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.
Plagues, revolutions, massive wars, collapsed states—these are what reliably reduce economic disparities.
Calls to make America great again hark back to a time when income inequality receded even as the economy boomed and the middle class expanded. Yet it is all too easy to forget just how deeply this newfound equality was rooted in the cataclysm of the world wars.
The pressures of total war became a uniquely powerful catalyst of equalizing reform, spurring unionization, extensions of voting rights, and the creation of the welfare state. During and after wartime, aggressive government intervention in the private sector and disruptions to capital holdings wiped out upper-class wealth and funneled resources to workers; even in countries that escaped physical devastation and crippling inflation, marginal tax rates surged upward. Concentrated for the most part between 1914 and 1945, this “Great Compression” (as economists call it) of inequality took several more decades to fully run its course across the developed world until the 1970s and 1980s, when it stalled and began to go into reverse.
Long after research contradicts common medical practices, patients continue to demand them and physicians continue to deliver. The result is an epidemic of unnecessary and unhelpful treatments.
First, listen to the story with the happy ending: At 61, the executive was in excellent health. His blood pressure was a bit high, but everything else looked good, and he exercised regularly. Then he had a scare. He went for a brisk post-lunch walk on a cool winter day, and his chest began to hurt. Back inside his office, he sat down, and the pain disappeared as quickly as it had come.
That night, he thought more about it: middle-aged man, high blood pressure, stressful job, chest discomfort. The next day, he went to a local emergency department. Doctors determined that the man had not suffered a heart attack and that the electrical activity of his heart was completely normal. All signs suggested that the executive had stable angina—chest pain that occurs when the heart muscle is getting less blood-borne oxygen than it needs, often because an artery is partially blocked.
Two historians weigh in on how to understand the new administration, press relations, and this moment in political time.
The election of Donald Trump, and the early days of his presidency, have driven many Americans to rummage through history in search of context and understanding. Trump himself has been compared to historical figures ranging from Ronald Reagan to Henry Ford, and from Andrew Jackson to Benito Mussolini. His steps have been condemned as unprecedented by his critics, and praised as historic by his supporters.
To place contemporary events in perspective, we turned to a pair of historians of the United States. Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author, most recently, of The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress, and the Battle for the Great Society. Morton Keller is a professor emeritus of history at Brandeis University. He has written or edited more than 15 books, including Obama’s Time: A History. They’ll be exchanging views periodically on how to understand Trump, his presidency, and this moment in political time. —Yoni Appelbaum
“The question confronting us as a nation is as consequential as any we have faced since the late 1940s,” a group of Republican and Democratic experts write.
Ben Rhodes, one of Barack Obama’s top advisers, once dismissed the American foreign-policy establishment—those ex-government officials and think-tank scholars and journalists in Washington, D.C. who advocate for a particular vision of assertive U.S. leadership in the world—as the “Blob.” Donald Trump had harsher words. As a presidential candidate, he vowed never to take advice on international affairs from “those who have perfect resumes but very little to brag about except responsibility for a long history of failed policies and continued losses at war.” Both men pointed to one of the Beltway establishment’s more glaring errors: support for the war in Iraq.
Now the Blob is fighting back. The “establishment” has been unfairly “kicked around,” said Robert Kagan, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former official in the Reagan administration. As World War II gave way to the Cold War, President Harry Truman and his secretary of state, Dean Acheson, “invented a foreign policy and sold it successfully to the American people. That’s what containment was and that’s what the Truman Doctrine was. … That was the foreign-policy establishment.” During that period, the U.S. government also helped create a system for restoring order to a world riven by war and economic crisis. That system, which evolved over the course of the Cold War and post-Cold War period, includes an open international economy; U.S. military and diplomatic alliances in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East; and liberal rules and institutions (human rights, the United Nations, and so on).
A $100 million gangster epic starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci has become too risky a proposition for major studios.
