“Ethics Bob” Stone recently posted about the ethics of mass demonstrations like “Occupy Wall Street,” noting that long-term, open-ended demonstrations begin crossing ethical lines once they accomplish the goal of sending a message and hang around anyway, creating fertile ground for violence, and, though Bob doesn’t mention this, inconveniencing the public, wasting scarce municipal funds, and tempting pundits to make fools out of themselves.
Even with this, Bob is giving the Occupiers more credit than they deserve. A group that imposes its presence on the public, law enforcement, and local governments is entitled to express a minority and even a crackpot viewpoint. There is an ethical obligation, however, not to abuse the right of assembly and the precious time of everyone else by creating a big disturbance that means nothing, conveying a message that is irresponsible because it is based on ignorance.
New York Magazine quizzed the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators, and discovered that:
- 84% don’t know what the Dodd-Frank Act is
- 62% don’t know who is the head of the Federal Reserve
- 72% don’t know what the S.E.C. is
- 89% don’t know the top marginal tax rate for “the 1%”
Most stunning of all, given the group’s rhetoric, a full 94% think U.S. military spending exceeds its expenditures for health care and pensions.
What does this tell us? It tells us that nobody should listen to these arrogant fools, or care about their opinions. They have the nerve to demand major policy changes, declare who is at fault for the economy, scream about misplaced priorities, and they haven’t taken the time to research the most basic facts relevant to their supposed “cause.” This is indefensible. The underlying assumption behind our democracy was civic literacy, and these demonstrators spit on it. This isn’t a movement, any more than a herd of cows grazing in New York City with incomprehensible signs on their backs while they moo all day. It is a waste of time. Nor does Occupy Wall Street deserve respect. I’ll respect those who hold different views from mine, if they can argue them articulately and make the effort to construct a coherent argument based on facts. Not this. Never this.
What is the proper attitude toward an actor who demands center stage and then can’t recall any lines, because he never bothered to learn them? Contempt. What is the fair treatment for a public speaker who takes the microphone and bleats nonsense? The hook. The Occupy Wall Street “movement” is the reductio ad absurdum of a culture that encourages uninformed opinion and delusions of competence. Who are these people to “send a message,” when they can’t be bothered to understand the complex issues they are sending messages about?
Not that such a group doesn’t have its uses. Its very vagueness, rooted in laziness and ignorance, makes it a magnet for the cynical and opportunistic. Tea Party-haters have found it convenient to use Occupy Wall Street as a new way to denigrate that group by comparison, though the Tea Party’s agenda was and is well-defined and based, for the most part, on reality. Reflexive America-haters, including the American Nazi Party, the Communist Party, China, and Hugo Chavez enthusiastically have endorsed Occupy Wall Street without setting off any alarms among supposedly responsible columnists like Eugene Robinson and E.J. Dionne. Incurably juvenile celebrity lefties like Susan Sarandon, Harry Belafonte and Kanye West jumped on the bandwagon; the un-hinged left at Move-On, The Daily Kos, and MSNBC ranters joined the throng. Astoundingly, or maybe not, the leadership of the Democratic Party—Nancy Pelosi, Bill Clinton, the President-–decided to ally themselves with a group that is admired by Nazis and Communists. Why? Because they hate Wall Street? Well, no…actually President Obama’s campaign has received more money from Wall Street than any other elected leader. Because they agree with its message? What message? Because it’s “populist”? Would the Democratic leadership endorse the zombies of “The Walking Dead” if they thought it meant locking up a big voting block?
“…the movement doesn’t represent unemployed America and is not ideologically diverse. Rather, it comprises an unrepresentative segment of the electorate that believes in radical redistribution of wealth, civil disobedience and, in some instances, violence. Half (52%) have participated in a political movement before, virtually all (98%) say they would support civil disobedience to achieve their goals, and nearly one-third (31%) would support violence to advance their agenda. The vast majority of demonstrators are actually employed, and the proportion of protesters unemployed (15%) is within single digits of the national unemployment rate (9.1%)”
“Thus Occupy Wall Street is a group of engaged progressives who are disillusioned with the capitalist system and have a distinct activist orientation. Among the general public, by contrast, 41% of Americans self-identify as conservative, 36% as moderate, and only 21% as liberal. That’s why the Obama-Pelosi embrace of the movement could prove catastrophic for their party.”
Well, yes…that, and the likelihood that the longer the occupation persists, the more we will see demonstrators sending their incoherent message by exposing their private parts in public, defecating on police cars, shouting anti-Semitic slogans, being taped advocating the murder of bankers, and clashing with police. If all else fails, even a movement with less-than-clear objectives can warrant attention by the values and conduct of its participants. This movement has been marked by the frequency with which its participants steal from each other.
At a time when the nation needs solutions, serious debate, constructive analysis, and non-partisan and non-ideological cooperation, a major party has embraced a movement with a message that is negativity and nothing else, rooted in ignorance and emotion.
And there, Bob, is another danger inherent in an unethical demonstration. It presents a temptation for cynical politicians to behave unethically by supporting it.
UPDATE: Bob Stone supplied a link to Schoen’s actual survey and data. I have to agree with Bob that Schoen’s conclusions are more emphatic than his published conclusions would seem to justify. On the other hand, the data does support the main point of my post, which is that the OWS demonstrators don’t know what they want, or how to achieve it. For example, only 7% of those polled primarily blamed Wall Street for the nation’s problems, while 8% blamed President Obama. Why are they targeting Wall Street, then? The main objective of the protests, the survey showed, by an overwhelming margin, was to influence the Democratic Party like the Tea Party has influenced the GOP. But what does that mean? To influence a party, there has to be a coherent message, and there isn’t one.
Thanks, Bob…very helpful.