Monday, October 17, 2011

Monday Musings: Occupied!

I'm back. I think. I have a college degree and opinions, so everyone should listen to me, or so I am told.

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I have been told that Occupy Wall Street is not a socialist or communist movement, and that this criticism is unfair and/or point missing. But why? Consider:

1) This movement is the brainchild of AdBusters, an anti-business organization out of Canada.
2) It's leaders and speakers are socialists and communists, by and large.
3) It's loose agenda, if enacted in it's present form, will require a $10-20 trillion investment by the federal government, matching our GDP in its entirety.
4) From it's anti-capitalist roots, it now draws the majority of its funding from the labor movement.
5) The name of the movement evokes the idea of the people taking arms against free enterprise.

If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, has the anatomy and physiology of a duck, behaves like a duck, and mates with other ducks, is it really so untoward to call it a duck?

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A common complaint of the OWS movement is the combination of high student loans and unemployment. Many graduates were sold on the idea earning a college degree was the path to employment.

In fairness, our government conspired with the education industry to sell these kids a bill of goods. Now that everyone with a pulse also has a degree, the possession of one has become as essential as it is inessential.

The problem is this. Too many post-secondary institutions are taking tuition dollars from students pursuing degrees that are irrelevant to the job market. Often, these degrees are interdisciplinary, which has a number of benefits. In addition for allowing for a greater variety of courses, interdisciplinary degrees conveniently relieve the student of the burden of taking the more advanced courses in each subject.

In good economic times, students reconcile themselves to degrees in, say, Peace Studies (yes, that's a thing) by convincing themselves employers want well-rounded employees. Besides, they are learning the critical thinking skills necessary to be an outstanding global citizen.

A few problems. If your ideas and presuppositions are never challenged, and these programs are tailor-made to coalesce with youthful ideals, you never learn to think critically. There is a difference between critical thinking and simply having an opinion.

Further, if you do not possess a skill, your critical thinking will have no forum. In truth, Wall Street is "occupied" by those who have a strong grasp of economics. If you do not understand economic systems, nobody will call upon you to shape them. No amount of protesting is going to get you a spot at the big table. You cannot annex business in this country (yet).

If these graduates do not feel empowered by the current system, it is because they misunderstand the nature of power. In a free market, knowledge is power, and if you majored in gender studies, you probably don't have any.

The fact is, plumbers are more valuable than kids who have strong opinions about gender equality. When was the last time you looked in the phone book for someone who could write a thesis?

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To which, perhaps that explains why Occupy is so opposed to capitalism. In capitalism, nobody is really valued for ideas and philosophies. Capitalism is an accomplishment-based platform. It does not measure good intentions. The only way to tip the scales is to create a big government fiefdom, nurturing and preserving those with big ideas about how to shape society, and enforcing the collective wisdom of the gender-studies types by fiat.

History suggests these government enclaves gradually consolidate power. After all, critical thinking about society is work far more noble than unclogging toilets, and should be empowered accordingly. It should be obvious why this is dangerous, and why it worries conservatives, but I'm not sure it is to some people.

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I find in galling the mere assertion Tea Party activists were speaking in racist "code" was sufficient to label the movement as bigoted, but actual, on-camera outbursts of anti-Semitism are not supposed to be indicative of the whole.

As well, Tea Partiers were accused of "incivility" and inciting violence on the basis of, well, nothing. Meanwhile, Occupy Wall Street has literally engaged in violence, and we're supposed to ignore that fact and look to the aims of the broader movement.

I know the media has its biases, but don't expect me to take you or your ideas very seriously as a person if you claimed the Tea Party had blood on its hands, but let Occupy off scot-free.

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Not that I take calls to civility seriously anyway.

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That's it. Breaking three months of baby-induced blog-silence was enough. Now back to your day jobs (or lack thereof, if you are occupying).

3 Comments:

Anonymous KO said...

