Like other commenters, I was struck by this observation of Lex’s while he related his tale of his initial Occupy Chicago encounter:

My hatred of the Boomers, who have brainwashed and wasted these kids
is boundless. There is nothing wrong with them. They have just never
been taught anything but bullshit. They have been betrayed by their
parents and their teachers. It is very depressing. The country has
been shamefully dumbed down.

Three weeks ago, Thomas S. Monson, the president of my church, observed:

I recently read an article in the New York Times concerning a study which took place during the summer of 2008. A distinguished Notre Dame sociologist led a research team in conducting in-depth interviews with 230 young adults across America. I believe we can safely assume that the results would be similar in most parts of the world.
I share with you just a portion of this very telling article:
“The interviewers asked open-ended questions about right and wrong,
moral dilemmas and the meaning of life. In the rambling answers, … you
see the young people groping to say anything sensible on these matters. But they just don’t have the categories or vocabulary to do
“When asked to describe a moral dilemma they had faced, two-thirds of the young people either couldn’t answer the question or described problems that are not moral at all, like whether they could afford to rent a certain apartment or whether they had enough quarters to feed the meter at a parking spot.”
The article continues:
“The default position, which most of them came back to again and again, is that moral choices are just a matter of individual taste. ‘It’s personal,’ the respondents typically said. ‘It’s up to the individual. Who am I to say?’
“Rejecting blind deference to authority, many of the young people have gone off to the other extreme [saying]: ‘I would do what I thought made me happy or how I felt. I have no other way of knowing what to do but how I internally feel.’
Those who conducted the interviews emphasized that the majority of the young people with whom they spoke had “not been given the resources—by schools, institutions [or] families—to cultivate their moral intuitions.”

Pre-modern Chinese scholars thought that calling a thing by its correct name was very important. It was even more important during and after the chaos and violence that rages as one dynasty of rulers fell and another arose. Many of our fellow countrymen sense something is wrong with how things are. They sense that the things that are wrong have names. But they don’t know what to call them. They sense that the names peddled to them by the usual suspects are not the true names of the things that worry them with their wrongness.

So they’re mired in frustration. Some of this frustration is unavoidable. Some things our fellow Americans want are impossible. Others are mutually exclusive. They go together like matches and small children and they can’t be reconciled into a coherent whole.

This detachment from how things really are is inevitable and all too human. But much of the incoherence of their worries is a side-effect of their lack of mental vocabulary to form their sense of wrongness into a concrete program of action. Some of this lack of mental vocabulary is accidental. Some of it has been deliberately cultivated.

I don’t endorse resilient communitarian John Robb and some other observers’ description of the incoherence produced by this lack of mental vocabulary as a feature. John Robb in particular is often spot on in his analysis of emerging developments but his synthesis is frequently iffy, though that just may be my head buzzing with unpurged legacy thought.

If Occupy* adhered to the model preached by fourth generation warfare advocates and further elaborated by Robb as “open source insurgency”, their goals would be concentrated in ideaspace to a coherent program but their actions in meatspace in pursuit of that program would be dispersed. For a hypothetical open source insurgency, a coherent program acts like mission-type orders. These types of orders, called Normaltaktiker by the German officers who developed and sometimes used them, would tell a subordinate officer which hill to seize and why they need to take the hill but not how to take the hill. Details of taking the hill are left to the discretion and initiative of the subordinate. His superiors don’t interfere as long as his discretion and initiative don’t violate the intent of his orders and the overall battle, war, or policy.

In an open source insurgency, supporters know why they need to take the hill but there should be no one who forces them to take the hill by providing a checklist that must be ticked off in order or else. The open source insurgent is supposed to understand the intent of their goals and what actions will advance those goals without violating that intent without supervision from a core cadre. More experienced insurgents may provide how-to manuals for performing certain actions but the role of such guides is purely advisory. This hands-off approach should supposedly allow open source insurgents to launch a series of disconnected, dispersed, and distributed actions intended to build towards realizing their shared goals through the accumulated reactions they trigger. It should require no direct contact with one another or a centralized command and control authority, allowing open source insurgents to remain disconnected, dispersed, and distributed
so they they aren’t a big, fat juicy target for the Powers that Be.