Martin Scorsese’s next project, The Irishman, is as close as you can get to a box-office guarantee for the famed director. It’s a gangster film based on a best-selling book about a mob hitman who claimed to have a part in the legendary disappearance of the union boss Jimmy Hoffa. Robert De Niro is attached to play the hitman, Al Pacino will star as Hoffa, and Scorsese favorites Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel are also on board. After Scorsese branched into more esoteric territory this year with Silence, a meditative exploration of faith and Catholicism, The Irishman sounds like a highly bankable project—the kind studios love. And yet, the film is going to Netflix, which will bankroll its $100 million budget and distribute it around the world on the company’s streaming service.
You can tell a lot about a person from how they react to something.
That’s why Facebook’s various “Like” buttons are so powerful. Clicking a reaction icon isn’t just a way to register an emotional response, it’s also a way for Facebook to refine its sense of who you are. So when you “Love” a photo of a friend’s baby, and click “Angry” on an article about the New England Patriots winning the Super Bowl, you’re training Facebook to see you a certain way: You are a person who seems to love babies and hate Tom Brady.
The more you click, the more sophisticated Facebook’s idea of who you are becomes. (Remember: Although the reaction choices seem limited now—Like, Love, Haha, Wow, Sad, or Angry—up until around this time last year, there was only a “Like” button.)
The preconditions are present in the U.S. today. Here’s the playbook Donald Trump could use to set the country down a path toward illiberalism.
It’s 2021, and President Donald Trump will shortly be sworn in for his second term. The 45th president has visibly aged over the past four years. He rests heavily on his daughter Ivanka’s arm during his infrequent public appearances.
Fortunately for him, he did not need to campaign hard for reelection. His has been a popular presidency: Big tax cuts, big spending, and big deficits have worked their familiar expansive magic. Wages have grown strongly in the Trump years, especially for men without a college degree, even if rising inflation is beginning to bite into the gains. The president’s supporters credit his restrictive immigration policies and his TrumpWorks infrastructure program.
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In late 2015, in the Chilean desert, astronomers pointed a telescope at a faint, nearby star known as ared dwarf. Amid the star’s dim infrared glow, they spotted periodic dips, a telltale sign that something was passing in front of it, blocking its light every so often. Last summer, the astronomers concluded the mysterious dimming came from three Earth-sized planets—and that they were orbiting in the star’s temperate zone, where temperatures are not too hot, and not too cold, but just right for liquid water, and maybe even life.
This was an important find. Scientists for years had focused on stars like our sun in their search for potentially habitable planets outside our solar system. Red dwarfs, smaller and cooler than the sun, were thought to create inhospitable conditions. They’re also harder to see, detectable by infrared rather than visible light. But the astronomers aimed hundreds of hours worth of observations at this dwarf, known as TRAPPIST-1 anyway, using ground-based telescopes around the world and NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope.
High-school textbooks too often gloss over the American government’s oppression of racial minorities.
Earlier this month, McGraw Hill found itself at the center of some rather embarrassing press after a photo showing a page from one of its high-school world-geography textbooks was disseminated on social media. The page features a seemingly innocuous polychromatic map of the United States, broken up into thousands of counties, as part of a lesson on the country’s immigration patterns: Different colors correspond with various ancestral groups, and the color assigned to each county indicates its largest ethnic representation. The page is scarce on words aside from an introductory summary and three text bubbles explaining specific trends—for example, that Mexico accounts for the largest share of U.S. immigrants today.
Neither truck drivers nor bankers would put up with a system like the one that influences medical residents’ schedules.
The path to becoming a doctor is notoriously difficult. Following pre-med studies and four years of medical school, freshly minted M.D.s must spend anywhere from three to seven years (depending on their chosen specialty) training as “residents” at an established teaching hospital. Medical residencies are institutional apprenticeships—and are therefore structured to serve the dual, often dueling, aims of training the profession’s next generation and minding the hospital’s labor needs.
How to manage this tension between “education and service” is a perennial question of residency training, according to Janis Orlowski, the chief health-care officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). Orlowski says that the amount of menial labor residents are required to perform, known in the profession as “scut work,” has decreased "tremendously" since she was a resident in the 1980s. But she acknowledges that even "institutions that are committed to education … constantly struggle with this,” trying to stay on the right side of the boundary between training and taking advantage of residents.