Occupy Wall Street is a pluralist protest that's better at asking questions than offering answers. By cherry-picking messages and images, its critics are missing the bigger picture.
When the now-national demonstrations against the Wall Street / Washington status quo began in New York last month, it was easy (too easy, it turns out) to write the whole thing off as a hackneyed, vapid hipster fest. The most confident early appraisals were essentially verbalized eye-rolls: In mainstream news coverage, new-to-CNN business anchor Erin Burnett's first reported segment on the story was called "Seriously?!," a heading that said everything she needed it to. On the (non-libertarian) right, National Review editor Rich Lowry quickly gratified anyone who might happen to hate being surprised by Rich Lowry, identifying the protestors as a "a juvenile rabble" and "woolly-headed horde," "the perfect distillation of an American Left in extremis." Some on the (old-school) left, meanwhile, showed their own acute disdain, with political cartoonist Ted Rall -- author of Wake Up, You're Liberal!: How We Can Take America Back From the Right -- writing that "for me and other older, jaded veterans of leftist struggle, [Occupy Wall Street's] failure was a foregone conclusion. ... yet another opportunity to agitate for real change was being wasted by well-meant wankers."
... this non-movement movement was doomed before it began by its refusal to coalesce around a powerful message, its failure to organize and involve the actual victims of Wall Street's perfidy (people of color, the poor, the evicted, the unemployed, those sick from pollution, etc.), and its refusal to argue and appeal on behalf of a beleaguered working class against an arrogant, violent and unaccountable ruling elite--in other words, to settle for nothing less than the eradication of capitalism.
Now, weeks later, The New Republic has set out to fill a remaining gap on the anti-OWS spectrum, declaring in a behind-the-paywall editorial for the magazine's November 3 issue that liberals should oppose the movement -- chiefly on account of "the protestors' apparent allergy to to capitalism and suspicion of normal democratic norms," but also on account of their "creepy" ways of trying to reach, and speak with, consensus.
Yes, TNR is castigating Occupy Wall Street for its putative group-think in a collective statement published under the byline "The Editors." But don't be too distracted by the irony. There's an important issue here: The more we want to take the revolutionary (vs. reformist) strains in OWS rhetoric seriously, the more we'll have to ask a question that real revolutionaries have ended up with some grim answers to, from the Jacobins of the 18th century through the Bolsheviks and Maoists of the 20th: How is society going to work after the Revolution?
The thing is, it's only theoretically an important issue. No one at any Occupy Wall Street demonstration across the country today is actually overthrowing capitalism or America. No one is doing anything to precipitate the overthrow of capitalism or America. No one is even plotting actions that could at-all plausibly threaten to precipitate the overthrow of capitalism or America. True, a bunch of OWS protesters in New York did listen attentively as the Slovenian Marxist-Lacanian critical theorist Slavoj Zizek spoke to them about how awesome it would be if American capitalism came to an end, and how in China people are at least still able to dream of a better world, unlike us, and how blah blah blah. But Slavoj Zizek always talks that way, to the -- let's be clear -- relatively few people in the world who are seriously interested in what he has to say. We shouldn't be shocked that a guy like him would show up at demonstrations like this, nor should we attribute more significance to an appearance like that than it deserves. By all means, let's oppose Slavoj Zizek. But let's not pretend that opposing Slavoj Zizek is somehow opposing the philosophical underpinnings of Occupy Wall Street. You're not going to scratch the surface of signs reading "I Have a 4.0 GPA and $20,000 in Debt; Where's My Bailout?" or "We Want Our Country Back, Bitche$" or "I'm for Regulating the Banks; Apparently That Makes Me a RADICAL" and find Slavoj Zizek. You'll find real people with real stories trying -- with varying degrees, and kinds, of success -- to speak to the economic and political circumstances that determine their lives. Some will be confused, sure, maybe ridiculous; but many have already shown themselves to be, whether ultimately right or wrong, informed, smart, and serious. Why summarily "oppose" them? Why not, say, engage them in conversation? There's no good reason to suspend criticism about Occupy Wall Street, or necessarily to buy into any one of its zillion messages; but there's no good reason, either, just to pick our favorite things to hate about Occupy Wall Street and then tell ourselves that the whole multifaceted, rapidly changing movement must be those things writ large.
