Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Occupy Wall Street

There are many problems facing our world today. Our economic system is no longer functioning. Our environment is being systematically destroyed. Our government is dishonest and dysfunctional. Our world is ravaged by curable diseases, famines and wars. Adults and children are diagnosed with mental illnesses at an ever increasing rate.

Perhaps one of the most shocking aspects of all of the statements above is how easily one can get the average person to agree with them. The question then turns---so how can we solve these problems? In order to solve problems, you must accurately and precisely determine their cause. And you must be willing to follow that cause wherever it may lead you--even when it means doubting the systems you hold so dear.

How bad do things have to get before we ask ourselves--why do we have all of these problems? At what point should we be forced to consider it is the larger system which puts these things in motion that is the cause, and all of the current issues are just symptoms? Just as taking off the top leaves of a weed is pointless if you leave the root, attempting to solve individual problems is ultimately useless if we don't address their causes.

I believe it is the systems we have in place that cause these problems. Systems that are rooted in unjustified hierarchies that disempower individuals and create inequalities.

Of course, stating that 'the system' is the issue has its own problems. For one, the systems are so vast it is difficult to pinpoint where one begins and another ends. But I think that is just an issue of definition, and could be accomplished through time. But there is another large problem: it is terrifying. These systems are the foundation for how we understand ourselves and interpret our world. To change them would be to shake every individual to their core.

Because suggesting a change in systems is so difficult and terrifying to people, I do not believe that such a change could or should occur by destroying the systems we have in place. The only thing that makes sense to me is the old IWW idea---to build a new world in the shell of the old.

And thus, the occupy wall street protests.

Almost everything you read about the Occupy Wall Street protests criticizes their lack of organization. Bemoans the fact that they don't have a clear mission. Wishes a more broad based coalition was there.

I feel like everyone is missing the point. I'm very glad that the protests aren't the normal, top down organized events where individuals march in protest with a single demand. After all, when is the last time we saw a protest like this actually accomplish its goals?

The black bloc protests in Seattle in the 90's resulted in the continuation of the WTO. The large scale protests of the RNC in New York did nothing to cease Bush's 8 year reign as president. The hundreds of thousands of people who marched on Washington against the Iraq and Afghani wars did nothing to cease the armies from fighting. And what about Troy Davis? Today he is dead.

People from my generation have not lived to see traditional protests work. That is why Occupy Wall Street is exciting. Its backbone is general assemblies, where individuals are allowed to speak freely and suggest actions to the group. Group actions are not taken until all voices have been heard and a consensus has been reached.

Occupy Wall Street does not have a single demand because it recognizes the futility in that when the overall system is the problem. Further, it recognizes that there is something deeply wrong in dictating to people what the demands should be. To proclaim a single demand without the tiring, endless, tedious work of actually listening to those who are present and coming to consensus of what to do would be a waste of time. It would just perpetuate and reflect the same behaviors that have brought our country and our world to the state it is in today--non-justified authority making decisions for others and thus disempowering their voice. 

So to me, the protests are not really protests. They are, in the purest sense, demonstrations. They demonstrate to the world that you can accomplish goals (Occupying Wall Street) using horizontal organizational principles and through non-hierarchical means. They demonstrate to those that have already been trying to create new systems--of food production and distribution through collective farms and food not bombs, of education through free schools or democratic schools and collective libraries, of health care through radical collectives and free clinics, of production through democratically controlled businesses, of community by creating spaces where individuals feel respected and loved and where each voice has a chance to be heard--that they are not alone.

What is their demand? A process, as was explained in this video. The protest is demanding that a new process be put in place, a new way of organizing ourselves, that denies unjustified hierarchies and seeks equal empowerment and liberation for all.

The protests provide a space for the creation of a new world to occur. They are not attempting to dictate what that world should look like--and that is exactly why you should join them. They are giving every interested individual the chance to say what a new world could look like.

The protests are an invitation. What is holding you back? Do you believe the systems are the problem? Are you will to experiment to find what the new system might be like? Occupy wall street.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

How Bad Are Things? Why Do You Care?

