I am from Africa. No, not that Africa. I was not destitute. Not this Africa either. I am not next in line to any throne, nor am I a son of a politician. I am of that middle group that is too blind to notice they are dirt poor, and know better than to care. If you asked me, I would tell you I came to America to go to school. And that is the truth. But if you boil that down, I came to America for a better opportunity. For the most part, I have found it. College educated, gainfully employed, home owner, blah blah blah. I don’t (or rather shouldn’t) have anything to complain about.
Economically speaking, it’s hard to hate on America, when you grew up in Africa. By African standard, the worst of America is not bad at all. But we all live in America. And by American standard, things haven’t been quite well for a long time. There are ample reasons to cry for change, to beg for relief, demand respect, just and fair share in the American dream. Especially for those that have put in the work, played by the rules, and hence allowed themselves reasonable expectation of having their apple pie next to their milk and honey.
But the current wave of “Occupation” is not going to bring forth the change the season needs.
First on the nature of the beast — Today, capitalism is the world’s tallest standing economic system not by coincidence. It capitalizes on a flaw in human mending. The truth is human beings (some might argue as we have lately been wired) are selfish creatures. We are self-serving in everything we do. If that deed turns out good, it’s purely collateral. Mother Theresa was selfish. So was Gandhi, Jesus, MLK and all the other symbols of altruism. They all did what they did first and foremost for the “man” in the mirror. He might have been surrounded my others, but it was because s/he was in the mirror.
If you turn this self-serving nature into competition where each person is rewarded based on his/her effort, well you have a system that is hard to oppose. Because if it fails you, it would tell you it is not to blame; it is solely your own lack of effort. The only other possibility is that you gave it your best, and yet you didn’t come first. In essence admitting you are less capable than your fellow man. That is not an easy thing to admit. How do you fight such a beast? One that doesn’t pick winners and losers, but lets you (in the proverbial market) decide it amongst yourself? Standing up to that beast takes the type of imagination that makes evolution possible. And those happen slowly, bit by bit, over millions of years.
Perhaps to account for any such leap in imagination (because just when you count them out, humans have a way of sneaking up and bite you were it hurts), they created a little thing called credit. Knowing some will be more rewarded than others, making their life the envy of the less fortunate, capitalism gave credit as a tool by which the less able can lay false claim to a life far beyond their means. And I tell you, if you don’t own the very house you sleep under, the plate of food your family depends on, or the training it takes to better your lot, you my dear are not free. At least not free to wage any sort of assault on the interest of those that truly own everything you call your own. To do otherwise, takes the type of sacrifice the best of us can not willing make if we can help it.
The Tunisia and Egypt Effect. Yes, I realize the Occupy movement got inspiration of those places. But perhaps that was the first mistake. American is no Egypt, not by a very long shot.
Unlike those two places, America (or any of the western countries for that matter) doesn’t yet have a critical mass. Until the the casualty of the economic war reaches a critical mass nothing is going to change. And trust me, as high as the numbers are (and climbing as they are) the disgruntled voices in America is far from critical mass. And who are the critical mass, the people vastly absent from the Occupations, those if they coughed, Washington would take out the prescription pad and asked Wall Street to fill? The middle class of course!
Somewhere in the widening gap between the have-lots and have-nots is the don’t-have-enough. Yeah, they don’t have enough, but they have credit to fill in the rest. And as long as they have enough to pay the minimum monthly payments on those charges, they are good. They may complain and sing the blues behind closed doors, but they are not occupying any plaza. They have work to go to. Yes 10% (or whatever it is these days) unemployment is high, but if you minus that from 99%, you still have 89% of the population the system is serving and may be serving good enough, if not well. In other words, if America is going to Egypt, unemployment rate has to climb much higher.
Moreover, political revolutions (what Egypt and Tunisia were) are far easier to win than economic revolutions. Economic revolutions were not won on the battlefields of yesteryears, and they are certainly not going to be won on protest plazas of today. Economic revolutions are only won in the face of a more credible alternative. Such as Merchantism vis-à-vis modern economic theories. The truth is, I haven’t heard a single credible alternative put forward by the protesters. On the first day of OccupyMN, I heard a young man go on about why “we should all grow what we eat in the summer and have enough to last through the winter.” Small thinking like that is not going to bring any middle class out to the plaza. I have lifted my share of hoes and sowed my share of seeds. Sorry, but I would rather go to the market.
Furthermore, it is easy to rally the people against a single individual (even if the system is more than that single individual). As it was the case in Tunisia and Egypt. On the other hand, it is much harder to fight a snake with no clear head. Otherwise Medusa would be just another snake, not worthy of being mythicized.
Personally, I want to see change. Not only because the gap between the have-lots and have-nots is maddening wide and as a middle class I can hardly breathe; but because I would like my children to enjoy a life that matches mine. It doesn’t even have to be better, just comparable. And the current trajectory makes that very unlikely. The same young man that was talking about going back to an agricultural system had a sign I wholeheartedly agree with. It reads, “Infinite growth is not possible on a finite planet.” I obviously don’t share his solution, but his assessment of the situation is dead on! I love growth just like the next man, but we cannot continue to grow without first thinking of where that growth might take us. It’s as if we are planning for the best, and hoping for divine intervention, forgetting He didn’t save even “His only begotten son” from dying a brutal death.