Douglas Rushkoff has an intriguing take on Occupy Wall Street that wouldn't have been intuitive to most of us a few weeks ago but may now seem more and more plausible. He thinks it represents the emergence of a new, distinctive, and authentically 21st-century type of social movement, one that a residually 20th-century media is still having a hard time getting its head around:
... we are witnessing America's first true Internet-era movement, which -- unlike civil rights protests, labor marches, or even the Obama campaign -- does not take its cue from a charismatic leader, express itself in bumper-sticker-length goals and understand itself as having a particular endpoint. Yes, there are a wide array of complaints, demands, and goals from the Wall Street protesters: the collapsing environment, labor standards, housing policy, government corruption, World Bank lending practices, unemployment, increasing wealth disparity and so on. Different people have been affected by different aspects of the same system -- and they believe they are symptoms of the same core problem. ... this is not a movement with a traditional narrative arc. As the product of the decentralized networked-era culture, it is less about victory than sustainability. It is not about one-pointedness, but inclusion and groping toward consensus. It is not like a book; it is like the Internet.
Of course, however well we might understand Occupy Wall Street now, in September and October, we can't really anticipate what the movement will turn into, let alone what a "21st-century social movement" is capable of turning into. Occupy Wall Street could, as far as we know, develop a more traditional organizational hierarchy and "narrative arc." It could fragment into different camps with different policy priorities, or with no policy priorities. It could end up being co-opted by one or more of the interest groups that have already joined with it in apparent solidarity. Who knows. But that's all the more reason why we shouldn't try to write the book on Occupy Wall Street anytime soon. Instead, let's follow this story as it evolves. Let's take advantage of Twitter, Tumblr, Vimeo, and other social media to see it and understand it in ways we haven't been able to see and understand mass-dissent movements in the past. Let's be like the Internet.
How the election looks to backers of the Republican nominee
Perhaps the hardest thing to do in contemporary American politics is to imagine how the world looks from the other side. I’ve made no secret of why, as a Republican, I oppose Donald Trump and what he stands for. But I’ve also been talking to his supporters and advisors, trying to understand how they see and hear the same things that I do, and draw such very different conclusions. What follows isn’t a transcription—it’s a synthesis of the conversations I’ve had, and the insights I’ve gleaned, presented in the voice of an imagined Trump supporter.
“You people in the Acela corridor aren’t getting it. Again. You think Donald Trump is screwing up because he keeps saying things that you find offensive or off-the-wall. But he’s not talking to you. You’re not his audience, you never were, and you never will be. He’s playing this game in a different way from anybody you’ve ever seen. And he’s winning too, in a different way from anybody you’ve ever seen.
Not the people—the term. How generational divisions have driven down voter turnout over the last century of American politics.
Throughout the 2016 U.S. presidential election, pundits and activists have debated how to get more Millennials involved in politics, always stressing their distinctive character. But it was actually this tendency to slice up the electorate into unique generations that drove young people from politics in the first place.
In the 19th century, children, youths, and adults “mingled freely together” at rowdy campaign rallies, lured by the holy trinity of booze, barbecue, and bonfire. Older citizens introduced young people to politics, helping to drive voter turnouts to their highest levels in U.S. history. “It’s the ‘big fellow,’” observed the Republicans canvassing in pool halls and saloons in the 1880s, who does the best job getting “the ‘little fellow”’ into politics.
Narcissism, disagreeableness, grandiosity—a psychologist investigates how Trump’s extraordinary personality might shape his possible presidency.
In 2006, Donald Trump made plans to purchase the Menie Estate, near Aberdeen, Scotland, aiming to convert the dunes and grassland into a luxury golf resort. He and the estate’s owner, Tom Griffin, sat down to discuss the transaction at the Cock & Bull restaurant. Griffin recalls that Trump was a hard-nosed negotiator, reluctant to give in on even the tiniest details. But, as Michael D’Antonio writes in his recent biography of Trump, Never Enough, Griffin’s most vivid recollection of the evening pertains to the theatrics. It was as if the golden-haired guest sitting across the table were an actor playing a part on the London stage.
“It was Donald Trump playing Donald Trump,” Griffin observed. There was something unreal about it.
Physicists can’t agree on whether the flow of future to past is real or a mental construct.
Einstein once described his friend Michele Besso as “the best sounding board in Europe” for scientific ideas. They attended university together in Zurich; later they were colleagues at the patent office in Bern. When Besso died in the spring of 1955, Einstein—knowing that his own time was also running out—wrote a now-famous letter to Besso’s family. “Now he has departed this strange world a little ahead of me,” Einstein wrote of his friend’s passing. “That signifies nothing. For us believing physicists, the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”
Einstein’s statement was not merely an attempt at consolation. Many physicists argue that Einstein’s position is implied by the two pillars of modern physics: Einstein’s masterpiece, the general theory of relativity, and the Standard Model of particle physics. The laws that underlie these theories are time-symmetric—that is, the physics they describe is the same, regardless of whether the variable called “time” increases or decreases. Moreover, they say nothing at all about the point we call “now”—a special moment (or so it appears) for us, but seemingly undefined when we talk about the universe at large. The resulting timeless cosmos is sometimes called a “block universe”—a static block of space-time in which any flow of time, or passage through it, must presumably be a mental construct or other illusion.
