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OWS Demographics and Privilege

November 23, 2011

This is the second of two articles regarding the likelihood the OWS movement will expand into the traditional working class.

Young OWS protestors tell a variety of personal stories. Some are new college graduates who have spent sixteen years of their life preparing for professional careers that no longer exist. Some are high school grads who had jobs prior to the economic collapse and were the first to be laid off. Others have come of age since 2008 to find they belong to a permanent underclass with no hope of ever finding permanent employment.

In addition to the dispossessed middle class OWS protestors, there are a few that journalist Chris Hedges ( describes as "revolutionists." These are intellectuals who opt out of society for political reasons and live in squats and eat out of dumptsers. The term "revolutionist" was first popularized by George Bernard Shaw in 1903 in the Revolutionists Handbook. Shaw ( defines a "revolutionist" as "one who desires to discard the existing social order."

Because I was married to one in the 1970s, I am aware of the fine line between homelessness and "revolutionism." Although it never occurred to my ex to join with others in discarding the existing social order, he utterly refused to subject himself to the exploitation of regular employment, even if it meant sleeping in fields and city parks.

The OWS occupations have also drawn in older, long time anarchists, socialists and single issue activists. Most have consciously incorporated their local homeless population, which includes a disproportionate number of unemployed and disabled veterans and former criminals. There are also a number of part-time and shift workers and full time students who participate as their schedule accommodates.

A Question of Privilege

I believe the ability of OWS to pull the traditional working class into their ranks will boil down to a single factor: their ability to be radicalized, i.e. discard the inherent sense of privilege that is fundamental to middle class identity. The post-war progressive movement has failed to attract working class activists mainly because it's been dominated by middle class academics and professionals unwilling to relinquish their privileged status. They want a better and fairer society, but not too fair. They want social change, but not extensive change that would require them to relinquish their comfortable incomes and lifestyles.

Owing to their inability to come to grips with their (largely unconscious) sense of privilege, they always find it easier to fight for third world peasants than the disadvantaged in their own communities. This is also why they repeatedly get sucked into pro-corporate propaganda about "personal responsibility" and find themselves moralizing to lower income groups about political correctness, as well as lobbying for lifestyle (anti-smoking, gun control, anti-obesity, etc) legislation.

Why Some Kids Develop a Sense of Privilege

I have always found class orientation to center around the presence or absence of a sense of privilege. By privilege, I mean an inherent belief common to the middle class that someone is more deserving (due to higher intelligence, better education, stronger character and/or sense of personality responsibility) than the less well off. One of my special interests, as a child and adolescent psychiatrist, is the child rearing practices that contribute to a sense of privilege in adulthood. Obviously parents who subscribe to the ideology of privilege will inspire it in their kids. However this seems to be a minor factor. The nature of early childhood relationships and parental discipline seem to be far more important.

Free Play vs Preparation for Adulthood

As any new mother will vouch, infants have a strong craving almost from birth for the company of older children. If allowed to pursue this natural instinct, the vast majority of kids will choose to spend their time in the streets in the company of playmates. However children of the elite and upper middle class families are subject to a much more structured childhood, focused on "preparing" them for adulthood. In their early years, it's common for their mother or other caretaker to be their primary companion. Even with the growing emphasis on academically oriented preschools, the focus is on working with adults to develop language, reading and numeric skills -- not on free play with other children. Once middle class kids start school, after school hours are taken up with piano, violin, dancing or art lessons or structured team sports, and adult-centered "family" weekends.

The working class kids who play in the streets  get a far different type of education, one focusing on social skills such as group loyalty, fair play, dispute resolution and tolerance and respect for personal differences. The business world has known for decades that the best managers come from this type of background.

The Role of Permissive Discipline

Working class kids are disciplined very differently from their middle class peers. My own clinical experience corresponds very closely with the findings sociologist Lillian Breslow Rubin describes in Worlds of Pain. Blue collar parents typically set very strict (at times overly harsh) limits on children's behavior. In contrast, discipline in academic and professional families tends to be much more permissive. Discipline is usually left to the mother, who is more likely to invoke guilt over bad behavior than to enforce specific consequences.

This continual use of guilt as punishment leads many members of the middle class to have extremely ambivalent attitudes towards their mothers, which often carries over into stormy romantic relationships and difficulty parenting. I have always found that children from permissive households have more difficulty learning self-discipline. They also tend to grow up with an imperfect sense of right and wrong and are far more dependent on external rewards (for example, earning a lot of money). Often good behavior is whatever they can get away with.

Mixed Marriages

Class identification can become extremely complicated when parents originate from different social classes, This often leads to major conflict over discipline, child rearing and money management. In these cases, a child will usually identify with the class of origin of the parent they feel closest to.

