I could have sworn I saw something similar to this on a promo for the Letterman show (“Top Ten Things Overheard at the Occupy Wall Street Demonstrations,” or some such), but couldn’t find it on the Web. In any case, partly inspired by that, but more by what I’ve seen and read in recent days, I Tweeted this this morning…
“What do we want? WE DON’T KNOW! When do we want it? DOESN’T MATTER! WE’LL STAY HERE FOREVER!”
And of course, it’s not just me. The NYT had this story on its site this morning:
Protesters Debate What Demands, if Any, to Make
In a quiet corner across the street from Zuccotti Park, a cluster of 25 solemn-faced protesters struggled one night to give Occupy Wall Street what critics have found to be most lacking.
“We absolutely need demands,” said Shawn Redden, 35, an earnest history teacher in the group. “Like Frederick Douglass said, ‘Power concedes nothing without a demand.’ ”
The influence and staying power of Occupy Wall Street are undeniable: similar movements have sprouted around the world, as the original group enters its fifth week in the financial district. Yet a frequent criticism of the protesters has been the absence of specific policy demands…
In other words, they don’t know why they’ve spent the last five weeks of their lives doing this. At least, not in any way that could actually translate into results.
While the demonstrators’ goals are no clearer to me after having read that, my own opposition to the movement itself is a bit sharper.
One thing they seem to believe in, and which I strongly oppose, is direct democracy. One of the things that has prevented them from articulating aims is their insistence on everyone participating meaningfully in the decision.Which is impossible. (They’ve tried it with Facebook, then decided not everyone is on Facebook, so that lacks legitimacy. Which shows how extreme they are in their democratic impulse.) Beyond the kind of painfully simplistic, bumper-sticker demands you hear in the kinds of chants I mock in my headline and Tweet above, a crowd can’t take a position on anything. And even on that mob level someone, or some few someones, have to come up with the idea to chant to begin with.
Where these folks are on the right track is in their sense that our representative democracy isn’t functioning as it should. But the answer is to fix the republic, not to abandon it for mob rule.
A mob cannot discuss, or refine, or incorporate minority ideas to achieve consensus. A crowd can’t deliberate or discern. Come up with an algorithm to assemble opinions from masses of people and synthesize a position, and you still won’t be arriving at anything like an intelligent decision. (Aside from placing a great deal of undemocratic power into the hands of the writers of the software.)
Good ideas for governing a multitude seldom spring, like Minerva, directly from the brow of an individual. They are even less likely to do so from a crowd. In either case, the idea should be tested, challenged and refined in debate. The problem in our republic today is that we don’t have real debate between people with differing ideas — we have shouting matches between irreconcilable factions who are not listening to each other. And a crowd on the street is just another set of shouters.
The thing is, you NEED a “1 percent” to arrive at properly nuanced decisions for a multitude. In fact, the decision-makers need to be fewer than that for anything larger than a village, or a neighborhood. It’s not possible for the 99 percent to all interact with each other meaningfully in arriving at an intelligent decision on a complex issue.
Speaking of which — something else I Tweeted about this morning: “I saw ‘the 99 percent’ demonstrating at the Statehouse. Apparently, there are fewer people in Columbia than I had thought.”
Actually, what you had there on the State House grounds the last couple of days was about the right number for making effective decisions for the entire state — if they had been selected in a manner infinitely better than self-selection, and also better than the way we’re choosing lawmakers now. Because that’s not working so well, either.
Someone responded to my latter Tweet this morning. It took him two posts to say it all:
I actually sympathize with the movement. They just can’t articulate. But damn, Columbia protesters are cringe-inducing.to me, there are actually similarities between OWS and Tea Party. They know something’s wrong, but are too dumb to articulate.
Indeed. But it’s not that they’re too “dumb.” They could all be the smartest people in America, and it wouldn’t matter. A crowd can’t articulate anything — or if it can, the thing it articulates going to be too simple. That’s the problem with street protests.