Unlike many of the diehard protesters in the Occupy Wall Street movement who’ve been falsely labeled as a “left-wing fringe,” the diehard stay-at-home who’s writing here fits the label well enough. But the reasons are probably not what you think.
I did not begin moving leftward because my hatred for you required more vitriol than liberal politics would allow. I moved to the left because I could no longer abide the populist-progressive morality play in which the role of Lucifer always falls to a businessman while any deadbeat will do for a saint. I could no longer tolerate the envious insinuation that if cooler people than you had a billion dollars, then everything would be cool. Especially if one of the cooler people was me.
It seemed just possible that some of you made more money than I did because you deserved to. You made more money because you had more talent and did more work. Of course, there remained the question of how much more deserving you were, of whether either of us, a freelance scribbler or a Wall Street investor, deserved to occupy a whole other financial galaxy than the attendant who took care of our ailing parents, or the farmer who produced our milk, or the bouncer who got shot breaking up a fight in a bar where one of our kids just happened to be having a drink.
But the bit about Morgan and Stanley belonging to a lesser order of humanity than Jagger and Richards didn’t cut it with me anymore. It wouldn’t have cut it with Marx either, though I didn’t need Marx to point out the lie. Experience sufficed—the experience of talking to someone a hundred times richer than I was and two hundred times more decent, the repeated experience of meeting sons and daughters of privilege who felt helpless to shake off their sense of shame.
And the shame was ridiculous, of course, as I tried to tell them, and as Marx could have told them, because all of us are the servants of a system that has gotten way out of hand. Being successful in a capitalist society does not make a person wicked. Only having the power to change things for the better and using it to change them for the worse can make a person wicked.
In short, I moved to the left because I gave you more credit than many of you give yourselves. Yes, I know some of you are scoundrels; what I don’t know is whether some of the activists I’ve met would be any better in your tailor-made shoes. Yet it is you who abide the slander whenever someone claims that a more equitable distribution of wealth would retard society by “killing incentive.” In other words, without the motive of making a bundle, people like you wouldn’t be able to get out of bed. Some of us work to be creative and socially useful, but you guys are made of coarser stuff.
I bet there are mornings you get out of bed and never think once about money.
You don’t go to work thinking about money any more than Picasso went to his easel thinking about the Louvre. Does a deer hunter wait for sunrise thinking about venison steaks? He’s thinking about a ten-point buck, a clear shot, a meeting of fortune and skill like a pair of cross hairs in his rifle scope. He’s thinking about the sheer joy of it.
You could still have that joy in a more just economy. You could have that joy plus the thrill of a lifetime by stepping out of your offices tomorrow and helping to regroup the protesters who’ve been scattered by the police. Is money the best thing you have to leave your grandchildren? Is a killing in the market your best incentive for not killing yourself?
Yes, some of your colleagues would laugh at you if you went out to protest. Marie Antoinette laughed too, until she found herself smiling up from the bottom of a wicker basket.
The image will seem over-the-top only to the slow learners. I mean those who’ve yet to figure out what most of you already know: that it’s not going to get better, not for the majority. It is going to keep getting worse until the game changes, and the game can change in only one of two basic ways. Either it can change peacefully and intelligently, with lots of arguments and a little fun, or it can change calamitously and stupidly, with no arguments and nothing even close to fun.
Lunatic fringe stuff, right? But consider this: if Communist China could turn into a capitalist powerhouse seemingly overnight, what is to prevent the United States from having its version of a Red Guard Cultural Revolution seemingly overnight? And don’t answer that the Chinese aren’t as sophisticated as we are. If that’s true, how come they’re holding the mortgage?
God forbid that we ever experience such a nightmare as the Chinese did, but you won’t prevent it simply by forbidding it. You are not God, after all, though there are ragged, hungry people with your DNA whom you pass on the streets everyday and in whose bleary eyes you might as well be God.
Do I honestly believe that anyone who profits from Wall Street will join in occupying Wall Street? I suppose I don’t. But would I have believed even six months ago that all around the country and the world we would see what we have seen, that throngs of gadget-addicted kids would opt for face-to-face democracy by wiggling their fingers in the frosty air, that people without jobs would be feeding the homeless who meander into their ranks, that suburbanites in middle America would, over the strong objections of the oracles at Fox News, be mailing hats and mittens to a “lunatic fringe”?
To paraphrase something my favorite rabbi once said: You see a downturn in the market, and you say there will be a brief rally within the week. You see a dark spot on a brain scan, and you say there’s a tumor on the prefrontal lobe. How is it that you can read charts and graphs, but cannot read the signs of the times?
Nice sermon there, but do you see me on the street holding a placard? Heavens, no. I have work to do. I have a deadline to meet. The cities are so far from where I live. I hate crowds. And I don’t want to be one of these nostalgic old lefties who showed up at the encampments hoping to catch a little limelight and dispense with a little unsolicited advice. Perhaps, who knows, I am something even worse: a man who moves to the left merely to excuse himself from any action short of the perfect coup on a perfect May Day morning. You know the type.
But, if I saw you out there tomorrow, three-piece suit and all, stomping your feet and blowing your hands in the cold, a shadow of stubble on your cheeks and a glimmer of the future in your eye, what would be my excuse then?