By Paolo von Schirach
October 3, 2011
WASHINGTON – In 2008 American youthful enthusiasm for a better world coalesced around Barack Obama, a practically unknown young Senator from Illinois, with no record and no history about anything actually done. Yet Barack Obama inspiring rhetoric and his unusual, ostensibly post-political, persona and language energized young people who generally do not participate much in American national politics. And the young used the tools they know best, Internet based social media, to turn Barack Obama into an internet pop star. The amount of money raised through grass roots efforts in 2008 was just amazing. And this unusual level of support among the young was definitely a key factor in getting Obama elected. (The fact that the Republican opponents had left the country in ruins certainly helped Obama as well).
Occupy Wall Street
But now America’s youth do not seem as keen to pour their support once more onto an Obama 2012 re-election campaign. Obama has lost the sheen of the promising outsider. And so, now, almost out of nothing, young Americans have started a bizarre anti-system crusade aimed at replacing capitalism –no kidding– with something…well, you know…something more democratic. They “Occupy Wall Street”, that is they camp around the area. And they also replicate the “occupation” all across America. Well, at least some people do.
A new revolution?
If you look at the www.occupytogether.org website, there are links to “occupy” almost any large city in America, not to mention similar movements ostensibly mushrooming around the world. They claim this is the new peaceful social transformation. What do you know, the “occupy” youth writing a new chapter in the manual of political revolutions? The Bolsheviks managed to succeed to create ”Socialism” by defeating the old Russian Empire. But it was a tough military struggle. And it took a few years to settle it.
Whereas, if you trust the updates on this website, a spontaneous, non violent, grass roots movement that points out the obvious iniquity of capitalism may be able to overthrow the system by sheer force of Twitter ands blog posts.
Movement is an expression of deep unease
Look, let’s agree that all this does look fatuous. And yet one should never dismiss large scale emotional outbursts. As chaotic and disorganised as they may be, they reveal genuine unease. The truth is that America is profoundly disoriented and this movement, just like the equally spontaneous Tea Party Movement at the opposite end of the spectrum, is a manifestation of this unease.
The country is in deep trouble. There is fear of decline, fear of the future. President Obama did not live up to his promise of leading an epochal national re-generation. In the meantime, America is still trapped in debt and slow de-leveraging. Millions of people have nowhere to go. Young people face the prospect of no jobs for many years. So, what do they do?
Well, at least some protest against “the system”. In fact they shout against the system so loudly that –they hope– it will eventually collapse. To be replaced by?…. Oh well…something “more just and more democratic”. And who will make sure of that? Who knows really. Clearly there is a huge gap between enthusiastic demonstrations against something and the ability to propose and then implement something better.
Complicated ideas are expressed
In the meantime the “thinkers” within the movement propose their solutions, as we can read in one their posts:
“You are absolutely right that this is perhaps our last chance at a self-organized response to the coercive hierarchic organization of our societies and economies. For the more scientific among us, a look at the history of the Limits to Growth thesis will reward you. They were a group of computer scientists from MIT that created a model of the dynamics of the human world (demographics and economics). They updated the model every 10 or so years since the 1970s.
I am trying to assemble my own team of programmers, computer scientists, and game developers to realize the ideas of James Cooke Brown in his book The Job Market of the Future: Using Computers to Humanize Economies. I believe in direct action and will be attending the Stop the Machine occupation in DC. However, let’s not make the mistake that some in the 60s made of embracing the irrational and rejecting science. Human reason can be turned toward bettering the human condition and scientific thinking and practice is a form of direct action that is necessary to any hope of a decent human future”.
Pretty straightforward plan, no? Alright, only kidding. Yes, the noble idea of using “human reason to better the human condition” is perhaps a big vague. Yes, I admit it, it is a pipe dream. But people resort to dreams when the established political world does not come up with any credible and inspiring program they can support.
Yes, all this anti-capitalist “occupy this and that” movement is a bit silly, (not to mention potentially disruptive), the product of an unguided rebellious spirit. We have inexperienced young people who may actually believe (for a while at least) that wanting something “good”, however undefined, is enough to make this “good” happen.
No less substance than re-election platforms that are mere posturing
Still, if we criticize these generic utterances as mere wishful thinking because they patently lack structure and concrete links with reality, I would submit that they have no less substance than Obama’s “Jobs Plan” –a grandstanding political platform aimed at getting himself re-elected, as opposed to a strategy aimed at creating any jobs. In fact their fuzzy ideas may belong to a higher sphere. At least these young dreamers do not seem to be motivated entirely by narrow self-interest.