Generative Anthropology Summer Conference 2011, May 19-21

Elitism in Zuccotti Park

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PgMwUV1wnYo

This segment from the Daily Show records how the Zuccotti Park occupation was geographically divided by class into “uptown” and “downtown”; a division exemplified by the split between those who owned iPads and those who didn’t. When the TV journalist challenged one of the Protesters to share his iPad2 with those on the other side of the Park, he affably refused, saying that his iPad was a “personal possession,” and that he was only opposed to “private property.” (See 4:40 of the video) The show also discovered that the OWS leaders were holding their decision-making meetings in the lobby of the Deutsche Bank! away from the hoi polloi. The segment demonstrates nicely that the OWS movement is essentially elitist, despite its socialist facade. Who has the leisure to spend months camping out (with expensive camping gear) in the park  except modern aristocrats? The socialist opposition to private property, apart from its moral self-righteousness, is really only the desire to appropriate the private property of others. When my students start proclaiming the justice of socialism, I can only wonder, where are the angels who will govern and inhabit this utopia? (I was informed that the state will “wither away,” magically leaving no need for government.)  Are we really willing to trust the government to distribute wealth fairly and produce an “ideal society”? Who will get to decide what exactly constitutes the “ideal”? And who will pay for it? The latest issue of The New Criterion has an important article by Kevin D. Williamson (“Everybody Gets Rich”) in which he comments:

The welfare state isn’t a very good buy. The average Social Security benefit runs just over $1,100 a month—peanuts, hardly enough to keep you in cut-rate butter once your median rent of more than $800 has been paid. For that, you’re taxed 12 percent of your take- home pay. Compare that to this: A married couple, each earning the minimum wage, investing only 10 percent of their earnings at a modest 7 percent return, retires with an annual income of more than $100,000 a year—even if they never touch the $1.5 million principle they’ll leave to their children. President George W. Bush was mocked for calling his proposal to cultivate such minimum-wage millionaires the “Ownership Society,” but it was the most important initiative of his presidency.

And even the entitlement system we have now is unsustainable for more than a few more years at most. Ultimately, people vote their self-interest. Government union employees and welfare recipients will vote Democratic because they hope to benefit financially. But that’s actually short-sighted, because our attempt to create an ideal society of wealth and equality is leading us to a financial crisis of epic proportions. Read Williamson’s article. Government exists to protect our liberty, not to enslave us to a socialist pipe-dream that’s more elitist than the aristocracy we left behind in Britain so many years ago.

The problem with liberalism as it exists today and political correctness in particular is that it truly is a slippery slope. As Eric Gans has pointed out, there’s no conceivable reform that could satisfy the OWS protesters. And it’s the same with multiculturalism, feminism, animal rights, environmentalism, and gay rights. The great advances we have made in the last 50 years have only resulted in more discontent and escalated demands. Modern liberalism is an existential condition that will suffer no remedy. Samuel Beckett’s comment about the “syndrome known as life” applies well:

“I greatly fear,” said Wylie, “that the syndrome known as life is too diffuse to admit of palliation. For every symptom that is eased, another is made worse. The horse leech’s daughter is a closed system. Her quantum of wantum cannot vary.”

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