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:
- First you’re accused of being astroturf.
- Then you’re feared.
- Then you’re co-opted.
- 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.
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.