Archive for October 21st, 2011

In which our heroes venture into the realm of the dark powers:


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Wrong and Relieved

As the Occupy Wall Street movement enters its second month and continues to endure and grow it is hard not to feel hopeful. Critics are quick to mock and dismiss it, of course, not least for the failure to come up with a 12 point plan or a coherent agenda. But that seems like one of the reasons for hope: the moment a clear manifesto is issued diversity is diminished. It has long been apparent that what is required to turn the country around is a broad, non-ideological movement, not a partisan one, and not one with litmus tests about things not essential to the task at hand.

And at this point OWS has remained nonviolent, except for the police. Let’s hope that this endures; calls for violence, whether from provocateurs or sincere radicals, have the same effect: alienation of those who should be with you. We may need a revolution, but if it is not peaceful, if it is not about love and beauty, you can count me, and most folks, out.

But so far, so good, though I realize that the thing could still unravel. All sorts of ideologues are struggling to steer the unwieldy ship that is OWS as I write: Communists, anarchists, libertarians, Democrats, even, quixotically, distributists.

In regard to the latter, I think that Red Owen’s criticisms in the comboxes are essentially correct regarding distributism as a viable movement. It goes without saying that I believe distributism offers a more realistic and human answer to questions of economic injustice than the alternatives, but at the same time it is clear that distributism needs a lot of work, a lot of rethinking, before it is going to be palatable to the young activists gathering around the country (and the world). For too long, contrary to the way it was shaped by its founders, distributism has been presented as a Catholic thing. That the Church’s social teaching  influenced the formation of distributist thought is an undeniable part of its history, but Chesterton and Belloc and the other shapers of distributism never treated it as a partisan social philosophy, but as a human one. Until we can do the same we ought to realize that we are not going to get far. Much in Richard Aleman’s distributist flyer is appealing to the critics of capitalism and plutocracy, but if they investigate further they are going to find much that will alarm them.

I hope that when I wrote about “the distributist moment”, the chance to get the word out and make ourselves known, that it wasn’t taken as merely opportunistic, as if the OWS protests are reduced to a chance to add to our numbers. No, it is also an opportunity to join forces with a diverse group of people who are finally rising up to resist the massive concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few. Pass out the flyers, to be sure, but join the protests as well.

Are you going to find things to offend you if you join with them?

Of course. Even Mark Shea, who is generally on the side of the angels, and who recognizes the problems that OWS is addressing, cannot mention them without calling them “ninnies”. Are there ninnies in the movement? Of course. Just like there are ninnies at any Tea Party rally, church picnic, PTA meeting, union meeting, or family reunion. Welcome to the human condition. Besides ninnies, at OWS you will find anarchists of left and right, various kinds of doctrinaire Marxists, and folks with odd agendas, none of whom are likely to get far with ordinary Americans, and most of whom are tone deaf to the way they are perceived by the working and middle classes. But you will also find people who have gone bankrupt because of medical debt, former union carpenters who now work for $10 an hour with no benefits, recent college graduates with $50,000 debts and no prospects of a good job, single mothers who forgo insurance so they can feed their children, the long-term unemployed and hardworking folks who have to use a credit card or payday loan to make it to the next paycheck. This is reality in America today.

But it isn’t the only reality. From 2009 to 2010 the ranks of millionaires swelled by 18%. Last year executive salaries rose by 23%. While you can buy a large house in depressed Detroit for $6000, out in the wealthy suburbs prices are soaring. While the poor and the working classes are floundering more and more wealth is flowing into the pockets of fewer and fewer. When reckless bankers crashed the economy the government didn’t jail them but bailed them, whereupon they gave themselves big bonuses. When industries were going bankrupt because they had been making shoddy products for so long the market wasn’t allowed to work and punish them; again the government bailed them out. But when hardworking Americans lose their homes to foreclosure or their savings to medical debt no one bails them out.

So it seems there is a coherent message after all, and the media seems to be missing it because of its simplicity and its lack of ideology: This is wrong. Enough is enough.

As for me, I have been railing against economic injustice for years and had concluded that the American people, especially the young, did not have it in them to rise up and resist.

I can’t tell you how relieved I am to have been wrong.

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