How Hardship Radicalizes Young People

I have seen numerous instances in which personal crisis in adolescence or early adulthood causes an individual from a privileged background to switch their class identification from middle to working class. School bullying (especially by kids from wealthier backgrounds) and work place harassment are the most common events causing them to alter their allegiance. A police arrest, serious medical illness, depression, loss of a parent, family home or other sudden change in economic circumstances can also be key events that radicalize people. It's highly significant that the life histories of many young OWS occupiers are filled with such life events.

In contrast, it's extremely rare for working class kids who go to college and become professionals to switch their allegiance to the middle class. It's a topic discussed at length by in Worlds of Pain, by Richard Sennett in Hidden Injuries of Class, by Jake Ryan and Charles Sackrey in Strangers in Paradise: Academics from the Working Class, and more recently by Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Alfred Lubrano in Limbo: Blue Collar Roots and White Collar Dreams. It relates, in part, to the inability of children from working class homes to ever be fully accepted as middle class. However, in my own experience, it stems more from the profound loyalty to family, neighborhood and community that evolves out of shared hardship.

Which Way Will OWS Go?

In my view, OWS protestors have little hope of recruiting the traditional working class if they self-identify as middle class. Moreover the question of their class orientation will revolve around what they want OWS to accomplish. Are they mainly interested in achieving short term personal goals? Are they willing to settle for student loan forgiveness or a massive jobs creations program that enables the brightest and best qualified among them to enter a career path? Or do they have a vision for massive social change that will benefit everyone who has joined them in the park?

The V-Word

(December 13, 2011)

Debating the Government Monopoly on Violence

It will be instructive over coming months to watch the response of OWS protestors to the orgy of militarized police violence that has all but shut down the major public occupations. In just two months, the Occupy movement has used the combined tools of social networking, strategic outreach, consensus governance and mass civil disobedience to build the largest mass resistance in the US since the 1930s. The Office of Homeland Security and other federal agencies coordinating the simultaneous crackdowns seem to think a show of force will persuade protestors to give it up and return to their former lives. As many have nothing to return to (no jobs and, in many cases, no homes), I think this may be a serious tactical error. Even before the police crackdown, there was growing concern about keeping numbers up over winter, as well as inadequate representation of women, minorities and unskilled and blue collar workers. With a little nudge from the authorities, Occupy activists have made a good decision to regroup and engage in strategic planning.

I believe there will be strong consensus to resume their public occupations when the weather warms up. Nothing crosses the digital divide quite so effectively to Americans without Internet access. How committed the government is to stopping them is uncertain. Are the 1% and their lackeys are determined to suppress the Occupy movement by any means necessary? If so, how far are OWS participants are willing to go to preserve their movement?

Our Culture of Violence

As OWS groups across the country strategize over winter, younger activists, especially, will ask why the police should have a monopoly on violence. These discussions won't take place on Facebook or Twitter, but they will happen (at least they are happening in New Zealand). A pending bill to authorize the indefinite detention of American citizens without criminal charges amplifies the urgency of these discussions. Violence is an integral part of the American psyche, as demonstrated by the continuing upsurge in gun ownership. We are all bombarded on a daily basis with mindless violence, through TV, movies and videogames. The view of American foreign policy presented by the mainstream media centers around violent retaliation. The vast majority of Americans will tell you that the US had to attack Afghanistan and Iraq to retaliate for the 3,000 Americans killed on 9-11. This pervasive emphasis on violence occurs in an intensely competitive, consumer-driven culture in the absence of any moral framework to channel aggression into more "humane" or "civilized" outlets.

Government Violence Against Minorities

In this social context, the OWS commitment to non-violence will be extremely difficult to maintain, especially as the movement reaches out to traditional blue collar and minority communities. I can't name a single working class or minority activist I have worked with in the last thirty years who would stand or lie there passively while the police beat them in the head or squirted them in the face with pepper spray. Police violence in minority communities is a daily occurrence.

The treatment of minority activists, even nonviolent ones, is especially brutal. December 4th is the 42nd anniversary of the unprovoked raid on Fred Hampton's apartment, in which the FBI and Chicago police murdered the Black Panther leader in his sleep. Four days later, on December 8, 1969 they carried out a similar raid in Los Angeles that Black Panther leader Geronimo Pratt miraculously escaped. This was followed by years of federally sponsored "death squad" activity on the Pine Ridge Sioux Reservation in South Dakota (which Ward Churchill documents with FOIA memos in his 1990 book Cointelpro Papers), culminating in an armed FBI siege against American Indian Movement activists who had come to protect older residents. In 1985 the Philadelphia police, with federal support, destroyed an entire neighborhood by dropping a bomb on a household of activists belonging to the black liberation movement Move.