Occupy* seems to be following the opposite pattern. They’re concentrating for action but have widely (and wildly) dispersed goals. They don’t know what all their actions are for because they lack the correct mental names to call out what’s going on.

There are undoubtedly elements within Occupy* that have a concrete agenda whose goal is to co-opt it in pursuit of their own agenda. They know very well what they name the situation as. As Lex observed in his reconnaissance, the usual suspects are already trying. They’re trying to create “democratic” institutions that will allow them to co-opt the unfocused to support their program through procedural niceties. It seems they have yet to fully succeed.

So far Occupy* is following the classic American political progression of:

  1. First you’re accused of being astroturf.
  2. Then you’re feared.
  3. Then you’re co-opted.
  4. Then you’re astroturf.

They say they want a revolution. To have a revolution, you must have a secular social catechism that accumulates the sort of strategic effects that will trigger a fatal split in our current set of societal elites. In the crisis so far, we’ve only seen dusty formulas trotted out by ancient and creaky Boomers yearning to re-fight the glorious battles of youth.


And again.

Here’s an unintended side-effect of extended human ;ifespans: ideological stasis. To butcher Max Planck: a political notion does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it. Boomers, given unnaturally long biological life by historical developments they barely comprehend, give unnaturally long life to their foolishly destructive notions. Society may stagnate in some areas while progressing in others with unforeseen effects. This may make the process of sorting out of what’s needed to grapple with our current predicament prolonged, painful, and prone to triggering frustration and outbreaks of corrective violence.

Go tell the Boomers that, in the words of Oliver Cromwell and Leo Amery:

You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!

We should endorse Lex’s efforts to creatively engage with this upsurge. Coalescing movements for change need fresh and vigorous mental ammunition for the struggle. Creative engagement is necessary for building an arsenal for renewed civic vigor as we stumble towards new political formulas for these United States.

35 thoughts on “Names”

  1. Several years ago, I sat in on a university philosophy course. The professor…a young guy who was not your typical modern academic…developed what I though was a pretty sophisticated critique of cultural relativism. My impression was that most of the students (undergraduates) were practically disoriented…they had never considered that there might be an alterntaive to “it’s up to whatever their culture says” and found it difficult to imagine such a thing.

  2. (continuing from the above comment)…it strikes me that it’s logically impossible to be both a cultural relativist (“whatever the culture says”) and a personal relativist (“whatever I feel”) but this seems to be no obstacle to many people.

    For a person to believe that *for him* right and wrong is defined entirely by his feelings…but for (say) a woman in Iran the wearing or non-wearing of the burka must be defined by social convention…seems to betray an extreme level of solipsism, a complete absence of abstract-thinking ability, or both.

  3. “To have a revolution, you must have a secular social catechism that accumulates the sort of strategic effects that will trigger a fatal split in our current set of societal elites.”

    They are nowhere near having this yet.

    Their grievance list is a groping gesture toward what is wrong.

    They know that something awful has happened, which is correct.

    They know their life prospects have been severely damaged, which is correct.

    They know that some huge injustice involving big banks has occurred, which is also correct.

    They think in some vague way these are connected, which is true in a general way but not actionable at that level of generality.

    The Boomer era “thought leaders” are the people precisely calibrated to provide wrong and destructive answers and proposals for action.

    “When he saw the crowds, he was deeply moved with compassion for them, because they were troubled and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Matthew 9:36.

    May God have mercy on these people and on this country.

  4. Once again, the Left has made a brilliant diagnosis and proposed a disastrous treatment. One of their demands is a debt jubilee, including the forgiveness of student loans. This is a non-solution to a real problem. The overhang of non-dischargeable debt in the form of student loans is going to come back to haunt us. Think about what it will do to marriage prospects, family formation, and home ownership, and the follow-on effects on GDP growth. We’re all screwed unless we come up with something. A first step would be a hard limit on guaranteed loans, but we will eventually need to get the government out of college loans altogether.