One of the  challenges of being young: it's impossible to have a sense of perspective.
Things seem very bad in our country and around the world today. Millions are starving in Somalia.  We are entering the 6th mass extinction event of species on earth. The most recent recession has put millions of people around the world out of work or in jobs that are below their education and skill level. Natural Disasters continue to wreak havoc on ill prepared states.
Closer to home, we are dependent on fossil fuels for our everyday life and yet know that they will eventually run out. Cities around our country sit mostly empty or neglected, vestiges of a manufacturing economy and a manufactured real estate boom that is long gone and will probably never come back. In culture, our most lofty aspirations are limited to becoming rich or being famous, preferably both. Being beautiful is another important goal. Children and adults are being pumped with psychiatric drugs at astounding rates as the incidents of mental illness continue to rise. The bewilderment and loss felt in the face of unemployment, debt and foreclosure plays out in vitriolic terms in our political sphere, where the public has completely lost all faith in its 'representation'.
But at 24, my worldly consciousness is just a baby. Are things worse now than they were ten years ago? Twenty? Are we headed towards imminent doom or have we always been, and I've just started paying attention?
I've asked these questions with more than a few of my friends over the past months. It's hard to answer. You can look to history for help, but it can only go so far. You can know the facts of what life was like then, but can you really know the feelings? Did people feel the same amount, same quality of uncertainty we do today, or was it of a totally different nature?
I'm not going to try and answer it. Mostly, I'm interested in why people ask. If we could definitively answer yes, things are much worse now than they have ever been, what would that change? What would you do differently?
I suppose everyone has different answers. I did believe for a while that the world was sinking, currently and rapidly, and because of this I must forgo any 'normal' course of life and seek the revolution where ever it is formed. I felt like things were going to happen, and I had to be a part of them. It was a motivating urgency--but it was also alienating. After all, if an individual didn't happen to share my conviction that the world was going to end, and soon, then why would they join me?
Now, I don't think that whether things are particularly worse or better at a given moment in the outside world should effect what you do with your own self. I've come to think that people ask this because there's something in them that they feel is wrong, not outside. The events of the outside world have to have a certain independence from what you believe is right for your individual life. This is the only way we can shield ourselves from being the Nazi sympathizers in Germany, slave owners in North Carolina, segregationists in Alabama.
My boyfriend and I have recently decided that we'd like to live off the land in the most sustainable way possible (a term that will only acquire its definition through experience). Of course this type of homesteading is most certainly a trend. It seems to be in direct response to the ambient, enveloping consumerism of the dominant culture and acute disconnection from nature and the tasks that comprise staying alive.
But it is also timeless. A way that people have lived for hundreds of years. While I believe that the world would be better off if everyone lived more sustainably, I can't deny that perhaps one day they'll invent a way of collecting solar energy that is as cheap and efficient as oil. I have to live the way I want to live for myself, not as a statement, not as a demand, not in service to an image.
So if you find yourself asking, are things worse now than they used to be?, maybe you can ask instead, if they are, what would difference would it make to me?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Amy Goodman and Jon Stewart should join forces

I think Amy Goodman and Jon Stewart should join forces to create a youth led movement for accountable and democratic news media.


1. Jon Stewart's "Rally to Restore Sanity" last Halloween was basically a huge waste. Somewhere around 200,000 young people showed up from around the country, displaying their creativity, intelligence, and passion for all America to see---but why? It was a perfect rally for the hipster generation---all the material accoutrement of the revolutionary events our parents marched in to create real change during the 60's--but no real content, except to mock and/or laugh. But Jon did prove that if he wanted to, he could get the younger generation to show up. And that's not nothing.

2. Later, when Rachel Maddow interviewed Jon Stewart, he seemed to suggest that the rally's purpose  was to send a message to the media, not the right wing. He even says the 'real' fight going on in America isn't between Democrats and Republicans, but between corruption and not. And yet, he never went far enough to say what causes the myriad of problems that we find in the media.

3. Amy Goodman represents everything that Jon Stewart seems to want out of the media, under his definition that it is the media's job to shine light on corruption. She has an incredible record of seeking out the stories in our country and around the world that the people in power don't want anyone to hear. And yet beyond the war crimes, the corporate exploitation, the government crackdowns on activists, the corrupted judicial system and our crumbling environment--Amy Goodman's real cause is independent media. As she explained in the heart wrenching 2006 documentary "Independent Intervention", there is no chance for our democracy, and the world's population, without a robust independent media.

4. In Jon Stewart's most recent interview with Chris Wallace, he seems to be even closer to acknowledging publicly what really ails the news media, as he admitted that the bias of places like the New York Times and CNN isn't a liberal agenda but towards "sensationalism and laziness"(clearly caused by profit motives). Stewart seems truly pained by this, it's obvious throughout his interviews and on his show that he deeply feels there is a problem with media today.

5. Amy Goodman has no problem at all stating what the problem is, as found in the "About" section of Democracy Now!: "But the last two decades have seen unprecedented corporate media consolidation. The U.S. media was already fairly homogeneous in the early 1980s: some fifty media conglomerates dominated all media outlets, including television, radio, newspapers, magazines, music, publishing and film. In the year 2000, just six corporations dominated the U.S. media."

6. Jon Stewart is incredibly funny.

7. Amy Goodman is so dead serious.

Is this not a match made in heaven? Our generation is desperate for a cause, and here, two of the biggest heroes in the media--one with a proven track record of inspiring his audience to action, the other with a the kind of experience and integrity that all journalists should aspire to. Jon needs to make the connection between the corporate monopoly on the media and the problems in the media today. (These points are made brilliantly and methodically in Robert McChesney's book "The Problem of the Media".) And Amy Goodman needs someone who can strike an emotional chord without alienating people with her penetrating honesty and intensity.

