Gandhi’s Wings: Occupy Wall Street and the Redistribution of Anxiety
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It's my home -- last night I dreamt that I grew wings
I found a place where they could hear me when I sing
--"Wings" by Josh Ritter
Occupy Wall Street is about anxiety, and the courage of young people to fly into conflict on Gandhi's wings. This is the noble legacy of civil disobedience on display at Zuccotti Park. We are seeing that anxiety channeled by courage can transform a society.
What does anxiety look like? You can see this drama played out as the demonstrators meditate surrounded by police whose anxiety is palpable, perhaps because the police cannot figure out which side they should really be on. You see it and hear it and feel it from all of the media pundits who are trying to "figure out," discredit, or dismiss OWS. You see it in the angry denunciations emanating from Wall Street financiers who beat their breasts and cling to the image of their legitimacy because they work so hard that they deserve their top 0.1% style mega incomes. (Doctors and tool and die makers work long and hard too, but their skill and hard work and education, often far beyond that of a financier, do not produce 7 and 8 figure incomes). You feel it in the desperate rhetoric of George Will, as he tries to discredit Elisabeth Warren's assertion of the obvious, namely that the very successful are highly dependent on society and did not create their wealth and achievements in a vacuum. You sense it in the desperate smearing by David Brooks, whose efforts to behead this movement lie in planting the seeds that this protest is about anti Semitism rather than an unjust society.
The Wind Cries Change
From the corners of power, people who like to see themselves as adults act like spoiled children demanding that the citizens protesting create concrete plans and policies to alleviate the anxieties of pundits – the same ones who have been berating or ignoring the plight of far too many for far too long. They deny that right now the world looks a lot more like the urban desperation of David Simon's brilliant " The Wire" than the lifestyles of the rich and famous on display in the newspapers. Media enablers of denial may insist that the protesters "become constructive." But they have little leverage in making their scolding request given the destructive role they have played in masking our deteriorating reality. The savvy young protesters will likely sigh and laugh at these pathetic gestures from those outed for their complicity in making the mess our society has become.
Change, we are all finding, is very stressful. Even inevitable and healthy change.
We have reached a turning point. There is no more convincing people to play along in the "heads I win, tails you lose" game. We now plainly see that Atlas is strip mining our nation rather than carrying us on his shoulders of enterprise. The hero image of the business leader-provider is crumbling along with the core fabric of our society. Polls show that NYC citizens, Democrats and Republicans, and even Tea Party participants are all largely supportive of the protests. In Europe, many are ecstatic that America is finally objecting to the corruption at home that has been sliming the world for a long, long time. Etta James's "At Last" is being sung in the salons of Berlin and Paris.
Our secular religion of individualist economics is disintegrating in the face of a nightmarish experience. As the brilliant BBC Documentary film series by Adam Curtis entitled " The Trap: What Happened to Our Idea of Freedom" illuminates, the every-man-for-himself concept of society and freedom creates a horrible void. The Horatio Alger myth has been refuted and shattered by reality. That old myth was attractive emotionally-- promising to resolve anxiety by teaching that if you put your head down and worked hard you could control your own fate. But that lie was exposed when Wall Street blew itself up and millions lost their jobs, their homes, and their pensions through no fault of their own. The reckless financiers took us all down with them, and there was no way to insulate ourselves from their casino games and their manipulation of government. And the games just go on. The menace of high frequency trading is only the latest example of a system rigged against us. But we have begun to question a perverted notion of freedom, where the only thing we protect is the rights of the powerful to plunder the commons. We see that this "freedom" is so destructive that it is threatening the very integrity of our much-hallowed capital markets. What an irony! Compulsive greed cannot resist consuming its own monuments.