Sunday, December 11, 2011

American Awakening: Occupy Wall Street, Deconstructing American Mythology, and Creating a Compassionate Society (part 1)

I began writing a sober, plotted out essay that attempted to deconstruct the American capitalist economic system and consumerist culture. It started with a seed of three key ideas that I identified in David Loy’s essay and wanted to run with a bit myself:
1.   Corporate Capitalism is socially defective because it is based upon our values, which are socially defective.
2.   The need to enrich discussion about potential solutions to our economic problems by eliminating the stranglehold that the myths of social Darwinism and upward mobility maintain.
3.   The need for personal revolution to take place before any substantive systemic reform happens.
But as I began to outline my arguments, the scope widened.  As I started to write, I realized I had a lot to say. I had a lot worthwhile to say (I hope). So this piece grew. And it grew. And it grew. I began to realize that few are/were going to take the time to read a 10+ page diatribe (rant). So in an effort to make it easier to digest, I am publishing a portion of the piece each day.  I will include the essay in its entirety in my Philosophy/Culture section once it is complete. With that said here are some things I think about David Loy's "Waking Up from the Nightmare: Buddhist Reflections on Occupy Wall Street" and beyond. I'm hoping for others to read this (and respond) critically and with open minds.

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I THINK the Occupy Wall Street movement represents a growing awareness of fundamental problems of our economic system and our culture.
We hear the grievances of the Occupy movement: heavily skewed wealth distribution, unemployment, student debt, and corporate greed. We hear the clamoring of potential solutions: higher taxes on the wealthy, loan forgiveness, higher wages. Some of what we hear from the Occupy encampments is the critique over the perceived unfairness of capitalism, and the need for an equal sharing of the American wealth pie, so to speak.  "If we all just had a little more of the pie, then things would be better. If we had a little bit better jobs, or better wages, or better opportunities, or...if the rich would just stop being so damn greedy and keeping it all for themselves. If we could just prosecute the rich for conspiring against all the rest of us; if we could just get them out of power. If we could..."

The first step toward any kind of change is awareness. One must consciously know of the circumstances and the role each individual plays in constructing the shared reality in order to be keen on any need for change.  The voices crying out of the OWS movement illustrate a general awareness that our current economic structure and consumerist culture do not meet the needs of a significant portion of our country. Over 46 million Americans fell below the poverty line last year according to the U.S. Census Bureau.  That is greater than 15% of Americans living in poverty.  Of course, we know all too well how this disproportionately affects minorities.  The percentage of African-Americans living in poverty sits at 27%, with Hispanics not far behind at 26%.  It should be an understatement when I say this is outrageous and unacceptable.  But even as I write these statistics I know they will be glossed over by many, barely garnering an emotional response.  However, the OWS movement is an emotional response to the some of the deeply disturbing problems, such as the reality of these statistics, in our society.

I don't necessarily disagree emotionally with the populist sentiments of OWS. I feel this way, too, at times. I am pissed about the inequality in our society. I do think it is outrageous that some people are lighting cigars with $100 bills (this happens all the time, right?) while a sizable minority of Americans cannot even find a job, let alone the even greater number of Americans (granted, some are double dippers here) who are below the poverty line. I do think the Occupy movements are justified in the collective bitching about our situation. Dissent is essential in a democratic society.  I applaud the OWS movement for mobilizing people to gather in the streets to voice their dissent all across the country, which is the manifestation of awareness about deep rooted problems in our society.  Even if OWS does nothing else, it has created a conscious collective awareness about the tragic flaws in the structures and fabrics of our society that all members are forced to at least consider.The quilt of complaints offered up by the OWS movement has at least one common thread stitching it all together:  The status quo is unacceptable and radical change is necessary to remedy the situation.  

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