Monday, October 24, 2011

Occupy Wall Street, Thomas Kuhn, and Goldman-Sachs

Kerry pointed me to this insightful commentary on Occupy Wall Street:The central metaphor of the three card monty came is, indeed, apt, but what is it a metaphor for? What is the game in this case?

This is the point that allows the shills to plead ignorance. When millions of people were in the streets across the world to try to stop the U.S. from going to war in Iraq, the media largely ignored or belittled the movement, instead bringing on talking heads to tell us why the war was necessary. It was a thing and they could skew coverage to support the thing. But what is the thing here?

Thomas Kuhn, in his masterwork The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, makes use of the notion of a paradigm, that is, a conceptual framework that determines what are meaningful questions, what are acceptable ways of answering the questions, and what count as legitimate answers. Scientists work through their paradigm, never seeing it just as someone with glasses uses the lenses to view the world, but doesn't see the glasses. Anyone who questions the paradigm, Kuhn argues, is seen as irrational because it is the paradigm itself that defines rationality. When it is the system itself that is under consideration, the questions seem to make no sense to those who assume the system is the way the world must work.

The exception, Kuhn argues, is times of scientific crisis. A crisis occurs when anomalies pop up, when questions the paradigm deems as legitimate are approached using the tools the paradigm provides, but still will not yield answers the paradigm can accept. The Occupy Wall Street folks are ridiculed by those on the right for being middle class spoiled brats who just want to bring back the 60s. It is true that these are largely people from places of elevated socio-economic standing, but that is exactly the point.

Ever since the white guilt exhaustion of the Reagan 80s, when we decided to replace justice with greed as a national virtue, we've been sold the fictitious "meritocracy" line. Those who are better off, have more because they deserve it. These people are smarter, work harder, and are more entrepreneurial. If they didn't deserve more, the unfalsifiable nonsense goes, they wouldn't have it. Anything done to defend it, to keep the wealth where it is fairly or unfairly is therefore perfectly just and reasonable because these privileged white people should have it.

But we've been seeing the anomalies pop up. People who went into debt, getting a good education, who played by all of the rules made up to defend the "meritocracy," who were promised a privileged place in society and all the shallow material goods that are supposed to bring happiness, but who can't find work or are underemployed. Just like Nixon's southern strategy used racial fear to galvanize white voters against civil rights, fear of downward class mobility was used to unite the upper-middle class behind policies that only served the wealthy. But now, the middle-class is not getting the small cut it was promised and the class insecurity that was used to make sure the largest voting bloc in the country would not consider the working class and poor, is more acutely than ever feeling that fear in a way that that no longer plays into the desire to maintain the structure that shifts all wealth upwards.

And it does. Since the Reagan administration through Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, on through Obama, the policies of the government have been designed to shift wealth away from the country to a small group at the top. We use terms like "deregulation" in order to endow it a connotation of freedom and liberty, but really it is nothing but simple class warfare. It is a redistributing of wealth to those who have the most. Economic advisory positions and officials have largely come from the group whom this benefits. Lobbyists work with the beneficiaries to redesign the system to more efficiently move the wealth up and then those lobbyists are put in power to legally change the system in that way. In terms of the financial workings of the system, for example, it is run by Goldman-Sachs, an investment bank that rules the world in the way anti-Semites think of the Rothschilds. If you've not read Matt Taibbi's piece on Goldman-Sachs, do it now.

The first thing you need to know about Goldman Sachs is that it's everywhere. The world's most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money. In fact, the history of the recent financial crisis, which doubles as a history of the rapid decline and fall of the suddenly swindled dry American empire, reads like a Who's Who of Goldman Sachs graduates.

THIS is the three card monty game. It is not a policy, a war, or a law that folks want changed. It is a socio-economic-political game of calvinball in which those who have the most constantly change and rework the rules to make sure that no matter what happens, all wealth and opportunity is shipped up to the most well-off. As long as the middle-class was given new episodes of Friends and shiny SUVs to distract them, the whole thing could be masked. But now that the shifting of wealth has undermined their expectations. Now that white collar unemployment is real, the line that the unemployed are lazy good-for-nothing, lucky ducks (as the Wall Street Journal editorial board referred to them) who were looking for a free hand-out and permanent weekends can no longer be maintained. The lie Reagan sold us and which was amplified repeatedly over the last couple of decades has been shown for what it is. We see the emperor's ensemble for what it is -- or isn't -- now. But we also see who has all the wealth and power. THAT is what is being protested. That is the scam and the question is whether those who benefit from the scam and benefit from protecting the scam have put themselves in a strong enough gated community that they will continue to feel that they can simply ignore the rest of the world outside. A world that is becoming less and less dazzled by them, seeing clearer and clearer what has been done to them, what they themselves were a part of creating and protecting.