Learning how to bond with my daughter, who found comfort in the familiarity of being alone, has come through understanding reactive attachment disorder.
My hands hover over the computer keyboard. They are trembling. I hold down the shift key and type the words with intention, saying each letter aloud: “R-e-a-c-t-i-v-e A-t-t-a-c-h-m-e-n-t D-i-s-o-r-d-e-r.” The words “reactive attachment disorder” are memory beads I gather into a pile and attempt to string along on a necklace.
I think back to when Judith, my neighbor who is a psychiatrist, offhandedly threw out the term the first time she met Julia. We were talking about babies who start their lives in orphanages, and she mentioned the disorder. She wasn't suggesting that my daughter Julia showed any signs, but she’d said it was a well-known problem with children who’d been adopted from Romanian orphanages in the '80s and '90s. I remember nodding my head and thinking, Shut up, Judith. We got Julia young. It shouldn't be an issue.
A collection of books recommended by The Atlantic’s editors and writers
The Atlantic’s editors and writers share their recommendations for summer reading—new titles, old favorites, and others in between.
By Yaa Gyasi
In her first novel, Yaa Gyasi cleverly weaves the intergenerational tale of a family through a series of short, but interrelated stories set in what’s now Ghana during the mid-18th century. The two women at the center of the novel, Effia and Esi, are half-sisters who wind up on vastly different paths. One is captured during a battle between tribes, sold, and winds up on a slave ship bound for the U.S. The other—separated from her village and married off to a British slaver—ends up living on top of the dungeons that hold her own kin and hundreds of others who would also become slaves. The novel traces the lineage of these women through the tales of their children, and their children’s children, and so on—up until the present day.
Last night, in her overall very successful acceptance speech, Hillary Clinton said with ruthless precision about her opponent:
Ask yourself: Does Donald Trump have the temperament to be Commander-in-Chief?
Donald Trump can't even handle the rough-and-tumble of a presidential campaign.
He loses his cool at the slightest provocation. When he's gotten a tough question from a reporter. When he's challenged in a debate. When he sees a protestor at a rally.
Emphasis added, as it was in her delivery:
Imagine—if you dare, imagine—imagine him in the Oval Office facing a real crisis. A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.
I can’t put it any better than Jackie Kennedy did after the Cuban Missile Crisis. She said that what worried President Kennedy during that very dangerous time was that a war might be started—not by big men with self-control and restraint, but by little men—the ones moved by fear and pride.
It’s a staple in American homes, but at what environmental cost?
As Hurricane Katrina raged through New Orleans in 2005, neighborhood after neighborhood collapsed from flooding. Of the houses that stood, many still had to be bulldozed due to mold within the walls. But one building, a plantation-home-turned-museum on Moss Street built two centuries before the disaster, was left almost entirely unscathed.
“The Pitot house was built the old way, with plaster walls,” says Steve Mouzon, an architect who helped rebuild the city after the hurricane. “When the flood came, the museum moved the furniture upstairs. Afterwards, they simply hosed the walls—no harm done.”
The other houses weren’t built the old way. “All the homes around the Pitot house were lost because they were built with drywall,” says Mouzon.
Last month, my wife and I found ourselves in a disagreement about whether or not our apartment was clean enough for guests—the type of medium-sized disagreement that likely plagues all close relationships. In the midst of it, there was a lull and, feeling exhausted all of a sudden, I got up and left the living room. In the bedroom, I immediately fell face down into the sheets. The next thing I knew it was 20 minutes later and my wife was shaking me awake. I hadn’t meant to fall asleep; I just felt so fatigued in that moment that there was nothing else I could do.
This wasn’t new for me. A few weeks earlier, I had come into conflict with an acquaintance over some money. We were exchanging tense emails while I was at my office, and I began to feel the slow oozing onset of sleep, the same tiredness that came on when, as a child, I rode in the backseat of the car on the way home from some undesired trip. A sleepiness that overtakes the body slowly but surely and feels entirely outside of your control.
The most personally moving, and most fundamentally patriotic, moment of the Democratic National Convention was the appearance by the bereaved parents of Army Captain Humayun Khan, and the statement about the meaning of their son’s life and death, and about the Constitution, by Mr. Khizr Khan.
After Khizr Khan spoke, politicians and commentators on most networks said they were moved, humbled, inspired, choked up. (Commentators on Fox did not say these things, because their coverage cut away from the Khans for Brit Hume and Megyn Kelly, plus a Benghazi ad.)