Protest for equality or wishes for Santa?

By Harrison Searles


Occupy Wall Street has been the latest political movement in America. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have joined under the banner of ‘the 99 percent’ to work toward a more equitable America.

It is not a movement from which any definite set of doctrines have arisen, nor is it likely that there will emerge any definite set of political programs due to its fragmented nature.  However, insofar as there is any homogeneity whatsoever to what has been a rather disorganized display of outrage, it is a movement that has no moral dimension whatsoever, but is instead keenly focused on the material characteristics of life in America.

The outrage seems to be entirely confined to the material greed of Wall Street bankers, the fact that the federal government has given money to rich bankers rather than the protesters, and the material inequality of American society as a whole.

Much of the ire may be justified, albeit a bit delayed, following the many acts of the federal government in the previous decade and more that have siphoned tax-payer money into the pockets of shameless bankers who left their companies in ruin, yet still had the gall to take their massive bonuses.

Nevertheless, the Occupy Wall Street movement is simply a materialistic movement that cares only about the material trappings of life without taking into account the greater moral ends of human life. Instead, the Occupiers seem to imply that all that needs to be done to attain justice is not change our own individual actions to pursue an ever more perfect moral conduct, but rather simply changing the consumption patterns of American society.

A comparison to the Tea Party here is apt. Though the Tea Party may have its own materialistic ends that it works after, like protesting bail-outs and Obamacare, it is a movement that has wrapped these goals with a philosophy of life.  When Glenn Beck led the “Restoring Honor” rally last summer on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the message was not entirely confined to what government programs they should end, how evil the American left is and how great the military was. The rally was not just the fact that its political ends should be legislated and anyone who opposed them should be opposed. To the contrary, the entire event had life breathed into it by the Judeo-Christian morality of its adherents and how they, by living, own the virtues of faith, hope and charity and could make America greater. The group also gave medals out to those individuals who the group felt exemplified these virtues. For these people,  restoring honor was not simply a case of politics, but a case of how each American, living his life according to certain ideals, would make America better and how that ideal alone would translate into politics.

However, in the Occupy Wall Street movement, none of this is found.  Despite generally being adamantly against capitalism and what it perceives to be capitalistic consumerism, the movement has swallowed a materialistic and consumerist morality hook, line and sinker. When one reads the “We Are the 99%” Tumblr blog, one is quickly assaulted by a list of grievances that do little more than list what commodities the people there cannot consume. At times, one is surprised that the pieces of paper held up are actual grievances with what is wrong with American society rather than sets of Christmas-lists to St. Nick up north.  Of course, we all know that Santa Claus does not exist. So these lists must be justified because such consumption is a “human right.”  But alas, this just shows how Occupiers are unable to look at the world outside of a materialistic point of view.

Even whenever Occupiers attempt to make a moral argument, like arguing against the income inequality of American society, or even that the existence of hunger is a moral sin not to be tolerated, all that they argue about is who has what. However, this perspective fails to take into account that man is not simply defined by the belongings that surround him, but that he has an identity that supersedes his belongings.

The Occupiers only care about income inequality and the economic power of the mythic 1 percent because that is all they care about. If anything is generally shared across the ranks of Occupiers, it is a materialistic perspective that sees human beings simply as “haves” and “have-nots” based on who holds the material wealth of the nation.  However, what is lost by doing so is an understanding of the moral perspective of human life, found only by accepting that the mental aspects of life matter more than the material. What is lost is an acknowledgment that the spiritual prison found in poverty across the modern world is worse than the material, and yet, all they care about is simply shifting around the wealth as if that is a solution to broken philosophies of life.

In addition, the Occupy Wall Street movement is so obsessed with politics, that any meaningful change in society is assumed away. This is because protesters are so worried about the “We” that they forgot about the “I.”  Judging by the content of waved signs and shouted chants, the conventional wisdom of Occupiers is that there are great problems with society and we need to solve them.  For instance, greed is seen as a problem; however, greed is seen not as a manifestation of individual behavior that can only be fought by each person’s morality, but as a political problem that needs to be legislated against. Many of the problems involving poverty documented on the “We Are the 99%” Tumblr are seen not as an opportunity for fellow Occupiers to help each other with bills, but as an injustice that can only be solved with the state’s intervention. Never is there any question of how each individual Occupier can help alleviate the problems that they are so willing to spend days shouting at the top of their lungs, blocking access to private establishments, about.  They hide behind a shield of “We,” the question always being what “We” do rather than what “I” do; however, that shield is about as strong as the pieces of cardboard waved in the air. After all, any collective is simply a collection of individuals.

Amherst and the rest of America deserve a better class of protesters than what the Occupiers can offer. The issues at hand deserve a better source of outrage than what has been provided by their movement. Real change is not going to occur by college students and malcontents writing lists on cardboard about what they think they are entitled to consume.  Pathetic as they may be, this is the class of protesters that have been brought to the forefront: protesters who can do little more than complain about how their level of consumption is not up to the levels that they are complaining about.

Unlike the Tea Party, disagree with them all as one might, there is simply no comprehensive philosophy of the human predicament as it applies to politics to be found in Occupy Wall Street and all this groups seems to care about are the material trappings of American life.

Harrison Searles is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]