Ethical Quote of the Week: Will Wilkinson

After the headlines and the drama, the real grunt work of democracy begins...or not.

“…now that the Occupy movement has succeeded in shining a spotlight on its primary concerns — rising inequality, political corruption, and debt peonage — Occupiers and their allies now ought to pull up stakes, give up their whimsically undemocratic semi-privatization of public spaces, and endeavor to reform public policy through the democratic institutions established to make the collective determination of binding public rules legitimate. Moving on to seek reform through established democratic channels would require giving up the insolent and frankly disrespectful presumption that these often radically left-wing congregations somehow represent not only a majority of Americans, but 99% of them. It would require Occupiers to square up to the fact that their movement’s implicit ideology is an ideology, and a minority ideology at that — just one among our society’s many rival moral and political worldviews. The intransigence of the Occupy movement suggests an unwillingness among its numbers to take seriously the fact of pluralism, and the corollary impossibility of consensus, which makes majoritarian democratic procedures necessary in the first place.”

Blogger Will Wilkinson, in his essay, “The Occupy Movement’s Enthusiasm and Contempt For Democracy” on (Think Big).

You can read the entire essay by Wilkinson, who is much more supportive of the Occupy movement than I am, here.

Good thinking, good work.

6 thoughts on “Ethical Quote of the Week: Will Wilkinson

  1. Would it be accurate and fair to say the OWS gaggles have over-committed to their peculiar form of compassion bullying?

    I do resent “semi-privatization of public spaces.” But I cannot agree with accusation of “the Occupy movement” for having “intransigence.” To me, that is over-simplifying (confirmation bias by the accuser? am still learning that term); it presumes organization which seems clearly lacking. The accusation disrespects many OWS “foot soldiers” who no doubt possess authentic compassion and *dedication* (which by its nature can be viewed by others as “intransigence”), but who, as of yet, may not have come to grips with the social impacts of their own blind spots (such as, failing to see need for better organization).

    • It’s odd to see a lack of leadership and organization being raised as a valid excuse for organizational misconduct. My assertion in the Protest Code stands: if you organize something as powerful as a demonstration or protest, you are accountable for what it does, and the fact that it does what it does because you are a weak, irresponsible, sloppy or absentee leader is not a defense.

      • My fail. I was unclear, and realized it late. I apologize. When I wrote of resentment in reference to “semi-privatization,” I meant that I DO resent the actions of OWS people. I was agreeing (and do agree) with Wilkinson’s characterization of the defiant camping-out. I meant for the 2nd sentence of that paragraph to stand in contrast to the 1st sentence; that’s why I started the 2nd sentence with “But.”

        From there, I also did not mean to make any excuses for any organization’s misconduct. But I can see now that, in meaning to defend only well-meaning, well-behaving individuals who sympathize with a poorly led and poorly organized “movement,” what I wrote could nevertheless seem like I was making an excuse I did not mean to make. I absolutely agree, and have said in all discussions I’ve had about OWS, that from the outset its apparent “leaders” and representatives too often have been unclear and incoherent (even contradictory), even when not speaking out of inexcusable ignorance or reprehensible prejudice.

        Jack, I respect and admire your Protest Code – did not mean in any way to challenge its call to accountability.

  2. I don’t see how semi-privitization of public spaces is not accurate. I don’t see how instransigent isn’t accurate, either. In my area, they have set up a tent city in a public square in violation of the curfew ordinances. They were given permits for several weeks allowing them a variance from the ordinance, but those have now expired and have not been renewed. The entire square is now a tent city occupied by this group who decided to claim it for themselves. The city has told them to leave. The “protesters” have no agenda, no proposals, and nothing to say other than to claim they are going to stay in the square. No, that isn’t quite right. They are threatening to sue the city for not setting up running water, bathroom facilities, and trash collection for them. How do “semi-privitization of public spaces” and “intransigent” not accurately describe this?

      • “Vide supra.” I did not mean to refer to THOSE “foot soldiers.”
        Interestingly, this quote neatly illustrates an important point.

        I you can say “I did not mean to refer to THOSE ‘foot soldiers.’ “, and thus exempt them from a particular discussion of the OWS movement, does that not in some way make them no longer part of the movement?

        On a macro level, the OWS either does include all of these people doing similar activities everywhere they are doing it (in which case the movement IS accountable for their actions) or it doesn’t (in which case the movement is not nearly as large as it’s being reported to be). In an extreme version of the latter, if you can find SOME reason to exempt any given protestor, you could conclude the that OWS movement does not actually exist.

        In truth, the supporters of OWS try to have it both ways by making both claims simultaneously. The real question is: how many OWS protestors WOULD be left if we eliminated the people violating the law (be it rapists or expired/nonexistent permits) and those who are just squatting and not actually articulating a message?


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