I enjoy the Harvard college students protesting student loans. Because the real tragedy is either (a) someone held a gun to her head and made her take the loan or (b) her parents earned their money on wall street which partially helped her get into Harvard. Just saying.

http://youtu.be/bFVR9Nv43J4

2:03 PM  
Anonymous dlanham said...

Typical miscasting of the Occupy movement. You're attacking a strawman. Here are a few problems with your post:

1. The most common 4-year college degree has been for a long time and continues to be Business degrees.

http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=37

Rounding out the top four are social sciences, health sciences and education. Your suggestion that the students out there protesting have stupidly gotten useless degrees does not fit the facts. The fact is, real wages are going down and unemployment rates after graduation are going up. What about corporate profits? Think about this outside of the strawman you have created and you might start to understand the problem.

2. You characterize the movement as "socialist" and "communist". I take that to mean that you think the movement seeks "totalitarian socialism" to create some kind of Leninist or Stalinist dictatorship. Yet the movement operates along horizontally organized democratic principles (similar to anarcho-syndicalist ideals) and explicitly rejects hierarchical leadership. While the movement may yet be co-opted by totalitarians (whether the communist kind or the democratic kind), it has been striving to stay independent.

3. You suggest that the "loose agenda", if enacted in "present form", would cost the government $10-20 trillion dollars to enact. The fact is, there is no agenda (yet), merely a list of grievances:

http://nycga.cc/2011/09/30/declaration-of-the-occupation-of-new-york-city/

Since there is not yet an agenda, the statement about its cost must have been invented out of thin air.

4. Your suggestion that the protesters can’t get a seat at the “big table” because they misunderstand the nature of power. The movement rejects the whole idea of this “big table” – what a totalitarian idea that is by the way. That’s the whole point. Screw your big table! The people are starting to realize that traditionally accepted means of participating in government (such as voting) don’t work – and haven’t worked for a long time. If you have a seat at this “big table”, maybe you’re afraid of losing it – too bad.

2:49 PM  
Blogger Kevin Sawyer said...

1. You are conflating "degrees" and "fields". If you major in gender studies, you go in the "social sciences" pile. If you major in policy, philsophy and econ, or some other such hybrid, you most likely get sorted into business.

That said, unemployment figures are uniformly better for students with hard business degrees. They aren't the ones asking for debt forgiveness.

Telling statistic: The number of degrees conferred in computer and information sciences decreased by 36 percent between 2004 and 2009. Degrees in parks, recreation and leisure studies? 43 percent increase.

But yes, the problem is more complicated than this. You also have students who should probably be engineers getting degrees in English. Students who should be learning to write getting degrees in politics. The problem is students are urged to follow their passions when earning a degree, which too frequently

And, of course, you have students who should never have gone to college to begin with, especially those who did not complete their degree.

In any event, there is zero reason why I should pay to forgive anyone's student debt. Colleges undoubtedly sell students a bill of goods. We should hold them to account for doing so, but none of these folks seem terribly interested.

2. I'm talking about the policies the group advocates. I don't care how it operates, or whatever lingo it makes up to make itself seem like something other than a total retread.

3. It was based on the charter, which proposed, among other things, forgiveness of all debt, one trillion for environmental spending, etc...

4. I understand the movement rejects the idea of a big table, and that you don't believe Democracy works. I am able to help shape and form business and government policy because I have a skill. I can write well, a craft I honed by majoring in writing in college, which I paid for by earning scholarships and getting financial aid, which I was able to receive because I worked my ass off.

The average college graduate cannot construct a proper sentence. I've witnessed that fact first hand.

So no, I'm not entirely thrilled with the idea of giving up my place in the economy to help pay student loans some college dropout accrued just because he's been organizing vertically in front of this or that bank for a few days.

You demonstrate little knowledge of what constitutes totalitarianism, by the way. The notion that some have more opportunity to influence societal outcomes than others is hardly tyrannical. In fact, it is meritocratic. For those whose ideas have merit, that will do just fine.

4:40 PM  

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