Why Christians Shouldn't Write Off The Occupy Movement

Though it’s strapped for cash and coming out of hibernation, the Occupy Wall Street movement continues to press on, six months after its fiery start on September 17 of last year. The resurgence of the movement is a chance for Christians to enter into fruitful dialogue about Christian parallels to the movement, as well as the spiritual insights derived from the protests.

It seems as though most Christians paid attention to the movement for roughly the first month, made up their mind that the movement was misguided and essentially pagan, and moved on. Pat Robertson labeled the movement a “rebellion” of people who are “just mad.” Writing for Christianity Today’s website, Bruce Wydick said the real problem lied not with Wall Street moguls but instead with Americans in general, due to the creation of “material entitlement” that has “infected our personal choices, our politics, and our financial system.”

No doubt material entitlement has entered the American psyche. You need look no further than pictures and videos from the Occupy encampments to find the entitlement exemplified by an array of iPhones, MacBooks, and the like. The central grievance of Occupiers is that they did all the things society told them to do—buy a house outside their price range, get a collegiate education courtesy of Sallie Mae, and so on—and they came up short when their respective version of the American Dream proved illusory. The Blaze’s Billy Hallowell is right to argue that these protesters must take responsibility where applicable.

But while these are legitimate grounds for concern, they are not reason enough to discredit the Occupiers as inherently misguided, or even anti-Christian. Even if one considers the movement anti-Christian based on their sense of material entitlement, this is ground for engagement and dialogue, not dismissal.

Whatever Occupiers’ spiritual leanings may be, they display obvious parallels to many Christian principles. The movement’s agreed-upon means of consensus decision making has theological roots. Activist L. A. Kauffman traces these roots to the Quaker belief in corporate guidance, which acknowledges the work of the Holy Spirit in directing people’s decisions and actions, all the while uniting the community of believers. Further precedent can be found in Acts (4:32-35, for instance), where consensus had to be reached to meet everyone’s needs and to foster community. While many Occupiers may not know what they do, they are still building genuine community through what formal structures they have.

The Occupy movement also adheres to the principles of non-violence, popularized during the Civil Rights Movement by Martin Luther King, Jr. Christ laid the foundation for non-violent resistance by rebuking Peter’s resistance against Christ’s arrest. Christ’s lesson seems to have stuck; when Peter himself is arrested in Acts 4, there is no indication that Peter resists arrest.

Because of its democratic policy of consensus guidance, the movement discourages outliers from engaging in violent action against police forces, for the media will quickly magnify those violent protesters as though they represented all participants in the movement. As journalist Naomi Klein pointed out in her speech on October 6 last year, the lack of violence has drawn more attention to the injustice of occasional acts of police brutality. As I explain in my column May Day and the Danger of Violence, and as Peter realized through his two run-ins with the law (mentioned above), nonviolence can often be more fruitful than violent action.

But while these features mirror some Christian qualities, Occupy Wall Street has something important to offer Christians: a much-needed opportunity to re-evaluate the tacit acceptance of free-market capitalism as the best available economic system.

Starting in the 1970s, prominent free-market economists successfully overthrew the belief in safeguarding markets with regulations. They convinced major leaders like Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to embrace free-market policies and deregulation. This economic ideology, or belief system, has essentially taken hold of the American psyche, so much so that those questioning capitalism are often derided as “un-American” and socialist (which, in their minds, is automatically stupid).

Yet as social activist Raj Patel has said, the 2008 Great Financial Crisis has made people realize they are in “a world turned upside down, where everything we were told was to our advantage has turned out to be its opposite.” The disillusionment felt when we discovered the gambles taken by business executives with our money accounts for why Occupy movement participants said in their Declaration of the Occupation of New York City that they are representing “a feeling of mass injustice” caused by dangerous decisions made by the “corporate forces of the world.”

For Christians it should come as no surprise that the world tipped over into disarray in 2008. The basic tenets of capitalism are built on the desire for accumulating capital, better known as wealth–and accumulation, as we’ve seen from the Great Financial Crisis, all too often breeds greed. This should strike Christians as deeply troubling.

In I Timothy 6, Paul supplies a series of instructions to ministers working with slaves and slave-masters. For slave and slave-master alike, contentment is recommended because it keeps people from falling into greed. For those who pursue wealth, though, numerous dangers are present:

“But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with much grief.” (9-10)

Elsewhere Christ says that those who pursue wealth risk gaining the world at the expense of forfeiting their souls (Matthew 6:26). They who forfeit their souls are aware of having done so and are thus afflicted with grief (whether they admit it or not).

