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“We Want Something Different”

11/17/11

Yearning for a New Kind of Society

The ever-sharp Matt Taibbi has written incisively, in sometimes R-rated language, about Goldman Sachs, Citicorp, and other Wall Street investment banks—who can forget his description of Goldman Sachs as “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity” (“The Great American Bubble Machine”)? But he admits, “At first, I misunderstood Occupy Wall Street.”

Several weeks ago, after visiting the occupation at Zuccotti Park several times, he wrote in “My Advice to the Occupy Wall Street Protesters”:

“. . . the time is rapidly approaching when the movement is going to have to offer concrete solutions to the problems posed by Wall Street. . . . I’d suggest focusing on five:

(1) Break up the monopolies. (2) Pay for your own bailouts. (3) No public money for private lobbying. (4) Tax hedge-fund gamblers. (5) Change the way bankers get paid.”

The column and the explanations for each point are worth reading in full.

But first, before we head back down to Zuccotti Park for some fresh air, we want to share some excellent pieces from Taibbi’s new Rolling Stone column “How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the OWS Protests.” What we find most valuable—besides his ever-vigilant bullshit detector—is his trenchant description of what it is that’s calling tens and hundreds of thousands and more into the streets and encampments around Wall Street and elsewhere in the U.S. and around the world. Note: This was written before the NYPD evicted the Occupiers Monday night.

“People want out of this fiendish system”

“Occupy Wall Street was always about something much bigger than a movement against big banks and modern finance. It’s about providing a forum for people to show how tired they are not just of Wall Street, but everything. This is a visceral, impassioned, deep-seated rejection of the entire direction of our society, a refusal to take even one more step forward into the shallow commercial abyss of phoniness, short-term calculation, withered idealism and intellectual bankruptcy that American mass society has become. If there is such a thing as going on strike from one’s own culture, this is it. And by being so broad in scope and so elemental in its motivation, it’s flown over the heads of many on both the right and the left.

“. . . modern America has become a place so drearily confining and predictable that it chokes the life out of that built-in desire [for a better and more beautiful future]. Everything from our pop culture to our economy to our politics feels oppressive and unresponsive. We see 10 million commercials a day, and every day is the same life-killing chase for money, money and more money; the only thing that changes from minute to minute is that every tick of the clock brings with it another space-age vendor dreaming up some new way to try to sell you something or reach into your pocket. The relentless sameness of the two-party political system is beginning to feel like a Jacob’s Ladder nightmare with no end; we’re entering another turn on the four-year merry-go-round, and the thought of having to try to get excited about yet another minor quadrennial shift in the direction of one or the other pole of alienating corporate full-of-shitness is enough to make anyone want to smash his own hand flat with a hammer.

“. . . There’s no better symbol of the gloom and psychological repression of modern America than the banking system, a huge heartless machine that attaches itself to you at an early age, and from which there is no escape. You fail to receive a few past-due notices about a $19 payment you missed on that TV you bought at Circuit City, and next thing you know a collector has filed a judgment against you for $3,000 in fees and interest. . . . This is why people hate Wall Street. They hate it because the banks have made life for ordinary people a vicious tightrope act; you slip anywhere along the way, it’s 10,000 feet down into a vat of razor blades that you can never climb out of.

“That, to me, is what Occupy Wall Street is addressing. People don’t know exactly what they want, but as one friend of mine put it, they know one thing: FUCK THIS SHIT! We want something different: a different life, with different values, or at least a chance at different values.

“People want to go someplace for at least five minutes where no one is trying to bleed you or sell you something. It may not be a real model for anything, but it’s at least a place where people are free to dream of some other way for human beings to get along, beyond auctioned ‘democracy,’ tyrannical commerce and the bottom line.

“We’re a nation that was built on a thousand different utopian ideas, from the Shakers to the Mormons to New Harmony, Indiana. It was possible, once, for communities to experiment with everything from free love to an end to private property. . . . And the economy is run almost entirely by an unaccountable oligarchy in Lower Manhattan that absolutely will not sanction any innovations in banking or debt forgiveness or anything else that might lessen its predatory influence.

“. . . People want out of this fiendish system, rigged to inexorably circumvent every hope we have for a more balanced world. They want major changes. I think I understand now that this is what the Occupy movement is all about. It’s about dropping out, if only for a moment, and trying something new. . . .  Eventually the Occupy movement will need to be specific about how it wants to change the world. But for right now, it just needs to grow. And if it wants to sleep on the streets for a while and not structure itself into a traditional campaign of grassroots organizing, it should. It doesn’t need to tell the world what it wants. It is succeeding, for now, just by being something different.”

“How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the OWS Protests” appears in the Nov. 24, 2011, issue of Rolling Stone. “My Advice to the Occupy Wall Street Protesters” is from the October 27, 2011 issue of Rolling Stone.

See also Kevin Drum’s fine-tuning of Taibbi’s “Advice” here at Mother Jones.

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Matt Taiibi’s most recent book is Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Great Derangement: A Terrifying True Story of War, Politics, and Religion (2008), Spanking the Donkey: Dispatches from the Dumb Season (2005), and Smells Like Dead Elephants: Dispatches from a Rotting Empire (2007). He reports on politics, finance, media, and sports for Rolling Stone and Men’s Journal.

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“Occupy Oakland Ronald McJesus” photograph of Ronald McDonald hung on a cross of dollar bills courtesy of bymyowneyes.



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One Response to ““We Want Something Different””

  1. chamblee54 Says:

    http://chamblee54.wordpress.com/2011/11/17/more-text-about-ows/
    The occupation movement has given the twittering typers something to write about. It might even produce some change.

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