I don't know how exactly this union should start---maybe Amy could come on the Daily Show? Or Jon to Democracy Now? Maybe Jon could mention Amy's existence to his viewers? I can't really imagine it. I just want them to come together.

If you could pick two of your heroes to join forces who would they be?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Danger of Almost-Truth

I recently watched Brene Brown's TED talk entitled "the power of vulnerability". She details the pervasive feelings of shame, guilt, perfectionism and comfort-seeking that she has recognized through her research within society. Symptoms of these epidemics include the most indebted, obese, drug addicted and psychiatric drugged adult population in American history. I haven't yet been able to connect the teachings from the Archetypal Dream therapy that I engage in to any popular psychologist. Her talk was the closest thing I've gotten to that yet.

In it, she explains the connection between shame and perfectionism. She argues that people should 'lean in' to difficult feelings of shame, pain, and fear in order to really experience joy and gratitude. She talks about how the key to accessing these feelings is to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and to embrace ourselves as we are. In a lot of ways, these insights connect well to many of the conclusions I've drawn from the Dreamwork.

But there is also something about doing dreamwork that makes one skeptical. It is the ego that wants a quick fix, that wants to feel immediately enlightened by someone's words, immediately convinced to follow a certain life's path. It's something deeper that realizes we have been tricked by an 'easy' truth before.

It was all over for me and Brown when I got to her website and noticed that one of her pages included a "Favorites" page. Yes, the emotional guru herself, who recommends the book "Can't Buy Me Love: How Advertising Changes You" as a book that changed her life, has a whole page dedicated to some of her favorite things--mostly books, but also cameras, kitchen accessories, which she admits that she gets commission on. Don't worry--the commission she makes goes back to the reader in the form of 'giveaways' on the blog. Brown promotes her blog by promoting products and using that money to lure people into reading the blog.

Why does this matter? Well, for one thing, at this point, any product promotion whatsoever makes me suspicious of that person as a source of information, no matter what the circumstances. I know that sounds harsh and radical. But advertising, at this stage, is such a perversion of its originally intended purpose--(was SHOCKED today to see that one popular advertising company's slogan was "loyalty beyond reason", bragging about the fact that they manipulate people's desire to the point where they will buy the product even when it is not reasonable to do so)--and its success has contributed to so many terrible things--environmental catastrophe, human exploitation, wars, disease and mental illness within society---that I don't feel like treading lightly around it any longer.

In fact, I think it is precisely this type of advertising philosophy that has shown corporations how to transform individuals, creative, unique, and flawed individuals into a society of people who only know how to consume and chase after ways to make themselves more like everybody else.

Brown hints at this explanation from time to time, criticizing reality television, telling people not to watch it. But she doesn't take the necessary step to wake people up to the real problem. Brown never asks, as far as I can tell, where is all this shame coming from? Why are people so obsessed with success and recognition at the expense of their own joy?

These aren't easy questions. But I'm going to go out on a limb and say that they have societal answers, cultural answers, and thus political and economic answers. It's not enough for Brown to just tell us what the problem is, and recommend that we stop feeling that way. In fact, this is dangerous. Because it lures those with an intellectual interest in with an accurate diagnosis of the problem. But it does not go the necessary extra step of trying to analyze why things came to be this way. This allows intellectual interest to be pacified without that person having to go much deeper into the role they play in this society that makes people feel, a lot of the time, terrible.

This is also the problem I have with Jon Stewart. He so accurately pinpoints, hilariously, what is wrong with the media today. But he never so much as breathes a word of suggestion that the problems of this media have something to do with the fact that 6 multi billion dollar corporations own the vast majority of media outlets in the nation. This is dangerous. Because it makes people feel that by listening to Jon Stewart, they are doing something to combat the problems of corporate media. But Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! and the Prometheus Radio Project  are actual examples of what this fight looks like. Why won't Jon Stewart trumpet their causes, if he is so concerned with media corruption?

In the same way, Brene Brown is dangerous. Because she is diagnosing a very real problem in american society---that the adult population of America is shameful, addicted and self medicating. But she is not explaining how we got there. I believe it is because these explanations would be so uncomfortable to many well educated, upper middle class to upper class people whose livelihoods are deeply intertwined with the laws that make capitalism function---recognition by others is essential, winning feels good, having power makes you free, your value is dependent upon what you can produce. So uncomfortable, that people would not buy Brene Brown's books, they would not attend her lectures. And this would make her feel unrecognized, like a loser, powerless, pointless and all on down the chain. So she settles for the almost-truth, and nothing really changes.