Sunday, 2 October 2011

From The Wall to Wall Street: Learning to Say "No"

(Note - Spoiler)

I've already posted on Rise of the Planet of the Apes; but, as a self-confessed and unashamed  Apes addict since the age of 12, having seen it a second time, I was moved to post this scene. It is one of the most powerful moments in the film, when the lead character's awakening self-consciousness (and his larynx!) reaches a fear-driven crescendo as he faces yet more cruelty from his captors. And once the genie is out the bottle...

The Power of NO - pretty clear in the clip above; but one of the hardest things people often find to say, usually for some fear of consequence. As a result, all manner of injustices and wrongs are tolerated beyond reason and the Powerful know this. Education, media and authority are combined sometimes incredibly subtly to create a zeitgeist where dissent does not (always) need to be physically crushed - rather it is simply isolated and neutralised. A phony consent is manufactured where the status quo is accepted because anything else seems ridiculously impossible.

Just as the Soviets used to treat their dissidents in mental hospitals for failing to evolve obligingly into homo sovieticus, so capitalist societies drive people to the belief that the work ethic in the service of profit-seeking corporations is not only their preference, but indeed the only sane or feasible choice - in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. Say otherwise and at best you are a hopeless dreamer, and at worst a potential terrorist poised to wipe out civilisation as we know it (hence the police targeting of completely peaceful environmentalists via use of the anti-terror laws).

The Arab Spring, especially in Tunisia and Egypt, has shown the world some of the potential when people, no matter how oppressed, decide to refuse the dictates of their rulers. Their bravery has shown that, ultimately, those in power depend on the unspoken compliance of those they govern - no matter how pervasive or brutal a system is, it is operated by humans, ultimately as vulnerable as those they oppress, whether by the terror of the Cairo police, or by the restrictions of the US Patriot Act. From the taking of the Bastille to fall of the Berlin Wall to the thousands of Americans currently camping at Wall Street and in the financial sector of Boston to protest against the power of the bankers, ordinary people can make a difference when they finally refuse to accept the threats, lies and abuses of the Establishment, whose power ultimately is no greater than that which we collectively grant it.

So whether the trailblazing Bryant & May strikers of the 19th century, or Spartacus the Slave or even Caesar the Ape, the act of saying "No", while learned with great difficulty and often requiring great bravery and even supreme sacrifice, can be one of the most positive things any sentient being can do.

"A 'No' uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a 'Yes' merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble." 
                                                                                     - Gandhi
Caesar as Che

1 comment:

  1. One of the most glaring problems with the supporters of Occupy Wall Street and its copycat successors is that they suffer from a woefully inadequate understanding of the capitalist social formation — its dynamics, its (spatial) globality, its (temporal) modernity. They equate anti-capitalism with simple anti-Americanism, and ignore the international basis of the capitalist world economy. To some extent, they have even reified its spatial metonym in the NYSE on Wall Street. Capitalism is an inherently global phenomenon; it does not admit of localization to any single nation, city, or financial district.

    Moreover, many of the more moderate protestors hold on to the erroneous belief that capitalism can be “controlled” or “corrected” through Keynesian-administrative measures: steeper taxes on the rich, more bureaucratic regulation and oversight of business practices, broader government social programs (welfare, Social Security), and projects of rebuilding infrastructure to create jobs. Moderate “progressives” dream of a return to the Clinton boom years, or better yet, a Rooseveltian new “New Deal.” All this amounts to petty reformism, which only serves to perpetuate the global capitalist order rather than to overcome it. They fail to see the same thing that the libertarians in the Tea Party are blind to: laissez-faire economics is not essential to capitalism. State-interventionist capitalism is just as capitalist as free-market capitalism.

    Nevertheless, though Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy [insert location here] in general still contains many problematic aspects, it nevertheless presents an opportunity for the Left to engage with some of the nascent anti-capitalist sentiment taking shape there. So far it has been successful in enlisting the support of a number of leftish celebrities, prominent unions, and young activists, and has received a lot of media coverage. Hopefully, the demonstrations will lead to a general radicalization of the participants’ politics, and a commitment to the longer-term project of social emancipation.

    To this end, I have written up a rather pointed Marxist analysis of the OWS movement so far that you might find interesting:

    “Reflections on Occupy Wall Street: What It Represents, Its Prospects, and Its Deficiencies”