Fast forward to 2011, and police shootings of unarmed black men are so commonplace they are almost never prosecuted. This is on top of the thousands of cases of sub-lethal police violence (beatings, tasering, pepper spray) that all minority communities struggle to cope with as they go about their daily lives.

Is Occupy Wall Street Just a "Color" Revolution?

The main advantage of nonviolent resistance is its effectiveness in reaching large numbers of potential supporters. History shows that civil disobedience, by itself, is relatively ineffective in producing genuine political change. The nonviolent "color" revolutions in Eastern Europe and Egypt have been very effective in producing cosmetic regime change without challenging fundamental power structures. In other words, they get rid of the unpopular dictator but leave a US-friendly elite in control of government (just as Wall Street remains firmly in control no matter who we elect as president).

The success of nonviolent resistance as a recruiting tool stems mainly from its knack for provoking state violence. This provides dramatic mainstream media coverage that forces apolitical members of society to re-examine fundamental beliefs about freedom, justice and the rule of law. Although nonviolent civil disobedience involves lawbreaking, it does so from a moral high ground. There is a strong tradition in Judeo-Christian religions that people of conscience have a duty to uphold international, religious and humanitarian law when it conflicts with unjust national and local laws. Because these views enjoy strong public support, the Internet and social media can be used to recruit participants and supporters for nonviolent actions in the thousands and potentially tens of thousands. In contrast, using the Internet to recruit activists for "violent" actions, even those limited to property destruction, is illegal and provokes an instantaneous response from the authorities.

The two biggest obstacles OWS will face in maintaining their commitment to non-violence will be the attitude of low income and minority groups who deal with police violence on a daily basis and growing concerns about the possible role CIA-funded left gatekeeping foundations have played in engineering the Occupy movement's exclusive commitment to nonviolence. This concern is heightened by the use of nonviolent guru Gene Sharp's materials at several Occupy sites.

The CIA Role in Nonviolent Revolutions

Sharp's longstanding ties with the CIA and the "democracy manipulating" foundations that instigated the "color" revolutions in Eastern Europe, Asia, the Middle East and North Africa (including Egypt) receive little attention in the foundation-funded "alternative" media. However the issue has begun to seep into the blogosphere, thanks to good coverage in the French and Australian left-progressive media. One example is a well-referenced November 25th article by Tony Carlucci in Land Destroyer entitled "How to Start (a Wall Street backed) Revolution" ( first came across the article December 1st on the Occupy Oakland website. It was taken down a week later, which I find quite ominous.

As Tierry Messan outlines in January 2005 on Votairenet (, Sharp, a fervent anticommunist, initially formulated his nonviolence theory to assist anticommunist movements. He wrote his 1993 From Dictatorship to Democracy while working for the Albert Einstein Institution (AEI), specifically for use in the Myanmar (Burma) "pro-democracy" movement. He subsequently participated in the establishment of Burma's Democratic Alliance -- a coalition of notable anticommunists that were quick to join the military government. He later worked with Taiwan's Progressive Democratic Party, which favored the independence of the island from communist China, something the US officially opposed. His other work included unifying the Tibetan opposition under the Dalai Lama; trying to form a dissident group to split the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO); and secretly training the Psychological Action division of the Israeli armed forces.

The "Color" Revolutions in Eastern Europe and Asia

The CIA would subsequently utilize Sharp's book, From Dictatorship to Democracy, throughout Eastern Europe and Asia, and in 2011, the US-engineered "Arab Spring." Sharp himself, with funding from the AEI, the US government backed National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and its subsidiary International Republican Institute (IRI), and George Soros' Open Society Institute, is also on record as providing "humanitarian" advice and training to antigovernment activists in Serbia, Zimbabwe, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iran, Belarus, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, and Malaysia.

The February 2011 Al Jazeera documentary Egypt: Seeds of Change echoes many of Messan's and Carlucci's concerns regarding the influence of CIA-backed foundations in the Egyptian uprising.

Ahmed Bensaada goes even further in Arabesque American, published in May 2011. Bensaada describes the direct involvement of the CIA-backed Serbian group Otpor in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) "revolutions," as well as a series of joint conferences organized by the CIA-backed Center for Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS) and the State Department, in which Arab activists were brought to the US for training in "nonviolent" organizing techniques (

Why the CIA Promotes Nonviolence

So why is the CIA so keen on promoting nonviolent revolution?  University of California-Santa Barbara sociology professor Peter Robinson outlines the new CIA strategy in his 1996 book Promoting Polyarchy. According to Robinson, as CIA-backed dictatorships around the world lose their grip, the CIA preemptively co-opts the natural (violent) insurgencies that arise to topple them. They themselves instigate popular unrest, using the ensuing chaos to install a puppet of their choosing.