The pursuit of wealth, however, does not just affect greedy people but also those around them. A person’s greed can lead others to suffer “ruin and destruction”—and have we not seen this in the aftermath of the financial collapse? Many have lost their homes through illegal foreclosures. Investments were lost and savings accounts have dwindled while the unemployed have searched without success for work after being laid off. Keep in mind, too, that the ruin and destruction from this crisis is not just domestic but international.

The Great Financial Crisis has (or should have) reminded us that capitalism is predisposed to and inclined toward evil, just as man is. This is a point most Christians are not used to encountering, but it is nonetheless one they must confront. Few are better situated to help Christians probe this startling reality than the Occupy movement followers.

When faced with complex social issues like the Great Financial Crisis, Christians tend to search their own hearts for sin while neglecting to try to grasp injustice on a wider social scale. It is true that they certainly should probe and repent of their own material entitlement. But Christians are also called to be “in the world,” and an important part of being in the world is trying to understand it—the people in it, the way society functions, and, perhaps new to many, the free-market economic system at work, which negatively and positively influences how so many live. Having searched their hearts, Christians must turn to searching the heart of capitalism—a daunting but necessary task.

Illustration courtesy of Seth T. Hahne. Check out his graphic novel and comic review site, Good Ok Bad.

About C. Ryan Knight

C. Ryan Knight teaches English at Randolph Community College in Asheboro, NC, and he lives with his wife outside Greensboro, NC.
Email: knight.cr@gmail.com

  • Daniel

    Good article Ryan, but I have to comment on one thing mentioned in passing:

    “No doubt material entitlement has entered the American psyche. You need look no further than pictures and videos from the Occupy encampments to find the entitlement exemplified by an array of iPhones, MacBooks, and the like.”

    I’m not sure if I see a connection between the mere possession of certain electronic devices and an attitude of “material entitlement”. If one is attempting to co-ordinate a movement and communicate to people all across the world, what better way than through electronic devices? Should the Occupiers consider themselves “sell-outs” unless they limit their communications to smoke signals and megaphones?

    Now, if the Occupiers demanded free iPhones or MacBooks, perhaps you have a point. But I do not see how the mere possession of certain devices constitutes a spirit of “material entitlement.”

  • http://lecoupdoeil.wordpress.com MKRoss

    Irony: Daniel’s comments and this exchange between Ryan and I in November of last year (see the comments section).

    All ribbing aside, I have to defend Ryan’s use of Apple products as an example of material entitlement. Apple products carry with them a certain consumeristic aura that allows them to be sold for a premium price, so what devices are used by Occupiers is not, as Daniel puts it, “mere possession of certain electronic devices.”

    Consider the Cult of Apple for a moment and the implications that Occupiers love such a greedy,worker-exploiting, capitalistic corporation.

    But I have to dissagree with you Daniel and say that Occupiers ARE demanding free iPhones and MacBooks, they are just doing so in an indirect manner. Occupiers are demanding equality, which really means they want to have enough disposable income to afford the newest Apple gadget and the absurdly high premium data plan it requires.

    People may disagree with my assertion, but I’d like to ask where all of the Occupiers were when there was still room on the gravy train several years ago? The last time I looked, the 99% has been exploited for years, especially when one looks globally at the slave labor and sweat shops that allowed the gravy train to run for as long as it had. It wasn’t until the Great Financial Crisis revealed just how many people weren’t middle class, but instead were working class or the working poor covered in the consumer’s version of the Emperor’s New Clothes that people decied to protest.

  • Daniel

    @MKRoss–

    “But I have to dissagree with you Daniel and say that Occupiers ARE demanding free iPhones and MacBooks, they are just doing so in an indirect manner. Occupiers are demanding equality, which really means they want to have enough disposable income to afford the newest Apple gadget and the absurdly high premium data plan it requires.”

    But if they already possess these items, how can we claim that they’re demanding them? They already HAVE them, so I still don’t see your point. Yes, maybe it’s hypocritical for them to use Apple products that are made in exploitive factories (though I question if ANY electronics that are made in China are not made in such an exploitive way), but I don’t see any entitlement to possess something.

    As to “equality” being equated with demanding disposable income to buy Apple products–I really think that’s a stretch. I think it’s an unfair criticism. To be sure, there is much one can criticize about the Occupy movement…I just think that this is a complete tangent. One might as well criticize Christians for wasting money on computers and time on blogging when we could be using our time and treasure for spreading the gospel or feeding the poor.

