Beware the Fifth of November

By Daniel Stratford

Hannah Cohen/Collegian

The date of Nov. 5th has possessed an uncanny historical significance ever since the reign of the House of Stuart over Britain. On that day in 1605, Guy Fawkes, an English Catholic made irate over the religious repression of his brethren in Britain, engaged in a failed attempt to assassinate King James I of England. It was a caper that became known to history as the Gunpowder Plot, thus named for the technical details of its implementation, which involved the detonation of barrels of gunpowder under the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament in 1605. Fawkes was captured before the plan could be enacted, and was swiftly condemned to die for his part in the sordid conspiracy. Fawkes’ capture was celebrated for centuries afterwards with the construction of bonfires, his burning in effigy, and praises of the Royal Family of the United Kingdom in all of its manifestations.

It is curious that this conservative celebration of the establishment prevailing would serve as the inspiration for innumerable attempts at subversion, discord and subterfuge. Though these infantile attempts at promulgating chaos are only embraced and executed by a particular fringe of the population, most prominently the computer hackers associated with the group known as “Anonymous,” they are enough to frighten people into believing that they pose some sort of existential threat. Admittedly, Anonymous has achieved some negligible successes in the past, such as the disabling of credit card sites in the aftermath of the WikiLeaks scandal earlier this year. However, those were Pyrrhic victories at best, serving only to bring down individual websites in a highly inconsistent and almost comical manner – a manner most unschooled in the tactics of genuine cyberwarfare.

Because of the relative pettiness of these attempts, we have reason to believe that the mightiness of American finance and industry will not be emaciated by a group of vainglorious knaves of the digital age – individuals commonly referred to, in their own vernacular, as “script kiddies.”

However, their endeavors continue unabated, with this upcoming Nov. 5 slated to be the commencement of what has been termed a “National Bank Transfer Day,” wherein account holders at prominent banks, such as Bank of America, are encouraged to move their savings from those large institutions to smaller credit unions. The spirit of this movement is one of vengeance. Those who are promoting participation in this impromptu holiday, such as Anonymous and the more radical elements of the Occupy Wall Street movement, are by and large overcome with the sentiment that all large banks are the very incarnation of evil, and that credit unions are the instruments of choice in the financial exorcism that must transpire around the globe.

To be sure, large banks have made missteps in the immediate past for which culpability must be assigned, as exemplified by the fee that Bank of America was planning to charge its account holders for the use of debit cards. It was this inchoate plan for a fee that was the original impetus for the nascent National Bank Transfer Day, as made evident by the considerable support that the once-obscure idea received after the announcement of the fee. It is this simple reason that discredits the entire endeavor, for if one can peel away the onion layers of passion, discontent and unbridled rage that surround this Guy Fawkes Day like a virulent tempest, then one can see the that the true cause is not high-minded idealism, a desire to undo capitalism or even a particularly bitter attitude towards the American corporate community, despite its numerous failings over the past 30 years.

The real stimulus for the holiday was corporate overconfidence by one of the world’s largest banks – overconfidence that, when met with the widespread dissatisfaction with its customers and shareholders, was thankfully stymied by the complete retraction of the fee proposal.

It wasn’t a perception of impending serfdom that caused so many people to sign onto this grandiose attempt to subvert large financial institutions, but simple, self-interested discontent – a discontent latched on to and exacerbated by Anonymous and others adroit at the fine art of trolling. If one is seeking fine examples of knavery for a paper or dinner-time anecdotes, then one needs to look not just at large banks but at the juvenile and myopic ways of those who attempt to subvert them in ways far removed from the legitimacy of the legislative process.

It is not difficult to poke holes in the logical deficiencies in the idea of this National Bank Transfer Day, whose very idea is imperiled by everything from the amount of time it takes to open and close accounts at financial institutions to the incredibly unreliable nature of participation. Because of this, it can be said with confidence that this attempt at one-upsmanship will be about as successful as the attempts to harm oil companies through popular embargoes of gas stations, which is to say that it will fail with a degree in a manner more spectacular than any other digitally-organized grassroots campaign hitherto has.

However, one cannot forget that, though incoherent, illogical, and sometimes contemptible, protest is the lifeblood of any Republic. As a result, one can only hope that those who seek to participate in this National Bank Transfer Day will see the proverbial light, and focus their efforts at more worthwhile remonstrations.

Dan Stratford is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]