To the Occupy Movement

The following argument will not be popular; it is not popular with me.  It is, however, necessary because it has the greatest chance of being true.

Unless the Occupy Movement contains the roots of real behavioral change it will be a flash in the pan.  People will become excited by the possibility of regaining control of the forces that surround them, but unless they are clear on what is required, they will, of necessity, fall back into the behaviors that support the economic elite rather than discover the actions that will chasten them.

Being heard is not winning.  The plutocrats know that the masses are being abused; they are the abusers, for Christ’s sake (take that last as you will).  These are not people who are unaware of the consequences of their actions; they do not care that hundreds, thousands, millions, even billions of people’s lives are damaged or destroyed: they do not care!  Their behaviors will not change if their actions are pointed out to them.

The plutocracy is concerned that their behaviors might become generally known to an increasingly informed populace, but only in the sense that they would then have to own-up to being an aristocracy, a nobility, that can more easily do as it wishes when the people are ignorant, but just as willing to exercise its power directly over the people if it has to.  The Occupy Movement may be effective in exposing power relationships, but without its own participants’ willingness for personal changes, there will be no greater result.

If the goal of the Occupy Movement is the resurrection of the American Dream and the Great Middle Class, it will fail fast.  The economic elite owns that road and controls all the tollbooths.  They are wired into that path like the brain is wired into the muscles.  No; the elite must be starved out by the formation of self-sufficient heterogeneous human communities all over this country and the world who are willing, even desirous, to live a simpler life, a life in which the economic elite and their tollbooths can be avoided.

We have no targeted  “antibiotic” for the disease of plutocracy. Like pre-penicillin medical “cures”, the pathogen must be attacked with a poison, designed in its dosage and application to kill it, before the patient is too seriously damaged.  That is where we are now in our understanding and capacity to deal with the machinations of run-away economics and growth.  It is now time to take our medicine, though there is very little likelihood that we will, preferring rather to die of the disease.

As long as each person absolutely has to sell some large bit of his or her life and labor in order to not die, the world will always turn out as it has.  As long as food, shelter and other essentials for life are obtainable only by purchase using money gained with labor sold to someone else, no governing design, no system of laws will support the masses, but will always become the tools of enslavement to an elite who will use the masses as instruments for their desires.  This is quite independent of any ‘ism’ under which the people labor.

The selling of labor must, at some level, be voluntary for human societies to be both stable and healthy.  This means that real viable options for satisfactorily meeting essential needs be part of the “ecology” of the society.  When ‘work’ that no member of a society will do voluntarily becomes necessity, especially for some members, then a few must be forced to do it.  Patterns of social conflict, slavery and war – the stuff of our human history – are the result; patterns that we can no longer afford.

The mass movements evident around the world, of which the Occupy Movement is a part, are possibly the last chance that the species has to make adaptations to our real situation on the earth before the biophysical processes that support the present structure of life are so perturbed that ecological collapse is inevitable.  If the energy of these movements is devoted solely to wresting power and wealth from the present elite, which would be most easily facilitated by starting a struggle to gather wealth and power into the hands of a new elite, then the pot will have only been stirred with no change in our actual circumstances.

What we require may be impossible, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t require it: a drowning man requires a breath of air; the degree of need doesn’t determine that he will get it.  Rather than uncritically redistributing wealth and power in some manner acceptable to the ‘movement leaders’, these instruments of human maladjustment must be redefined as community and environmental property.  This redefinition must happen in the minds of the people. The Occupy Movement cannot, in its heart of hearts, have as a goal that “the people” will take over power from the elite, but must understand that the present forms and structures of power will only create, in no time, new elite communities that are just as mad and self-serving as the present ones.

It must be recognized and acted on that the human unit is the heterogeneous human community; the economic and power elite form or buy “communities”, but demand that the masses confront elite collective action as individuals without power, like a single person confronting a street gang.  We see this everywhere: the company “bargains” with the employee or with the customer; the petty criminal confronts the police, the DA’s office and the court; the home buyer is delivered the developer’s covenants, the speeder talks with the cop representing ‘The Law.’  Collective action that does not support elite community needs and desires is co-opted, marginalized or criminalized.

As long as a critical mass of the masses desires to have what the economic elite has, as long as they honor the result of elite behavior, then they will be ripe targets to be persuaded to support elite methods.  Belief that individuals have the right, even the responsibility, to collect excess wealth into their absolute control is a destructive insanity; any unbiased look at history associated with competent reasoning demonstrates the consequences.  And when a society makes the individual collection of excess, not just desirable, but essential for both safety and acceptability in that society, there is no other outcome than the one we currently face.

The Occupy Movement and the other mass movements worldwide challenge status quo beliefs and habits; this is the best possible time to begin planting the seeds for the beliefs and understandings that just might allow the species to get out of the trap we have constructed.  It is almost certainly too much to ask that the movement message include a major shift of societal story; so much simpler to stay with the same story and only attempt to reassign the players. But the effort must still be made.

Here are three, somewhat overlapping, lists of changes in thinking that need to begin to percolate into the new societal story; all more fully explicated in previous essays posted on the Dissident Voice site.

A new Seven Deadly Sins:

1) Progress

2) Economic growth

3) Property

4) Excess

5) Censorship

6) Repression

7) Religion

Five foundational beliefs and actions to replace our current hodgepodge (from What We Must Do):

1) All life is important.

2) The value of a life is in the daily living of it, not in the tallying up of duration.

3) No one is to live from the fruits of another’s labor.

4) We must not make the assumption that the ‘life style’ (really level of consumption) that is average for the highest consuming population is the one we should adopt as our standard.

5) We must finally come to a socially and intellectually mature relationship with our “religious instincts.”

Eight foundational beliefs and understandings to replace our current hodgepodge (from Extremism in the Defense of Survival)

1) Humans are animals that must integrate their behaviors into ecological processes.

2) Nothing can be owned by anything; all claims of property and ownership are relationships in which one party is arbitrarily devalued based on short-term power imbalances.

3) Wealth accumulation is an aberrant behavior – a form of psychopathology.

4) The measure of normal in the world must be from places and processes that are uninfluenced by human action.

5) There are no normal or natural human behaviors, group or individual, of any scale remaining in the human repertoire.

6) Humans are a community-based organism.

7) Our understandings of and relationships to health, illness and death have become terribly distorted.

8) Our spiritual understandings and habits are the distorted products of the pre-scientific forest life made to serve the interests of kings and other authoritarians.

I add this final thought:

Individualism is the opposite of valuing individual human beings.  Individuals are supremely valuable and that value is only formed and sustained in community.


James Keye is the nom de plume of a retired academic and small businessman living with an Ecological Footprint of 1.6 earths. He can be reached at Read other articles by James, or visit James's website.