  • https://catecinem.wordpress.com/ Matt

    “The Occupy movement also adheres to the principles of non-violence, popularized during the Civil Rights Movement by Martin Luther King, Jr. Christ laid the foundation for non-violent resistance by rebuking Peter’s resistance against Christ’s arrest. Christ’s lesson seems to have stuck; when Peter himself is arrested in Acts 4, there is no indication that Peter resists arrest.

    Because of its democratic policy of consensus guidance, the movement discourages outliers from engaging in violent action against police forces, for the media will quickly magnify those violent protesters as though they represented all participants in the movement. As journalist Naomi Klein pointed out in her speech on October 6 last year, the lack of violence has drawn more attention to the injustice of occasional acts of police brutality. As I explain in my column May Day and the Danger of Violence, and as Peter realized through his two run-ins with the law (mentioned above), nonviolence can often be more fruitful than violent action.”

    I read your May Day piece, and I appreciated that it advocated the continued use of nonviolent means of protest by those who have already abided by that principle. But this passage evokes a very rosy picture of Occupy that I don’t think is quite accurate. I know that a lot of the protest has been nonviolent, and I try to presume that most Occupiers are not doing horrible things on a regular basis. But as your May Day piece acknowledged, there is a tacit approval of illegal and violent behavior. While perhaps only a relative handful of people have smashed or spray-painted storefront windows (or relieved themselves in lobbies, because apparently *someone* had to take the class out of class warfare), it seems that these people are not being brought to justice by those who witnessed those actions. As far as I can see, nobody’s encouraging vandals to turn themselves in. I wonder how many people felt a pang of guilt watching vandalism being perpetrated and how many stood by cheering.

    I also wonder how many people felt good about themselves for hurling epithets at all those police officers who are forced to contend with their nonviolent protests. No cop knows what’s going to happen from moment to moment. A nonviolent protest can turn violent at the drop of a hat. The use of riot gear and pepper spray might be excessive in some situations; in others, perhaps not. I won’t defend the use of flash grenades against unarmed civilians who pose no apparent threat, but I also don’t defend the abusive demeanor, attitude, and language of Occupiers who think that as long as they don’t raise a fist to anyone, they’re not passive-aggressively trying to inflict injury or escalate confrontations.

    I’d also like to observe that while gumming up traffic or blocking access to businesses is not “violent” in the conventional sense, it can wreck a person’s day (at best) or livelihood (at worst). If I’m late to work because a protest group has formed a human barricade, that hurts me. If a small business owner is forced to close up shop because Occupiers are crowding his sidewalk — or vandalizing his business — not only is he out the potential profits, but all of his employees are as well. Who’s speaking about that injustice?

    Then, of course, there are those very, very few who have actively planned and attempted to execute an act of domestic terrorism. Again, I don’t assume that every Occupier is sympathetic to such tactics, but I don’t assume that every Occupier is completely unsympathetic, either — not given the amount of destruction and anti-social havoc in which many Occupiers have previously participated.

    I believe that it’s a good thing to have a conversation about the strengths and weaknesses of modern capitalism, both in the pragmatic and moral sense. But OWS is, in my opinion, completely unsuited to pursue that discussion. Protestors don’t hold dialogues with their opponents; they try to drown them out, intimidate them, or impress them by a show of numbers/solidarity. This is not a good format for holding a conversation that is mind-bogglingly complex. Christians should certainly participate in this conversation, but I honestly don’t see how it can be done productively via the framework of Occupy. If Christians are willing to be party to a movement that has tolerated (if not overtly endorsed) such widespread, despicable behavior, then I don’t think we should be having a conversation about capitalism — I think we should be having a more fundamental conversation about the morality and ethics of the Christian life.

    It’s hard enough to be a Christian and a United States citizen at the same time, let alone a Christian in an amoral, capitalist economy. I don’t need to further undermine my relationship to my faith by finding use value in a movement that embraces those who think it’s okay to destroy the property of others, curse police officers, or obstruct the daily lives of my fellow citizens. Not to mention that the fundamental hinge of the movement is a divisive rhetorical strategy: Us Vs. Them, which has a dehumanizing effect on the way the so-called “One-Percenters” are perceived. There has got to be a much better way to talk about these things and take action than the path that Occupy has laid down.

  • http://lecoupdoeil.wordpress.com MKRoss

    Daniel,

    I’m not looking at Occupiers in a current snapshot, but along a continuum. What happens when the new iPhone 5 comes out and Occupiers can’t afford to purchase it? Then they will demand the iPhone 5.

