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.
As Trump considers military options, he’s drawing unenforceable red lines.
Speaking before the UN General Assembly today, President Donald Trump announced that, unless North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, “the United States will have no choice but to totally destroy” the country. He sounded almost excited as he threatened, “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.”
North Korea is a serious problem, and not one of Trump’s making—the last four American presidents failed to impede North Korea’s progress towards a nuclear weapon. President George H.W. Bush took unilateral action, removing U.S. nuclear weapons and reducing America’s troop levels in the region, hoping to incentivize good behavior; Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush tried to negotiate restrictions; President Barack Obama mostly averted his eyes. North Korea defied them all.
The foundation of Donald Trump’s presidency is the negation of Barack Obama’s legacy.
It is insufficient to statethe obvious of Donald Trump: that he is a white man who would not be president were it not for this fact. With one immediate exception, Trump’s predecessors made their way to high office through the passive power of whiteness—that bloody heirloom which cannot ensure mastery of all events but can conjure a tailwind for most of them. Land theft and human plunder cleared the grounds for Trump’s forefathers and barred others from it. Once upon the field, these men became soldiers, statesmen, and scholars; held court in Paris; presided at Princeton; advanced into the Wilderness and then into the White House. Their individual triumphs made this exclusive party seem above America’s founding sins, and it was forgotten that the former was in fact bound to the latter, that all their victories had transpired on cleared grounds. No such elegant detachment can be attributed to Donald Trump—a president who, more than any other, has made the awful inheritance explicit.
More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.
One day last summer, around noon, I called Athena, a 13-year-old who lives in Houston, Texas. She answered her phone—she’s had an iPhone since she was 11—sounding as if she’d just woken up. We chatted about her favorite songs and TV shows, and I asked her what she likes to do with her friends. “We go to the mall,” she said. “Do your parents drop you off?,” I asked, recalling my own middle-school days, in the 1980s, when I’d enjoy a few parent-free hours shopping with my friends. “No—I go with my family,” she replied. “We’ll go with my mom and brothers and walk a little behind them. I just have to tell my mom where we’re going. I have to check in every hour or every 30 minutes.”
Those mall trips are infrequent—about once a month. More often, Athena and her friends spend time together on their phones, unchaperoned. Unlike the teens of my generation, who might have spent an evening tying up the family landline with gossip, they talk on Snapchat, the smartphone app that allows users to send pictures and videos that quickly disappear. They make sure to keep up their Snapstreaks, which show how many days in a row they have Snapchatted with each other. Sometimes they save screenshots of particularly ridiculous pictures of friends. “It’s good blackmail,” Athena said. (Because she’s a minor, I’m not using her real name.) She told me she’d spent most of the summer hanging out alone in her room with her phone. That’s just the way her generation is, she said. “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.”
Old French Canadian genealogy records reveal how a harmful mutation can hide from natural selection in a mother's DNA.
The first King’s Daughters—or filles du roi—arrived in New France in 1663, and 800 more would follow over the next decade. Given their numbers, they were not literally the king’s daughters of course.
They were poor and usually of common birth, but their passage and dowry were indeed paid by King Louis XIV for the purpose of empire building: These women were to marry male colonists and have many children, thus strengthening France’s hold on North America.
And so they did. The filles du roi became the founding mothers of French Canadians, for whom these women are a source of historical pride. A grand old restaurant in Montreal was named after the filles du roi. So is a roller-derby team. French Canadians can usually trace their ancestry back to one or more of these women. “French Canadian genealogy is so well documented, it’s just a piece of cake to trace any line you have,” says Susan Colby, a retired archaeologist who comes from a French Canadian family and has done some of that tracing herself.
Millennials may have loved the big-box chain as kids, but as parents, they’d rather shop online.
In a year of constant bad news across the retail sector, Toys “R” Us has become a little engine that couldn’t, filing for bankruptcy in a federal court in Virginia Monday night. As part of its bankruptcy plan, the company will continue to operate most of its stores through the holiday season, when the company has traditionally pulled in the most revenue.