    Serious people need to think harder about this, regardless of who raised the original question.

  5. Lex you can’t paint all “boomers” with the same brush. there has been a schism and Vietnam revealed it. I have a friend in the Bay Area and he and his wife went to Berkeley in the early 60s.

    His wife worked in the cafeteria and actually “knew” Mario Savio, (as much as one can “know” a person repeatedly paying for his lunch) – the guy who really started “free speech” movement. This is 1964, if I recall long before all the riots and protest movements.

    He became internationally famous and if I am remembering the story right he wasn’t even a student.

    But one thing Joan said about him stayed with me – she said he was a jerk. Wasn’t nice to people. At the heart of this schism – indeed – our country’s problem, in my opinion all comes down to 1 word – selfishness.

    It is the basis for moral relativism. Where one’s decisions are based on what is good for me and not necessarily anyone else.

    Of course selfishness is nothing really new; it is the bane of mankind – but as Thomas Monson said:

    I recall a time—and some of you here tonight will also—when the standards of most people were very similar to our standards. No longer is this true.

  6. The Boomer generation presided over the destruction of much of our educational system. Those who weren’t complicity failed to stop it from happening.

    The Boomers great achievements, as a generation, were in technology, their greatest failures were in education, family life and the general state of the culture.

    Not everyone was a bad guy, and many struggled against the bad guys, but the bad guys among them still won.

    And that will be the verdict on the generation.

  7. Lex – when you say they “destroyed” the educational system are you referring to the public school system? I think a lot of blame can go around for that; starting with the teacher’s unions who – like all unions – are more interested in member security than the quality of the product.

    The university system hasn’t changed all that much; it is up to the students to know what they want. Being an English major in this economic climate – won’t get you much – up through the 60s it would probably get you a nice corporate job.

    I will say on a positive note students today seem to have more of a grasp of what they need in the real world; the company where I work just hired a graduate of the UC system in electrical engineering.

    Those with an EE degree are, these days, finding it easier to get work than Liberal Arts.

    I think you are simplifying the problems and finding it easy to “blame the boomers”.

    Reminds me of a story about Ronald Reagan, when he was governor out here.

    When he was first governor some students from UC, disgruntled over perceived injustices they saw in their school, demanded to meet with RR, and Reagan arranged a meeting.

    Reagan listened patiently and one of the students summarized saying that he couldn’t possibly know what it is like as he grew up without all the technology that was the norm in the 60s.

    Reagan listened patiently and then said “That’s right – we didn’t have it – but we invented it for you”.

  8. I’m a Boomer. I didn’t choose to be; it just happened. Like half my cohort, I’ve always hated this lefty stuff, and I’m beginning to get really pissed at being lumped in with the half that inhaled it with their roaches, joints, and spliffs. And furthermore, the real poison to our culture was imbibed and spewed out by babies born between 1940 and 1945.

    So quit flinging “Boomer” around, everybody, please? Half of us don’t like this crap any better than you do; we never bought it, we never preached it, we even tried to stop it — and for our pains we’ve spent the past 40+ years being called hateful names by our peers, sometimes by our own siblings. And now our juniors are piling on too? Phooey.

  9. Witches … witches they are to blame. They hate ‘merica and wish it ill. They cast spells to make everything stupid.

    Wonderful. It wasn’t us that screwed up the world it was those guys.

    Oh well not exactly an intelligent discussion but it’s to be expected from those sliding into the “jaws and slashings of the mangler” (Ed Saunders: Truckstop).

    Your rich got out of control and screwed the pooch big time. You are now poor. It’s pretty simple really, but then it usually is.

    The kids are alright, but then they usually are.

  10. The blame the boomer business is just vapid thinking.

    As I’ve pointed out earlier in here you can hardly hang the policies of Woodrow Wilson, FDR or LBJ on the boomers. Also, Obama is largely Gen-X’s first President. The problem is not generational, it is in the rise of the Progressive movement. Babbling about Boomers is just tilting at windmills — burns a lot of energy and doesn’t do a damn thing to solve the actual problem.