    So while the topic of electronic gadget ownership may seem tangential to Ryan’s overall topic, it is a perfect example of material entitlement which was the root cause of the Great Financial Crisis. From the highest executive to the lowliest employee, from the biggest hedge fund managers to the smallest stock holders, people allowed material entitlement to push the various bubbles to their bursting point for personal financial gain instead of sound business practices. Now we are reaping the effects of such greedy practices.

    Allow me to quote a scene from the movie Margin Call. A young banker, Seth Bregman, realizes how the impending housing market implosion is going to affect “normal people.” Will Emerson’s responds about working in the industry and the dangers and benefits of the housing market manipulation (edited for language, emphasis mine):

    Jesus, Seth. Listen, if you really wanna do this with your life you have to believe you’re necessary and you are. People wanna live like this in their cars and big [effin'] houses they can’t even pay for, then you’re necessary. The only reason that they all get to continue living like kings is cause we got our fingers on the scales in their favor. I take my hand off and then the whole world gets really [effin'] fair really [effin'] quickly and nobody actually wants that. They say they do but they don’t. They want what we have to give them but they also wanna, you know, play innocent and pretend they have know idea where it came from. Well, thats more hypocrisy than I’m willing to swallow, so [eff] em. [Eff] normal people. You know, the funny thing is, tomorrow if all of this goes tits up they’re gonna crucify us for being too reckless but if we’re wrong, and everything gets back on track? Well then, the same people are gonna laugh till they piss their pants cause we’re gonna all look like the biggest [wussies] God ever let through the door.

    Or better yet watch it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2f2kGHcdJYU&feature=related

    And I do criticize Christians for the massive amounts of money they spend on internal programming (blogging, light shows for worship sessions, pastor salaries, operational costs of mega-church buildings, websites, conferences, etc.). Of course there is far too much justification in the responses to my criticisms that I’ve given up making them public.

  • Daniel

    @MKRoss–

    You wrote:

    “I’m not looking at Occupiers in a current snapshot, but along a continuum. What happens when the new iPhone 5 comes out and Occupiers can’t afford to purchase it? Then they will demand the iPhone 5.”

    On what basis do you make this prediction? For example, I am an iPhone user. I currently am a generation behind (iPhone 4), am not interested in getting an iPhone 4S, and I am not planning to get an iPhone 5 when released. I don’t insist on upgrading to the latest and greatest as soon as it’s released. My wife feels the same. We both were flip-phone users until the iPhone 4, waiting until our contracts were up, and only then upgraded.

    Now, my boss is somewhat of a tech geek and he upgrades to stay on the bleeding edge of all technology. He’s also very wealthy and has little in common with the OWS crowd.

    I think you’re making an unwarranted assumption that (a) all (or perhaps most) Apple users are fanboys that insist on upgrading as soon as the latest device is released; (b) that the OWS crowd fits in this pradigm; and (c) that the OWS crowd expects someone else to pay for these upgrades.

    Even if all of this is true (and I did not see any evidence presented that it is), it would be an ad hominim attack to suggest that this invalidates their message (arguably, the message is not always clear and tu quoque arguments, even when invalid, feel “right”).

    Unless you can clearly show your assertion, I think it is both unfair and unsupported.

    Now, to your “meta view” how material entitlement led to the current crisis–to a certain extent, I agree. Greed (which I think is the old-fashioned name for “material entitlement”) has always been a human problem, at every level of humanity. But does that mean that everyone who buys a home, or an Apple product, or clothing made in China, or whatever–is greedy? Is it utterly impossible to be free of greed and participate in the economy as a consumer or producer? Does the fact that we may indulge in greed (or not, that still has to be proven) mean that we are forever barred from criticizing aspects of our economic system? Must we be completely free from any moral taint to condemn sin when it rears its ugly head?

  • C. Ryan Knight

    Regarding your first comment, Daniel: my point about material entitlement isn’t restricted to Occupiers; it’s an issue with the vast majority of Americans. The interesting thing (what I tried to point out in the exchange to which Michael alluded) is that Occupiers have to use products they purchased out of a sense of material entitlement in order to wage a worldwide protest against large-scale material entitlement. My point was simply that one has to start somewhere. They’re essentially in the same boat as everyone else, even if they’re trying to get everyone off that boat. I should also note that in the paragraph after the one from which you quoted, I say this is grounds for concern, not condemnation; I don’t think this problematic issue discredits the Movement as a whole.

