You Can’t Just Wish It Away

November 14, 2011

I am over-subscribed.

My life is jam packed with magazines. They litter most surfaces of the office and accumulate by my bedside. Magazines cover up the piles of books I also haven’t yet read. The interwebs is not alone in creating an informational overlord overload.

There are some advantages to this. Months and months behind on issues, you become a very selective reader. Articles have to grab my attention PDQ if they want to be read. No time to be mildly entertaining or informative. Do you know how many magazines are vying for my attention?

More interestingly is the retrospective angle one is afforded when playing catch up. Was this writer bang on or completely full of shit? Has the issue at hand lingered in public discourse or has it faded from view? That’s right. I’m asking you, nameless Us scribe who predicted a long, happy and fruitful Kim Kardashian marriage.

So it was over the weekend as I was reading the October 2010 issue of Harper’s. Bookmarked (more or less) by an essay in the Readings section by Roger Hodge, author of The Mendactiy of Hope: Barack Obama and the Betrayal of American Liberalism, and a book review by Terry Eagleton of Tony Judt’s Ill Fares the Land, it was as if I was trying to discover the genesis of the Occupy movement. Again, this was over a year before the tents were pitched and camps founded in cities around North America. In these two articles, plenty of reasons were stated why a grass roots disaffection was brewing.

Some snippets.

From Roger D. Hodge: “Corruption, in its institutional sense, denotes the degeneration of republican forms of government into despotism, and typically comes about when the private ends of a narrow faction of citizens succeed in capturing the engines of government… a corrupt citizenry is one that has allowed its private and narrow personal interests to trump those of the general public.”

Terry Eagleton on Tony Judt: “What matters is not how affluent a nation may be but how unequal it is.” ‘Public squalor’ versus ‘private affluence’. “Once the state hands over its functions of care…to private agencies, nothing remains to bind the citizen to the state but the fear of authority. The result…is an ‘eviscerated society’, one stripped of the thick mesh of mutual obligations and social responsibilities to be found in social-democratic setups.” “Men and women have been politically demobilized and so are politically disaffected.”

Of course, I hear the critics immediately jump up and exclaim that that’s all about the United States not here in Canada. Here in Canada, well, everything’s just fine. No need to be protesting in our streets and cities. We look after one another. Our elections are fair and above board. Just ignore the growing income disparity. Disregard those frightening October job numbers. Pay no attention to extended time needed for the feds to balance the book. Never mind the woefully pathetic turnout for our elections. Nothing to see here. Time to pack up your tent and go home.

The nerve of some people to question the state of our democracy.

Because, wandering through the Occupy Toronto encampment at St. James Park over the weekend, I could not for the life of me figure out what other reasons there were for the increasingly shrill cry for the ousting of these people. Aside from the less than pleasing aesthetics of mismatched tents and tarps throughout the park, some mounds of refuse here and there, there was nothing unpleasant, intrusive or obstructionist about the gathering. It was easy to cross the park on the paths or you were free to meander randomly through the tent sites. No one accosted you. There was no unwanted proselytizing.  Try as I might, I couldn’t ferret out any surreptitious feet sniffing.

I stood on the north side of the park, looking across Adelaide Street at the restaurants. How exactly their customer numbers could be adversely affected by the goings on in the park was tough to say. Going about your business on the periphery of St. James, you could pass the gathering within it with little more than scant notice.

As for the noise complaints registered by local residents? Walking through the park on Saturday night, it was impossible to distinguish the din rising within it from the downtown traffic swirling around all 4 sides of it. In fact, the incessant drumming we’ve heard about was drowned out before I even left the park by the pounding of the bass out of a passing SUV full of Leafs’ fans leaving the game.

This is in no way meant to diminish or discredit the complaints. I’m sure it must be a minor annoyance and inconvenience to have had the park filled with people for the last month. I hate the streetlight that forces me to close the curtain in my bedroom every night. It just sort of comes with the territory. Urban living comes with unpredictability, both pleasant and unpleasant.

But those, to paraphrase Roger D. Hodge, are ‘private and personal interests’, they should not ‘trump those of the general public’. That is what this whole occupy movement is about, in the U.S., in Canada, internationally. Thirty years or so of private interests trumping the public good. If you’re looking for the message, you could do worse than that. Public space being occupied symbolically as a stand against the growing encroachment of private interests into every facet of our lives. Health care. Education. Dissemination of information. That fucking spot above the wall over an ever increasing number of urinals in public bathrooms. All to the detriment of most for the benefit of a very few.

Of course, I’m a little sceptical of the call for a clear and straightforward message. If you really don’t understand why there’s an occupy movement in the first place (here or anywhere else) and the tactics they’re employing, chances are you’re not going to be won over to the cause because somebody can sum it up in a pithy phrase. You’re comfortable in body and/or mind about the way things have been going and think everybody would be much better off if they just cut their hair, covered their tattoos and went out and got themselves a job. Pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. Put their nose to the grindstone.

It’s an affront to these people, nothing more. A threat only by way of a question. Are we as a society on the right track, economically, equitably, sustainably? It seems like a reasonable thing to ask, given our current state of affairs even here in Canada the good. Denying people a little patch of grass to ask is an indication of moral and intellectual disinterest and failure. Essentially, a stultifying acceptance of the status quo.

chidingly submitted by Cityslikr