The International Center for Nonviolent Conflict

The International Center for Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC) is another important "democracy manipulating" foundation that promotes Sharp's work. Australian researcher and journalist Michael Barker's articles about ICNC ( reveal it has strong intelligence links but is independently funded by Peter Ackerman, Michael Milken's second in command in his junk bond empire. Barker and others also raise concerns about Stephen Zunes, ICNC's chief academic adviser and one of Sharp's strongest defenders in the mainstream and alternative media (

In "The Junk Bond "Teflon Guy' Behind Egypt's Nonviolent Revolution," Middle East investigative journalist Maidhc O Cathail examines Ackerman's involvement (along with the Albert Einstein Institution) in the attempted coup against Hugo Chavez. He also asks the thought-provoking question:  why Milken was sent to jail, while Ackerman made off with a fortune (

OWS and the New Economics

The End of Global Economic Growth

(November 1, 2011)

Book Review

The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality

by Richard Heinberg

(New Society Publishers Aug 2011)

The basic premise of The End of Growth is that the world economy has flat-lined. Not only is it contracting, rather than expanding as many politicians claim, but there are important reasons why it will never return to the pre-2007 growth rates that characterized the last century.

Now that #OccupyWallStreet has seized control of the narrative around the banks that control the US government, the End of Growth will likely be the most important book of 2011. As well as making an ironclad case that the era of perpetual economic expansion has ended -- that the US, like most western nations, has become a Steady State economy -- Heinberg also gives examples of far-sighted governments (Japan, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland) who have enacted policies to ensure the welfare of their citizenry as they confront the massive downsizing required by this new economic reality. Beyond organizing to end to corporate rule, #OccupyWallStreet needs to pressure the US and other western governments to abandon the pretense and enact similar measures.

Why Capitalism Hit the Wall in 2008

Heinberg and others in the Peak Oil/climate change movement have always argued that infinite economic expansion is mathematically impossible, given that we live on a planet with finite natural resources. They point to the massive ecological devastation caused by this reckless obsession with economic growth and warn that we are depriving our children and grandchildren of natural resources (fossil fuels, water, industrial fertilizers, fish stocks, top soil) that are essential for basic survival.

In Heinberg's previous work on resource scarcity, he envisions a timeline of a decade or more before the scarcity and prohibitive cost of natural resources (oil, coal, water, etc.) cause the capitalist economic system to hit the wall. In The End of Growth, he argues that it has already happened -- when global economic expansion ended in October 2008. His data shows that while a few countries can claim an occasional quarter of increased GDP, aggregate global economic growth is either stagnant or slowly contracting. Even China's so-called economic "miracle" hasn't been sufficient to generate a genuine increase in total global wealth.

Heinberg's new book is unique is that it combines his extensive research into resource depletion with an analysis of our flawed fractional reserve banking system. He is also the first, to my knowledge, to factor in the immense cost of the growing epidemic of natural disasters. Most (the floods, droughts, wildfires, landslides, etc.) relate to climate change. However some, like last year's Gulf oil spill, relate to the depletion of global oil and gas resources and the adoption of riskier methods of fossil fuel extraction.

In addition to quoting a number of highly placed financial business experts, like Microsoft CEO Steve Bollmar, who agree that global economic expansion has permanently ended, Heinberg also presents a wealth of statistical data. This includes graphs from John Williams (see, who argues that the US government is misrepresenting the true Gross Domestic Product (GDP), just like they misrepresent the true unemployment rate -- which is really 16-18%. According to Williams, after government figures are adjusted for inflation and methodological reporting changes, 2010 GDP actually decreased by 1%.

The Ultimate Ponzi Scheme

Even a look at conventional World Bank and IMF data leaves the clear sense that the American public is being systemically lied to. Although we are told that total global wealth has nearly returned to its 2007 high of $63 trillion, this figure doesn't take account of the $40 trillion owed by the US and other governments nor the $60 trillion of debt owed by banks, businesses and households. Even if global GDP does increase by 3% per year (which, as Heinberg clearly shows, it won't), 3% of $63 trillion barely covers interest payments on a $100 trillion debt, much less paying down the original loans.

Yet as Heinberg points out, none of these numbers represent true wealth. Under the fractional reserve lending system, this debt has been invented out of thin air by banks to generate interest payments. As he points out, it's the ultimate Ponzi pyramid scheme. It only works so long as suckers keep putting money into it. In a global monetary system where money is created through bank loans, there is never enough money in the system to pay back all the debts with interest. This type of system can only continue to function so long as there is continued growth. It's precisely because economic expansion has stopped, Heinberg argues, that the world confronts its current massive debt crisis.
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