    Michael, I don’t think Occupiers will literally demand iPhone 5s, but if they don’t use the lessons of the Occupy movement and begin weeding out their material entitlement, they will demand jobs that allow them to pay to upgrade their current iPhones (or whatever). I think it’s well to return to your important point about indirect demands in your first comment in relation to this issue/point.

  • C. Ryan Knight

    Matt, thanks for your thoughtful and thorough comment. The passage about non-violent tactics you described as “rosy” is rosy because it’s tactical, and thus theoretical. I haven’t seen anything about mainline Occupiers calling for those who committed vandalism on May Day to turn themselves in, but some did denounce the crimes. Mark Taylor-Canfield, an organizer of the Occupy Seattle May Day demonstrations, said,

    “Occupy Seattle did not endorse any kind of property damage. . . . A lot of people who support the Occupy Wall Street movement and a lot of the occupiers themselves are very distressed about the fact that our message has been lost now because of broken glass broken windows, pepper spray and tear gas.”

    Also of note in the case of Seattle, at least: the outbreaks of violence were not necessarily happening at the site of mainstream Occupy protests.

    I would be grateful if you would share the source(s) you saw regarding the terrorist plot. All I’ve seen so far are inconclusive news articles and Glenn Beck’s commentary on it (which I thoroughly distrust).

  • Daniel

    Ryan, you wrote: “interesting thing (what I tried to point out in the exchange to which Michael alluded) is that Occupiers have to use products they purchased out of a sense of material entitlement in order to wage a worldwide protest against large-scale material entitlement.”

    Is “material entitlement” the ONLY reason for purchasing something? And doesn’t “entitlement” suggest that “purchase” is not the proper action, but rather a passive “receive” or even an active “stole”? I fail to see how purchasing something with one’s own money an example of an entitlement. Perhaps you are using the words in a different sense than I.

  • https://catecinem.wordpress.com/ Matt

    Ryan, I understand that a part of what you were trying to accomplish here was to demonstrate a viable pathway for Occupy to make some headway in steering a conversation about capitalism. And I think that’s admirable and valid. But you’re positing the ostensible intentions and actions of Occupy as a foundation for that, and while I do empathize with a lot of concerns that seem to recur in Occupy talking points, I don’t think your theoretical structure is sound if you ignore or sugarcoat the uglier aspects of how Occupy presents or pursues those points. I have several acquaintances who are supportive of Occupy, and these are people I like and admire; both my anecdotal experience and the bare facts of how many genuinely nonviolent protests have successfully taken place testify to the movement not being wholly rotten or damnable. But there is an undercurrent that seems to emerge in some cases that taints the project, and that makes me extraordinarily skeptical about the efficacy of Occupy in producing positive change.

    Re: the bombing plot, here are three articles I found simply by Googling “Occupy Cleveland.”

    _____

    “Suspect in bridge bombing plot signed lease on Occupy Cleveland warehouse.” http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2012/05/terror_suspect_signed_lease_on.html

    “Bridge bomb plot: Suspects were active in Occupy Cleveland, even as movement slowed to a crawl” http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2012/05/bridge_bomb_plot_suspects_were.html

    “Bridge bomb suspects plead not guilty; Occupy Cleveland members show up to support suspects

    Read more: http://www.newsnet5.com/dpp/news/local_news/cleveland_metro/bridge-bomb-suspects-plead-not-guilty-occupy-cleveland-members-show-up-to-support-suspects#ixzz1v5gAbGKKhttp://www.newsnet5.com/dpp/news/local_news/cleveland_metro/bridge-bomb-suspects-plead-not-guilty-occupy-cleveland-members-show-up-to-support-suspects

    _____

    As I said earlier, it’s not that Occupy Cleveland as an organizational whole planned and attempted to blow up that bridge. But it was planned and attempted by Occupy organizers. And here’s the lede on that third story:

    “Dozens of members of Occupy Cleveland showed up at a Cleveland courthouse to support the five people charged in connection with an alleged plot to blow up a northeast Ohio bridge.”

    There are clearly Occupiers who either believe that these suspects are totally innocent, or there are Occupiers who are trying to show solidarity with the bombing suspects *because* of or in spite of what they did. If it’s the former reason, then I suppose there’s something to be said for faith in one’s friends and comrades. If it’s the latter, then… well, then that’s just despicable. My guess is that the supporters that showed up at the courthouse have a mixture of mindsets. The Occupiers who wanted to distance themselves from this whole incident are probably the ones who stayed far, far away from the bombers once they were caught red handed.