  11. Like it or not, the Boomers were the start of the social turn against the Progressive idea of society as a machine and individuals as its parts, with the State as the general framework of the machine, and the planning elite as the designers and operators of the machine. The Right as anything more than a small band of ineffective intellectual cranks was the product of the Boomers — the foot soldiers of the Goldwater movement who went on to build virtually every movement and accomplishment of the right. The re-synthesis of a genuine market economics and pro-market politics was almost entirely the work of Boomers , who rescued the work of Friedman and Hayek from complete oblivion (you couldn’t even mention either author in an economics class in the mid-60s without threat of flunking) and turned it into a useable body of work. Things like the end of the draft and the real deregulation of the ’80s was the work of Boomers. Even the New Left began as a rejection of the Rooseveltian state and the Progressive ideas, but it got captured by the old left red-diaper babies, just as the Occupy movement is in the process of doing.

    Every generation has its good and bad effects. Much of the groundwork of the decentralist wave that is the only basis for hope today was the work of the Boomer generation. It was the start of the turn. Such turns take multiple generations, and the first generation will never be perfect. But it’s appalling to imagine where we might be today had the Boomers not taken those first steps.

  12. 66 percent of those under 30 voted for Obama. The boomers voted slightly against him. These things always change with age. No other generation had to deal with an unpopular war and its consequences. I think you are way too hard on us boomers and way too easy on younger generations.

  13. I gotta say that I agree with some others that the boomer vs xer thing has gone a little far around here.

    There is the political and historical reality which is complicated, and then there is pop culture which is really where the genearational sniping belogns. Generations tend to swipe at each others books, music, etc. Atl east, that is a western twentieth century phenom. Innaccurate but fun to talk slackers vs boomers. Very retro nineties pop culture.

    But not real. Personally, I think the grunge versus hippy thing is about divorce. A lot of nineties movies and music was written by the first widespread generation of divorce and you know how we confuse pop culture for reality sometimes.

    So don’t be too hard on the boomers except for some of the hippy teachers who were not a majority but had outsized influence. Our schools and popular culture were what done it….

    – Madhu

  14. Our foreign policy adventurism is rooted in modernization and development theory. A lot of that comes from the ww two generation and then it got institutionally ossified.

  15. “They know their life prospects have been severely damaged”

    Compared to what? Or to whom?

    They were raised to believe that the right diploma was the key to unlock a comfortable and fulfilling future. They were raised in the 1970s–90s on notions that applied in the 1940s–60s.

    They were raised in a bubble of optimism over the ease of life granted by birth (or infiltration) into the American society. But the iron laws of economics and the tendencies of human nature cannot be fooled. Too many degrees lower the value of those degrees. The boomers saw technology solve problems of starvation and shelter. The Xers saw technology solve problems of coordination. That’s at least one order of magnitude less important. Surplus value is subject to diminishing returns.

    The calories-per- and heated-square-feet-per-person could not keep growing at the same rate. Their life prospects were never going to be as good as they thought.

    I think I get the point, but it presumes an agent causing damage. It is a disappointment looking for a scapegoat. A major element of truth is that these kids really were never special snowflakes, and life was going to be about as hard as it is anyway.

    Can we help them through their stages of grief? They’re at anger, with a little bargaining via ballot. Next is depression. Economic and psychological. The door to the future is labeled “acceptance”.

  16. So, the response is, you believed what your parents and teachers told you all your life, you were stupid, so you are on your own, chump.

    That is a satisfyingly smug response.

    But these people will all vote.

    If they are not offered a more constructive political solution by our side the hard Left will succeed in mobilizing millions of them.

    If this economy continues to collapse we will have even more of Americans being evicted, withou health insurance, unemployed with no prospect of employment.

    If your attitude is, screw you, pal, I’ve got mine, then you will forfeit the votes and support of these millions of people forever.

