The Occupy Paradox
The Occupy Wall Street movement is one seeking equality. It is not seeking any absolute equality, but a more equal, a more fair, distribution of the nation’s wealth, and a modification of laws that favor the enormous and growing disparity between the common working people and the wealthy.
There is good reason for this. The difference in the incomes between the top 1% and any other percentile group you may choose is at an historical high. Even more telling, the distribution of wealth is skewed in a fantastical manner. In a trend that began with Reaganomics in the 1980s, the disequilibrium in each of these measures is growing. In short, there has been, and continues to be, a huge redistribution of wealth from both working people and the poorest in society to the richest people the planet has ever known.
Additionally, with the great recession through which we are now struggling, the life of many has become so much harder that we appear to be slipping into a third world status in terms of both economic distribution and poverty, as millions slip further and further down the “economic ladder.” All this is counter to the Great American Mythology that states that if we work hard, then our children will be better off then we were. Now, not only is this not so, but even those in their prime working years are finding themselves worse off than their own parents.
And so the Occupy movement is seeking to return to an earlier state in which the distribution of wealth was more fair, and we could reasonably expect a decent standard of living by American standards if we “played by the rules.” And it is quite righteously that people seek such a change.
There is, however, a paradox here; an inconsistency. In fact, there are two. And most of the protestors are aware of them both.
The first is the simple fact that while we are the 99% here, but in reality most of us are in the 1% world wide. Not only are we in the 1% in terms of income, but in the 1% in terms of the resources that we consume. Globally, Americans consume more natural resources per capita than in any other country. So then, the question must be asked:
“Are we willing to share our wealth with the rest of the world in the same way that we demand of our wealthy?”
Oh! Well, there are many arguments against that, many of which may very well be valid, though it is all very convenient. Let’s face it, even an iPod Touch, the entry level device into the new mobile computer model, is, at just $200, out of reach of the majority of the world’s inhabitants, and for some 40% or more, absurdly out of reach. These people are either on the edge of starvation, or merely a step or two away from that edge.
So this is the first inconsistency.
The second is that we – none of us – can go on consuming natural resources they way we are doing – and most of us know it. The earth cannot go on supporting this current global population as it is, let alone the current population with the rising standards of living that globalization has fostered (e.g. in China), and even less with a growing population that is also demanding higher standards yet.
The truth is, we are on the verge of changing the climate of the planet in such a way that it may become totally uninhabitable, or at very least incapable of supporting the large populations required for our current civilization. The most recent discoveries of glacial melting and of the release of methane by melting permafrost have shown that we most likely have let loose an accelerating series of events that will be nearly impossible to stop.
So again, another contradiction. These both mean that we really need to stop and reevaluate our position here. Perhaps we need to ask a new question.
“What is it we are looking for?”
Do we really need to fight to return to an unfair (globally), and more importantly, an unsustainable model? (By “unsustainable” I no longer mean some theoretical, in-the-distant-future concept, but a reality that is becoming more evident almost daily, and whose effects may severely and unequivocally impact us all in just another decade.)
In light of the above, I ask again:
“What is it we are looking for?”
The problem with the shift of wealth is not so much the shift of wealth itself, it is not only, even primarily, that we must do with fewer things, the truly frightening part is the concomitant lack of security. We can live in smaller houses, use smaller or older cars (or none at all), exist with a less extravagant diet and certainly with fewer “toys,” but what really has us upset is the fear of losing it all: of having NO work at all, NO place to live, NO food to eat, and NO recourse to medical attention when we get sick. In short, what we really require is merely a sense of security.
These are the real and justifiable fears of people today. There is a real and justifiable criticism of a society in which the top 400 individuals all make over 1-Billion dollars, yet it cannot provide shelter, education, and medical care to so many of its citizens.
And so I propose the question:
“Can the Occupy movement create a set of demands, rather a set of principles, that somehow redefines what it is we need to do in order exist with economic security on this modern, limited planet?”