    The second article features a few Occupy spokespeople trying to paint the alleged bombers as a minority, coattail faction — and I’m sure they were. But they were still included, and it’s only now that they’ve been allegedly caught out as would-be terrorists that the leaders are like, “Oh, those guys. They’re not with us.”

    It’s possible that these suspects will be found not guilty. Not likely, but possible. In that sense, these articles are “inconclusive,” because the case itself has not been concluded. But in the sense that five people associated with Occupy have been arrested for attempting to blow up a bridge, the articles are as clear as day. I’m not a fan of Glenn Beck; I rather distrust (and disdain) him myself. I initially read about the incident from an AP article. From what I understand, the fact that these bozos tried to blow the bridge up is not in dispute; the defense seems to be arguing that they were entrapped by the FBI. I could be misunderstanding what I’ve read, of course, but if my understanding is correct, even if the FBI entrapped them, these guys were still willing to blow up a bridge to make a political point.

  • http://lecoupdoeil.wordpress.com MKRoss

    I dunno Ryan, the iPhone 5 will have a bigger screen…

    Daniel,
    You are missing my point. I have not tried to invalidate the Occupy message in through any sort of attack, ad hominem or otherwise, so you have made some unwarranted assumptions on your end. My use of a single company’s products is to provide an example of 1) how Occupiers were/are complicit in the same system they are now protesting and 2) that the Occupiers were not opposed to such a system until the Great Financial Crisis affected them.

    Ryan makes a good point in that Occupiers are in the same materialistic entitlement boat as everyone else and at least they are starting the attempt to get out. I agree, but think the Movement needs to recognize its prior/current complicity within a corrupt system for two reasons:

    First, the Occupy Movement must realize it is the vanguard to the largest labor movement in America’s recent history and as such must prepare the way for others who are more timid to join its ranks. As labor movement, Occupy threatens the current, unspoken class system in America. Because most people view themselves in a higher class than they really are, the Occupy Movement is bringing to light the fact that most people are in a lower class than they want to admit. I won’t rehash George Orwell’s argument here, but a vital book to read to understand why the working/middle class will always side with the upper class is his non-fiction work The Road to Wigan Pier. I’ll give you a hint though, no one wants to be poor or seen as poor.

    If Occupy can solidify its message that most people were duped into a credit-fueled, material-entitlement lifestyle (and of which they were firmly entrenched themselves) and it is okay to admit one’s true position in America’s class structure, then the Movement will be able to draw from a wider demographic.

    Second, the Occupy Movement is a labor movement that has been able to bring the lower classes together in a way not seen in recent labor movements and it scares the crap out of the upper classes. The government and the media outlets realize this situation and try to associate the Movement with violence in order to alienate those people who should support the Occupy Movement, but are violence-adverse.

    The sooner the Occupy Movement can expose the class system in America as being fueled by material entitlement, the sooner it can refocus on a cohesive non-violent message that will counteract the negative publicity that keeps many people from joining or supporting the Movement.

    So far from invalidating the Occupy Movement, I want to see it realize its own material entitlement and shed it publicly so that others will feel freed to do so as well.

  • http://lecoupdoeil.wordpress.com MKRoss

    Matt,

    I find it odd that you are commenting here about violence and the Occupy Movement rather than on Ryan’s other post May Day and the Danger of Violence.

    I point out several articles outlining the FBI’s complicity in helping to create the Ohio “threat”.

    Also, basic Googling will result in biased results about the “thwarted” bombing. Just research the term Googlewashing or look at how much the companyyy spends in lobbying. Or listen to Eli Pariser explain Google ‘filter bubbles’ at TED.

  • Daniel

    @MKRoss–

    I guess what is confusing me about this whole discussion is the use of the phrase “entitlement mentality”. To me, “entitlement” means something that you feel you deserve, and usually used in a pejorative sense (I.e., you don’t really deserve it.) An “entitlement mentality” suggests to me an outlook that life “owes” you something, even if you don’t earn it.

    Examples of legitimate entitlements are a worker’s paycheck, receiving a product as advertised for an agreed upon price, and faithfulness from one’s spouse. Examples of illegitimate “entitlements” are a lifetime living wage when one is unwilling to work when able, perfect health after a lifetime of rioteous living, or getting the latest Apple gadget without having to pay for it. There are other areas that some consider legitimate and others illegitimate–healthcare, living wage in exchange for any level of labor or freedom from offensive speech.