    I simply can’t generate the contempt for these

  17. Fox…”The boomers saw technology solve problems of starvation and shelter. The Xers saw technology solve problems of coordination”

    I’d argue that the technologies solving the problems of starvation and shelter…agricultural equipment, better farming techniques, fertilizer, refrigeration, railroads, steam and electricity, etc….were pretty much in place by 1940. I’d also note that effective use of these technologies is highly dependent on what you call the technologies of coordination: for example, without the telegraph the railroads would have had a very restricted role, and without the undersea cable the shipping industry, including the international grain trade, would have been very limited.

  18. Lex, you can’t find contempt and I can’t find sympathy. But the laws of resource allocation don’t care for either of our feelings. Sure, it would be great to teach these kids the power that lies within themselves. But the lefty way always seems easier. Ho do you compete with the promise of a free lunch?

    I suggest they’re already lost. Perhaps not fully developed into virulent socialist pathogens, but their parents fed them too much pixie dust and they will not, as a demographic, ever be fully-developed independent adult Americans of a kind that Du Bois might recognize or Patton might respect.

    My rant may come across as smug, but I don’t have all I want, either. I spent the past five years being the poorest guy in nearly any room I entered. I watched student loans subsidizing $10 martinis and pallets of Jag bombs. Every college kid appeared to have hundreds of dollars to waste on iToys and hedonic consumption. These whiners were living pretty high, riding the false promise of Big Ed.

    Statistically, I am an early Xer. Old enough to remember tales of the Depression from my grandparents. First rule: always work. There is always work to be done. When I learned that, I first stopped being angry. Then I stopped being broke. Circumstance is never an excuse for idleness.

    If that is a losing message, the country is lost. The American Dream was never a guarantee. I see an opposite of my alleged smugness in the OWS sense of entitlement.

    But since you want a message that might bring the OWS kids along to a better life, let’s hit them hard with: “Stop the looting, Start the prosecuting.” I think another Venn would should common territory on those terms. The kids may want to prosecute Dimon and Mozillo before Frank and Bernanke. I would start it the opposite way, but once the cases mount, the trail will lead where it should.

    Instead of pissing about evil capitalists, how about we enforce the laws that past Progressives thought would protect everyone? We have admitted felonies to pursue. That doesn’t put bread on anyone’s table, but it does tend to support a concept of an ordered and accountable society. It is the conservative entrance into the leftoid psyche.

    Corporate capitalism cannot fail us unless government also fails us.

  19. Also: the list of core survival technologies in place by 1940 should include many which are directly health-related: anesthetics, an understanding of germ theory, sulfa drugs (penicillin not till WWII), clean water, refrigeration, and sanitation.

  20. Prosecuting people: there’s too much discussion about throwing people in jail without reference to any particular laws they might have broken. That way leads to nothing good. I don’t doubt that some people should be prosecuted, but using a badly-designed incentive system for one’s own benefit, whatever we might think about it morally, is not a *crime* unless specific laws were violated.

    Also, I’m doubtful that Dimon and Mozillo belong in the same category.

  21. David, yes the big gains in ag and mechanized construction were in place by the 40s. That created a fat period the Boomers thought was the new normal. The same life of constant work (Depression ethic) now yielded material abundance.

    There is continual improvement everywhere, but the switch from horsecarts to railroads is a much bigger jump than railroads to airlines. No amount of computing power or cheap telecom would allow a livestock-driven economy the wealth and comfort we enjoy.

    Maybe the 1940s tech allowed material surplus, while 1980s tech allowed consumer surplus? Once you’re not scratching for edible roots, you can get a lot of dollar-denominated utility from iToys. But it all rests on growing food and lumber. Killing Malthus is a bigger deal than enjoying Moore’s Law.

  22. I agree that the popular mood is in favor of collecting heads in the name of justice. But I say we’re all agreeing that somebody somewhere did criminal stuff. Let’s follow the system and see if we can get any indictments. If all Montgomery Burns was doing was exploiting a stupid/corrupt system, that will come out, too. Separate Dimon from Mozillo. I dislike vague classist scapegoating that seems to define OWS.

    Prosecution is action. We have people we allegedly hired/elected to do this job. Let’s pressure them to do it, or lay out why they have not.

  23. Not sympathy, Political pragmatism.

    Find way to offer something to the huge mass of people who are in bad shape, the Occupiers are a tiny and unrepresentative fraction of this buried mountain of misery.

