Internet is also a medium, not a message; a distinction that seems to be largely lost on the protesters and on Douglas Rushkoff.