The bankruptcy marks a new phase for a chain that has struggled to find its way online, a vulnerability for a company whose primary customers are parents. While the convenience of online shopping is a boon to most consumers, for parents it may be even more of a draw. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the vast majority of households do not have a stay-at-home parent. After a full day of work, there’s dinner to be served, baths to be drawn, and bedtime rituals to be undertaken at length. Squeezing in a trip to the store is often impossible.
The president’s defenders say reported surveillance of Paul Manafort justifies an accusation against Barack Obama, but they overstate the facts.
Viewed from the most obvious angle, the latest scoops about special counsel Robert Mueller investigating Paul Manafort are at best neutral news for the president and more likely bad news.
The new reports say that U.S. officials got warrants to surveil Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, before and after the 2016 election under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and that Mueller told Manafort he would soon be indicted. At the least, this means Trump made the dubious decision to hire a man with shadowy ties as a top aide. At worst, it could mean Mueller wants to flip Manafort into a witness against Trump or his campaign.
But viewed from a more oblique angle, could the fresh revelations actually be good news for Trump? So far several of the president’s allies argue that this represents vindication for Trump’s thus-far-unproven allegation that President Barack Obama improperly surveilled him.
Donald Trump used his first address at the United Nations to redefine the idea of sovereignty.
Donald Trump’s first speech to the United Nations can best be understood as a response to his predecessor’s final one. On September 20, 2016, Barack Obama told the UN General Assembly that “at this moment we all face a choice. We can choose to press forward with a better model of cooperation and integration. Or we can retreat into a world sharply divided, and ultimately in conflict, along age-old lines of nation and tribe and race and religion.”
Three hundred and sixty-four days later, Trump delivered America’s answer: Option number two. His speech on Tuesday turned Obama’s on its head. Obama focused on overcoming the various challenges—poverty, economic dislocation, bigotry, extremism—that impede global “integration,” a term he used nine times. Trump didn’t use the term once. Obama used the word “international” 14 times, always positively (“international norms,” “international cooperation,” “international rules,” “international community”). Trump used it three times, in each case negatively (“unaccountable international tribunals,” “international criminal networks,” “the assassination of the dictator's brother using banned nerve agents in an international airport”) Obama warned of a world “sharply divided… along age-old lines of nation and tribe and race and religion.” Trump replied by praising “sovereignty” or invoking “sovereign” no fewer than 19 times. And while he didn’t explicitly defend divisions of “tribe and race and religion,” he talked about the importance of nations “preserving the cultures,” which is a more polite way of saying the same thing.
What was it like inside the brain of an ancient prophet?
James Kugel has been spent his entire scholarly career studying the Bible, but some very basic questions about it still obsess him. What was it about the minds of ancient Israelites that allowed them to hear and see God directly—or at least, to believe that they did? Were the biblical prophets literally hearing voices and seeing visions, understanding themselves to be transmitting God’s own exact words? If so, why did such direct encounters with God become rarer over time?
In his new and final book, The Great Shift, Kugel investigates these questions through the lens of neuroscientific findings. (The approach is reminiscent of other recent books, like Kabbalah: A Neurocognitive Approach to Mystical Experiences, co-written by a neurologist and a mysticism scholar.) First, Kugel uses biblical research to show that ancient people had a “sense of self” that was fundamentally different from the one modern Westerners have—and that this enabled them to experience and interpret prophecy differently than we do. Then he uses scientific research to show that we shouldn’t assume their view was wrong. If anything, our modern Western notion of the bounded, individual self is the anomaly; most human beings throughout history conceived of the self as a porous entity open to intrusions. In fact, much of the rest of the world today still does.
The Republican Party laid the groundwork for dysfunction long before Donald Trump was elected president.
President Trump’s approach to governance is unlike that of his recent predecessors, but it is also not without antecedents. The groundwork for some of this dysfunction was laid in the decades before Trump’s emergence as a political figure. Nowhere is that more true than in the disappearance of the norms of American politics.
Norms are defined as “a standard or pattern, especially of social behavior, that is typical or expected of a group.” They are how a person is supposed to behave in a given social setting. We don’t fully appreciate the power of norms until they are violated on a regular basis. And the breaching of norms often produces a cascading effect: As one person breaks with tradition and expectation, behavior previously considered inappropriate is normalized and taken up by others. Donald Trump is the Normless President, and his ascendancy threatens to inspire a new wave of norm-breaking.