We Have to Occupy Something
What exactly is the purpose of Occupy Wall Street? Apart from a vague sense of it being the liberal progressives’ counterpart to the Tea Party, and a coalition of unionists, anti-capitalists and mad-as-hell twentysomethings angry about the rising cost of Netflix and Facebook’s infuriating shape-shifting, it’s sort of unclear.
As a “movement,” Occupy Wall Street doesn’t reveal an organized grassroots agenda as much as it represents a general climate of anger, frustration, and antagonism against the “haves”–a suspiciously narrow (1%), heartless, no good very bad group whose entrepreneurial success and capitalistic success apparently oppress the 99% of us have-nots who are being unfairly kept from sharing in the 1 percent’s riches.
Mostly, though, Occupy Wall Street represents the natural discontent of an entitled generation raised on the notion that we deserve things, that the government owes us something, that everything we want should be accessible, and that somehow we are not responsible if we don’t end up quite as successful in life as we’d hoped. It’s a blame-shifting problem. It’s an inability to delay gratification or go without that which we believe is our right or destiny. And it’s a problem both on the micro/individual and macro/government level.
I like Bruce Wydick’s perspective on it for Christianity Today:
Like most protests, the Occupy Wall Street folks are better at identifying something that is wrong than identifying a way forward that is right. But even if the protestors don’t understand much about financial economics, they have a clear sense that something is wrong. That something, however, lies deeper than the behavior of a relative handful of Wall Street moguls. That something, I believe, is a sense of material entitlement that has crept into the American psyche. This sense of material entitlement has infected our personal choices, our politics, and our financial system.
Wydick places the blame not on one entity but on the spirit of entitlement that pervades both individual Americans and our government institutions. In his assessment of the side-effects of the spirit of entitlement he includes the ubiquity of debt, the real estate crash and uncontrolled government spending. “Our financial crisis is a crisis in American values for which we all share blame,” he writes.
The thing is, “sharing blame” is hard for us humans to do. We’re infinitely averse to admitting our own culpability. In almost anything. Whether it be our own financial hardships, or those of our communities, or the high taxes under which we suffer… We have to lash out against someone. We have to go occupy something.
As Christians, though, I think we must first and foremost look within for the blame. We must own our share in the mess. Beyond institutions and hegemonies and Wall Street tycoons, how are we responsible for the trouble we’re in? True revolution begins here. True change begins with what we can actually control: our own lives, an awareness of our weaknesses and potentials, and a commitment to working to improve.
If we have to occupy something, let it be the dominion of our own culpable Self, the guiltiest of all institutions and the one we are likeliest to spur toward positive change.