"Capitalism isn't working!" is what a banner said displayed in the heart of the Occupy Wall Street movement. At first glance from the Leftists point of view this seems plausible and indeed true. However, when we look more closely we can see the irony in the statement. In fact the reason the banner is being displayed is precisely because global capitalism is working. Capitalism has indeed been successful. The success is in polarizing Western, and even worldwide, society. It is working to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. The 2008 financial crisis was capitalism's biggest triumph yet. The crisis succeeded in driving an even bigger wedge between the rich and the poor. The middle seemed to disappear while the poor have escalated in numbers and the rich diminished.
It is interesting that capitalism has been even more successful in not being true to its own methodology. Where profit is concerned capitalist systems work proficiently and “by the book”. Where loss is concerned "text book" free market capitalism would state that one is liable for ones own debt. However what we have seen in the west is, in fact, the opposite. Far from being privatized, debt has been socialized. The public have become liable for risks they didn't take (and had no say in preventing in the mostly un-democratic West) and the masses have paid with jobs, livelihoods, in taxes and cuts to public sector services which, of course, further adds to the "de-socialisation" of an already non-socialist society.
Protest of this kind is not futile but the aforementioned Occupy Movement is fighting capitalism on capitalism's terms. The movement is playing by the rules of the government, which, I believe, is contrary to the sentiment of the faction. Of course this is primarily a movement of ethics and equality (and so does not want to advocate violence or aggression; as most socializing groups intend initially) but playing by the rules, within the constraints of its enemy, it is not only undermining its own ideals but also rendering itself ineffective against its enemy. A protest of this kind should be worrying to a government that is supposedly democratic but really it poses very little threat, as OWS is indeed playing by the rules that it so staunchly opposes. By doing this, the damage incurred is limited. Žižek recounts an interesting anecdote:
This metaphor is analogous to the OWS movement. We can see a contradiction or paradox in their approach: They want to force change; but not violate the law (so as not to give the authorities reason to disperse or smear them). In not breaking the law the protest is rendered useless; it compromises all of its force. The major disruption caused by mass protest is exactly what makes protest effective. By being as law abiding as possible they are undermining their own influence, as they diminish their leverage for changing government. Mass disruption is precisely the incentive for the government to act. The addition of new laws and bills is for exactly this purpose. The aim is to scare protestors into abandoning protests as a method for reform or at least render them ineffective. The National Defence Authorisation Act and the Enemy Expatriation Act(NDAA, EEA) are examples of police state like acts implemented by the United States government, intended to do exactly this. Naomi Wolf speaks of effective protest:
Unlike last year’s rioting in London, the OWS movement does not lack ideology. It is not, in this sense, Post-ideological. However, it does not seem to have a core ideology or methodology for change/reform in the political system/arena. This is something that needs to be addressed if an ultimatum is to be reached, or if the movement is to have any hope of changing the current situation at all. It is trying to change the political system; without being politically active per-se. They are not Post-ideological in the way that they are motivated by ideas of democracy, inequality and change; but they are in the sense that the movement is reactionary and brings nothing to the table in the form of practical, political solutions to the problems that it is challenging.
If things did change, what then? If the revolution were successful would the “99%” protest against a non-existent government saying: “We need a government!” This is where we will slip back to where we started and corruption will win again. This is when we are at our most vulnerable but be do not yet have a strategy or plan of action. The Occupy movement is not a political movement it is a protest movement, but it needs to be the former. It needs to draw plans, aims and objectives. It needs to design a system that is un-corruptible that would potentially overwrite the existing regime.
Some of the Occupy outposts have now celebrated their three-month and four-month occupancies. Is this not a sign of their inefficacy? Organisations such as Wikileaks or Anonymous have had more success in their methods of activism however they are still only “soiling the testicles” of the One Percent. These groups will not change the political situation, as they do not put forward a plan for change and progression. They only seek to harm the existing system in the hope that it will start taking its unconstitutional actions seriously and succumb to more egalitarian and socialist views. This does seem naive or at least apathetic. A revolution-less revolution.
It is very easy to feel hopeful and optimistic at the prospects and achievements of online activism. It gives one a sense of solidarity and connection with the world’s activist or politically dynamic community. Social networking websites have indeed made things possible that would never have been dreamed viable in decades past. Most notable is the role social media played in the “Arab Spring” in 2011. It enabled the mass-mobilisation and organisation of protestors and helped document wars and revolutions with accuracy never before contemplated. These revolts were the first digitized, cyber revolutions and the Internet has proved itself to be most effective. This said I feel we should be cautious of using such forums as the main methods and infrastructure of political activism. If dependence is built upon such methods, what will be the fate of all involved if Twitter or Facebook are forced to shut down their services? Or worse still, Internet use was totally prohibited? Using these sites can be tremendously effective at organising and disseminating information that the government want to hide and mainstream news agencies will not report; this will educate and enlighten those who care. However, it should not be our only tool. Being dependant on these services is dangerous. If the governments do decide to pressure ISP companies into terminating Internet service all together, what then? We can see sinister glimpses of the tightening of Internet usage already passing through government systems and coming dangerously close to ratification. In the United States the recent drafted Stop Online Piracy Act and Protection Against Internet Piracy Act (SOPA, PIPA) are being introduced with the pretext that they will “prohibit and prevent online piracy”. If introduced these legislations would have devastating effects on the way American citizens use the Internet. SOPA and PIPA would mean that anyone disseminating any information or content that is not exclusively their intellectual property, could face incarceration for 10 years or a fines of $250,000. As well as encroaching and infringing on civil liberties and freedoms it would be a huge obstacle for Internet activism. This is a brief insight of things to come. We already willingly submit every detail of our lives into these Orwellian, all-seeing systems, knowing that our information is being sold to the highest bidder. We carry around “smart phones” that even Huxley couldn’t have dreamt up for his Brave New World. These devices, which monitor your position with GPS and update your current location for the world to see at their leisure. Imagine if this information was in the wrong hands. It need not be as it is already available to everyone.
Furthermore, I might conjecture that these forms of social entertainment media contribute to the dumbing-down and re-optimisation of the human brain/psyche. Human participation in social networking can be termed Collective isolation.
Collective isolation describes the phenomenon of social networking. This form of socializing is somewhat paradoxical as it relies on each participant being alone and isolated in order to communicate. We must ask some important questions about social media: Are we witnessing a slow erosion of real-life social interaction into simulated, metaphysical communication accelerated by social networking trends? And is this intentional? Does Socializing technology create a false, or illusioned, reality? Will this false Baudrillard-esque hyper-reality eventually lead to the inability of ones consciousness to distinguish reality from fantasy? Is it really an affective tool for social, political and economic reform? Does it make us think we are being effective when the reality is much different? Is there really solidarity and communication between people and activists or are we all collectively isolated and blissfully unaware of our impotence?
These are important questions that we must consider. Especially as I think it would be easy to answer all of the above inquiries affirmatively. This hyper-reality is now a part of the fabric of reality. With activism we must try to differentiate between the two and realise that being reliant on social networking services and online activism as the main infrastructure for dissent puts us in a dangerously precarious position where all power could be lost in an instant or leave us stuck in a metaphysical reality that has made us lazy and dependant, but convinced of our success; oblivious to the actuality of the physical world.
1 Slavoj Žižek - First and Tragedy, Then As Farce
2 Naomi Wolf - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=urh4GA6JmPg
3 Slavoj Žižek – OWS Speech 2011 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MRPbhf8lAQs
The preceding essay is one taken from a larger work on Art that will be published here soon.