    Prosecutions as appropriate would be good, yes.

  24. “I don’t doubt that some people should be prosecuted, but using a badly-designed incentive system for one’s own benefit, whatever we might think about it morally, is not a *crime* unless specific laws were violated.”

    No one should be jailed on public emotion, but for criminal acts for which they were convicted in a court of law. We don’t need witch trials here.

    Every single “robo-signature” is an act of forgery in all 50 states and undeer Federal law.

    Submitting robo-signed documents to a court is an act of perjury.

    Corporate attorneys who facilitated the above have suborned perjury and are accessories after the fact.

    Enacting corporate policies to systematically engage in forgery and perjury on a national scale is a criminal conspiracy and organized crime.

    This is why we have a RICO Act.

    Time to use it.

  25. “Occupy” is a diversion away from the Tea Party (whose thrust is “return to equitable free markets and small government”) and a joining of the naive and the despicable. Nobody else, working people, who are serving other people, have time for street theater. Occupy’s overt thrust is “Corporations are greedy, etc.” The covert thrust is, for the despicable hard left (as always), “attaining power through emotional persuasion of the unintelligent and morally deficient. The unintelligent don’t understand the overall history and nature of collectivism. They don’t understand the most recent examples of government corruption with respect to bank and corporate/union related bailouts – bankruptcy laws not enforced so that more efficient, competing, and hiring corporations might come into being. “Too Big To Fail” was an excuse for fascism and they don’t seem to connect to the reality. The morally deficient just want someone else’s money.

  26. Fund manager John Hussman:

    “In an economy where monetary authorities are at the ready to reignite bubbles after any setback, it has been possible for banks to get, say, $10 from shareholders, get another $20 by issuing bonds, get $70 from depositors, and then go out and make $100 of investments in loans, securities, Greek debt, and other assets, hoping that by leveraging shareholder capital (“equity”) 10-to-1, they would earn a high return on that equity.

    The trouble comes when some of the investments go bad. In that case, a loss of anything approaching 10% on the assets will eat through the bank’s capital (“equity cushion”), at which point, the bondholders are next in line. It can’t be repeated enough that when Wall Street talks about a bank “failure,” it means *the failure of the bank to pay its own bondholders*. In virtually every case, big or small, the only parties that stand to lose from a bank failure are the bank’s own stockholders and the bank’s own bondholders, both who knowingly take a risk in order to reach for return.

    The only question is whether a needed restructuring is orderly or disorderly. Washington Mutual was so orderly that it was forgettable, despite being one of the largest U.S. banks prior to the financial crisis (though senior and subordinate bondholders are still fighting). Lehman was disorderly. Bank bondholders should lose when the management of that bank takes on excessive leverage, and then makes bad investments with the funds.

    Now imagine a world where banks aren’t even content to leverage their balance sheets 10-to-1, and where regulators look the other way by broadening the definition of “capital” and narrowing the definition of “assets”, so that banks can risky assets at stunningly high ratios to their own capital.

    Welcome to our world.”

    Read the whole thing.

  27. We don’t need witch trials here.

    We may get them. The people making decisions to prosecute may go after politically unpopular corporate executives and mostly ignore politicians and political appointees, not to mention the many individuals who lied on mortgage applications, overleveraged themselves and thereby contributed to the marginal increase in default rates that triggered the collapse of the leveraged real-estate finance boom. The disproportionate prosecutions of industry big shots will be justified in utilitarian terms as yielding the greatest overall bang for the prosecutorial buck and the effect on marginal incentives will be ignored.

  28. Thanks for the link David Foster. Barclay’s may concern me and I might have not thought much about it until now.

    Just one gem:

    “When you consider the fact that most U.S. banks, just before the U.S. credit crisis in 2008, sported gross leverage ratios of about 12 (where Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan remain today), the gross leverage ratios of European banks today are truly astounding.”

    Hussman goes on to list a dozen Europeon banks with leverages ranging from about 50 to about 18….the average, about 30. This won’t end well.

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