    The way I was interpreting your comments was that the OWS types were essentially demanding to receive the latest Apple product in exchange for nothing. To me, that is an unwarranted assumption. But perhaps I’m misunderstanding your use of the term “material entitlement”. Could you please clarify what you mean by this term?

  • https://catecinem.wordpress.com/ Matt

    MKRoss,

    I’m commenting here because, well, because I am. When I read the other article, I had little time to comment, so I didn’t. I read this one, thought I had something to say, had time to do so, and so I did. Is it a problem that I commented here rather than there? Does it somehow affect the validity of the points I’ve made?

    I’ve read some of those articles on the alleged FBI complicity. And I’m sure that those issues will, in part, be thrashed out in court. Even if the FBI held their hands through the process, I still don’t see how that excuses their willingness to go along with it. And I don’t see how that would negate the issue of the “support” (for lack of a better word) that has been shown for them among those who may be sympathetic to the alleged bombing itself. According to the Occupiers quoted in that second article, these suspects had been chomping at the bit to participate in more extreme acts of protest right from the beginning. So even if they’re found “not guilty” on account of the FBI botching protocol, it seems fairly clear that the suspects demonstrate exactly the kind of attitude — which is tacitly tolerated or approved by Occupy’s inclusiveness — that makes me skeptical.

    I’m also aware of filter bias. That’s not really the issue, though. I cited three articles and the engine by which I obtained them. Ryan asked for articles about the incident that were not sourced to Glen Beck, so that’s why I used Google, and that’s why those articles are not from Fox News. Unless the content of the articles is in dispute here, I don’t see what Googlewashing has to do with my main point, which is a skepticism toward the attitudes and tactics that are part of the Occupy movement.

  • http://lecoupdoeil.wordpress.com MKRoss

    Matt,

    Relax. I never questioned the validity of your points. I was only mentioning that Ryan had another, more in-depth article about violence and the Occupy Movement because you mentioned reading the post but I did not see any comments from you there.

    Concerning the FBI’s recent history of enticing rubes into becoming “terrorists” as well as the known infiltration of protests by undercover police who then perform acts of violence in order to incite the crowd and give uniformed officers reason to use force and arrest otherwise peaceful gatherers, I think the willingness of the “would-be” bombers should be called into question.

    I brought up the filter bubble only because you wrote that you found three articles “simply by Googling” a simple phrase. Sorry to offend by offering some information about Google searches.

    I see the old adage that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter in these comments. Matt, I think you are in the majority of Americans who disapprove of the use of violence which is why I think the government tries so hard to associate Occupy with violent acts.

    Not to change the subject, but these conersations always make me wonder what the comments would have looked like if blogging was around when British subjects tarred and feathers tax collectors in the American colonies or fired on British soldiers in the New England colonies.

  • https://catecinem.wordpress.com/ Matt

    Ross,

    I guess I didn’t understand the purpose of your observation that I commented on one piece and not another. Apparently it was just an idle musing, one relaxed commenter to another. It’s all good, yo.

    Agents provocateur are not a recent phenomenon, and if it were the case that the FBI used this alleged bombing as an excuse to bust up the local Occupy crowd as a whole, perhaps I’d be more skeptical. But it seems to me that these people were specifically targeted because they were perceived to represent a direct threat to the local citizens. Again, the legality of such measures as were employed will probably be hashed over in court. But I don’t know that these suspects were know-nothing bumpkins who were totally manipulated and forced into an unalterably compromising situation. The facts as they have been reported by almost every source seem to indicate that they were willing participants. And even a rube who does something that he hopes will cause injury to others is still guilty of a crime, whether it’s moral or legal.

    You didn’t offend me by bringing up Google search information, and I’m not sure why you think you did. I just didn’t think the information you offered was at all germane to anything I said.

    I think that the notions of “terrorist” and “freedom fighter” aren’t always mutually exclusive. A putative freedom fighter may employ terrorist tactics in order to achieve his goals, but I would not endorse or condone those tactics, even if I were sympathetic to the cause of “freedom” as defined by that fighter. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to condemn terrorism as a tactic without necessarily condemning the associated fight for freedom.

