The Corner

Occupy Wall Street: Less Noble, More Savage

On Monday, the storm hit and the power went out. And Occupy rejoiced. On Twitter, the outfit wrote:

This really is the worst of anti-modernist blather, synthesizing the penchant for mindless chaos and aimless revolution explored so graphically in the most recent Batman movie and a heady disdain for the modern world best expressed by Paul Erlich, that doyen of Gaia-fetishism, who revealingly admitted that he he really opposed nuclear power because “giving society cheap, abundant energy would be the equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun.”

Outside of that they require the paying of bills — a perennial bugbear of Occupy’s — it is unclear quite how “subways” and “electricity” equate to “chains.” Indeed, for many, they do precisely the opposite, bringing heat and light and transportation to millions who would otherwise remain in the darkness. We could, perhaps, call these people the “99 percent.” They have benefited the most by capitalism and its attendant technological progress: In the nineteenth century, it was rather fun to be Ebenezer Scrooge, but not so much to be Bob Cratchit; but in modern times, Bob Cratchit would have had a lifestyle of which Scrooge could only dream.

To illustrate just how misguided are the return-to-Eden instincts of the Occupy movement’s would-be savages, just replace some of the nouns in their tweet. How about: “No hospitals. No water purification. No chains.”? Or perhaps, “No libraries. No air traffic control. No chains.”? Personally, I favor, “No electricity. No internet. No servers. No mindless tweets.” And given that the missive in question was “Sent from web,” it perhaps invites the follow-up, “OWS: No sense of irony.”

Ignoring my advice, however, Occupy followed up with another gem:

Community? America is rich in community. It’s just that the vast majority of Americans prefer their communities to be engaged in constructive activies — organizing Little League, going to church, raising money, helping in soup kitchens, running businesses — than in consoling their grieving neighbors, burying their friends, and attempting to salvage lost treasures from the rubble. (These are crucially important, of course, but one would never wish to bring them on oneself deliberately or increase the likelihood of suffering.) Community is not obscured by capitalism or by normality; it’s obscured by government and destroyed by anarchy, and unless one has an extremely narrow conception of community, the “subway” and “electricity” do not impede civic life, but aid it. 

As always, Occupy’s message is inchoate and witless. Having spoken to many of its acolytes, I am prepared to believe that there are some within its ranks who genuinely believe that man would be well served by returning to noble savagery. But most of them do not really believe this. Instead, the “community” that Occupy’s majority believes is one in which strangers they have never met — and who they almost certainly disdain — pay for their education, their healthcare, their food, their accommodation, and for the costs of their “artistic expression.” It is, as Jonah Goldberg once pointed out to me, a supreme irony that the sort of voluntary, peaceful, and mutually beneficial cooperation that Occupy’s language implies is necessary for the good life is best achieved via an institution that already exists in the United States: It’s called “capitalism.”


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