    I’m also not sure that the government as an entity has tried to associate Occupy with violent acts. I know that the media (especially the more right wing outlets) has done so, and obviously law enforcement agencies have investigated acts of violence that have been perpetrated by Occupiers, but many within the establishment have given their blessing to Occupy, while others have denounced it. To me, it seems that the government itself is ambivalent, though there are those within it who have a stake in portraying it one way or another. I don’t personally conflate Occupy with anarchy, so while I’m sure that anybody who believes in government at all would be inclined to associate anarchy with violence, I don’t know that Occupy as a whole — which encompasses everything from anarchy to libertarianism to socialism to certain brands of conservatism — represents a resolutely anti-government stance. But then, I’m not the government.

    The documents from the time of the American Revolution give a pretty good idea what blog comments might look like: heated, polemical, talking past each other, and rooted in fundamentally opposed views of the proper role, size, and scope of legitimate government. It seems to me that a lot of modern-day conservatives who venerate the founding fathers have little to no grasp of just how radical the revolutionaries were and how fraught it would have been to live through those times. Similarly, I think the idea of “revolution” is overly romanticized by many on the Left, and I doubt that many from either side in contemporary America would have the stomach to mount a genuine revolution.

  • MKRoss

    Daniel,
    Take a look at the link Ryan has in his post for Bruce Wydick’s article to see the definition/framework I am using for material entitlement.

    Matt,
    I was just trying to drive some discussion over to Ryan’s May Day post as I thought it was a well-argued piece about a topic I enjoy.

  • C. Ryan Knight

    Daniel, regarding material entitlement: Wydick’s piece is helpful here. I would define it as essentially the pursuit of acquiring products we desire but generally don’t need. It’s not the only reason for purchasing something, specifically a tech-savvy device. I think material entitlement tends to have “soft” control over people — that is, people don’t buy things thinking “I deserve this” or “I’m entitled to this!” Rather, it’s a sort of drive or impulse that’s not frequently recognized or perceived. I’m defining material entitlement in a narrower sense than the examples you used in your response to Michael/MKRoss, though I certainly see and take your point.

    Matt, thanks for your additional feedback. I should stress that the theoretical foundations are the Movement’s foundations, not my own (though I support much of what they’re trying to do). I can’t take credit for that. In a sense, I agree with your counterpoint about the delicacy of the movement and how easy it would be to be derailed by violence. (I’m thinking of where you say, “But there is an undercurrent that seems to emerge in some cases that taints the project, and that makes me extraordinarily skeptical about the efficacy of Occupy in producing positive change.” I think, though, that this reiterates Naomi Klein’s words of warning to Occupiers in New York, which I quoted in my article. The Civil Rights movement faced similar dangers (the risk of militant groups like the Black Panthers overshadowing the broader movement), but I would say King’s insistence on non-violent resistance (by-and-large) was strong enough to resist this danger.

    Thanks as well, Matt, for sharing the articles.

  • http://twitter.com/oneclassaction trish b.

    Mr. Knight

    The New York City General Assembly (OWS), passed a proposal to seek Independent Legal

    Counsel (04.07.2012). I am the individual who presented that proposal to the GA.

    I have been associated with the Occupy movement since early October 2011…

    I have been active in community, social justice and faith-based initiatives for many years.

    But, I have strived to be Christ-like my entire life.

    Your article caused me great concern…

    We’re going to court…because, God help those who help themselves.

    Whatever Occupiers’ spiritual leanings may be, they display obvious parallels to many Christian principles. The movement’s agreed-upon means of consensus decision making has theological roots. Activist L. A. Kauffman traces these roots to the Quaker belief in corporate guidance, which acknowledges the work of the Holy Spirit in directing people’s decisions and actions, all the while uniting the community of believers. Further precedent can be found in Acts (4:32-35, for instance), where consensus had to be reached to meet everyone’s needs and to foster community. While many Occupiers may not know what they do, they are still building genuine community through what formal structures they have.

  • C. Ryan Knight

    trish b., thanks for commenting. I’m not sure why, though, my article caused you “great concern.” I would hope the article would be, if anything, encouraging rather than concerning. I welcome clarification from you.

  • MKRoss

    Matt,

    Considering our discussion about FBI entrappment, I thought I’d post this article.

    http://www.greenisthenewred.com/blog/fbi-domestic-terrorism-training-anarchists-eco/6199/

  • https://catecinem.wordpress.com/ Matt

    Ross,

    That’s an intriguing piece of advocacy journalism; thanks for the link. Potter’s argument is deeply flawed (or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that his argument is only valid if his profoundly prejudiced premises are true), but there’s no doubt that the expansion of the definition of “terror” has muddied the investigation and prosecution of criminal activity. And it will be interesting to see what bearing, if any, entrapment has on the prosecution of the alleged bombers in Cleveland.


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